My journalism career lasted from approximately 2003 to 2009, during which time I wrote (and ghostwrote) a few hundred articles of varying types. Mostly I wrote reviews of technology books, computer hardware, and software; I also did some actual reporting, mostly interviews.
I began freelancing in 2003 when I worked as a sales associate for the JNCS computer store. Prior to that I'd been a home electronics technican, so I had a lot of low-level IT experience, and my sales job gave me access to the latest PC hardware and software, so I was in an excellent position to write high-quality articles and reviews. I created my own website to publish this material (which I sold in 2008 and no longer own or control) called The Jem Report. I taught myself how to work with bare HTML and CSS, and designed a minimalist website that didn't use any dynamic elements or content management scripts. Because of this, my pages were quick to load and easy for search engines to parse, so my hardware reviews quickly shot to the top of Web search results and were widely linked to from discussion forums.
Unfortunately I was never very good at monetization. At best I had Amazon Associates links and contextual Google Ads blocks. Combined with my non-commissioned hourly pay as a salesman, I barely made enough money to make car payments while living with friends and relatives. Despite my financial condition, I could not force myself to do much more to make money from my articles and reviews because it always threatened to encroach on my ability to write freely. The only relevant advertisers for those kinds of sites are the companies that make the products being reviewed; if you take money from them, then they begin to corrupt you. How can you say that a product is flawed when the company that makes it is paying you thousands of dollars for ads?
In 2004 I was able to advance my career by taking advantage of a gap in the PC hardware review market: Linux-oriented reviews. Everyone was writing for Windows users, but Linux users struggled to find useful information on whether a new motherboard or video card would work with the most common desktop Linux distributions. I downloaded ISOs and created installation discs for Mandrake Linux (version 8, I think), and began learning about Linux and Free (as in liberty, not price) Software. I wrote hardware reviews for Linux users, Linux distribution reviews, and articles that explained how to get PC hardware to work properly on Linux. These efforts got me valuable links from OS News, Newsforge, Slashdot, and various Linux forums and mailing lists. Engagement on the discussion forum that I ran on The Jem Report increased quite a bit, to the point that I asked a few regular contributors to be moderators.
Later that year, the editors of Newsforge and Linux.com asked me to start freelancing for them. That turned into a contract position, then a full-time job as a technology journalist.
When I left OSTG in 2005, I decided to double-down on my own publishing efforts. I started posting more articles to The Jem Report, and created three new specialty sites: Software in Review, Hardware in Review, and Entertainment in Review (for reviews and articles about movies, music, and games). I continued to grow those sites as best I could until 2008, when I decided that the tech journalism industry was not going to recover from its long-term decline. I sold all of my sites, plus the forum, to other webmasters, and took a full-time job as a technical writer.
Below are most of the articles I wrote during my journalism years, organized by category.
Investigative reporting is a rush. It's almost like solving a mystery in a detective novel, except you don't always arrive at the satisfying ending that everyone wants to read. Most of the time the villains really are at least as villainous as they seem at a glance, and the victims really are innocent, but sometimes there's a major plot twist. This is where tabloid hacks depart from the realm of real journalism; the ethical journalist will not force the more profitable narrative under any circumstances.
Some clown tried to draw attention to his recently-launched marketing news website by manufacturing a false controversy involving an open-source software project. Specifically he claimed that the open-source Mambo content management system had violated a copyright he had on some website code. The guy ended up being a complete piece of shit who tried to harm the innocent people whom he'd pulled into his scheme. Here's the initial story: Legitimate Code Stealing and OSS. Then I dug deeper and discovered that the "code" in question was nothing more than an HTML "colspan" attribute. Then, when he wouldn't let it go, I dug even deeper and found a long history of abusive and manipulative behavior. I repackaged this as a how-to for protecting yourself and your projects from online attacks.
Finally, even though the copyright infringement and code theft claims were unfounded, all of this bullshit eventually caused a group of Mambo developers to fork the code and create the Joomla project.
