Announcing Inside Security: a new email newsletter

I am excited to announce that beginning today there is a new source of high-quality infosec news, analysis, reviews and trends. I have joined forces with Jason Calacanis’ Inside.com to produce Inside Security. The email newsletter will appear twice a week and contain links to content that I find interesting, useful, and cutting edge for CIOs, CISOs, and other IT professionals that want to stay on top of the latest exploits and defenses.

You can subscribe here and view a sample newsletter to see if this is relevant to your interests. Inside Security joins other newsletters such as Inside Tesla, Inside VR&AR, and a tech-based daily brief.

The death of the editor-in-chief

This piece was written for Sam Whitmore’s MediaSurvey, which is a subscriber-only site. I have reposted it with his permission.

We have come to the end of an era. It is time to retire a professional title that was significant role in my own life, that of the Editor-in-Chief or EIC. It now has little significance for those in online publishing, perhaps because the entire editorial department has collapsed into a single individual. As in, the EIC is also the copy editor, chief illustrator (thanks, clipart), social media promotions manager, and freelance manager. We might as well add the roles of lunchroom monitor and basketball coach too, for all that they matter.

To say that editorial operations have changed from back in the day when I was EIC at Network Computing in the early pre-web 1990s is an understatement. It is a completely different world. Look at some of the magazine mastheads from that era: there are dozens of roles that are historical curiosities now. It is like looking at the Dead Sea Scrolls. “Yes, sonny, back in my day we printed things on dead trees, and put them into the mail. And we walked five miles uphill to school too.” Who uses ordinary mail, and many kids learn online. Is there anything that the Internet can’t do now?

We had a significant editorial staff: some 20 people, some million or so dollars in annual salaries. Oh what fun I had back then. Not everyone wrote for the publication, but all contributed towards creating a solid editorial product every month. Remember art directors? Another job title that is headed for the scrap heap. Since then, I held other EIC titles and have run online publications with varying sized staffs, but never that big and for that much budget. Little did I know that my first EIC job was going to be the best of them.

Today we don’t have that luxury of having an editorial staff. If the EIC still writes their own stuff, they have a pressure to get it posted online within moments of the actual news event: how many posts on the Microsoft/LinkedIn deal did you read Monday morning, barely minutes after the acquisition was announced? You don’t have time to do a copy edit, or even check the facts, before you get something online.

Sure, there are pubs that have huge (by comparison) editorial staffs and probably still have EICs that can lay claim to the title, but they are by far the exception. Look how many publications Techtarget still has: Each one has a miniscule staff, with a lot of shared services. And I mean no disrespect for them; they are just an obvious example. When I was at EETimes back in the mid 2000’s, their print revenue was 10x or 20x their online revenue, and healthy revenue it was. Not so today. No one prints on dead trees anymore. It seems even silly to say so.

Now the current tech publishing model isn’t really about the articles. Instead, it is all about how you can pay the bills with other things: custom publishing and lead generation and conference sales – in other words, with everything but your actual editorial product. Who needs editorial product, anyway? Bring in the copywriters!

When I was last at ReadWrite, I ran a successful editorial effort with several full time editors and numerous freelancers. The company had just been purchased by an online advertising agency called, ironically, Say Media. Their first question: do you intend to still do copywriting for ReadWrite? Ahem, I didn’t realize that the rebel alliance had taken over. Or maybe it was the dark side of the Force, if I want to have the right Star Wars metaphor. Whatever, Say What? I didn’t last long as a “copywriter.”

Regardless of what the job I was doing was called, the problem is those golden words that I have written over the years used to be the crank that turned the cash machine on. It was words that got readers to open the pages, which in turn drove advertisers to plunk down thousands per fullpage ads. Thanks to the web, there are no more printed pages, and ad rates are down. Way down. If you the reader doesn’t click, we the writers don’t get paid.

But the web isn’t only to blame: that just started the process of decline of the EIC. What really killed him or her off was the very nature of the web publication itself has changed. When every article that I write lives or dies based on the clickstream, you are just a Google entry away from obscurity – or fame and becoming a viral meme. Nowadays the time that I spend promoting, tweeting, reposting, commenting, and cajoling and trying to find readers is just as much as the time spent interviewing, testing, researching and writing. Social media is the cart now driving this old workhorse.

So say farewell to the EICs, may they RIP. Soon we will take our place next to buggy whip operators in history. Please take a moment and honor their memory.

Top ten most annoying things writers do to their editors

I recently got to see “Author Anonymous,” a very funny mockumentary movie about a bunch of writers and how their group dynamics change when one of them (played by Kaley Cuoco of Big Bang fame) experiences success. It reminded me about how badly many fellow members of my fellow writing fraternity are when it comes to pitching potential stories to prospective editors. Here are my top ten mistakes you can make.

