Brian Proffitt (virtually) sits down with us and talks

published May 01, 2007, last modified Jun 26, 2013

Heard about Brian Proffitt? Perhaps you read Linux Today?

Brian is the managing editor of several Linux- and free software-related sites, including Linux Today -- arguably the biggest and most visited Linux-related resource on the Web these days.

Today, we have the wonderful opportunity to talk to him. It bears mentioning that Linux Today has published quite a few blurbs on its front page, pointing to stories on this blog, so you'll forgive me if I'm partial towards Brian.

He's a great guy -- and his Linux Today editorials are always great reads. Thus, it's no surprise that this interview is (if not too controversial) one of the best interviews we've had the pleasure to publish.

Without further ado:

The interview

Hello, Brian! We here at would love to hear about you. How would you describe yourself? How old are you? Are you single or married? Any children? Are you happy?

First off, I think your choice of interviewees is a bit suspect. :) But
if you're gluttons for punishment, here goes. I am a 40-year-old native
of Indiana, born and raised. I currently live back in my hometown of
South Bend with my wife and best friend of 17 years and my two
daughters, ages 14 and 10. I had a full head of hair once, but sadly,
that left me about, oh, 17 years ago. (Hm, funny how that works out.)

I am very happy with where my career has taken me; I started out as a
small-town newspaper editor, and that's really how I see my role on
LT--only now it's a much larger town, and instead of school board
meetings, I get to cover the politics of technology.

Brian, correct me if I'm wrong, but I think you've been with Linux Today practically since it started. How long have you been associated with Linux Today?

Actually, that's not the case. I officially began my tenure as an LT
editor on March 11, 2002--I remember the date pretty well, because I
took my family to New York that weekend while I met with the Powers that
Be at (then) It was six months to the day after 9/11, and
the city was still recovering in many ways.

Prior to my employed tenure on LT, I was a freelance writer for LT and
some other open source sites: LinuxPlanet, JustLinux. I
also had a brief tenure as editor of BotSpot and BrowserWatch.

What do you do at Linux Today, daily? Have your responsibilities changed with time?

Basically, I am the managing editor for all of the Linux and open source
sites owned by Jupitermedia, which include: Linux Today, LinuxPlanet,
JustLinux, Enterprise Linux Today, AllLinuxDevices, and LinuxPR. I am
the sole employee managing all of those sites. As you might expect, LT
takes up most of my day, though the activities of ELT, ALD, and LPR
dovetail quite nicely into my LT duties.

Much of my day is finding news, either to link to or write about. I
write far less than I care to, but in order to generate LT's newsfeed, I
don't have time to write as much as I would like. I have a small cadre
of freelance writers that handle features and tutorials for LP (always
looking for more!), and managing them and JustLinux comprises much of
the rest of my time.

In your opinion, what were (or are) the most exciting times for LT -- and why?

The redesign we did a couple of years ago was fun, and the
behind-the-scenes re-tooling of the talkback system in 2006 was a
godsend for my sanity, since I wouldn't have to moderate every single
talkback anymore.

Editorially, the times that been really exciting were when we were able
to break stories before anyone else, or go into real detail on an issue.
I think Dee-Ann LeBlanc's 2002 interview of Peruvian Congressman
Villanueva was a huge moment of pride for us, and then the passing of an
open source bill in Peru in 2005 was a nice closing to a story.

Of course, "exciting" runs both ways. We've had criticism leveled at us
over the years, some deserved and some not. My approach to all of this
has been to be honest and give everyone the straight answers to their
questions. That's a big part of who I am as a person, and a journalist.

How did Linux Today start?

LT was actually started in 1998 by Dave Whitinger and Dwight Johnson, In
August of 1998, Dwight and Dave put their heads together and designed a
Linux news site, with advertising to generate revenue. (Irony, indeed,
since Dave made a big fuss about our advertising when he started LXer a
few years ago.)

Dwight, Dave, and a whole host of editors, including one of my best
friends, Michael Hall, really built up LT to where it is today, before
and after the site was sold to (now Jupitermedia). I feel
like I am just the lucky guy who won the lottery when I was asked to
take over the site in 2002.

