The lifeblood of Chronicles is Tom Fleming, who took the reins of an interesting magazine in 1985 and turned it into an indispensable publication for anyone concerned about the future of this country. But the magazine that you hold in your hands today also owes its current form—and perhaps even its continued existence—in no small part to a man whose political vision could hardly be more different from Dr. Fleming’s.
Steve Jobs, the 55-year-old cofounder of Apple, Inc., who resigned as the company’s CEO on August 24, has never hidden his political views. A vegan Buddhist who supported Bill Clinton, John Kerry, and Barack Obama and extended spousal benefits to the “domestic partners” of Apple employees, Jobs—in violation of contemporary business wisdom—has even inserted his political views into Apple’s advertising. (Think of the grammatically incorrect “Think Different” campaign, which featured such liberal icons as Bob Dylan, Martin Luther King, Jr., John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Ted Turner, and Mahatma Gandhi.) Reportedly a voracious reader, Jobs would probably not find much in Chronicles to his liking. Yet for almost 25 years, every issue of this magazine has benefited greatly from technologies developed by Jobs at Apple and NeXT, the computer company he founded after leaving Apple in 1985.
Lest you dismiss these remarks as the ravings of an Apple “fanboy,” let me illustrate briefly what I mean.
Before Steve Jobs introduced the Macintosh on January 24, 1984, Chronicles was put together the way most magazines were. Authors sent their typewritten manuscripts (with corrections often handwritten in pencil or ink) by mail to our editorial office. The manuscripts had to be retyped (incorporating the authors’ corrections) before they were edited, and after every round of editing. To lay out the magazine, the text had to be typeset into galley form, and then cut and pasted (with scissors and glue) onto the page, and waxed to hold everything in place (and hide the cut edges). The pages were sent to a prepress house, which tidied them up, inserted images and ads, and took pictures of the composed page (one piece of film for each color on the page). “Bluelines” (essentially mimeographed proofs) were created from those negatives and returned to our offices. Any necessary corrections to the bluelines entailed recomposing the entire page, shooting new film, and running new bluelines. When the bluelines were finally approved, the negatives were shipped to our printer, where they were transferred to printing plates. Any problems discovered by the printer on any of the plates required returning to square one on that plate. (And each plate contained either four or eight pages of the magazine, so a problem on one page affected several others as well.) The printer would provide the first hard copies in about ten business days after delivery of the final, problem-free negatives.
All of that began to change in 1984. The Macintosh’s graphical user interface allowed programmers to create a “WYSIWYG” environment—“What You See Is What You Get.” That, along with Apple’s LaserWriter printer (which accurately reproduced what you saw on screen), set the stage in 1985 for desktop publishing.
Today, authors send us their text as e-mail attachments (an innovative feature of Jobs’ NeXTSTEP operating system), mostly written in Microsoft Word (which made its first appearance as a WYSIWYG word processor when it was ported to the Macintosh in 1985). Many of our writers now own a Mac, but some still use a PC running Windows, which got its start as an imitation of the Macintosh operating system, bolted on top of MS-DOS.
Aaron Wolf imports the text directly into Adobe InDesign and exports it for editing onscreen in Adobe InCopy. Adobe’s first big break came in 1985, when Apple licensed Adobe’s PostScript language for use in the LaserWriter. Aaron and I edit each article twice onscreen (30-inch Apple Cinema Displays connected to Mac Pros), before Aaron sends the galleys (as PDFs, via e-mail) to each author. Aaron enters any corrections received from the author, Dr. Fleming, and proofreaders into InDesign. Along the way, he inserts images and ads directly into the layout. George McCartney, Jr., who provides many of our covers, creates them on a Mac and sends them through e-mail and the web.
After a final reading of page proofs and the entering of any last-minute corrections, we export each page as a separate PDF (perhaps ten minutes’ work total, the time it took to wax a couple of pages) and upload them through the internet to our printer in Michigan. The printer immediately provides a digital proof of the entire issue, and we approve it onscreen. It goes into production the very next morning, and the printer provides hard copies after four business days. The production process for a single issue has gone from almost three months to less than a month. And a reader near the top of the mailstream can now read words written as late as one week before the issue arrived at his house, compared with six weeks or more in 1984.
