Publish different: B-to-b media find multiple ways to pay tribute to Jobs
By Sean Callahan
The news of Steve Jobs' death broke on Wednesday evening Oct. 5. Thirty-six hours later, Bloomberg Businessweek's special, advertising-free issue commemorating the life of the founder and longtime CEO of Apple Inc. was delivered to front stoops along with the Friday morning newspapers.
Bloomberg Businessweek's turn-around time for its Jobs issue is just one example of the importance the media assigned to the death of this iconic computer industry executive. From The Wall Street Journal to Macworld, the business and technology press saw the story of Jobs' life and death as one they were uniquely equipped to tell.
“It's a business story,” said Paul Bascobert, Bloomberg Businessweek president, “and we told it as a business story.”
When Jobs resigned as CEO in August, it seemed clear that his pancreatic cancer would eventually claim his life. Bascobert met with Bloomberg Businessweek Editor Josh Tyrangiel to discuss how the magazine would cover Jobs' death. They began laying the groundwork for a special issue.
When the news of Jobs' death was released, Bloomberg Businessweek had essentially completed that next week's issue, which was slated to go to the printer the next morning. “In some ways it was the worst possible time for us,” Bascobert said.
After the magazine negotiated a few hours' reprieve on press time, Tyrangiel decided to go with the as-yet-uncompleted special issue. “The edit team pulled an all-nighter,” he said.
The special issue told the story of Jobs' life in three acts: his founding of Apple, his exit from the company and involvement with Pixar, and finally his triumphant return to Apple. “We didn't invent the three-act structure,” Tyrangiel said. “We just embraced it.”
The magazine's sales staff informed advertisers their ads would be delayed a week. “From the advertisers, we had amazing support,” Bascobert said. “All but one page moved into the subsequent issue.”
Time Inc.'s Fortune took a different approach, opting against a special issue. “The special issue didn't make sense,” said Fortune Managing Editor Andy Serwer. “From a business standpoint, going out and getting ads for something like that wasn't something we relished and didn't think would be appropriate.”
Instead, Fortune produced two publications on Jobs that it is selling to readers. “The Legacy of Steve Jobs,” which Serwer calls a “bookazine,” is a 112-page publication being sold in paperback on newsstands and in hardcover online. “All About Steve: The Story of Steve Jobs and Apple from the Pages of Fortune” is an e-book being sold on Amazon.
Additionally, the Nov. 7 issue of Fortune featured an excerpt from Walter Isaacson's new biography, “Steve Jobs.” The excerpt examined Jobs' sometimes contentious relationship with Microsoft founder Bill Gates.
Forbes Media may have had the most original approach to covering Jobs' death. Along with design company Jess3, it is creating a graphic novel on Jobs' life. Titled “The Zen of Steve Jobs,” the book will examine Jobs' relationship with a Zen monk and how it influenced the Apple CEO's second stint at the company.
The Wall Street Journal produced perhaps the single most interesting piece related to Jobs. “For Jobs' Biological Father, the Reunion Never Came” profiled Abdulfattah “John” Jandali, who is 80 and manages a casino in Nevada. The story closes with Jandali gesturing to his iPhone and saying, “They produce the best. Steve Jobs was a genius.”
Some critics said the media have gone overboard in their hagiography of the man who delivered the iPod, iPhone and iPad. But Ziff Davis Enterprise's editorial team had no problem finding quotes from those in the IT industry who found Apple's closed system frustrating.
One feature, “Five Less Awesome Legacies of Steve Jobs,” ran on the website of ZDE's Baseline brand. It featured this quote from Richard Stallman, software developer and founder of the Free Software Foundation: “Steve Jobs, the pioneer of the computer as a jail made cool, designed to sever fools from their freedom, has died. ... We can only hope successors, as they attempt to carry on his legacy, will be less effective.”
With Jobs' death, a surge of newsroom adrenaline gripped tech publishing as editors scrambled to get stories posted online. “It was one of those newsroom feelings you haven't had for a long time,” said Elliot Markowitz, ZDE's senior VP-director of content.
When the news came, the editorial staff of Macworld was shipping pages for its issue due on newsstands Nov. 7. It responded by remaking the cover and ripping up several pages to include coverage of Jobs, the man who was the reason for the magazine's existence.
In the end, journalists will miss Jobs, who almost effortlessly made news and good copy. “Steve Jobs' death is very sad for many people on many different levels,” Fortune's Serwer said. “One thing that is really sad for all of us is that he was a tremendous story, and I don't think that we will have anything like this to cover again in our lifetime.”