  • Make incomplete pitches.

Make it hard for the editor to understand what you are trying to do, why your pitch is important, what is your angle or expertise, or whatever. Put as much information as possible into your pitch

  • Don’t waste an editor’s time with inane queries.

Editors are busy people, make each email count. Try to figure out stuff on your own. Silence is golden.

  • Do follow your editor’s instructions.

Some of my editors have very specific instructions on how to assemble a draft for them. How hotlinks should be represented, or whether they like or hate in-line images, or whether they want subheads or suggested Tweet language or whatnot. Try to obey these instructions and keep them straight so you won’t waste their time in this fashion.

  • Don’t look at the website and understand their target audience.

This one is easy to fix: read and review the site and understand who they expect their readers to be.

  • Don’t know what articles have already been published.
    Make sure what you are pitching already hasn’t been covered on the site.
  • Don’t pitch something that you have already written for some other pub.
    This is a big no-no. Editors want unique content, unless they tell you otherwise.
  • Don’t have any clue on when you can actually finish a draft or hit a self-imposed deadline.
    When you are pitching a story, make sure you have the bandwidth to actually write it and finish it, because usually the next question is going to be when can the editor have it in hand?
  • Do understand the meaning of deadlines in general.
    And respect that deadline too. This isn’t some approximate timeframe. Don’t hold up the rest of the production process because you are late delivering your copy.
  • Don’t submit a story without any accompanying art, suggested Tweets, or other information that the editor requested.
    It isn’t just your text that is important, but the other information that supports your story is critical too.
  • Don’t whine about how much time revisions will take you.
    I know some editors are a major pain with serial revisions. Just don’t work for them again if they offend you or tie you up in knots with all sorts of back-and-forth emails. But your goal should be to finish the assignment at least to your standards. Now, I have worked for editors that like to subtract value, or think of themselves as writers, but that will be for another post.

The Mac and Me: Remembering Quark and AppleTalk, Netware and Gopher

The Apple Mac has played an important part of my professional journalism career for at least 20 of the years that I have been a writer. One Mac or another has been my main writing machine since 1990, and has been in daily use, traveling around the world several times and my more-or-less constant work companion. It is a tool not a religion, yet I have been quite fond of the various machines that I have used.

You can read more of my reflections on using a Mac for nearly 30 years over at Network World where they have put together a nice package of articles commemorating the event.

In tribute to PC Week’s original staffers

pcweekLast week eWeek began its series called PC Week at 30. It wasn’t quite 30 years ago when the venerable publication began chronicling our industry. I spent two and a half years working at the publication, and was there during John Pallatto’s first tenure (John wrote the piece above).

But rather than write another column about the way-back tech, or my first byline, I want to take a moment to pay tribute to the people who made up PC Week. Many of the original PC Weekers went on to bigger and better things in the tech industry, and I am proud to count myself as part of them. Here are just a few of them and where they have been since their tenure.

  • Mike Edelhart was my mentor and the person who originally hired me on at PC Week. Mike went on to run Zinio and a number of other startups and now is working with Bill Lohse, a former Ziffie, on various conferences.
  • Gina Smith was one of our cub reporters who broke many scoops and was a lot of fun to be around. She went on to a startup working with Larry Ellison and working with Steve Wozniak on a book as well as being a tech TV start.
  • Greg Spector, who was the West Coast Bureau chief when I was there and went on to found and run a number of PR firms. When I started at PC Week I was living in LA and spent a lot of time in the Bay Area and got to work with Jane Morrissey and Karyl Scott. Jane is running communications for Virtela now and Karyl, after years of working for Nokia, is back on her own.
  • Dan Lyons was another cub reporter who would go on to write the “Fake Steve Jobs” columns and more recently briefly run the editorial operations of ReadWrite, where I worked in 2011. He is now blogging for HubSpot.
  • Barry Gerber was running the IT department of part of UCLA when I hired him to help me write reviews for PC Week. We would go on to do some ground-breaking testing of network products, and Barry and I would work together on several other publications. He is now running the editorial operations at Tom’s Hardware.com.
  • Peter Coffee was working in aerospace IT when I hired him to come to PC Week, where he had a long and illustrious career writing many insightful analyses of application development tools before the cloud ever existed. He left to work for Salesforce.com, where he is still as pithy and interesting as always.
  • Sam Whitmore was running the news operations for PC Week when I arrived, and he and I had a rocky relationship at the start. He eventually left the pub to start his own business, where he has been quite successful and where we have become friends.
  • Dale Lewallen was working in IT at an LA-based bank when I hired him to be one of our reviews team. He went on to work for several Ziff publications, writing deep technical dives with a thoroughness and zeal that few could match. Sadly, he literally died on the job at an early age.
  • Bob Scheier and I started at PC Week at nearly the same time, and like Sam he left to start his own consulting business and has continued to write about computers and business.
  • Paul Bonner was my partner in crime at PC Week: we had a lot of things in common and we covered a lot of the same topics for our beats on corporate networking. He left the Boston area and moved to Austin, where he now works in software development for the electric utilities industry. Ironically, one of my first jobs in tech — back when PC Week was founded — was developing software for the electric utilities industry.
  • Chris Shipley was a cub reporter back then and went on to run the Demo conferences for many years.