So many of the advances that make our current production process possible happened so gradually that we sometimes lose sight of the revolution that took place in publishing over the last 25 years. And Steve Jobs was there at every step of the way, through both Apple and NeXT. Not only did the NeXTSTEP operating system become the basis for Mac OS X (and thus also iOS, which powers the iPod, iPhone, and iPad), it spurred the creation of Adobe’s PDF format (after NeXT adopted Adobe’s Display PostScript for its windowing system), the widespread adoption of e-mail (built into NeXTSTEP at the system level), and the rise of the World Wide Web, created by Sir Tim Berners-Lee on December 25, 1990, on a NeXT computer.
Without any one of these things, Chronicles as we know it today would be a different type of magazine.
And it would be a much more expensive magazine, too. Or rather, it might well have folded at several points in the past 25 years, had it not been for the reductions in cost occasioned by technologies that trace their roots back to Steve Jobs and Apple and NeXT. Chronicles’ staff is a fraction of what it was in 1984: fewer editors; no typists and typesetters; no dedicated designer and layout person. (At one point in 1999, even before all of these advances had made it to Chronicles, Dr. Fleming and I put out several issues without any additional in-house production staff.) Hand-composed pages, film, and bluelines, along with the prepress services that they required, are things of the past; the PDFs that we send to the printer are now imposed directly on the plates. Chronicles’ direct costs today are about 40 percent lower than they were when I became assistant editor back in September 1997 (and they were already much reduced then from 1984).
There are many more stories I could share, such as how the e-mail and PDF-viewing capabilities of the first iPhone allowed me to take my family on a much-needed vacation in August 2007, while still managing to supervise the production of three separate Chronicles Press books and make sure that they would arrive in Washington, D.C., in September in time for the John Randolph Club—a feat made possible by print-on-demand technologies that rely on the same advances that have made their way into Chronicles’ production process. But I think you get the point: Whether you use a MacBook Air and an iPhone and an iPad or a Dell laptop and a Verizon Droid and an HP TouchPad, if you’re reading Chronicles, you’ve benefited from Steve Jobs’ efforts. In a mere quarter of a century, he has revolutionized the publishing industry in a way not seen since the rise of moveable type.
I don’t mean to downplay the contributions of the tens of thousands of employees of Apple and NeXT (and Adobe and Microsoft) who acted as foot soldiers in this revolution—indeed, quite the opposite. Over the last few years, as it became increasingly obvious that the day was coming when Steve Jobs would have to step aside as Apple’s CEO, Wall Street analysts cried doom and gloom, and institutional investors sold Apple short on every piece of bad news concerning its CEO’s health.
But those of us who rely on Apple products every day, and pay a bit more attention to the internal operations of Apple than the average person does, haven’t been overly worried. Steve Jobs’ famed attention to detail and his desire for perfection did not stop with Apple’s products but extended to the company itself. He was, as many ex-employees of Apple attest, a hell of a man to work for. But those who continued to work for him, who were loyal to both the man and his vision, who recognized that his mercurial temper went hand-in-hand with his brilliance—those employees were indelibly shaped by him. They have risen to the top ranks in Apple, and they took over the day-to-day operations on the world’s largest and most successful corporation long before Jobs stepped aside. Thus, for those who rely on Apple products, there is nothing to fear, because Jobs’ faithful lieutenants have as little desire to change the company that Steve Jobs built as those of us who have dedicated our lives to Chronicles have to change this magazine. As tech columnist John Gruber wrote on DaringFireball.net,
The company itself is Apple-like. The same thought, care, and painstaking attention to detail that Steve Jobs brought to questions like “How should a computer work?”, “How should a phone work?”, “How should we buy music and apps in the digital age?” he also brought to the most important question: “How should a company that creates such things function?”
Jobs’s greatest creation isn’t any Apple product. It is Apple itself.
When the news of Steve Jobs’ resignation was announced on the evening of August 24, Apple’s stock immediately dropped seven percent in after-hours trading. As I write this the next morning, it is down just a little over one percent from yesterday’s high, in line with the overall market. That indicates institutional investors and Wall Street analysts are finally realizing what some of us small investors have long known: Apple succeeded because of Steve Jobs, but the company’s success no longer depends primarily on him.
In a world that too often values quick profits and “rock star” fame above solid products and hard work and loyalty, the fact that Steve Jobs could pull off such an orderly succession may, in the end, prove to be his greatest success.
This article first appeared in the October 2011 issue of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. On October 5, Steve Jobs passed away, at the age of 56.