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In 1982, I was a freelance writer/editor who got a gig at a new publication called PC Magazine, mostly because I had recently written a book on robotics for young adults. I was ushered to a desk in a room cluttered with various half-built systems and introduced to an IBM PC (8088 processor, two 5.25-inch floppy drives, monochrome monitor) and a copy of WordStar. (No modem -- the Internet was still something for scientists and academics.) And my life in computer journalism began.

Now, it seems that PC Magazine -- the print version -- is going to close. I still have copies of some of my old magazines down in my basement. They are thick with reviews and advertisements; before the Web, this was where people went to find out which computer they needed to buy.

There were three of us in that room: two editors and a tech guy. We called it the Toy Room because this was where all the tech came and got tested; we got to play with and take apart all the new PCs that were starting to be manufactured. A year or so later it was decided that PC Magazine needed to adopt a more business-like attitude, and we were told that the Toy Room was now going to be called The Labs. I was disappointed.

I only lasted at PC Magazine about a year and a half, although I worked with the company (Ziff-David, ZD Publishing, whatever) on and off for many years to follow. But I started to learn my trade there.

The last print publication will be dated January 2009. PC Magazine isn't the oldest computer magazine around -- Computerworld, where I now work, was started in 1967, and there are others. But its beginning heralded the start of the age of home computers. The ending of its print publication means, to me anyway, that we're now past the beginning of that age. I'm just a bit sad to see it go.
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Folger Library
The week before last, Jim and I went to the Washington, D.C. area (specifically, Rockville, MD) to attend the Capclave SF convention. Capclave was a lot of fun (it's a really nice, low-key literary con), and we always go a couple of days early so we can go touristing in D.C.

This year turned out to have a distinctly journalistic bent -- part of which, quite frankly, we didn't expect. We had decided to go to the Newseum, a new private museum sponsored by the Freedom Forum that just opened recently. The museum turned out to be huge, modern, full of multimedia and interactive exhibits -- and was, ultimately, disappointing. Especially because the first exhibit, about Pulitzer Price-winning photography, was excellent, with a wall of photography and videos of the photographers talking about the circumstances in which the photo was taken.

But after that -- as Jim put it, it turned out to be the USA Today of museums. My biggest disappointment was looking for the exhibit on political cartoons, and finding it consisted of about 25 cartoons from the New Yorker on journalism (which wasn't quite what I had in mind). Another exhibit on the history of journalism turned out to be equally brief. Other exhibits, such as that on the First Amendment, had a bit more information, but were still more flash than substance, and more than a little self-congratulatory. (Quite frankly, if the worst the Newseum could find in journalism's history are the occasional headline flubs that are exhibited in the restrooms, it isn't doing its job.)

So our final reaction? A shrug.

But the next day, we went to the Folger Shakespeare Library to try out an exhibit called "Breaking News: Renaissance Journalism and the Birth of the Newspaper." It followed the creation of the idea and reality of newspapers, starting from 1620 and into the early 1700s and the beginnings of American journalism. It was fantastic -- we went through that exhibition slowly, case by case, reading news accounts of the Civil War (the British one, not the American one), satirical scribblings about court life, and early cartoon strips illustrating a murder, trial, and execution. The exhibit will be on until the end of January, 2009; if you're hanging around D.C. for any reason, I'd strongly recommend you drop by.


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February 2013

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