Impassioned Cyber-Journalist Writes It -- And Publishes It -- His Way

By ELIZABETH WEISE
Associated Press Writer


SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Reporter Brock Meeks surveys the information highways and byways, and writes it as he sees it.

Then he ships his words straight into the computers of his 800,000 readers with no intervening paper or editor -- nothing but his own passionate take on the facts.

Meeks pounds out another installment of his CyberWire Dispatch every few weeks, depending on his time, sources and the constraints of his day job as Washington bureau chief for the trade journal Inter@ctive Week.

Working at night after his wife has gone to sleep, Meeks, 39, writes opinionated, wickedly precise accounts of what's happening in the world of computers and communication.

Take his story, "You Can't Fool All the People All the Time." It starts: "The brain-dead, ill-named Communications Decency Act was, as expected, folded into the Senate's telecommunications reform package today ..."

Meeks fulfills a long-held online belief in the ability of the individual to use computer technology to bypass traditional media and reach the masses.

Computer activists love to speculate about a brave new world where information consumers will have a broad spectrum of independent news sources to chose from.

They have a poster boy in Meeks, whose accomplishments are impressive. CyberWire Dispatch is read by upwards of 800,000 readers -- including many at the Pentagon, the FBI and the Commerce Department.

During the debate over the Clipper Chip, a government proposal that would install a "back door" into every computer in America, he was summoned to a secret rendezvous by some government officials.

"They wanted to make it known that they were paying attention. It wasn't threatening, but it was all kind of Spy vs. Spy, at Georgetown at two in the morning."

Working in an older style of journalism -- one still practiced in Europe, where newspapers take unabashed stands -- Meek dons the cloak of a crusading avenger. Which is what makes his work so exceptional.

But Meeks also stakes his reputation on the accuracy of what he writes.

"It's a position and a responsibility that's not lost on me, and one I take seriously. I try to make sure that my stories are all correct and that my journalistic integrity is unimpeachable."

The facts are there, but not just the facts.

"I tell people, 'If you took all the attitude out of the Dispatch articles, they could wind up in The New York Times.' I have a commitment to reporting the facts, I just go off with those facts as I see fit."

Meeks had been writing periodic journalistic rants for quite awhile, but actually named the series 18 months ago.

He had been leaked a confidential FBI cost analysis of the controversial Digital Wiretap Plan. The White House had signed off on it based on incorrect figures given to them by the FBI, and Meeks had the real ones.

"I wrote about the White House being essentially duped. ... I put it out on CyberWire Dispatch on Friday. On Saturday it showed up in The New York Times -- without attribution."

After that, he decided to name and copyright his stories. A wire service of one was born. It seems to have worked. In April, The Economist picked up one of his stories and cited CyberWire Dispatch as its source.

Meeks learned his journalism in the trenches, not in school. After some time in college he did a stint as a member of Air Force Intelligence. In 1980 he left the military and ended up doing famine relief work for Ethiopia in San Francisco in 1984.

"I began to see how screwed up the whole relief community was. CARE fought against Save the Children, everyone was fighting for their turf. I got disenchanted and started writing about that for small lefty publications."

Soon afterwards he got interested in the possibility of using telecommunications to "level the playing field."

"With a toy computer you could tap into the same type of info that the Fortune 500 companies have access to."

That led to jobs writing for trade publications and a memorable stint as a foreign correspondent covering the war in Afghanistan for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Meeks says he feels blessed that his editors at Inter@ctive Week trust him enough to allow him to do his "straight gig" for them and also put out his dispatches.

It's not a totally altruistic endeavor, Meeks says, though he gets no money for the stories.

"If I told you if I didn't enjoy the exposure and recognition that my work gets, I'd be lying. I like the fact that all the hard work and effort has created a brand and reputation that's respected. That's the payoff -- it makes a difference. That's why I went into this business."


EDITOR'S NOTE -- To subscribe to CyberWire Dispatch, send e-mail to majordomo@cyberwerks.com. On the first line of the message (no subject necessary) type: subscribe CWD-L

Elizabeth Weise can be reached at weise@well.com