Letter of recommendation

As you’ve no-doubt heard, Macworld, the company I work for, suffered massive layoffs on Wednesday. Essentially, just about everyone in the masthead was let go. I remain, as do Susie Ochs and Leah Yamshon, and we’ll do our very best to do right by Macworld—we owe it to those who came before and our readers. But I admit that seeing my colleagues leave has been a bit like having everyone around you suddenly raptured while you stand gawking with a ham sandwich shoved halfway in your mouth.

It’s not my business to get into the whys and wherefores, but if you’re of an age where you care about newspapers and print magazines, you’re well aware that publishing has become a very difficult business. Advertising is increasingly hard to come by and readers are unwilling to pay in large enough numbers to keep their favorite publications alive.

It’s easy to blame management because, hey, it’s always The Man, right? But the truth is that Macworld continued as a print publication for as long as it did because the people at the very top had a soft spot for it. They tried every way they could think of to make it work. Regrettably, the realities of economics eventually took hold.

The stars in the firmament 

But I’m not here to feed Internet tittle-tattle. Rather, as someone who’s been with Macworld (and MacUser before it) for a very long time, I’d like to provide potential employers (and those who are simply interested in their favorite writers) some details about my departed colleagues.

Serenity Caldwell: I first heard about “Ren” when her father emailed me something over three years ago. He’d read my stuff for years and felt comfortable contacting me about my views on his very talented daughter possibly working for Macworld as a blogger. My answer couldn’t have been clearer:

“If she’s as talented as you say she should shoot for something bigger than a blogger job, where she’ll make very little money. If she were my daughter I’d say ‘No’”.

It is to my everlasting fortune that Ren had the good sense to tell her father to ignore the babblings of an old man. She had a passion for writing and was going to prove herself. And she more than has. Dedicated, professional, and whip-smart describe Ms. Caldwell. She wrangled Macworld’s ebooks into something worth reading when the tools for doing so were about as sophisticated as a hammer and chisel. I’ve been blessed to call her my colleague (and, most recently, podcast partner). Thankfully, others are just as impressed. In a few weeks Ren will be joining the staff of iMore.com, one of the greatest Apple resources around. They’re lucky to have her.

Jackie Dove: Jackie hasn’t been with Macworld for awhile and she’s landed a good gig at The Next Web doing what she does best—addressing topics of a creative nature including photography and video. I wanted to talk about Jackie not because she’s in need of a gig, but rather because she too was a key player at Macworld in the last few years. 

Reflecting her current job, Jackie was our Creative channel editor. When Adobe released a major upgrade to its Creative Suite or Apple unleashed consumer or professional photography and video tools, Jackie saw to it that they were carefully covered—from news pieces to first looks to extensive reviews. When it came to cameras, editing software, and creative trends, she was the go-to gal. She and I worked on a number of audio tool reviews and she was a joy to work with—easy-going and with a keen eye on the important elements to focus on.

Dan Frakes: Dan and I first “met” back in my MacUser days when he created InformInit, a stunning database of System Folder files—control panels, extensions, and system content from the “old” Mac OS. My Help Folder partner, Bob LeVitus, and I relied on InformInit to help answer our readers most confounding questions. 

Later he became a contributing editor for Macworld, where I was also a CE. He was among a few of us who eventually were hired on staff (Rob Griffiths being the other member of that club). Dan and I worked together on the short-lived Playlist magazine and website project.

Where to start singing Dan’s praises? If I had to find one word for Dan it would be “exacting.” And I don’t mean inflexible. I mean that if Dan was putting together one of his many “How to make a bootable OS X install drive” articles or reviewing a Mac Gem or contributing to an FAQ, he would take the time to ensure that every important detail was included and each was unassailably correct. If I had a technical question or just wanted someone to reality check something I was working on, I turned to Dan. He was always generous with his time and you couldn’t meet a nicer guy.

