Interview With Mark ‘Rizzn’ Hopkins

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Mark Rizzn is a contributing editor over at Mashable.com He’s also the host of a popular podcast called Daily Politics And Tech with his co-host Art Lindsey. I’ve sort of known Mark since the days of him doing his podcast Live on Talkshoe. Mark is moving up in the world of New Media and online Journalism so I thought I could talk him into doing an interview that sheds some light on how he’s reached this particular point of his career. Thanks Mark for doing the interview, enjoy.

Jeff: Please tell us a little bit about yourself.

Mark: I’m a jack-of-all trades, in a manner of speaking. You name the tech job, and I’ve probably held the title at one point. I started out running a BBS when I was a kid, and graduated to Internet Tech Support when it came to town. I dabbled in web design for some fairly well known firms (Group M7 and Satima). I worked for Apple for a short time on the assembly line, and I helped deploy one of the first cable modem systems in the USA (using a now defunct product line from Terayon). I worked at Nokia for about a year in the Digital Services department, where my team wrote the first protocol for transferring custom ring tones from computers to phones via SMS.

After the tech bust and 9/11, I did a stint for WABC in NYC as a “Cyber War Correspondant,” reporting mostly on the various digital issues facing America in the new post 9/11 world. Then when the tech market began to bounce back, I ran the gamut of startups, working at various levels of executive managment (from CTO to CFO) for handheld software and hardware firms, an online travel firm, and online credit service firm.

Somewhere in there, I decided that the risky world of startups (not based on my own ideas, at least) just wasn’t for me, so I turned to full time online journalism with blogging and podcasting, and never looked back.

Aside from what you can find out on my Wikipedia entry (which is horribly out of date, BTW), I’m a newly converted family man. I’ve been married a year to the most beautiful woman in the world, have a brand new son that is six months old, and a six year old stepson.

Jeff: How long have you been a part of this thing we like to call, New Media?

Mark: I guess you could say I was New Media before New Media was cool. Back when I was knee-high to a webserver, I ran a local e-publication called JBM. It was mostly the random musings of the local BBS scene in East Texas, but we also distributed shareware, and reported on general technology news as well. This was about the time that magazines were into the trend of distributing 3.5″ Floppies with their paper issues, and here we were a full fledged graphical point and click magazine contained on a 3.5″ disk. We came inches from getting a distribution deal with Ingram Periodicals before my BBS buddies tired of waiting for that magical Dot Com money to start rolling in, and in essence folded the project.

In the present incarnation of what you could call New Media, I’ve been at it coming on ten years in December as a blogger, and I think around five or six years as a streaming radio host/podcaster. I’ve only been full time at it these last couple of years, though.

Jeff: I noticed you also do a Daily Politics And Technology podcast. How long have you been doing this podcast and what was your inspiration for doing it?

Mark: Art Lindsey and I have been doing this particular incarnation of the podcast for less than a year (we do the show five days a week, and we’ve just finished recording episode 171 today). Art and I have been working together for several years prior, though, through RantRadio. I first came on there with a call-in comedy/variety program called the “Mark and Darrell Show.” After that show ran it’s several year course, I did a solo political show called “I’m Right.” When Art joined me, the program went semi-daily, and we renamed it “Out in Right Field.” We did a few months of that, and then took a sabbatical until the current incarnation of RizWords was born.

Jeff: Congratulations on your position as Editor at Mashable.com. Tell us a little bit about what it’s like to work and write for one of the most popular sites on the net?

Mark: Thanks! It’s really a hoot to get to work over there as a Contributing Editor. The schedule can sometimes be grueling, especially trying to keep pace with Kristen. :-p

In all seriousness, I enjoy it so much that I don’t think I’ve even had time to post to my personal blog in a couple weeks. There’s very little I want to say that the editors won’t let me put out there, so aside from the occasional picture of my kids, it’s very much the same thing I’d be doing without getting that fat Mashable! money. Don’t let Pete know I said that, though. :-)

Jeff: Your a reporter and because of your position at Mashable, your right in the middle of the Web 2.0 craze. What are your thoughts regarding the Web 2.0 phenomenon?

