Many parts of Marc Andreessen's past are almost cliche by now, but when he was going through it, it was brand new. He was one of those superyoung Internet savants who helped create something (Netscape), got bought out (by AOL), made millions, and then fell off the radar screen.
But as evidenced by his prominence in two tech magazines now on newsstands, including as Wired's cover boy for August, Andreessen, 29, is back, and with a business plan that is wholly untypical of the times: He's in it for the long haul.
As Wired writer David Sheff explains it, Andreessen and his comrades at Loudcloud were casting about for the next great computer breakthrough and thought they'd found it, only to be beaten to market while they assembled the nuts and bolts to support it.
Aware that they could easily lose out again, they decided to create a generic framework first, and then just plug in their idea when they got it. And that's when they got it: They would be the ones to help others get to market quickly; they would tend to the Web, and their customers could stick to their knitting.
That in itself is no big deal; plenty of people provide Web hosting. What Loudcloud offers, Sheff writes, is greater automation, embodied in Opsware, software that enables Loudcloud "to put up a new Web site with a keystroke or two." To an ordinary end user, that seems very nice although not exactly rocket science, but analysts say it could all be very big.
What's unmistakably revolutionary in this economy's built-to-flip atmosphere is Loudcloud's approach to building a company, covered not only in Wired but in a Red Herring "case study," essentially a short essay by Andreessen. He says he wants to build something lasting, to be able "to look back and realize that I was at the creation of something great."
Part of his method is to place import on every hire, driven by his Law of Crappy People, which holds that the worst employee hired at any level becomes the standard for that level. Loudcloud's ninth employee was a recruiter, and the emphasis on personnel continues: Employees are reviewed - and get to review their supervisors - every 90 days, because "these days, who can even remember what happened six or nine months ago?" cofounder and CEO Ben Horowitz says.
Another, quite different man of the moment is Mark Burnett, the arrogant cuss behind "Survivor," CBS's sort-of-but-not-really- reality show burning up the airwaves. He is profiled in the July/ August National Geographic Adventure, which initially seems an odd place to read about a TV producer, but it quickly begins to make sense.
Since the mid-1990s, writes Gretchen Reynolds, he has been leading the charge for what is being touted as "the fastest-growing team sport in America," adventure racing, in which competitors who are plopped down in some outrageous environment compete to return to civilization first.
Burnett brings to mind Pete Rose, admirable for his hard work and accomplishment but not particularly likable. He came to the United States nearly penniless 18 years ago, not well educated, skilled only in what he learned as a British commando, and knowing only one person.
But within six hours, he says, he had been hired as a nanny, and within four years, Reynolds writes, had "married a pretty blonde, had a son, then another, and bought a big house not far from where he used to babysit." Then he attended a course given by the motivational Merlin Tony Robbins, he says, and the world became his playground.
His success has spawned, or released, a grating imperiousness. Asked, for example, about his charges on "Survivor," he is contemptuous: "Too bad the folks on the show couldn't really make it on their own. We're going to have to give them rice and things to keep them going. They'd die otherwise. From where I sit, there's only one person I know of who could survive on the island on his own. Me."
Surviving alone, of course, is the only way he could do it: If he were on the show, he'd be quickly voted off so the others wouldn't have to put up with him.
Brill's Content for August brings the very best sort of tale that the media-criticism magazine can hope to offer, the story behind the now-famous photo of Elian Gonzalez's being taken from the home he'd been staying in in South Florida.
Written by Amy Bach, Steven Brill, and Julie Scelfo, the account profiles the photographer, Alan Diaz, and explores the very murky ethical currents that led to Diaz's being inside the house at the moment of the government's raid. It is sympathetic but questioning, and, fittingly for a picture painted in shades of gray, draws no firm conclusions.
Some elements of the story are not in dispute. Diaz is a hard-working Cuban-American who came to photojournalism as a vocation more than as a calling. Also not in contention is that his doggedness is a primary reason he got the access he did; it's the other reasons that present the difficulty.
It is not uncommon for journalists to develop relationships with subjects during a long-term story, especially when, as Diaz was doing, they camp outside the subjects' house for weeks on end. But even from afar, it's not always clear when that relationship has compromised a journalist's objectivity, and that is Brill's Content's chief question:
By getting close enough to the family to win their trust, did Diaz cease being an impartial observer? There's no doubt that, given the chance, any photographer or reporter would have accepted an invitation to be inside when the action went down, and anyone would have been proud to capture the image.
Judgments about how Diaz came to be there will continue, and ultimately will determine whether the photo deserves a place in the pantheon of great photojournalism, or is merely propaganda.