Linux Journal: How Not To Run A Business

Posted by tuxchick on Oct 1, 2007 5:29 PM EDT
LXer Linux News; By Carla Schroder
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LXer Feature: 01-Oct-2007

I have to wonder- where on Earth did Ms. Fairchild get the idea that alienating her customers is a good business practice? So what if she finds sexist, demeaning humor funny? It doesn't belong in Linux Journal. I paid my subscription money in good faith for many years, trusting to receive good Linux articles. If I want to read about blowjobs or read about how helpless and stupid women are, I don't expect to find it in Linux Journal. There are abundant sources for that elsewhere.

Here we are at the sad, sorry end of our Linux Journal saga, with an unhappy conclusion. (Please see the links at the end for the previous articles in this series.)

Here is a synopsis of our story so far:

  • The August 2007 Linux Journal ran a full-page blowjob ad that understandably upset a number of people
  • A number of folks, including me, wrote to the publisher and senior editors of Linux Journal to let them know we were not amused, and requested a public apology. Because not only was this particular ad incredibly offensive and ill-advised, Linux Journal has a long history of portraying women in insulting, offensive ways, both in ads and editorial content. Enough is enough
  • We were met with absolute silence. LJ has a long history of ignoring readers who complain about these things, so it wasn't all that surprising
  • So more of us wrote to the publisher and staff, saying that the courtesy of a response would be nice, and we still wanted an apology
  • Still nothing
  • So then a number of people, including me, criticized LJ in our blogs
  • When I was researching for my blog entries, I learned that LJ had run this ad before, in November 2000, which also resulted in a storm of ticked-off readers. The vendor promised never to run that ad again. Way to break a promise. Even then the powers-that-be at LJ had nothing to say about it. And obviously learned nothing from it, as it's pretty much the same staff now as then
  • Finally, a bunch of us got together to compose a group letter and added all of our signatures to it. Over thirty people signed. Plus a number of them had also contacted LJ staff individually. This went nowhere.
So I had this bright idea to contact the members of the Linux Journal Advisory Board and ask for their help in getting a response. A few of them had the courtesy to reply, but it was clear they did not want to get involved. What do they advise on? Obviously not the right way to do customer relations, but how to cover your ears and go "la la la."

Apologizing For The Abusive Spouse

Doc Searls made a few private apologies here and there, just like back in 2000, talk about deja vú, but it was never clear if he was speaking for the magazine, or just making excuses like an abused spouse ("Officer, $spouse didn't mean it! It's just been all this stress lately!")

I'm Not Offended, So You Shouldn't Be Either

I received a lot of private communications both from a number of people associated in various ways with Linux Journal, and from my own loyal network of spies.

What I hear from my spy network is that the publisher and senior editors think the ad is screamingly funny; they don't get why readers are upset; they don't care that readers are upset; and they're just going to sit back and let it blow over. Carlie Fairchild, the publisher and owner since December 2006, has been involved with Linux Journal since 1995. So it's safe to say the buck stops with her. I have to wonder- where on Earth did Ms. Fairchild get the idea that alienating her customers is a good business practice? So what if she finds sexist, demeaning humor funny? It doesn't belong in Linux Journal. I paid my subscription money in good faith for many years, trusting to receive good Linux articles. If I want to read about blowjobs or read about how helpless and stupid women are, I don't expect to find it in Linux Journal. There are abundant sources for that elsewhere.

I am somewhat amused by the many "I'm not offended, so you shouldn't be either" comments in the discussions about this. This is a weird and stupid thing to say. What do your feelings have to do with me? That's approaching an unhealthy level of narcissism.

Money Talks

Anyway I suspect that the humor quotient is far less important than the money quotient. Which complicates the question of who is the customer here? I suspect that Ms. Fairchild considers the advertisers to be her real customers, and us subscribers and readers to be unfortunately necessary annoyances.

Clueless R Us

But that doesn't excuse Linux Journal's long and sorry record of portraying women as idiots and bimbos- the blowjob ad was merely the final slap in the face. It's a technical magazine- all they had to do was stick to Linux topics and refrain from insulting readers. Leave out the blowjobs, leave out the stupid cartoon ads that portray us as helpless bimbos needing rescue by studly geeks, fire the person who came up with Gnull and Voyd, and also the person who approved it for publication.

Linux Journal's sister publication, Tux Magazine, brought to us the absolutely horrible Mango Parfait, which I swear was written by a dorky middle-aged man trying to sound like a hip teenage girl. Dude- you failed. She sounds like a twittering fool who just can't go a minute without mentioning her boyfriend or how cute she is. I guess you missed the part where us womens learned to be capable professionals without having to talk about our boyfriends and our looks incessantly. (And those of us who have girlfriends can do it too.) We actually know how to talk and behave professionally, if you can imagine what that is like. I figure I've written maybe three-quarters of a million words over the course of my technical writing career. I never felt that my readers had to be reassured that there was a man in my life just to assure them of my credibility, which was fortunate because I never had one. I never had to include sex acts, either.

While we're on the subject of general cluelessness, one of the editors of Tux Magazine joined the Freespire Leadership board while he was still editor. What parts of "conflict of interest" and "journalists don't do that" were so hard to understand?