Mark: The last week and a half is a great example of the wide variance in the highs and lows of Web 2.0. Today is most undoubtedly a low point, as there was as several people put it, “an over-abundance of news barely fit to print.” Then you look back to last week, when we had Android and OpenSocial news dominating, as well as very big Facebook discussion looming large. It’s exciting, but then it’s also disheartening to have to a week later do write-ups for knock-off services because no one else is announcing anything newsworthy.

All in all, it’s one of the most exciting times and places to be a journalist. This, for me, started with the podcast but was even more magnified with the job at Mashable – it’s the ability to speak with, at a moment’s whim almost, just about anyone in tech I care to talk to. It’s a matter of tracking down the number to the CEO or pundit I’d like to get an opinion from, and hitting the record button on my phone.

Jeff: For sites like Mashable and TechCrunch, it’s all about the information sources. What sort of tips or tricks could you give out to others who are looking for original sources of information to publish on their own sites?

Mark: First of all, RSS. That’s your staple and fall back position. If you’re not getting your news from RSS, you’re wasting immeasurable amounts of time. My personal favorite reader (and I’ve used nearly all of them) is Google Reader. Also, stay away from feeders that try to find the news you’re interested in for you. You do that, and you’ll very easily miss the diversity of opinion in the lesser known blogosphere.

Secondly, pay attention to podcasts. Pick a cadre of podcasts that suits your market, and listen religiously while you work. It not only informs, but helps stimulate original thought, as more ad hoc analysis tends to take place on your better podcasts.

Lastly, but certainly not least, you need to be on Twitter, and you need a wide base of people on your list. The large group of people helps you not only promote your work, but gives you tips on what’s going on out there on the ground. The quake story I did for Mashable scooped the San Jose local news by ten minutes, and CNN by two hours. I owe that entire story to Twitter – someone from my list mentioned “Quake!”, which then cued me to track the “quake” and “earthquake” keywords. Within seconds, I had every bit of important information about the quake, which then allowed me to blog it.

Jeff: Your podcast is filled with great information on two topics that seem to blend well together, not to mention, there is an insane amount of interests for both. Do you mind telling us your daily routine that helps you prepare for the podcast?

Mark: Well, my daily routine has evolved into mostly just surfing the feeds voraciously. I grab my morning cup of coffee, and try to catch up on the thousands of feed items that somehow pile up between the hours of 2 AM and 10 AM. I have about three queues I tag things as – one is my shared items feed. That ends up on the link blog on my front page. Other stories more suited to a Mashable write-up only go to a private “Mashable Stories” tag for later review. Around noon, I take the previous 24 hours of shared stories and comb through them to find the best ones for use on the podcast.

The thing I love best about the process (and I’ve been told that this is technically called Web 3.0 functionality, but whatever), is that the feed goes directly into my Tumblr account, which is then the public face for the show-notes – no muss no fuss.

Jeff: Do you have any history in broadcasting or journalism that you think has helped you get to where you are today?

Mark: Well, having been at it off and on at various levels of professionalism and amateurism for around 15 years does provide a wisdom and second sense about it, but quite honestly, the whole process has come naturally from day one.

Independent journalism is a different animal, and you need to be open to it leading to things to help string you along financially. Consulting is a hand-in-hand job to independent journalism, when you’re starting out. If you can’t be good at business and marketing, you need to find someone who can educate you and partner up with you.

In college, I actually did major in journalism for a semester, but to be quite honest, I learned more about the business through self-education and bootstrap experience. My best advice for those wanting to get into independent journalism is to do a bit of careful research, but mostly just jump right in and try it.

Jeff: Thanks Mark for taking the time to answer those questions. Please take this opportunity to say anything you’d want to get off your chest or something you want the public to know

Mark: Not much I need to say other than what you asked already. Just pay attention to the good things on the horizon over at Mashable! and the RizWords podcast! You can find the podcast at http://feeds.feedburner.com/rizwords and of course Mashable! over at Mashable.com

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