There's an old show-business joke about a play that is failing. A potential theatergoer calls the box office to find out when the show starts, and the ticket agent responds, "How soon can you get here?"
As a trade journalist, I sometimes feel like I'm in that failing play.
Trade journalism is one of the few environments that empowers employees to tell their employers what they can and cannot do. I'm not talking about unions vs. management here. I'm talking about the invisible -- and often fought over -- line between "church and state."
Church and state
In journalism, there is an unwritten law that says a publisher can only go so far in telling an employee what he or she can or cannot say about a product or company.
The battle over the line this law draws has been fought for many years -- topmost in the minds of both sides waging it.
Sure, I'm no naive kid who believes journalists would do what they do without getting paid. And I understand that without advertising there would be no pay check. But I appreciate -- even if some would say it is an illusion -- the fact that I am a few steps removed from the money side of the journalism business.
I can at least assuage my own conscience that I have nothing to do with money-grubbing capitalism and that I and my colleagues are pure of heart.
So you can imagine that I am quite proud of the company I work for when last year in a classic dispute between edit and advertising, Pat McGovern, chairman of the board of parent company IDG sided with edit. Here in US PC World's own words is a short summary and victory announcement rolled into one.
"In a surprise announcement, Robert Carrigan, president of IDG Communications, told PC World's staff today that 'Harry McCracken has decided to remain with PC World as vice-president, editor in chief.'
McCracken tendered his resignation on April 30 after [then-CEO Colin] Crawford refused to allow publication of a story entitled '10 Things We Hate About Apple.' McCracken said that the story was killed (it is now running on PCWorld.com) because of Crawford's concerns about the impact it would have on Apple advertising. Crawford denied that was the reason for killing the story, but has since apologized to the editorial staff for the decision."
Technology is the game-changer
Although that particular incident had a happy ending, thanks in large part to the way of the Web, the times are changing for trade journalism. The other side now has a new weapon that takes we journalists one step closer to mammon. In other words, the WWW may have discovered the ultimate WMeD (Weapon of Mass editorial Destruction), as journalism is under fire and taking hits from a less obvious direction.
Advertisers have always wanted to know the number of readers a publication has, the length of time readers commit to reading a particular story, how committed readers are to completing an article, and other methods that quantify the commercial value of the publication's editorial product.