Covering Silicon Valley with a Click

Publication Date: Wednesday Nov 24, 1999

Covering Silicon Valley with a Click

Weekly newspaper morphs into glossy magazine

by Jennifer Kavanaugh

In the 1990s, Silicon Valley has presented a tough challenge for the media that seek to cover it--a business community that reinvents itself with each startup success or stock market triumph, and a region adjusting to the influx of money and people flocking to be near high-tech's ground zero.

Staff members at Click Weekly have already faced that challenge in the newspaper's short, three-month life span. On a recent Friday, their orders were clear: In the morning, send the latest issue out to the printer. In the afternoon, kill the paper and turn it into a glossy magazine.

"This is the last issue of Click Weekly," Editor Steve Enders explained at the paper's Menlo Park office. "We're taking this as a magazine and expanding it. We'll keep the focus on Silicon Valley and treat it as a community."

That afternoon, staffers at Click began transforming a decidedly low-tech newspaper into the monthly Click Magazine, targeting mid-January as a publication date. They were also trying to find new ways to attract the attention of the cell phone-toting, technology- and money-crazed crowd that keeps Silicon Valley's engine going.

"Everyone's going to leave today knowing what the roles for the first issue are going to be," Enders said. "We're going to have a great-looking publication that we're really pumped up about."

Click's metamorphosis reflects the warp-speed technological and financial changes of the valley it covers. Sloane Citron, publisher of Northern California Home and Design and Gentry magazines, started the paper in September to cover the Silicon Valley culture. But a magazine, he decided, would capture more high-end readers and advertisers than a paper distributed in restaurants and sidewalk racks.

Citron isn't alone in his desire to profit from the Silicon Valley brand name. Beyond the high-tech firms driving the boom, hundreds of local companies--including auto-body shops, banks and newspapers--have rushed to add "Silicon Valley" to their names and capture the region's Zeitgeist, or at least some of its dollars.

According to Citron, the local and national media haven't done a good job of covering the local, cultural phenomenon behind the technology.

"I was going through the (San Jose) Business Journal and saw that the excitement of Silicon Valley wasn't being captured from the business point of view," Citron said. "Obviously, it's the people and the relationships and the human side. We thought we could capture that. Silicon Valley is clearly a community, not just a group of disparate enterprises acting by chance."

During its short run, the paper covered business and industry. A typical issue included stories on legislation with local impacts and investment advice information on new Web sites. But the paper also explored the lighter side of life: a story about high-tech employees who play Ultimate Frisbee in their spare time, an advice column for the lovelorn, and a crossword puzzle testing readers' knowledge of Valley lore (clue: "Megalomaniacal chief of Oracle"; answer: Ellison, as in Larry).

Enders said the magazine will carry longer, more in-depth versions of the newspaper's stories. In addition to business and technology issues, he said, Click will include lifestyle and profile personalities from a local point of view--capitalizing on the publicity-hound tendencies of some of the Valley's main players.

"Community papers work so well in this area because people like reading their names in the paper," said Enders, who used to work for the San Jose-based Metro newspapers. "We're going to do what community newspapers do, only in a different format, take it up a notch and cover it in a more broad way."

Citron's business plan calls for Click to become profitable by the end of its first year, similar to his other two magazines. The project has several investors, including John Mathon, who founded the Palo Alto-based Tibco Software and also works as a venture capitalist.

Although Citron's experience was in magazines, he said Click was launched as a newspaper because that was the most common forum for local coverage of Silicon Valley. He added he was pleased with the paper's progress, but pointed out that advertisers wanted a better showcase than the publication could provide.

"Most people wanted a higher-quality format for their advertising," he Citron said, adding that advertisers have welcomed the change. "The reception from advertisers has been great. We've sold more advertising in the past 1 1/2 weeks than we did in three months of the newspaper."

The glossy magazine will be designed to attract executives and employees of Silicon Valley companies. Copies will go for $4 on the newsstand, but the company will send most copies--free of charge--to at least 20,000 hand-picked Silicon Valley workers, focusing initially on the South Bay. Citron employs a similar strategy with Gentry magazine, which caters to the Peninsula's upscale neighborhoods: Gentry goes to 30,000 households in selected ZIP codes from Los Gatos to Woodside.

The free mailing brings in no money from readers but provides something far more important--a guaranteed circulation that attracts advertising dollars. Because production of the magazine will be expensive, Citron said, the selection of readers is critical.

"We don't want to waste copies," Citron said. "We want to make sure they get into the hands of someone who wants to read the editorial."

The recent success of several Silicon Valley books suggests that valley denizens have a healthy appetite for local tales about the personalities and culture. Though Citron said other magazines and newspapers haven't explored deeper parts of the valley, several books have approached this terrain, including "The Silicon Boys" by David Kaplan (William Morrow & Company) and "The Nudist on the Late Shift" by Po Bronson (Random House).

Though these books have found a national readership, they have done even better locally. A recent search of the online bookseller revealed that "The Silicon Boys" ranked 503rd nationally in sales--and eighth in Palo Alto. Representatives from Stacey's Bookstore on University Avenue and Kepler's Books and Magazines in Menlo Park said those books have sold "phenomenally" well.

Karen Pennington, inventory director for Kepler's, said local readers want to read about Silicon Valley--but only to a point. "They don't like to read everything," she said. "What our customers are looking for is information they don't have, the real specifics."

But not everyone thinks people are thirsting for insight into the valley's way of life or dirt about its local celebrities. Galen Gruman, executive editor of Upside magazine--which covers the high-tech industry-- said people who care about Silicon Valley really want news about the region's business and technology.

"I think it's peaked, that this cultural approach has diminished over the past few years," Gruman said. "People like Wired (magazine) pioneered looking at Silicon Valley as a cultural place five years ago. (Now) it's more being treated as a business and economic center of the country, and not just a bunch of geeks doing weird and interesting things."

But Citron said Click will engage readers by capturing the excitement people already feel about living and working here.

"It's a very sexy place, though not in the traditional sense," Citron said. "It's people coming up with new ideas, being smart and creative. This right now is the center of the universe."

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