CHICAGO, IL (February 12, 2010) – Eric Bangeman wrote his master’s thesis on the 19th century Holiness Movement, looked forward to getting a Ph.D., and intended to teach church history. Becoming the managing editor of Ars Technica, an influential technology website, was not in the plans.
Bangeman, who earned his Master’s Degree in Theological Studies in 1996 from North Park Theological Seminary, understands that others are amused by the irony in the change of career direction. But he was excited when the opportunity presented itself.
“I’ve always had a love of computers,” says Bangeman, who was doing mobile computing long before many contemporaries. “I think I only saw one other student carrying a laptop during my whole time at the seminary.”
Bangeman never pursued his Ph.D. because he discovered that job openings for church history professors were as scarce as laptops on campus. He wound up taking a job as a graphics designer for a management firm.
His passion for computers led Bangeman to start reading Ars Technica (Latin for the “Art of Technology) in 2000 and he became a forum moderator in 2001. A couple years later, he successfully pitched a story idea to an editor. The rest, as they say, is history.
Less than a year later, he was hired to be the managing editor. Among his responsibilities, Bangeman dishes out story assignments and maintains the daily news list. He reads about 70 percent of the articles before they are posted.
The site has more than five million readers, according to the company, which was purchased by Conde Nast in 2008 for $25 million. Although a lot of online publications cover gaming and offer reviews in addition to providing news about the industry, Ars Technica differs from other sites in its approach. “There’s not another site that does what we do,” Bangeman says.
The reader is immediately struck by the odd variety of stories. Recent headlines have included: “Photon Scattering Can Create Lasers in Fiber Optic Cabling,” “First Look at Buzz: Much Potential, Not Much Innovation,” “Warner Bros. to Axe Licenses for Free Streaming,” and “20 for 2010: Ars’s Most Anticipated Games of the Year.”
“We’re a collection of geeks writing about different things,” Bangeman says. They are well-educated geeks. Many of them are scientists or Ph.D.’s in their fields, which has enabled them to provide deeper analysis than a lot of other sites, he adds. “They don’t just read about the studies – they read the studies.”
Ars Technica writers also are encouraged to mix opinion and analysis within their stories. Bangeman recalls his academic work to explain why that journalistic approach is important. “You don’t just write a thesis on the holiness movement and not write what you think.”
Bangeman acknowledges that such an approach flies in the face of what is supposed to be “just the facts” journalism, but then again, none of the writers have formal journalism training (Bangeman’s undergraduate degree is in history).
The breadth, depth, and analytical reporting have made the site not only popular, but influential, Bangeman says. Regulators to investors and technicians, as well as people who are passionate about the latest technology, make the site part of their daily reading.
Bangeman says one of the biggest changes regarding technology in recent history actually has to do with people’s attitudes. “Consumers now expect to get something for free.” Looking to the future, Bangeman expects social networking to continue to explode.
Consumer attitudes and the spreading use of social networking has had implications for the church, especially what constitutes community, Bangeman says. People begin to expect that they can grow spiritually in the church without contributing anything of themselves, he explains.
Online networks also can foster relationships at one level, but being the church cannot fully happen in cyberspace, he believes. “My fear is that it could be a substitute for real community. There’s a difference between putting a sad face emoticon on Facebook and weeping with those who weep.”
Still, the Internet – as well as the use of the latest technology – offer a great opportunity for churches and ministry, Bangeman says. Attending a pastor’s conference can lead one to believe that pastors are among the first to try using the latest technology, which doesn’t surprise Bangeman. “It’s in the nature of most ministers to want to do ministry as effectively as possible.”
Bangeman says he feels the responsibility of being the managing editor for one of the premier websites covering the technology industry. “There’s a lot at stake. We have a reputation for smart reporting.”
Still, he looks forward to going to work each day, which doesn’t take long since he works out of his home. You can’t do that when you’re teaching history.