A few years ago their editor-in-chief du jour (they have a hard time keeping the job filled) approached Linuxchix.org to ask what they could do to increase the number of women subscribers. We offered a number of ideas: more women authors. Cut out the insulting crap. Some ideas for topics, like hardware reviews where the products are actually tested and not just regurgitated press releases, more information on hardware compatibility, more articles on networking and system administration, and fewer on nine-foot tall Ultimate PCs made of plywood, and some other cool things I forget. Nothing dopey like "paint it pink." Just make it relevant, interesting, and not offensive.

As anyone who continued to read the magazine knows, all of that went nowhere.

What Do Clueful Businesses Do?

They don't ignore customer complaints, but respond as quickly as possible and try to make things right. They don't insult their customers or potential customers in the first place. I wonder if the giggles the folks at LJ had over the blowjob ad made up for the bad publicity and loss of readers.

What Next?

Nothing much. Linux Journal has lost me as a reader and supporter, as well as a number of other people. My original goal was to discuss these issues with the publisher or general manager, because I've felt for years that Linux Journal is an important publication that deserves our support. All they had to do was quit being obnoxious- what's so hard about that?

Please Read Before You Rant

First two articles:
Linux Journal: the Last Idiot's Club
Dear Linux Journal: News Flash- Women Are People

QSOL breaks their tasteless advertising promise
follow-up-on-qsols-our-servers-wont-go-down-ad
Journal of brian_d_foy
The more things change...

Who Runs This Show?

Ownership of Linux Journal and Tux Magazine is rather convoluted; the two consistent people in charge are Phil Hughes and Carlie Fairchild. Desktoplinux.com does a bit of genealogy:

"Tux was originally owned and published by SSC, which had also published Linux Journal magazine since 1994. Hughes, founder of Linux Journal, left SSC late last year to form Tux Media Ltd., which acquired Tux from SSC.

"Linux Journal, meanwhile, was acquired from SSC in December of 2006 by Belltown Media Inc., based in Houston, Texas. Belltown Media, in turn, was founded by Carlie Fairchild..."

Hall of Shame

Tech Tips with Gnull and Voyd. Try to count how many different people can be denigrated in a single article:

"I don't know nothing about Linux. Chester, he's the smart one, but he's not much of a talker. That's why I'm here. He don't do nothing without me, and I don't mind much cause I like talkin' and I like hosting. Chester don't understand why we gotta talk at all, but that's what the editor wants, and well, he's paying us, so we figure there ain't nothing wrong with that. So those LJ folks are gonna send us the tips, my Chester does the pickin' and I do the hosting. And, I say, I do love hosting, but seeing as this here's just writing stuff, we ain't gonna be serving up none of my specials like biscuits and gravy with sausage and real maple syrup, and it's all homemade but the maple syrup. But they tell me the tips are just as tasty to you Linux folk. That don't make much sense to me, but Chester says that's how it is and I believe my Chester."

That's just a sampling that you can still find online. I threw away all of my years of Linux Journals last spring in a fit of tidiness, so (perhaps thankfully) I don't have more horrid examples for you, and believe me there are plenty.

OTOH, I am curious if there is even a single instance where a woman was portrayed with her own photograph, as a Linux professional. All I remember are odious cartoons.

Mango Parfait is in a class of annoying all her own:
"I do not want to be pregnant until I am married. I have a boyfriend, Otaku, but I will not marry him until he stops spending so much time with his toys and pays more attention to me. Are you reading this, Otaku? No, you are not. You are playing the Viewtiful Joe game again. Am I the only beautiful, humble genius who has this problem? Maybe I am a genius with Linux but not with boyfriends. My girlfriend Bunny is no help. She tells me I should find out Victoria's Secret, but I do not want to know Victoria's Secret. That would not be very nice. If I knew Victoria's Secret, it would not be a secret anymore...

"Executive editor Jill Franklin is almost as pretty as I am too, but she is too busy to be me. Maybe they are not as pretty as I am, but I am still jealous of Carlie and Jill. They have boyfriends who pay attention to them. Are you reading this, Otaku? For one minute I think maybe they have boyfriends who pay attention because they are really prettier than I am. But that is impossible. I am glad to disappoint all of you. I am simply Mango Parfait, the most cute, brilliant and humble Manga girl I know."

Be grateful I didn't copy the entire passage. You can read it in its entirety if you have a strong stomach. Just think if all those paragraphs had been devoted to some useful Linux howtos, instead of nauseating readers en masse- maybe Tux Magazine would still be alive. They should have kept Marcel Gagné as the editor in chief; then they would have delivered good content and not ruined it with stupid stuff.

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Subject Topic Starter Replies Views Last Post
a few more LJ nuggets tuxchick 38 1,748 Oct 10, 2007 4:11 AM
And yet you're still in business... ZenOfJazz 5 1,427 Oct 9, 2007 5:34 PM
I agree. chappaquachap 2 1,182 Oct 9, 2007 7:27 AM
lies, fallacies and mis-representations shmget 51 2,054 Oct 4, 2007 1:07 PM
Mango Parfait danns 0 1,621 Oct 3, 2007 2:03 PM
I'm stunned... canadianwriterm 9 1,538 Oct 2, 2007 9:29 AM
Think about how this makes the community look as a whole fredbird67 3 1,273 Oct 2, 2007 9:12 AM
LJ: writing off half the population is stupid, not funny dthacker 16 3,479 Oct 2, 2007 7:45 AM
Me too ribbonofflame 0 1,267 Oct 2, 2007 2:35 AM

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