What really happened at PC World?

Following up on this morning’s story about PC World editor Harry McCracken resigning over “disagreements with management”… I found this on Colin Crawford’s blog, posted less than a month ago (Crawford is the management with whom Harry had the disagreement):

Having just taken over PC World and Macworld, I know we still have a lot to do in this regard. The attitude, (despite obvious indications to the contrary that the audience needs to be front and center) is still one of pushing out content rather than pulling it in. This approach is a by-product of our print legacy and it’s out of date.

I intend to work hard to change this approach at IDG and particularly at PC World and Macworld. In one memorable interaction with Steve Jobs he very calmly told me that is was not I was wrong, it was just that I needed an “attitude adjustment”.

What is remarkably absent from that blog posting is the part where Crawford actually responds to what appears to be pressure, if not an outright insult, from Steve Jobs, a major advertiser. That’s especially noteworthy in light of this quote from the original story by former PC World employee Kim Zetter at Wired News:

Crawford was former CEO of MacWorld and only started at PC World about a month ago. According to the PC World source, when Crawford was working for the Mac magazine, Steve Jobs would call him up any time he had a problem with a story the magazine was running about Apple.

“Everybody is so proud of Harry but we’re devastated that he’s gone,” said the source. “This is no way to run a magazine. But unfortunately, this looks like an indication of what we’ve got in store (from the new boss).”

I will be eagerly awaiting a statement from Crawford or from IDG that explains their side of the story. But let me say here what I said in the comments of the earlier post:

When a very well respected editor resigns with no notice after more than 13 years on the job and cites “disagreements with management” as the cause, I think anyone is justified in drawing negative inferences. So I repeat: IDG has some explaining to do.

PS: Harry’s bio notes that he “was recognized with the 2004 American Business Media’s Western Award for Editorial Courage and Integrity.”

8 thoughts on “What really happened at PC World?

  1. I’m no Apple expert, but what good does it do to stay on their good side anyway? Sometimes pubs do it because they are afraid of being shut out from advance coverage. It seems like Apple doesn’t give any advance information to the press because they like to control it all themselves. They sue people who do get the information from back channels.

  2. Take it from me: there’s no equity in the journalism profession (like I have to tell you that). And apparently little separation between church and state at PC World.

  3. In all the time I can remember, I have never known Apple to provide the press with any kind of privileged access to work in progress. When Windows XP was still in the works, MS invited quite a few press people to come to Redmond and see how things were shaping up (myself included, and Dave Methvin as well if memory serves). I don’t recall anyone ever getting that kind of a peek at OS X.

  4. What sort of integrity is needed to write a piece titled “Ten things we hate about Apple”?

    For that matter, what sort of writing expertise would be needed to do the opposite and write a piece titled “Ten things we hate about Microsoft”?

    These fluff pieces show neither integrity nor writing ability.

    As for PC World, if they go easy on advertisers, their reviews can never be trusted. Who is going to subscribe to a magazine without integrity?

  5. The issue of integrity has to do with a business manager overruling decisions made by the editor. The editor can make good or bad decisions and should have to answer for the consequences of those decisions. But the wall between advertising and editorial is supposed to prevent this sort of thing.

    The example doesn’t matter. The issue would be the same if it were a throwaway article or a Pultizer Prize-winning investigative report.

  6. “It seems like Apple doesn’t give any advance information to the press because they like to control it all themselves. They sue people who do get the information from back channels.”

    Yes, but that’s from “back channels.” Authorized channels are another thing.

    Consider that a magazine usually needs a few months lead time. So Apple will provide a machine 3 months ahead of when they plan to ship it so that the magazine can write about it. Of course, reporters are signed to NDAs and the machine has to be locked up and things like that. But if you get on Apple’s wrong side, don’t expect to get those machines in time to have your magazine on the shelf when Apple releases the machine.

    Time and Newsweek are good examples. You don’t think about it because it flows so seamlessly. But for Time magazine to do a front page story on the iMac G4, as they did back in 2002, they need to see it a few weeks in advance. So, yes, there are those privileged reporters who get to see Apple stuff in advance.

  7. I find it uproarious that now we are going to be deluged with all this sanctimonious pap about how magazine control works and how XYZ did PDQ and should have done FDZ. Guys, may I inject some reality antibodies here?

    There is no standard in news organizations for how they conduct their affairs internally. It’s all local. Maybe at mag A, the manager gets final sign off. Maybe at mag B, he’s hands off and the editor runs the show. I’ve seen it work both ways. Who cares?
    You’re asking us to believe that PC World is some kind of heavy-hitting bastion of PC news? Ahahaha. Hahah. Haha!
    When someone quits after working at a place for 13 years, any number of things can be inferred. One is that he wanted to quit anyways and this was an excuse. Another is he wanted more power than he had and thought he could get it because of the new manager. He didn’t get it, so he quit. A third is that the CEO is a draconian autocrat who eats editors for lunch. There’s really no way of knowing unless you’re privy to more details than we’ve seen so far.
    I just can’t take seriously the proposition that a senior editor is going to quit his job over the inability to publish a puff piece called “10 Things We Hate About Apple”. That is the number one reason I suspect there’s more to this story than we’ve been told.

  8. inRussetShadows: I’m privy to the details. The third scenario is fact. The other two are wild guesses on your part and to varying degrees wrong. Given that you know nothing and the sources cited in the articles (that almost to a man and woman side with Harry) may know at least a smidgeon more than you sanctimoniously claim to know, I would hold my supercilious tongue.

    P.S. PC World is no bastion of PC news, but who would take their writing–bastion or not–seriously, if the overwhelming editorial atmosphere is one of secession to advertisers?

    P.P.S. First puff pieces, then editorials, then reviews, then news. It’s a slippery slope, and the ease with which a puff piece is stuffed speaks volumes about the future censurement of content.

    I’m really amazed at the flippancy of your post.

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