James J. Lydon: The Best in the Business
Jim Lydon was the best business editor, no make that the best editor, I've known. I worked for Jim for two years a long time ago (Jim would have thrown that back at me and told me to provide precise dates) at Fairchild Publication's Electronic News. I came to ENews from the world of daily newspaper reporting not knowing what to expect. What I got was an editor with a nose for news, a pencil for precision edits and a drive to make business reporting as tough and fair as any other journalism segment. James J. Lydon died of bone marrow cancer at the age of 76 on July 27. (Jim would have thrown this one back too for burying the most important information at the bottom of the lede graph).
I wasn't new to reporting when I joined Electronic News, having already had stints with the alternative weeklies, daily newspapers and the wire services, but I was really new to business reporting. He gave me two pieces of advice that have served well. First, anything you get from public relations is promotion, not news. Second, draw an org chart of the most important company you cover (for me in New England at that time it was Digital Equipment Corp.) and every time someone leaves, track him down, get him on the phone and find out what really happened. Jim was a firm believer in real reporting: making the phone calls, meeting up with sources at bars and digging until you found the story behind the story. When I'd get lazy and start relying on news by press release, he had no qualms about getting me back on track. I don't know what he would say about most of the blogging going on today, but I'm sure he would find opinion pieces that are not based on solid reporting to be lazy at best.
There have been several good tributes to Jim, including in EETimes and EDN. As someone who worked in a news bureau instead of the home New York office, there were many reporters and editors who knew him better. Many (again, Jim would ask for a more precise number) of the ENews former staffers went on to rise to senior staff positions in the business, trade and general press publications in the United States. It is not often you can point to one person who set the tone and set the standards for an entire publishing segment, but Jim Lydon did that in the electronics segment. He forever changed what had been a genteel relationship in the business press between reporters and subjects and injected honesty, fairness and fact-based journalism. Both the business and publishing worlds owe a grand debt of gratitude to Jim Lydon.
A few favorite stories.
1. Here's how I knew Jim's influence for always getting the story extended to his staff editors. I was with Marty Gold, the newspaper's semiconductor editor, working on a story on Massachusetts-based Analog Devices. We had a major exec for a sit-down interview, which Marty conducted relentlessly for nearly an hour. After the hour the exec got up to leave and tried to escape by walking down the hall to no avail as Marty followed along, notebook in hand. When Marty followed the exec into the bathroom and still grilled him as the beaten exec stood at the urinal, I knew ENews was the real deal.
2. Going with Jim to a trade show was a round-the-clock job. Sure, you could do all the press conferences during the day, but Jim always said the real news was in the vendor reception suites at night after a few drinks. We'd divvy up the suites, head out notebook in hand and dared not return until we had some news.
3. There was nothing Jim liked better than getting the irate call from the public relations exec complaining about some reporter who messed up a company's well-planned product launch by breaking the news early or finding some reason why a planned product never materialized. If PR execs called me to say they were going to complain to Jim that I had broken a story early and wouldn't agree to news embargoes, I knew I'd be getting a pat on the back from the boss.
4. Memorable moment. I was sitting in the office of an exec at a high-tech company in Massachusetts when the exec in the next office over found out he had been canned from his job by reading my story all about it first in ENews. The profanity echoed off the walls.
5. After a particularly grueling week, Jim sent me a one sentence telex (it was a long time ago) that read, "Nice job thx Jim." I used that telex as a bookmark for many years.
Jim, nice job, thanks, Eric and the Electronic News crew.