What you’re reading right now is an attempt at providing helpful information and advice about personal
computers and the Internet. But the world of information technology is as varied as it is complex, and
there are plenty of other places to seek out news and tips on these topics.
Computer magazines and their online kin are one such place. Hundreds of different computer
publications-national and local, general-interest and specialized-crave your attention. Some are
newsstand magazines, available at your local bookstore and by subscription; others are “controlled
circulation” publications, available by subscription for free to industry professionals who buy
computer products in quantity and meet other criteria.
The Issue of Bias
Computer magazines, like many institutions, are useful but imperfect. Readers sometimes express
concern that companies who advertise receive favorable mention in reviews and other articles. The best
computer publications take pains to prevent advertising from influencing editorial, referring to this
in terms similar to the separation of church and state.
This is not to say that bias doesn’t exist. Most computer publications, subtly or blatantly,
encourage readers to buy the latest and greatest in general. This “Buy, buy, buy!” pro-industry
boosterism is part of an effort to create an overall climate attractive to advertisers. With some
computer magazines, you have to infer negatives about products by the paucity of glowing positives.
But part of this bias innocently results from the reality that many people who write and edit
computer magazines are gadget geeks, and their zeal for the latest tools and toys shines through in
their buying recommendations.
Even the top magazines, however, sometimes succumb to pressure from individual companies. PC
Magazine, which does the most thorough comparison testing of any popular computer publication,
recently raised more than one pair of eyebrows when it acquiesced to Oracle’s demands that it refrain
from publishing the results of tests comparing the performance of its SQL database software Oracle8i
with Microsoft SQL Server 7.0, as PC Magazine itself revealed in its August issue.
Oracle isn’t the only computer company that has tried to control what computer publications write
about it. Publications usually ignore these kinds of stiff-armed tactics.
The Best-selling Magazines
The latest survey by Mediamark Research of New York City shows that the three most popular
newsstand computer magazines-PC World, PC Magazine, and PC Computing-each have circulations of more
than one million. As a point of reference, Business Week’s circulation is slightly more than 950,000.
Other popular newsstand computer magazines, in order of circulation, are Macworld, Computer
Shopper, Yahoo!, Internet Life, and FamilyPC.
Popularity and quality often, but not always, go hand in hand. PC World, a leader and one of the
least boosterish computer magazines, received the latest “Best Overall Computer Magazine” award from
the Computer Press Association.
Controlled-circulation publications are more business-oriented than newsstand magazines and can be
an efficient way for information-technology professionals to keep current. The five most popular,
according to the circulation auditing firm BPA International of New York City, are InformationWeek,InfoWorld, PC Week, Network Computing, and NewMedia. PC Week received the most recent “Best Overall
Trade Weekly or Tabloid” award from the Computer Press Association.
Yes, there’s no denying the popularity of computer magazines, despite the ongoing shake-up in the
computer publishing industry. As a result of various factors, some high-visibility publications have
folded and others converted to online-only versions.
More and more people are using information technology to obtain news about information technology.
Getting your computer and Internet news over the Web makes it easier to archive material for later
retrieval, and it can’t be beat for breaking news.
Most top computer news sites are free online versions of affiliated print publications. CNET, a
free publication at http://www.cnet.com, is an exception, available only online. CNET has been rated
as the most influential computer publication on the Web in a survey by the research firm Internet
Valley of Burlingame, California.
Following CNET, other highly influential computer news sites on the Web include ZDNet, athttp://www.zdnet.com, TechWeb, at http://www.techweb.com, Wired News, at http://www.wired.com, and
MacWEEK.com, at http://www.macweek.com. ZDNet received the most recent “Best Overall Online Site”
award from the Computer Press Association.
Here are two computer news sites you may not have heard of. Tasty Bits from the Technology Front,
at http://tbtf.com, is targeted toward technology newshounds. Slashdot, at http://www.slashdot.org,
describes itself as “News for Nerds” and includes insightful opinions and inside information.
Despite the flashiness of the Web, the fastest and most convenient way to receive computer news is
through e-mail. Most computer news sites offer free e-mail based news alerts, which you can sign up
for by filling out a form at the respective site.
Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author of the book “Straight Talk About the
Information Superhighway.” He can be reached at email@example.com orhttp://members.home.net/reidgold.
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