Silicon Insider: Death of a Magazine

Let us sit upon the ground and speak of the death of magazines.

One of the dark jokes among reporters is that photographers and cameramen often get themselves killed because they see the dangerous situation they are in only through a viewfinder — and the detachment that little sliver of glass provides gives them an unwarranted sense of invulnerability.

The camera jockeys think they are still observers, when in fact they are participants. They only find out the truth when it is too late. Of course, the joke is also on us reporters, because we are just as blind to our own precariousness.

I've just felt the sting of that punch line in my own career. In the span of a single day, I watched helplessly as two magazines I helped create — Upside and Forbes ASAP — died before my eyes.

What made the news burn even more was that, literally hours later, the busted stock market at last began show signs of new life. I feel like the doughboy who took the final bullet on Armistice Day, 1918. Just one more day and I would have survived …

The Downside for 'Upside'

Upside, founded a dozen years ago, pre-dated even Wired as the first magazine of the new economy. Originally targeted at Silicon Valley, Upside was designed by its founders, Rich Karlgaard (now publisher of Forbes) and Tony Perkins (publisher of Red Herring) as a scurrilous, muckraking-type magazine: sort of Spy-meets-Fortune.

For several reasons, I had a soft spot in my heart for Upside long after I stopped writing for it. First, from the beginning its editorial style was consciously patterned after the writing I was doing at the time for the San Jose Mercury-News — and there's no greater honor for a writer than that.

Second, I authored some of the most infamous cover stories for the publication (most notoriously "Has Silicon Valley Gone Pussy?" — which I will never ever live down). And finally, because Upside serialized a novel of mine, The Bitch Goddess, my first major piece of fiction.

Upside had become a shadow of its former self long before it died, superseded by the star magazines of the era, such as Industry Standard and the original Business 2.0. Its cheekiness, too, paled against its online descendants such as F---edCompany.com.

By the time the magazine took its last breath, even once-loyal readers were surprised to hear that it still existed. Nevertheless, for me at least, it was hard to see Upside go, if only because the magazine was a perpetual reminder of the cocky, outrageous young writer I once was.

Taking on the Big Issues

The death of Forbes ASAP stung much more deeply.

It, too, had been founded by Rich Karlgaard, and was just coming up on its 10th anniversary. In terms of quality — and, among journalists at least, in terms of influence — ASAP was the best magazine of the tech era. It didn't start out that way — I cringe looking at the geekiness of the early issues — but by the mid-1990s, it was probably the best technology magazine of them all.

This was especially true once each year in the magazine's Big Issue, where we took a single theme (Time, Convergence, Truth) and went out and got the best writers alive to tackle it in essays, memoirs and stories.

Looking back, the list of those writers is astonishing — Kurt Vonnegut, Tom Wolfe, John Updike, E.O. Wilson, Stephen Ambrose, Peggy Noonan, Seamus Heaney, Stephen Jay Gould, Cszelaw Milosz, Gore Vidal, Jacques Barzun, even Muhammad Ali.

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