Media: Brave New World? I Think I Preferred the Old One ; after John Harris Quit as Editor of a Music Magazine, He Wondered If He Too Could Join the Ranks of Internet Millionaires, but Prospective Employers Merely Promised Him No Sleep, Nervous Breakdowns and `Horizontal Management'. Where Were Those Lucrative Share Options?

Article excerpt

When I announced my resignation from the editor's job at Select, the music and lifestyle monthly, a job opportunity in what we now call "New Media" hadn't crossed my mind. I had begun a run of very pleasant meetings with literary agents, newspaper editors and other representatives of the media's stone-age corners, and print and paper looked set to define my next few years. Then, one morning, my computer did the "you have new mail" bleep, and I found myself reading a message from a recruitment consultant.

The next day, the same thing happened. So it was, that I fatalistically trudged off to the requisite interviews, mildly curious as to what web- life was all about. As homework, I bought a copy of NetSlaves - a newly published American book that is subtitled True tales of working on the Web. Worryingly, the book's authors, Bill Lessard and Steve Baldwin, portrayed a world characterised by lack of sleep, inhuman workloads and regular breakdowns.

According to every zealous web-head: "Content is king". They might have a point - but Lessard and Baldwin led me to the conclusion that stuffing websites with the appropriate delights often represents capitulation to a pretty vicious kind of tyranny. There was also the small matter of stock options: the carrot with which most web companies lure workers into the land of weekend working and midnight call-outs. Like a fool, I found myself ignoring the book's warnings and allowing pound signs to appear before my eyes. So I applied for a job purely on the off-chance that I might become a millionaire.

Two weeks later, such day dreams have evaporated. Three encounters with the Web's would-be viscounts has convinced me that penury in the traditional media is an altogether preferable option than the chance of riches in cyber country.

My first glimpse of Netland, at an established radio company in Central London, doesn't exactly suggest a gleaming world of limitless opportunity. In a half-empty upstairs office, there are a handful of makeshift workstations and not much else. The man in charge of the whole operation has his name scrawled on a Post-it note, hanging from a nearby wall. Worse still, he is apparently too busy to see me.

Instead, I meet the enviably well-heeled editorial director (we'll call him Piers) and one of his sidekicks. And so, within minutes, to "The Big Idea". They aim, they tell me, to establish "the UK's leading music and lifestyle brand".

Quite how such a potentially sprawling range of subject matter will be delivered is all down to their emphasis on "personalisation": the rapid identification of consumers' needs and wants, and the resultant tailoring of online services.

They seem to have such faith in the power of their hardware that, one feels, building moon rockets should not be too much of a problem, I guess anything else is pretty small beer. This is a "they've-approached-me" interview, so I leave it to them to fill any pregnant silences. Piers reaches his conversational climax with a two-minute soliloquy that ends "and, you know, content is king".

Aaaargh! My horror is only increased when I ask him about the hours. His eyes widen, as if in anticipation of positively orgasmic pleasure. "We'll work," he assures me, "very long days, and every week will be like press week." He also flinches when I mention a salary at least pounds 5k above what's on offer and, though he might be the proud owner of stock options, they are not mentioned in reference to me. The nature of the job - a senior editorship of some description - remains unclear. All told, not exactly "Where-do-I- sign?" territory.

My second interview, at a leading online music and book retailer outside London, is an experience so scary that my first five minutes after finally exiting their HQ are spent phoning friends and colleagues, as if to reassure myself that the normal world still exists. …