Ministry of Prose: making words work for your business

One in a semi-regular series of ponderings, musings and contemplations on the interaction of words and psychology in business.



Gone, but not forgotten

January 2015

The early 1990s were interesting years for those of us in the IT industry, especially those of us in the IT magazine industry. Computers were moving from spotty nerds' bedrooms into offices, doing real work and saving labour as promised... for a while at least.

Businesses and consumers needed somebody to explain to them how best to use these new-fangled devices, and indeed which new-fangled devices to buy.

We told them. We wrote millions of words of reviews, news, features, interviews, buyers' guides and group tests. Every month we eagerly unwrapped the latest hardware and software, and poked and prodded it until it had revealed all its secrets. Then we told the world.

Of course, it wasn't all hard work (cough). Computer companies were awash with cash, throwing it around like confetti in order to dominate their market niche. Many of them came and went. Some remain to this day.

It was a fun time, to put it mildly. All-expenses-paid trips to far-flung places, grand hotels, amazing food, massive drinks tabs, good company, bad behaviour (some of which embarrasses me in hindsight), and an events diary that was always full to bursting, especially in December. For several years in a row I spent the last few weeks of the year solidly drunk thanks to almost continuous PR Christmas parties. Luckily my body was young enough to weather such abuse.

And now, twenty or so years on, where are those hacks? I've lost touch with all but a few old colleagues, but yesterday a friend sent me a link to a web page. It's a simple list of the UK-based IT journalists from that era who are no longer with us.

It makes for sobering reading. There are dozens of names on the list, ten of whom I knew personally. Possibly more, in fact: some of the women may have changed their surnames through marriage. I'd only heard of the deaths of three of the people on the list. The rest came as an unpleasant surprise.

Few of them seem to have been older than 70 when they died. More than a few passed away in their fifties. It all seems oddly compressed, an alarmingly high number of people from such a relatively small industry, all of them dying too soon.

IT journalism was my second ever full-time 'permanent' job, and incidentally also my last. It introduced me to a wonderful bunch of misfits, freaks and weirdos, all of them smart, interesting and knowledgeable people.

Now it feels like someone's ripped some of my memories out of my head and torn them up. But I can still picture many of those colleagues in my mind, all larger-than-life characters. Their quirks and idiosyncrasies would fill a book - each.

I know this isn't particularly well written and I don't have a witty conclusion. I just had to get it out. They'll be missed, all of them, and I wish their families and other loved ones well.

Alex Cruickshank is CEO and Chief Wordsmith at Ministry of Prose and has nothing more to say.

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