As you can see, it is quite an impressive group. Back then we had a staff of more than 50 people, and that included a full copy desk and art department too. Looking over some of my preserved back issues, I am proud of what the team accomplished. Happy birthday PC Week!

Happy 40th birthday, Ethernet!

aaaCan it be 40 years ago that Bob Metcalfe and his PARC colleagues began their work on what would become Ethernet? Yes, happy birthday. While the worldwide celebration continues, you might want to read one of his columns that he wrote for me when I was running Network Computing magazine in the early 1990s. Here is one written in July 1991 about his early days at 3Com and betting against Novell.

met1 metp2

That breakout job

In my work as a mentor for startups and as an informal career coach for others, I often tell people about the moment in time when I made a major career change. Many of you might enjoy this story as well, and use it to think about how you have gotten to where you are today.

The Internet has made it easier to stay in touch with people from our past: just this week I met with someone that attended my undergraduate college (whom I never met when I was there) and got an email from a co-worker from my past. It put me in a mood.

This job change was a big moment for me: it turned me towards my path of tech journalism and changed the nature of what I do every day.

I can remember it precisely: it was the winter of 1986, and I was working as an IT analyst for a large insurance company in downtown Los Angeles.

It was a fun job. Back then, end user computing was on the rise. Budgets and staff were big. We had, I think, somewhere north of 20 people working in various capacities, and we were installing PCs by the truck load across our three building “campus” (although no one called it that back then). I was good at my job, and enjoyed working with end users and helping them to learn about the few apps (by today’s standards) that we supported on their PCs.

I was an avid reader of PC Week, which (along with Infoworld) was the leading trade pub for IT workers. All work would stop when the internal mail delivered our copies Monday afternoon, as we tried to scan its pages before our users (who also were subscribers) would start calling us with questions about the tech they were reading about in the latest issue.

PC Week was starting a special edition that was going to be called Connectivity. It would be a supplement that would go to a subset of its readership, what publishers call a “demographic.” And they were looking for writers and stories.

I found out who was going to be running the publication and sent him what I now know is a query letter. At the time, I was just an interested reader of the pub and didn’t think anyone would be even interested in hiring me, let alone want to know what I thought was important and interesting. I mean, I was just this little cog in a big machine. I had zero professional writing experience. I didn’t know who the CEOs were of the major tech vendors by name. I was in the process of installing my company’s first LAN, so was interested in PC communications.

I was dead wrong. They were more than interested.

That query letter led to flying me out to Comdex in Vegas, the biggest tech show back then, and meeting the newly minted Connectivity staff, and eventually a job offer to join their ranks as a staff writer. I began working for them almost immediately, and the rest, as they say, is history.

That first year I wrote more than 300 individual stories for the publication. They were stories about how LANs were connecting to mainframes, and how PCs were changing the nature of American business. They were heady times: we had the ear of every major tech company around. I got to work with some of the most creative and interesting people of my career, some of whom I still am in touch with today. Many of the original PC Weekers went on to bigger and better things in the tech industry, and I am proud to count myself as part of them.

I went from installing my first LAN to telling thousands of people how to do it themselves. Back then, we could talk to anyone, including Bill Gates, just by calling them on the phone. Email was still a bright and shiny object, and the Internet was yet to be invented, by Al Gore or Vint Cerf or anyone else.

What motivated me to write that letter? I really don’t know. But it was a transformative moment for my career, to say the least. And I tell this story to you today in the hopes that you may share your own moment when your career went in a new and exciting direction, and you have the perspective to acknowledge and celebrate it. Please share your stories here if you feel so moved.

Announcing DigitalLanding.com, a new site for the digital lifestyle

I wanted to give you a sneak preview of a new Web site that I have been working on over the past year. While the site isn’t complete (what site ever is?), it is at a stage that I would welcome some feedback and you can get an idea of where we are trying to take it.

The site is called DigitalLanding.com and has been produced by Acceller, a Miami company originally founded to develop an ecommerce engine to help people choose the best broadband connection options. They’re expanding on their initial concept to offer additional services such as phone, television (digital cable, DVR, etc.), bundles and more.

