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[whitespace] Chris Nolan
Christopher Gardner

The wild and wacky (yawn) world of high tech's rich and famous

By Michael Learmonth

For a gossip columnist, Chris Nolan's phone message is decidedly un-chatty. "Hi, this is Chris Nolan, the gossip columnist at the San Jose Mercury News. I'm away from my desk right now or I'm not in, so leave a message after the tone..."

Functional, sure, but I was expecting a more seductive, upper-crust affectation; vocal chords seasoned by Sonoma cabernet, inflection trained by taut-diaphragm discussions at stuffy dinner parties.

Instead, The Gossip Columnist, as she calls herself, is surprisingly down to earth, if a little reluctant to talk about herself. Since she moved to Silicon Valley, she's been too busy for a personal life, she says, and what there is of it is on display in the business section on Mondays and Thursdays.

The Merc hired Nolan a year ago, gave her a wacky title and told her to go out and write a column about the shenanigans of Silicon Valley's nouveau riche. But how, with her just-the-facts demeanor, does The Gossip Columnist get the canaries not only to sing but to gossip? Who could it be, I wonder, who dished on Jim Barksdale, who apparently writes all his email out--gasp--in longhand? And Netscape said it was browser competition that caused the company's stock to drop.

When asked just who are these star sources, she handles it like a woman who might go to jail before she'd tell: "Uh, next question."

Name: Chris Nolan
Age: 35
Occupation: High-tech gossip columnist
How Long Here: 1 year
City of Origin: Washington, D.C.
Hobbies and Interests: "I'm a good cook, and believe it or not, I can throw a decent party."
Favorite Place in the Valley: View of the hills from 280

Nolan began covering Silicon Valley regularly three years ago as a writer for a Washington, D.C., cable-industry magazine. But even in that short time she's noticed drastic cultural changes.

"There's more money," she says. " I know it's hard for people to believe."

The class of wealth being built here, she says, will be more influential than that amassed by the likes of Boesky and Milken in the 1980s. Nolan argues that the high-tech wealthy are building a sustainable economy with "new goods for new markets and new purposes."

Watching them get rich is the fun part.

"This place is a stitch," Nolan says. "I get to watch people who have just made their money spend it."

Nolan left the East Coast, in part, to escape the "pack mentality" of D.C. and New York, where reporters flock to the same events, come away with the same basic facts and write the same stories. For now, Nolan says, Silicon Valley is still an "independent reporter's paradise."

But as the valley grows in influence, this will change. "In three years, it will be pack journalism 101," she predicts.


The New Silicon Valley:

Suddenly we're cool.

It's all about speed.

The next generation of movers and shakers.

Silicon Valley through the decades.


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From the January 15-21, 1998 issue of Metro.

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