Jim Galbraith: I’ve known “JimmyG” forever—or at least from my earliest days at MacUser. Although it hasn’t been talked about much in the articles concerning Macworld, the Macworld Labs were also affected and Jimmy was the guy who ran them. If you’ve ever turned to Macworld to see how a particular Mac, monitor, hard drive, or graphics card performs, Jimmy had a hand in testing it and providing all the details you needed. 

Seemingly a quiet and unassuming guy, Jimmy lives a dual life as one of the members of the Amazing Embarrassonic Human Karaoke Machine, a name that describes itself. (If you’ve ever been to one of Jim Dalrymple’s The Beard parties, they’re the backup band.) He’s a wonderfully talented musician and technician and would make a terrific hire anywhere.

Roman Loyola: Roman and I also go way back. Known to me as “The Man,” Roman was another MacUser guy who found his way to Macworld after a side-trip to MacAddict/Mac|Life magazine. Roman even made an appearance on The Colbert Report as the face behind a roaming iPad robot.

Roman is another incredibly smart guy who specializes in reviews—hardware as well as software. When Apple released a new Mac, Roman was buried within its guts within minutes of unboxing it. And when he wasn’t tasked with writing a review, he was The Man who organized its production and publication. I don’t know anyone else in our industry who knows products as well as Roman.

Scholle Sawyer McFarland: Scholle lost her job in the previous round of layoffs but I want to give her her due. Scholle is another MacUser alum who was instrumental in making sure that I made the jump from that magazine to Macworld when the two merged. Once that jump was complete, Scholle and I worked closely together for years—for much of its print life, Scholle was the editor of my Mac 911 column.

She also took the lead on Macworld’s many How-To articles. If you’ve ever learned how to do something from the printed or virtual pages of Macworld, you can thank Scholle. In addition to being a terrific writer and editor, Scholle has perspective. When working on one how-to piece or another she was always sure to talk about the value of what we were trying to teach. Was it too easy? Too complicated? Was there something we needed to teach first before attempting this? She was also the primary mover behind my many Automator how-to articles—articles that showed readers that Apple automation need not be complicated. I still miss working with her.

Philip Michaels: Phil has worn so many hats at Macworld/IDGCSMB that they could fill a well appointed haberdashery. Among them is writer, editor, online editor, managing editor, executive editor, podcaster, video personality, and number one guy you’d want to have a drink with after work. Every one of Macworld’s writers is truly that—a consummate writer. But it was Phil’s work that made me smile more often than not for its pure brilliance and ability to make a seemingly mundane topic sparkle with wit and insight.

I have no idea where Phil will land, but an excellent organizer and editor though he may be, I hope writing is involved and I’ll have the privilege to read it.

Dan Miller: Dan was technically my boss and absolutely hated it when I reminded him of it. An IDG veteran, Dan has spent the bulk of his working life with PCWorld and Macworld. And it showed in all the best ways. Originally a print guy, Dan understood the value of a professional voice, solid layout, and work that got to the point. Macworld the magazine was essentially his baby for the last few years. You need only open an issue to see what Dan brought to Macworld. Class. Professionalism. Care.

And as my boss (sorry, Dan) he couldn’t have been wiser. He catered his management style to each individual. For example, I work best when left alone and so his approach was “You just do what you do and if you need me for something, let me know.” And when I did need him he was as good as his word. When I didn’t, he stayed out of my way. I can never be thankful enough for that kind of trust and respect. Dan has graciously agreed to stay on for a few weeks to help with the transition. When he eventually leaves I’ll miss him more than I can say.

Dan Moren: Among the many regrets of my life is that I didn’t bow down to Dan when I first met him as a new Macworld blogger. I knew he was churning out a lot of content, but as he and I rarely came to the office (because he lives on the east coast and I’m a hermit) I didn’t have the opportunity to take the measure of the man in person for quite some time. 