So, really, this has been a group effort, and even though I get a
paycheck from a single employer, I try my best to maintain as high a
level of community involvement as I can. I want people to make
suggestions and criticisms; the site is free for all to use, and I want
people to feel they can contribute.

The interview, part two

Is Linux Today a sole proprietorship? If not, what is the type of relationship between Linux Today and its parent company (companies)?

Nope, we're part of the JupiterWeb network, a division of Jupitermedia.
I have complained to my boss that I wish we were still named; then at least people would have some intuitive grasp of
what I do, based on my employer's name.

When I say I'm the sole employee, though, I mean it; my boss gives me
wonderful amounts of autonomy to do my job. I really appreciate the
amount of trust and support I get from them to run the Linux web sites.

How has Linux Today impacted your relationships and everyday life?

I have no knowledge of what you speak. Life? There's life out there?

I would say my work at LT has been a mostly positive influence.
Certainly all that I have learned while working at LT (and writing Linux
books before and during my tenure here) has enabled me to help out small
businesses and non-profits in the towns I have lived in. Being a Linux
tech-geek is a much more in-demand these days, and I have built good
social/technical network because of it.

In other respects, though, it can be hard. This is, in some ways, a 24/7
job. It's gotten less taxing now that the auto-moderation system is in
place for the talkbacks, but there are many nights and weekends where I
put in at least a few minutes of work. News breaks at all times of the
day, especially on a globally focused site like LT.

What are Linux Today's biggest traffic sources?

Mostly walk-ins, which is what I call people who just surf straight to
the site without being referenced. We get some from Google and Digg, not
so much Slashdot these days. It's a big thrill knowing that on a slow
day, we're still serving up about a half-million page views.

Are you seeing a large user base coming from your RSS feeds?

I think so. I don't have ready access to the numbers broken down by the
feed. But with the huge amount of blogs out there, I would be very
surprised if more of our traffic was coming in via the RSS. I love the
fact that we have that feed.

Is there something particular you've done in relation to Linux Today that you feel especially proud about?

Keeping it a site that my kids can read. I don't know if anyone's ever
noticed, but I really try hard to keep the bad language to a minimum.
That may seem prudish, but it really stems from something my grandfather
taught me a long time ago: if you have to use cursing to get your point
across, then your point probably hasn't got much going for it.

We've noticed several changes with the site, not the least of which is the addition of several prominent individuals' blogs to your site. How has the community responded to it?

Favorably, I think. We are just more blogs among many, and it's hard to
differentiate reactions to our blogs versus everyone else's. That said,
the blogs are a great way for members of the community (including
myself) to let our hair down (metaphorically in my case) and talk about
the things that just happen to strike us.

I would love it if more people in the community would join in with blogs
of their own.

Is there anything in the works for Linux Today that you'd like to let us in?

Nothing big, really. There are still some improvements to the talkback
system I want to make, and some long overdue housekeeping assignments.
The big changes will actually be on LinuxPlanet, which is our target for
redesign/reformatting this year. Expect more tutorials and howtos there,
as we expand our content on that site.

In terms of free software, how do you view yourself? Are you a pragmatist, a moralist, or something in between?

Definitely a pragmatist. My motto is, the right tool for the right job,
which is a great quote from Scotty in the not-so-great Star Trek V.
Still, it really applies to me. I definitely prefer and recommend
free and open software, because I think the underlying philosophy is
outstanding. But I won't preach religion to anyone; that's for people to
discover on their own.

How do you see yourself in ten years' time?

Either running a wine and cheese store, operating a comic book store,
teaching taekwondo, or flight instructing. Or running a huge Linux media
conglomerate. Power is always good. :)

Do you have a personal blog? Any other way me and our readership could follow your life?

I am like the shoemaker: the best shoes for his customers, and none for
his children. Everyone always says, "you should have a personal Web
site." But you know, I have no idea what I would focus on. Yes, I have
my hobbies (see the previous answer), but I just don't think others
would find them interesting.

Besides my weekly column and blog entries on Linux Today are, in some
ways, a reflection of my life. I am always mentioning something that's
happened to me that connects to Linux. And there's a few anecdotes left
to tell; cow-tipping, being heckled by Bob Hope, playing poker in
jail... I'm just waiting for the right connection.

And so will you.

Thanks for this amazing interview! I wish you all the best, Brian!