In 2006 I stumbled into an interesting social project to construct a tribe that would, for a fee, be able to spend some time on a Fijian island together. While it was a cool idea, the founders were dodgy and would not answer any questions, the tribe member fee was paid upfront and non-refundable, and the minimum required tribe membership was unrealistic. So I wrote an article on it, and found out much more than I wanted to. Here's the full story on my part in this drama: Tribewanted: Scam or Not?
This is an in-depth investigative report on a non-book titled Samizdat: And Other Issues Regarding the 'Source' of Open Source Code. This and other reporting helped raise enough concerns to prevent the book's publication. I'm not usually in favor of censorship, but this non-book was straight-up disinformation with a political agenda; an unselfconcious hit-job on software licenced under the GNU General Public License, and Linux in specific; and it pushed for certain federal government policies and regulations that the author's employer (the now defunct Alexis de Toqueville Institution) had been paid to lobby for. It was full of distortions, edited quotes, and corporate propaganda. While my comprehensive article definitely felt like the proverbial nail in the coffin, I wasn't the only one to write about this.
I posted this to the front page of The Jem Report in October 2007:
For quite a while I have heard, read, and been personally told stories about messages that have been deleted from Groklaw's comment section. Specifically these are posts that do not agree with Pamela Jones' opinions and conclusions, or seek to debate or clarify issues that are not clear-cut or obvious. I'm curious about the voices that have been silenced by Groklaw's censor, and might like to write a story about it if I can collect enough information about the people and posts that PJ would like us not to read. So if you have posted a message on Groklaw and subsequently found that it was removed or edited, or if your Groklaw user account has been terminated without your consent, tell me about it -- email me at jem at thejemreport.com.
Subsequently I was kicked out of Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols' "Internet press guild" for putting out this call for leads. I don't think I ever actually finished the article, though. I wanted to dig into multiple rumors that people had received real-life death threats for not parroting the Groklaw groupthink, and it was that call for leads that caused SJVN to don his white-knight armor. I didn't even get any credible leads from it -- just some crazy anonymous stories via email. The point was, I felt it was ironic that the basis for PJ's years-long takedown of the SCO vs. IBM civil case was to expose who was secretly funding SCO in its legal kamikaze mission against Linux, yet it was verboten to ask who PJ was and where her money came from. She was perfectly willing to dox people mentioned in court briefings or who worked for SCO in any capacity, but no one could even ask of her: "Who are you and who is funding your work?" SJVN beclowned himself by excommunicating me from his secret club with the words: "We don't write about each other in this group." I think he expected to inspire shame or remorse in me, but that's not how I -- nor anyone else I know -- respond when someone acts like an Asshole. I found the irony hilarious, and I missed-out on nothing because the list was little more than ordinary "general discussion" drivel, but I felt disgusted that I'd been so poor a judge of SJVN's character and professionalism. I always think so highly of other people, and then when they go full-Asshole, I get angry at myself for being so wrong about them. Another journalist whom I'd never met eventually did figure out who PJ was and wrote an article about her, and was blacklisted among Linux-oriented publishers. Such was the state of tech journalism in the early 2000s.
I don't know if they're still live on the Snopes site, but for many years the site's owners had deliberately published false information in some of its articles to "teach people a lesson:" When the Debunkers Print Bunk.
The rest of this page will be filled in as time permits.
Around the same time that I was posting reviews to The Jem Report in 2003, I tried to take a career step up to technical writing by applying for a job at a local (to Fairport, NY) publisher that produced monthly how-to periodicals for popular desktop software. My interview went well, and my writing test was to come up with two articles that I thought would be appropriate for the Microsoft Word publication.
My father, Eugene Matzan, patented a railroad safety technology that uses ultrasound to detect failing wheel bearings and stuck brakes on train cars. He needed a whitepaper that he could use to explain this relatively complex technology to relatively non-technical railroad executives and politicians, so I put one together for him in 2013: