MicroScope at 40: Billy MacInnes looks back on the past

MicroScope at 40: Billy MacInnes looks back on the past

Forty years ago, I was just starting the first year of my English degree at the University of Bristol. As I tried to familiarize myself with Anglo-Saxon poems like The Vagabond and Beowulfthere were people in London busy starting a computer magazine called Microscope. I hadn’t even seen a computer.

The first time I used a computer for work – a Macintosh SE – was in 1987, when I got my first job as a journalist at a newsletter called International interactive media. Later I moved to an Amstrad magazine, a computer games title, a PC news weekly, followed by a short stint at Computing (where the reporters still used typewriters), a few months of strike, before arriving at Microscope in 1991.

At this stage, Microscope was an established weekly chain magazine with a reputation for unearthing great stories, though on occasion salespeople tried to damn it with faint praise as a “gossip rag”. For someone like me, it was a breath of fresh air. Most people in the chain at that time were not skilled business professionals. Unlike many vendor reps, they haven’t been media trained within an inch of their lives. For a journalist, that was something nice because you often talked to people who were only too happy to tell you stories or comment.

Work for Microscope was fun but chaotic. We often had late nights on press days, which ended with most of the editorial team going to the pub for a drink and then for a late dinner at a local Italian restaurant. Being based in central London had its advantages.

For several years we functioned in splendid isolation on the top floor in offices (three rooms if I remember correctly) on Newman Street. Then came the move to proper offices in Bolsover Street along with all of Dennis’ other titles. Although it was great to be part of the big Dennis family, Microscope was still something of an outlier as a B2B weekly title in a primarily consumer-focused publishing house.

It was while we were in Bolsover Street that the magazine embarked on its own ‘big bang’, doubling the number of reporters to 10 and dramatically increasing pagination. If I remember correctly, we reached 200 pages with our 15th anniversary edition.

In 1998, our tenure at Dennis ended when the magazine was purchased by Reed Business Information and moved to Sutton. For some people in the magazine, the move south of the river and into the suburbs was too much, so a few jumped ship. Some have been reluctant to join a “respectable” company like RBI with a canteen, people over 50, stock options and a pension plan.

As editor, this was one of my most stressful years as not only did the magazine change ownership and location, but we also had to stave off the threat posed by the launch of a third weekly channel. while keeping as many people on board as possible.

When I was there, we tried to foster a lively and fun office culture. It was still a serious business magazine, but there were a lot of laughs. It was definitely the best place I have ever worked.

I left Microscope end of 2002 when I moved to Ireland. I was sad to go, but it was definitely time to leave. I had been there for 11 years – six as editor, taking over from Keith Rodgers. I was also very happy to hand over to Simon Quicke, whom I had helped recruit more or less out of college several years earlier.

It’s weird to think that I worked for Microscope, intermittently, for 31 years out of its 40 years of existence. I doubt the people who created the first magazine in September 1982 ever thought it would last that long. Some of those who were involved at the beginning are unfortunately no longer with us.

Many people came in and out of Microscope when I was there. I hope they have fond memories of their time on the magazine. I’m pretty confident that where they ended up, nothing else was quite like it.

#MicroScope #Billy #MacInnes

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