Armstrong: Doing more with less

The more time alters the stories that FCW has covered for 20 years, the more they stay the same

Good stories often evolve with time as the fog of memory changes and morphs them into legends. One of the stories we often heard about the beginning of Federal Computer Week was that Israel Feldman, founding publisher of Government Computer News, was negotiating to sell GCN to Patrick McGovern, chairman of International Data Group. Ziff Davis Publishing entered the bidding near the end and offered Izzy more money. Izzy took the better offer, and Pat was left at the altar.

So Pat decided to create his own government information technology publication — and Federal Computer Week was born.

In the early days, we were understaffed because we had put together a careful and thoughtful budget for a biweekly only to walk into the designer’s office in New York and be surprised after seeing the mock-ups plastered all over the wall of the conference room. It was hard to see beyond the name that jumped out from every page: Federal Computer WEEK. When we asked if the name was open to discussion, we were told that McGovern had decided a weekly worked better in this market. And so we were mostly weekly, adjusting the frequency of publication to the federal buying cycle.

But no matter what budgets and plans are constructed, the personality and identity of a publication come from its people. Then, as now, we have our share of personalities. Milt Zall, who was then still employed by the government, pitched the idea of a column that would focus on pocketbook and personnel issues that are important to federal employees. Because he was still in government, he wanted to create a nom de plume for the column. He selected the name Bureaucratus, and we created a drawing of our imagined champion of the federal employee. For the many years he wrote the column, Bureaucratus remained one of the best-read and most commented-on columns. Zall died in 2005, and his family included his column name “Bureaucratus” in his death notice.

Other columnists in that first year included Lynn Bateman, who ran a small consulting firm and covered acquisition issues. Looking back at some of her columns, the topics do not seem all that different from the ones we cover today: the role of schedules in the purchasing portfolio, the evaluation of integrators, the challenges of small business contracting.

There are some topics we don’t write about much anymore. For example, Ada, the software language designed to save the Defense Department millions of dollars, faded away quietly in the move to commercial software.

But a look at topics we covered in our first issue makes one wonder how far we have come in these 20 years:

  • The White House and Capitol Hill are battling over sensitive but unclassified data.
  • Problems with Customs’ intelligence data center have put the program on hold.
  • A large company — Xerox — decides to target the federal market and is opening a new division.

When FCW started, I was the magazine’s features editor. It was a job I could do part time. I was part owner of a newsletter company that required some of my time and attention. But within six months, I sold my interest in the newsletter and came to work full time at Federal Computer Week. It was one of the best decisions I have ever made.

On Dec. 22, 2006, our parent company, 1105 Media, completed the purchase of the assets of PostNewsweek Tech Media from the Washington Post Co. Two of its primary assets are Washington Technology and GCN. The irony of the fact that we were created because our parent company could not buy GCN is not lost on us some 20 years later when the circle is complete and we begin the next phase as part of the same organization.

Armstrong is publisher of 1105 Media Government Information Group. She was Federal Computer Week’s editor in chief from 1992 to 1999.

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