Earlier this year The New York Times celebrated the 20-year anniversary of its website.
Prior to the launch, the paper’s online reach depended on that “pioneer of online media,” AOL.
Friend, colleague and periodic co-trainer for our storytelling workshops, Peter Lewis, wrote the introduction story. But before taking a look at his words from Jan. 22, 1996, Pete was good enough to reminisce about some of the “drama” that led up to the big day.
Rewinding the tape to 1985, Pete was an editor at The New York Times reporting into Abe Rosenthal who convened a small task force and asked participants to imagine “The New York Times in the Year 2000.” Pete’s portrayal of the NYT on a computer screen didn’t quite elicit the response he hoped for. “As I remember it Abe and Arthur Gelb, the managing editor, listened for about 30 seconds before impatiently waving me off. Gelb asked, ‘How do we know that this Internet isn’t just a fad, like CB radio?’”
Around nine years later, Pete persuaded Bill Stockton, then the business editor, to make him the paper’s full-time “foreign correspondent in cyberspace.”
His argument went like this —
“There were some 35 million people using the Internet, more than the population of Poland, and, after all, we maintained a foreign correspondent in Poland.”
You have to admit. It’s a persuasive argument once you get past the question, can there really be a correspondent in cyberspace?
Continuing with our narrative, John Markoff then broke the story about Marc Andreessen and the Mosaic browser, and the land rush for Web domains was on.
Love the lead:
“Think of it as a map to the buried treasures of the Information Age.”
It turns out that John personally registered the nyt.com domain. Pete asked one of the execs (who will remain nameless to protect the guilty) for approval to spend $35 to register nytimes.com. After being told, “No one here has any interest in the Internet,” and being the enterprising sort, he registered it himself.
It wasn’t until more than a year later that Pete got a call from that same exec asking him to transfer ownership of nytimes.com to the paper. He willingly did, only asking that they reimburse him for the 35 bucks.
Shortly after, the paper anointed him to write “The New York Times on the Web” story which I’ll cover on Wednesday.
BTW, Pete still waiting for the 35 bucks.