When Dan was promoted from blogger to staffer I paid more attention and boy was I impressed. He has technical chops to burn, is incredibly articulate, and the man writes like a dream. Dan was always a great resource for “What does this really mean?” insights. He understood the tech, the motivation, and the perspective of developers, many of whom he counts as friends. An amazingly prolific writer, Dan is also an unbeatable wordsmith. I know that when I see Dan’s byline I’m going to read something well organized, level-headed, and informative.

Jon Seff: Jon was also laid off earlier this year but as he was important in my professional life I wanted to be sure to include him. Although Jon had been with Macworld for over 15 years I always thought of him as “the kid.” Maybe it’s his youthful looks, his mellow demeanor, or just the fact that he’s easy to tease. 

Jon (who is easily as enthusiastic about music as I am) and I worked on a lot of Playlist features together. Whether it was streaming services, media boxes, iTunes conundrums, or just the general pondering of where this media machine was headed, Jon was there with invaluable insights. (He’s also a great editor who saved me from countless potentially embarrassing blunders.) 

Jason Snell: As Jason announced on his personal blog he voluntarily left IDG after years of service. I almost feel silly praising him when he’s so well known and accomplished. But I can provide some background.

I’d been working with MacUser for a few years as a contributing editor when Jason came on board as an intern just out of Cal. My wife, Claire, was a copy editor at MacUser at the time. After Jason had been there a few weeks Claire approached him and said “Someday you’re going to be running all of this. You’re a star!” (I have since tasked her with buying lottery tickets.)

Jason and I worked together in many ways over the years—he was my editor when writing Macworld’s tips and, I believe, in the early days of Mac 911. But he was always destined for bigger things. And he was because He Got It. 

What he got was that print was on its way out as a primary source of our information. With the Internet’s immediacy, print took too long to provide people with what they needed to know. It was still a valuable means for consuming the big picture but it shouldn’t be the primary way of doing so.

So when he took command he reversed Macworld’s print/Web model. Instead of publishing the magazine and then tossing some of its content on Macworld’s website, he decreed that Web content would come first and the best of that content would go into the magazine in edited form. This seems like an obvious move now, but at the time it was daring and terribly prescient.

I have no worries for Jason. He’s already established the workings of a podcast empire. Hackneyed though it may sound, I truly look forward to following Jason’s work in the future.

Sally Zahner: And finally, the unspoken heroes of any publication—the Word People. Sally was Macworld’s Managing Editor. She and her staff (which included Gail Nelson-Bonebrake, Steven Gray, Sushmita Mitra, and Tracy Yee-Vaught) ensured that every I was dotted, T crossed, and that the print and digital magazines that reached your hands were as mistake-free and lovingly written as possible. People like Sally and her crew ensure that writers look their best by polishing and rejiggering their work. I know a few writers who resent anyone touching their copy but I wake each morning thanking the heavens that people like Sally exist. It’s a regrettable thing that copy editors are often treated as an extravagance. If you want your work to look its best, you need to hire someone like Sally.

About the big picture

This has gone on long enough but before wrapping up I want to say something about Macworld and its writing tradition. In the most recent edition of the Accidental Tech Podcast, hosts Marco Arment, Casey Liss, and John Siracusa offered a heartfelt tribute to Macworld that I know all of us appreciated. John attempted to put a word to what the writers did (and do) there. He used terms like “mature” and “adult” to describe Macworld’s writing style. I’d like to add one more:

Intentional. 

All the people I’ve mentioned are enthralled with technology—they wouldn’t do what they do otherwise. But I don’t think I’m going too far in saying that were you to ask them to describe their professional life in one word they’d reply “Writer.”

These people love language and using it to convey sometimes arcane ideas and procedures. Because they do, they are careful with the words they use and the way they’re arranged. These words and the ideas behind them are issued with intent—to help with understanding, to entertain, to instill insight.

In a world where it’s easy to get attention through raving, snark, and the overuse of punctuation, this is a rare skill. I hope those of you in the position to do so will honor that skill by allowing these voices to be heard.