Electronic Design

Filtering New Product Announcements — A Trade Press Editor's Perspective

Once upon a time, every issue of Electronic Design would feature pages of new products. New products still do make their way into the print magazine from time to time, but a couple of months ago, the Web team came up with a concept whereby we tech editors submit one new product "pick" every week to be featured on the magazine's website.

Since this initiative started several months ago, the technology editors have been carrying on an e-mail sidebar about how we handle companies' new-product announcements, particularly on the Web. Since that's where you're reading this, I thought you might be interested in what we do to that stuff before you see it here.

I've always felt that a trade-press editor's function was different from a news reporter's. The reporter says: such-and-such happened; so-and-so said this; so-and-so said that; end of story. The trade-press editor is more an honest broker of information and a filter for the firehose of information that comes spewing from companies around the globe daily.

At Electronic Design, each technology editor has his own beats and special sections. (We've had women in the past and certainly will again, but at the moment, the senior editors are all male, so I'll continue to use male pronouns.) Dave Maliniak covers electronic design automation; Bill Wong, embedded design; Dan Harris, digital; Lou Frenzel covers communications along with test and measurement; and I write about power (and the parts of analog that Lou doesn't cover under communications). Electronic Design also has technical and contributing editors, including Roger Allan, Sam Davis, Ron Schneiderman, and, by special arrangement with National Semiconductor, the guy who invariably draws the most readers in our issue-by-issue polls, Bob Pease. Mark David, the editor-in-chief, rides herd on us natural-born mavericks.

Most of us write for both the print magazine and the Web site. In print, we write special reports (I'm working on one on noise — mostly the amplitude component of jitter — right now), along with intermittent longer stories about major product innovations (which we call "leapfrogs"), plus a TechView column on our beat in every issue. Dave and Bill do regular on-line reports as well, but everybody contributes open-ended pieces on a fairly regular basis to the newsletters and the Web site.

A Little History

What started the e-mail sidebar I referred to earlier was the way we should be handling press releases about new products. Before the Web, company press-relations people could only get out the news about new products by dealing one-on-one with trade-press editors. Admittedly, there were more magazines then, and they had many more pages than the survivors have today, but that still tended to throttle the volume of information, and what did get through tended to be rich and useful to readers.

The Web took off in late 1993, when Netscape released Mosaic for Wintel machines. Within a few years, newswires and amalgamators made it possible to issue all kinds of news releases that would never be redacted by a trade-press editor's pen. No longer would PR people have to worry that some grumpy editor would delete paragraph two, which contained the brilliantly crafted statement from some VP about how swell the new product was. Nor would that same editor be pointing out to readers that the performance numbers in the release were data-sheet "typical" values and that the guaranteed maxima and minima were far less exciting.

Today, the exact same press release would appear verbatim on hundreds of sites, all made instantly accessible by search engines, and if an engineer working in the trenches wanted to find out what was available to solve his or her problems, most of what he or she would find would be iterations of the manufacturers' party lines.

^^^^ ^^^^

The magazines that survived the loss of ad revenue that happened when companies moved part of their advertising budgets to the Web (followed by the dotcom crash) survived because they are the answer to the excesses that I've been talking about. We're still the honest brokers of information and the throttlers of corporate spam.

At least on a good day, that's what we like to think about ourselves.

What We Do In Our Spare Time

That's the background on our editorial sidebar. The "throttling," combined with limitations on printed page-count and personal bandwidth, means that some things that should be passed on to readers are lost. To deal with the page-count aspect of that, the obvious answer was to put the extra material on the Web site. To handle the personal-bandwidth part of the equation, Electronic Design tasked us technology editors to send our surplus-but-still-significant press releases to associate editors Christine Hintze and Jeff Gordon. Christine and Jeff would then clean them up and pass them on to editor-emeritus John Novellino, who would spare a little of his time from retirement to turn them into briefs for the on-line editions.

The main focus of our e-mail sidebar was assessing how each technology editor was dealing with the peculiarities of his beat. Bill, covering embedded, gets lots of good releases; Dave, covering EDA's smaller community of companies, gets fewer. Lou gets lots, but while I get plenty of power product announcements, some data converters and things that "look like a radio" overfill Lou's mailbox and leave mine with fewer analog announcements than I'd like. We're also trying to agree on how long it takes before an uncovered announcement gets so "cold" that we won't cover it. (DeForrest Invents Triode!)

The sidebar continues, but just for your amusement, or because you might be someone who is thinking about sending me a release, here's what I shared with the other editors this morning.

I mentally sort new press releases into bins:

  1. WOW! (Leapfrog-worthy, or at least TechView if I'm swamped)
  2. Quirky (Clever, but out of the mainstream — use for TechView)
  3. Hot Performance (Impressive datasheet numbers, no big architecture breakthrough)
  4. Ordinary product with some minor specialized feature
  5. Chip fills a hole in a product line
  6. Company signs new disti in Duckburg (or wherever)
  7. CEO to speak at Duckburg computer conference
  8. Anything with "RoHS" in the headline*

Releases that fall under 1 and 2, I save, but I'll pass them on to Christine and Jeff if they get more than a month old.

6, 7, and 8 immediately get dragged to the wastebasket.

4 and 5, I forward to Christine and Jeff, although sometimes I let them pile up first, which is where the timeliness debate fits in.

And those 3s are on the cusp; what I do with them depends on my mood.

* RoHS itself is interesting because formulations change so often. Product releases? No-go.

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