Drew Wilson: Celebrating 16 Years of High Quality Journalism

Today, Drew Wilson reflects on being a reporter on digital rights for an astonishing 16 years. It’s quite a long journey.

Have you ever wondered how long I’ve been writing digital news now? The title, obviously, gives this away, but I’m not sure many can really grasp just how long I’ve been doing this. In all honestly, it doesn’t feel like I’ve been at this for 16 years, but here it is, my first ever article: “EFF Releases β€œThe Customer Is Always Wrong”. That was, indeed, published on September 2, 2005. Kind of wild, isn’t it?

At the time, I thought this was just a cool little gig to take on for a few months. This before I move on to whatever else it is I’m going to move on to. Indeed, I did have a bit of a leg up on a few other writers at the time in that I was working on an English major. Often, such a degree is a per-cursor to journalism. While my career on Slyck was pretty brief compared to the long storied career, it was, in fact, where I got my start.

It’s so easy to take for granted, today, just how casual I can write news these days. Just open up the browser, log in, and pound out the story of the day. It’s become somewhat second nature. Back then, I was certainly nervous. Would people be welcoming to a face as new as me? Would people warmly receive the article in question? Would I have enough skill to offer something meaningful to readers? The answer is so clearly yes, but when your skills are completely untested, you don’t know these things for sure.

Of course, my career ended up lasting WAY longer than a few months. I had no clue what crazy long and eventful journey I was embarking on. I would go on to ZeroPaid in 2008 to start the second longest leg of this journey. My first article for them was titled “German Government – Data Retention is for Terrorists, Not Copyright Infringers“. At the time, I still had some nerves. This mostly revolved around knowing full well what the rivalry was between Slyck and ZeroPaid was at the time. How would people react by someone who came from “that site” react now that I was joining them? At the very least, at the time, I knew full well I had the skill to deliver high quality content. It was more of a concern about people seeing past my previous association and accepting me into the fold.

My time with ZeroPaid allowed me to see some really cool situations. I was interviewed on Australia’s The fourth Estate, I broke several stories that went international, and I was able to help continue the longevity of ZeroPaid for several years.

Through it all, it became increasingly obvious that what I was doing wasn’t just about writing the news of the day. It was about making a meaningful impact in the world. As anyone who knows me knows, this is one thing I’ve always loved doing. Can I make the world a better place? Can my skills and knowledge be used to inspire more meaningful debate on where we see the future of the Internet? For a while, it really felt like I was accomplishing this. I remember the owner of the site, Jorge, mentioning to me at one point that people seem to sense my enthusiasm and gravitate towards it. I seem to remember him saying how he doesn’t fully understand it, but he sure isn’t complaining either. Neither was I for that matter.

Of course, all good things do come to an end. Eventually, I knew things were starting to break down on ZeroPaid. After a year long delay brought on by someone who said they knew website development, I eventually opened Freezenet on January 3rd, 2013 on my own. For a few months, I still cross posted my reports over on ZeroPaid, but that relationship eventually ended as the site simply stopped publishing news altogether.

So, there I was, striking it out on my own. Probably the biggest problem I’ve faced in my career was the fact that administrators eventually feel like changing career paths. It’s fine, but where does that ultimately leave me? So, it was clear that starting my own site so I can be my own administrator was the way to go.

Obviously, a lot of work goes in to building up your own site. This is especially so when you have to find ways of connecting to larger sites in some meaningful way for discoverability reasons. By 2013, the days of starting up a site and providing high quality content being good enough to sustain a site were long long gone. High quality and meaningful content doesn’t really do a thing for people finding your site. While I did offer several reports for a while, it became clear that this alone was not going to be a way forward. So, I built up the other features of the site which did help provide a traffic boost. After that, I started writing reviews for games and music. Those are two features that continue to this day.

While I did provide a functioning web forum for years, it became apparent that the days of people socializing on smaller sites were gone. No one really wants to register for a small site and chat with like-minded people online. To this day, it feels like such a backwards observation to make, but people are too entrenched in the likes of Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit to really bother with such things. So, I eventually started the process of closing the forums by allowing an update to disable basic functionality. Web forums, as sad as it sounds, were truly a relic of the past that users simply don’t respond well to.

However, the Wiki was a different matter. It’s very labour intensive, but people are responding well to it. So, I’ve been focusing on that as this drives some interest to the site too.

Of course, in this blur of events that saw me take things as they come didn’t really give me the opportunity to look back at everything that was accomplished here. Hours upon hours of heavy lifting saw the transformation of me going from a journalist to a full web administrator. That is a heck of a jump up. Not only that, but a web administrator that managed to roll out more features and information than its predecessors. To my knowledge, no one in this area of expertise has managed to accomplish setting something like this up without assistance from another person. In fact, I don’t think anyone has even gotten close to accomplishing something like this.

What you see here is actually beyond any of my wildest expectations when I started this site up back in 2013. I couldn’t imagine successfully coding my own WordPress theme, or even a responsive theme later on, I didn’t foresee going to the extreme of successfully setting up a Wiki, I didn’t think I would be able to put together a web forum in the first place, and what’s more, I didn’t think I would be able to not only produce as many reviews on games and music, but also record gameplay footage and get rolling on becoming a professional YouTuber in the process. Add in a long running podcast on top of it all? That can’t be possible, can it?

Probably one of the biggest credit I can come up with with how I managed to take things so incredibly far was the attitude of “brick by brick”. In short, you think about what goals you can feasibly accomplish in the immediate term. In this case, write a news article. There, done. Next, what can I accomplish over the medium term? Let’s start by making my own theme. Little by little, as I write articles, I manage to put together a customized theme. Over the long term, what are the larger goals moving forward? This is generally planning on which features to roll out and what order to work on them. Did this attitude work out? Look around here. I think it’s very much conclusive that this worked out in spectacular fashion.

Can there be more I can do? Absolutely. That will always be something I can find given the already incredibly wide scope of the site. I’ll probably find myself adding to this site for years to come (provided I don’t have my Charter rights violated and get forcibly shut down of course). I can honestly look back at all the successes and say that I can be proud with what I managed to build. In recent years, the help of Nolan with putting together the podcast certainly helped a lot to be sure. The editing and recording he’s done has helped alleviate some of the pressure I’ve been facing with doing so much on my own. In fact, I personally wish I had more people helping me out in making Freezenet better, but hey, building a site is a lot of hard work and it’s not for everyone.

It’s been quite a ride and I can only look on to see what the future holds in store for me. Thank you, the reader, for being a part of it.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.



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