Know Your Local Media: The Houston Chronicle's Dwight Silverman, from Rock Critic to Nerd King

A number of years ago, one of the then music writers at the Houston Chronicle recruited me to write a music blog for Chron.com. I had done some writing for the defunct Houstonist Web site and personal stuff, but nothing like that. I happily accepted and began writing a music business blog called Broken Record. Dwight Silverman was the man who oversaw all the blogs on the site, and I quickly found out that he was not only a good person but the go-to guy when it came to all things nerdy.

As a tech writer and blogger for the Chron, and now as its editorial social media manager, Silverman has certainly left his mark upon the daily with both his insightful writing and his techie know-how. He's also co-hosted Technology Bytes, one of the longer-running tech radio shows (on KPFT), and is a known tech expert. Surprisingly, he got his start as a music critic -- and he knows his stuff.

Obviously, I wanted to know more, so he sat down and answered some questions.

1. You've recently switched jobs at the Chronicle. Tell me about that.

It's not so much a switch in jobs as a change of focus. I'm now the social media manager for editorial, and that's part of a greater emphasis on social media throughout the organization. We also just hired a social media director on the business side, Allison Sutton, to coordinate efforts.

But I've been working with the newsroom on social media initiatives for more than five years, and if you consider blogs to be social media (and I do), then for a lot longer than that. Because we are ramping this up, I've discontinued my print column to make time. I'm still writing my technology blog, and after all, the Web is where the action is when it comes to tech.

2. Tech predictions are often either lampooned or lauded. What are your best and worst predictions?

I learned long ago not to make predictions in my writing, period. As a journalism student and music critic in the mid-'70s at UT-Austin, I once wrote that disco was a dying fad. A few months later, the movie Saturday Night Fever came out. That put me out of the prediction business for good.

That said, I was an early proponent of Twitter and that worked out well, while I also was dismissive of Facebook early on as a weak rehash of AOL.

3. How do you think social media has changed the news, and what is the Chron doing to keep up?

Social media has changed just about all aspects of the news business. It has certainly blurred the line between audience and journalist, and really, you can say it has obliterated that line. It has enabled the folks we used to call readers to be both our collaborators and our competitors.

The Chronicle has long used social media, particularly Twitter, but now we are expanding our use of other platforms, including Facebook. We are launching a redesign of Chron.com and we will make it a lot easier for people to share our news as well as collaborate with us on Houston's stories. It's a pretty exciting time right now...It feels like all the things we've wanted to do for years are finally coming to pass.

4. You were once a rock music critic. How did you go from music critic to nerd king?

I started my journalism career as a rock critic, and my first professional job was assistant entertainment editor and religion reporter at The Beaumont Enterprise. Since then I've been an investigative reporter, TV/movie critic, general assignment writer, editorial writer...I even edited a seniors' magazine while in my 30s and did PR for the Junior Olympic Games when they were in San Antonio in 1989.

I've always been interested in tech, and when I was working for the now-defunct San Antonio Light, I bought a Commodore 64 so I could write stories from home. I never was able to get its 300-baud modem to talk to the Light's mainframe, but I discovered the world of Bulletin Board Systems (BBS) and was hooked. When I worked on the start-up staff of the San Antonio Current, I set up a BBS that let readers check out the paper's content online, and we even had online-only content. Of course, it had only one phone line and only one person could log in at a time, but still...

When I came to the Chronicle in 1990, it was as an assistant state editor and writer, but I was very interested in covering personal computing, which was really taking off and beginning to change society in fundamental ways. I started a computer column in early 1993, and later that year became the full-time tech beat reporter and covered Compaq in its heyday.

In 2000 I moved to the online staff but kept my print column, and started TechBlog in 2004. That was the same year I joined the crew of Technology Bytes on KPFT. It's been a happy geekfest ever since.

5. What is the one technology question you get asked the most and how do you respond?

I'm most asked what computer to buy. I usually respond with questions about what the person wants to do with it and how much is budgeted. Interestingly, I still get the PC question more than its smartphone equivalent, but the tablet version is making a strong showing.

Bonus: How often do you have to tell friends and family members that you can't/don't know how to fix their television/microwave/remote control/VCR/etc. ?

I find it very hard to turn down a request for tech help. When I retire, I'll probably be one of these guys driving around in a Toyota pickup with a magnetic sign on the door advertising PC repair services. And I'll be happy as a clam.

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