I just heard the news that Harry McCracken has resigned his position as editor in chief of PC World, one of InfoWorld’s sister publications. Apparently the newly-appointed CEO of the PC World/MacWorld group didn’t like it when Harry wrote a piece criticizing a company that also happened to be a PC World advertiser, so he took it upon himself to kill the story. Harry wouldn’t stand for it. Instead, he walked.
Sad to say, Harry’s case only demonstrates what seems to be a trend in trade publishing, driven from the top down. The suits will tell you that the publishing business isn’t about printing magazines, it’s about providing marketing channels for advertisers. A magazine isn’t a product, and a reader isn’t a customer. Rather, the reader is the product, and editorial is just a necessary evil (but one that they’re working to minimize).
This attitude is poison. It’s true that the media industry as a whole is struggling to maintain ad revenue in an increasingly competitive market, and print magazines have taken the biggest hit. But be that as it may, we as journalists simply cannot allow sales and marketing to dictate content, or we’re not worthy of the name. When every word we write becomes subject to the veto of a corporate sponsor — or worse, is excised out of fear of what the sponsor might do — there simply is no journalism left.
For Harry, the decision to leave probably wasn’t as difficult as it might seem. True, by walking out he threw away a job, and now he’s unemployed. But had he stayed on — in effect becoming complicit with the new status quo — he would have thrown away his principles, his dignity, and quite possibly his career.
I’ve certainly been there, Harry. I’ve certainly been there. In your shoes, I’d have done the same thing.