Omar Wasow, 27, is a new-media star with a growing appreciation for an old medium: television. His in-your-face, look-at-me style seems designed for the Age of the Net. And Wasow took his first steps down the road to fame on the Web. As the founder of New York Online, a much-admired electronic community with decidedly downtown sensibilities, Wasow became a well-known figure in Silicon Alley.
Then talent scouts from MSNBC knocked on his door — and Wasow found out what mass-market celebrity is like. He became an on-air pundit for the cable network, trading opinions and quips with other young commentators. New York Online operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Wasow is on TV only on Sundays and on a network whose ratings barely register with Nielsen. Yet the visibility he gets from MSNBC, he says, dwarfs anything he's experienced online.
"If you sneeze on television, thousands of people see it," he says. "I used to have an elitist attitude about television. Now I'm in awe. The Web is becoming more influential. But air time is still far more precious than space on a Web site."
Wasow does believe in leveraging across different media. "Each medium feeds the other," he says. "The business projects we get are a function of my being on TV. And what's nice about the Web, as a complement to television, is that it allows for greater depth. Someone can see me on MSNBC and say, 'I disagree with you.' I can say, 'Go look at this 30-page report on the Web.' TV doesn't give you that option."
A version of this article appeared in the December 1997/January 1998 issue of Fast Company magazine.