The idea is to provide a place where people can go to order new broadband service and then find practical, down-to-earth information about how to use these digital services for their homes. DigitalLanding.com will contain dozens of articles about topics such as picking Internet voice plans, how to create and manage digital music and photos, and the interplay of TV with these things too. Our aim is simple: give you plenty of practical, down-to-earth advice on how to become more productive, and less frustrated, with using your digital home.

The initial site that you see today has a total of ten articles that support the ecommerce engine and just handles cable connections. You enter your phone number or address and get to the part of the site where you can pick your particular cable service plans. On this screen, our content can be found under the “learning center” area. Later this year we’ll expand this to additional content and cover the other broadband service providers. And by expand, I think you will be impressed with what we have in store.

My role has been as the editor-in-chief for the site and responsible for shaping its content. I wanted to take a moment to thank all the writers who have been working on various articles, patiently waiting for the launch of the site. I think you will agree that we have some of the most experienced people in the field as contributors. Indeed, Acceller has a great team of people that are producing this site – gone are the days where a single person could put up a Web site. It has been a pleasure (well, most of the time) to work with such dedicated and talented people. I am very proud of what we have accomplished and hence this short note to let you all know about it.

The DigitalLanding.com site represents a new chapter in my own journey to explain technology concepts. As many of you know, I wrote a book in 2001 called the Home Networking Survival Guide, which unfortunately came out right around 9/11. That book represented many years of informal neighborhood networking consulting where I got to see first-hand the problems that ordinary people have with getting connected and making use of Internet applications. I have built dozens of new Web sites around various specialty technologies and particular audiences but this one is really designed for all of us.

I hope you enjoy DigitalLanding.com, and please feel free to send me your feedback as we continue to upgrade and enhance the site.

The Rise and Demise of Network Computing

It is sad when something that you brought into this world leaves it, and I am feeling a bit blue about the demise of Network Computing magazine, announced today. Even though I haven’t been involved in the publication in many years, it still was my baby – it was back in the summer of 1990 when I packed my family up and headed to Long Island to start the magazine, hire its staff, and set the overall tone and direction for the publication.

So they have had a good run for 17 years now, which in our shrinking industry is pretty remarkable all around. Still, I am saddened by the news. “It is a little disturbing. And it is especially sad when one of your first contributors has had to kill it,” said Art Wittman, who is the current editor-in-chief and someone that I hired long ago to write for the magazine, back when he was toiling in the academic IT fields in Wisconsin. Art has been with CMP longer than I have.

The magazine will fold its editorial into the InformationWeek.com site, deepening the content already there. I am happy to see that, and hope that they can find a happy home. (I also write for that site from time to time, too.)

CMP is laying off nearly 20% of their current work force as they consolidate production staffs and publications and focus more of their energy on the Web and away from dead trees. It was bound to happen – I mean, when was the last time you eagerly looked forward to reading a computer trade weekly? I remember when Monday evenings would be reading night as I paged through a foot-or-more high stack of pubs. That habit is gladly a thing of the past.

CMP is in the middle of its transformation from print to online publisher, and this layoff is a big correction. They still have a lot of adjustments coming, and I hope that they can succeed – if only because I still get a portion of my income from the company and because there are still many great people who work there.

But tech reading and information habits are changing rapidly. Let’s face it – the Web is where it is at. But running a modern Web site isn’t easy, and the tools and skills that print publishers have collected along the way aren’t relevant or useful in the online world. In some cases, it is easy to develop content and migrate the skills over. In others – such as circulation development, advertising, and marketing – it isn’t all that easy. And it is getting harder to differentiate your product from the thousands of bedroom and basement bloggers who have plenty of passion but little professionalism behind them.

Meanwhile, efforts like Microsoft’s Channel9 and other vendor-sponsored sites are picking up steam and collecting some of the fallout from the traditional tech media publishers. We’ll see more of these in the coming years, just because the vendors are the ones with the dough and energy and willing to still pay for good content.

You can hear more about my thoughts of where CMP and other hi-tech publishers are going during my conversation today with Sam Whitmore on his Media Survey podcast.

Shameless self-promotions dep’t

One small self-promotional plug, while we are on the subject. Paul Gillin and I have been doing for the past several months a series of short 10-15 minute podcasts aimed at technical PR folks, called TechPRWarStories.com. You can go to our site and subscribe to our feed and download a few of these podcasts if interested. We are having a lot of fun with them. In case you don’t know Paul, he has been around tech journalism as long as I have, running both print and Web pubs (Computerworld and Techtarget.com) and now on his own with a new book too called “The New Influencers”.

Make that one and half plugs: I am close to rolling out a new Web site for a client that will show the new model of tech journalism. I wish I could talk about it but you’ll just have to wait a few weeks until it is launched. But I promise you’ll be one of the first to know. So stay tuned.