If I'd Won That US$290M Lottery, I'd Start A REAL Mac Magazine, Cuz Lord Knows We Need One

I then said that writing wasnit easy and it wasnit fun. It was hard and lonely, and the words seldom just flowed. I then said that rewriting is the essence of writing.

William Zinsser, On Writing Well


Of course it is no use telling an American boy or girl that the essay must be written, laid aside, and rewritten at least once before handing in: the innocents do not know what to do after their first painful delivery. The embargo on hokum will already work a healthy elimination of bad prose.

Jacques Barzun, Teacher in America

This past weekend, four people each won a four-way-portion of $290 million; one even lived here in Minnesota. Itis always interesting to see how the nouveau riche behave with their lucky windfall.

Funny, not even one of them told their employer to kiss their butt. Not that I would do that.

Anyway, during my morning commute, I wondered what Iid do if Iid been crazy enough to buy a lottery ticket and subsequently fortunate enough to win the jackpot. I wondered if Iid keep my job, or would I stay there, waiting for my boss to even look at me funny, so that Iid have excuse to "go off." I continued my game of "what if?" Then, it occurred to me what my obvious path would be if I had the riches to support it.

Iid start up a Mac print magazine, one that pulled no punches, one that gave the readers what they wanted, yet one that was also audacious enough to try to give the readers what they needed. And what is that? you probably are asking. Iill get to that. But first, let me say that there is no reason we should need another Mac print magazine in this small market, but the need exists, nevertheless, because the competition is asleep at the wheel.

Fallen from grace and greatness
There was a time when I looked forward to receiving my Mac magazines with great eagerness:

--Those were the days of Mac Today, when it carried the sub-title that told the world that this magazine was a "PC-slammini, totally-biased look at the Macintosh." There was nothing wrong, I thought, with gratuitous Windows bashing and unabashed Mac-love festing. But that toned down when Mac Today morphed into Mac Design. Not that thereis anything wrong with that?

--Remember the first two years of Mac Addictis life? Cheryl England headed what was arguably one of the coolest magazine staffs in the industry; the Mac CD was "da bomb" (thatis a good thing). Today? Well?

--Macworld magazine was THE source for news on all things Macintosh. Itis a shadow of its former self, methinks?

The catalyst for these musings is that I received a subscription notice today from Macworld. The letter said:

"Dear Rodney Lain:

"Buying and using a Macintosh was once relatively easy. But with the tremendous growth in the power of computer hardware and software, things are much more complicated these days.

"Which Mac hardware and software products are right for you? And after youive bought them, how can you get the most out of your investment?

"Macworld is the best source for the expert information you need to choose, evaluate, and use Mac hardware and software.

"This is why your subscription to Macworld is key, and why itis time to renew it now.

In light of what Iive read over the last few issues of Macworld, the above all translates into: "we write a helluva lotta reviews every issue!" Who needs a magazine full of reviews? I donit.

It goes on to tell me how I can save 74% off the newsstand price by paying $24.97 for 12 issues.

But, Iim not even moved enough to plunk down $25. And, you know? I almost feel the same way about every Mac magazine out there, with the rare exception or two.

"Okay, Mr. Smarty Pants?"
Thereis three main things that could be easily done to set a Mac magazine above and beyond the rest of the pack. Iill pick on Macworld for each of these points, since that is supposed to be the standard-bearer for Mac print journalism.

1) bring back that Mac attitude: this is lost on me, because I donit see how a Mac magazine can be the least likely place one is to find good, ole-fashioned Mac religion. If you Macworld guys want to see how it is done, mosey on over to Mac Design magazine (n? Mac Today).

Though Mac Design doesnit ooze Mac attitude the way that Mac Today used to (they went respectable on us), it still oozes nevertheless. My favorite thing to do is to read their Colophon (itis on the page where they list the magazineis staff).

In the June 2001 issue, the Colophon reads, "Produced using Adobe InDesign 1.5, PhotoShop 6.0, and Illustrator 8. Body copy is set in Cronos Reg. 11. Headlines are set in Trebuchet. We also used 3 parts vinegar, 2 parts water, a toad, a newt, a sprinkle of saffron, and a dash of grilled PC user, lightly nuked then slowly roasted."

Couple this with their Letters page, where you get to read "feedback from our readers and the occasional PC weenie," itis worth way more than its $17.95 subscription fee. You may have to hold your nose as you turn the page past things like the Windows Media Player 7 ad on page 13 and that ubiquitous Office 2001 ad on page 4 and 5. :-)

2) write original articles. This is my biggest beef, one shared by many people on our forums. There is a mountain of subject matter just waiting to be written. "VSewardis" comments say it best:

"The articles in [Macworld and Mac Addict] donit do much to give insight into the world of the Mac (Macworld, oddly enough, less so than MacAddict). I donit get interesting applications (resellers who are doing odd things with Macs, universities who are pushing limits with Macs, stuff like that), I donit get enough peripheral news, and I donit get enough ads (yes, I want more ads. Show me everything).

"I guess the problem is that there are no serious Mac magazines around, everything is geared towards a very general audience or graphic designers. What about the rest of us? Give me some articles on using AppleWorks as a serious writing tool, on using iTunes and FileMaker to catalog my CD collection, give me tips on iMovie production techniques, show me how to use Appleis little-used speech recognition software to do something useful.

"But, since Macworld and MacAddict are the only real games in town I say renew your subscription, then complain to the editors."

3) donit kiss up to Apple. Hereis a no-brainer for you: I often wonder if the Mac mags are sleeping with Apple? Because, itis just not good manners to be overly critical of the one you are sleeping with. Now, if I owned a Mac mag, Iid do whatever I could to remain a disinterested Mac observer, even if it meant buying my computer from Mac resellers, instead of taking those "courtesy" machines from Cupertino. Iid greatly restrict how much Apple advertising we would accept (Apple needs to show those ads in more non-Mac venues anyway), since that is probably one of the biggest conflicts of interest around.

Certain Mac mags need to fess up and admit that theyire nothing more than an extension of Appleis PR department.

With the exception of Mac Design and Mac Addict, there arenit any real contenders to the Mac journalism throne. Macworld holds the title by default only, and no one else has the bankroll to contest them. Until then, I prefer to stick with excellent Web-zines like The Mac Observer and superb newsletters like TidBITS and MWJ/MDJ.

Mac Addict began publishing when Appleis death knell was being sounded the loudest, so I see no excuse why some enterprising fellows wouldnit be able to carve out a niche in this wilderness we call Mac journalism, even if we are in The Recession That No One Will Admit Exists.

Maybe the current crop of Mac journals will reclaim their roots and resume the traditions carried on by solid publication like TidBITS or MWJ/MDJ. Then again, someone out there may be working on a new publication that will take this Mac journalism stuff to a whole new level of excellence.

Lord knows we readers need it

Rodney O. Lain says that Mac journalists should do as he says, not as he does. When heis not arm-chair-quarterbacking the Mac press, he is a regular contributor to The Mac Observer with his "iBrotha" column.