Changing the guard at ARN
- 03 June, 1998 13:52
Philip Sim, the newly appointed editor of Australian Reseller News, chats with founding ARN editor and now channel director Paul Zucker about the publication. Sim, who was previously editor of Network World and before that news editor of ComputerWorld, has a raft of fresh ideas for the publication, both in its printed and electronic formsSim: How did Australian Reseller News start?
Zucker: Around seven years ago IDG managing director Don Kennedy and ComputerWorld editor Steve Ireland called me in to discuss an idea they had. No one had ever tried to write on behalf of the resellers, a vital part of the IT industry. Within a couple of months we'd started producing Reseller Magazine, a monthly in A4 format. The only other IDG channel publication at that time was Distributique from France.
Sim: How did you get it to the right people? As you say, it hadn't been done before.
Zucker: While we were able to find resellers and distributors in the databases for existing IDG publications, we were very fortunate to have great industry support. The large distributors and vendors quickly saw the advantage in having a publication that went to the entire industry, and gave us their reseller databases to mail to.
Sim: You stayed as a successful monthly magazine for four and a half years. Why did you change format and frequency?
Zucker: In the early days our aim was to complement the more traditional IT publications, featuring information that the channel couldn't get in any other way. Then, around two and a half years ago, we had some research done that unmistakably showed that not only did the channel find Reseller an essential publication, but it wanted much more. And much more timely news. We went to a fortnightly newspaper, and even we were amazed at the industry acceptance of what we were doing. Of course, we changed the name to Australian Reseller News to show we'd moved in format from a magazine to a newspaper.
Sim: What do you mean by industry "acceptance"?
Zucker: There are two measures of acceptance, and you really don't get one without the other. The channel was reading it and the vendors were advertising.
Sim: Apart from paying the bills, how important is advertising to ARN?
Zucker: Advertising in ARN is vitally important to the reseller. Right from the start, the smart vendors realised they could convey a message that would be more expensive and more difficult to convey any other way. However, it wasn't until we had the relaunch that the majority of advertisers realised they could design ads specifically for ARN, conveying a message specifically for resellers.
Sim: What has been ARN's view about what is and isn't news?
Zucker: We've always considered ourselves the journal of record for the IT channel. What I mean by that is, we report across all aspects of the channel, giving people the news they need to know now, but also recording it for later reference. Sometimes that means covering a story simply and only once, but sometimes the story unfolds over a period so we keep everyone up to date.
Sim: When you covered a story, who were you writing it for?
Zucker: Well, although the channel covers a wide range, we always write for and on behalf of the reseller first and foremost. Vendors and distributors are an essential part of the readership too, but the reseller comes first.
Sim: Does that mean you haven't run negative stories about resellers?
Zucker: Not at all. While we don't conduct entrapment-type stories, like the current affairs TV shows where a reseller has done something illegal or against the better interests of the industry, it's important for the channel to know we'll cover the story.
Sim: Have you ever soft-pedalled on vendor and distributor stories?
Zucker: Our charter is to give fair and balanced coverage. Let's face it, the only possible reasons for doing that would be that we were getting kickbacks to go easy, or that we were getting pressure from advertisers. Neither of those things has ever happened.
In fact when we see that a vendor or distributor is in the wrong, we have an obligation to the readers to report what's happening. The newspaper game isn't about soft-soaping everyone so they'll be our friends. Likewise, it isn't about using our position to have an unjustifiable go at someone we've taken a disliking to, either.
Sim: Have you ever had an advertiser pull ads because you either did, or didn't run a story?
Zucker: To be honest, I don't know. I wouldn't think so. The point is, in editorial we don't know who's going to advertise in an issue. That's why we occasionally run a story and when the issue gets printed we discover the vendor has an ad opposite the story. It's embarrassing for us, but it proves we don't know who's advertising or we'd have moved the story to avoid the juxtaposition.
Sim: Why did you change frequency to weekly?
Zucker: As a fortnightly we simply couldn't report the news quickly enough. Once again, research showed unquestionably that the channel wanted more news, and it wanted it in a timely manner. And that's why we introduced our daily service at the beginning of this year.
Sim: I hope that every one of our readers subscribes to the daily news service. They'll find it's the most time-economical way of keeping up with the incredible pace of change in the IT industry.
Zucker: You've asked enough questions. I'd like to know what changes you'll be making.
Sim: As I said, most people today complain about not having a lot of time. I think it's very important then, that information is easy to find. So we'll be introducing some consistent sections to ARN so readers can very quickly track down the information that's important to them. That will be one change.
Focusing on the end user for the last five years, a big trend I've noticed is an increased reliance on the high end of the channel. With technology becoming increasingly complex and difficult to implement, users are turning to network and system integrators as well as outsourcers to both deploy and maintain their IT systems. I think it's important therefore that we evolve with the market and significantly increase our coverage of those segments.
That will mean ARN covers the entire spectrum of the channel from mass-market retailers all the way through to outsourcers. The new sections I've talked about will reflect this across-the-board coverage.
Zucker: What editorial refocusing will you personally have to do moving from an end-user publication to a channel publication?
Sim: I have two very strong publishing beliefs. The first being that every editorial decision you make should be driven by the information demands of your target audience. But more than that, I think IT publications also have a responsibility to act as an advocate for their readers.
At ComputerWorld and Network World we have been very focused on the information needs of IT and network managers, and were very much their advocates in the market.
That's why I'm so comfortable slipping into this role at ARN.
Part of being an advocate is taking to task vendors, government or any other organisation that can act in a way that is contrary to the best interests of your readers. I will make no apologies for taking a tough stance against any vendor or distributor who does that.
Zucker: What's your opinion about the rights advertisers have over what we put in the paper editorially?
Sim: IDG (the publisher of ARN, ComputerWorld and Network World) has always maintained that there is absolutely NO relationship between advertising and editorial and I'm a very strong believer in that.
I would be horrified and I think readers would be horrified if that wasn't the case.
After all, if advertising influences editorial how can you trust that publication to report the news and events in a balanced, objective way?
I think even advertisers should demand editorial independence. Readers can spot the difference between objective writing and that which isn't.
Zucker: Is there anything you expect from your readers or would like to see from your readers?
Sim: Well, as I've already mentioned, I would expect that they would demand editorial independence and objective, balanced and professional reporting. I would hope that they see ARN as a centrepiece of the channel community and that we can all work together to champion the reseller and integrator cause and better all our businesses. And I would hope our readers get involved with the paper. If you strongly agree or disagree with a story, e-mail us a "Letter to the Editor". My address is email@example.com. This paper is here to serve the channel, not the other way around.
Zucker: What makes a story "news" to you?
Sim: I seem to keep harking back to this point, but it's all about how much effect any particular story has on the channel. That and timeliness. Being a weekly and also having our daily news service, we are in a strong position to report news as it happens. I get a kick out of being first with the news and having hunted down stories that haven't been reported before. I just love the scoop!
Zucker: What's the best way for vendors to present a story idea to ARN?
Sim: The reseller team wants to know first and foremost what the implications are for the channel. You can help us by putting us in touch with your channel partners who might sell the product or have tested it. If possible, we want to talk to resellers and integrators about every story we write. If the story is a news story contact the news editor, Cameron Tomes. If it is a feature idea contact Matthew Powell. Contact details may be found on page 25 of this week's issue.