Will greedy ZD burn its books?

Like many other embattled chief executives, I've been facing some dissent in the ranks.

4 min read
Like many other embattled chief executives, I've been facing some dissent in the ranks. After a curiously quiet week around the house, my son Vermel, his constant companions Ammonia Blossom and Jai Pegue, as well as my personal secretary, Trixie Pixel, emerged from the family study, snipped off the lit end of my cigar and plopped on the floor in front of me a lengthy report on my alleged misconduct.

"Pop, we're seriously considering spinning you off as an independent unit," Vermel announced. "You've become an embarrassment to the organization."

Trixie proceeded to hand over detailed documents listing my latest transgressions, focusing on what was termed my "inappropriate handling" of reports of sexual deprivation at Microsoft and my unseemly predilection for Garcia y Vegas.

While I fend off attacks from my own personal board of directors, I'm left with more sympathy for potential spin-off targets, which include--according to a newspaper named after a famous street in New York--GE subsidiary and CNET partner NBC, and--according to the rumor mill--ZD's online properties.

Ziff-Davis--child of Japanese problem-parent Softbank--is actually the subject of a number of competing rumors, all fueled by a reported meeting of top execs and editorial staffers in la Grande Pomme today. The first rumor is that ZD has finally decided that the future of publishing is on the Internet and will spin out the online properties, hoping to create a new public company whose chart looks less like the trail left by an injured housefly headed for the floor. (Not that CNWK has anything to brag about in this department these days...)

A second rumor holds that ZD is about to unload a number of its print publications, including PC Week, Interactive Week, Smart Reseller, and Windows Pro, in another joint venture with archrival IDG. Books to be spared in this scenario include the company's more consumer-oriented mags like PC Magazine, which seem to be bringing in some dough.

This second rumor originated, according to ZD staffers, with the electronic newsletter authored by a certain Sam Whitmore, whose site ran the story for about two hours on Monday.

"It turned out that the sources I spoke to were confusing two meetings to be held today," explained Whitmore in a note to a News.com colleague--the NYC powwow and the announcement of a ZD-IDG joint research project.

"When I realized the confusion, I pulled the story immediately. I plan to run a correction as soon as ZD makes its announcements later today."

Faites attention, folks--this is how rumors get started!

Ziff PR wouldn't give Trixie any comment, so in an attempt to sort through all this mess I whipped out the celly to shake down a highly placed ZD staffer for some skinny.

"I could tell you," my fair-weather Skinformant replied (and now I am paraphrasing), "but then I'd have to kill you."

Well, I'm willing to stick my neck out only so far for a good story. Meanwhile, I'm waiting with bated breath and Sam Whitmore for the whole ZD story to unfold.

Waiting on a story is tricky business, as the New York Times' John Markoff found out this week. It was a crummy week for the Markoff, who was not only a peripheral target of the disastrous hack of his newspaper's Web site, but who also lost a great scoop when Oracle's Larry Ellison spilled a whopping plate of Microsoft antitrust beans at a recent press tête-a-têtes. Markoff's face fell like an Internet stock in September and he ran from the room several times, presumably alerting his eds that an exclusive on Microsoft's strong-arming of Digital Equipment wasn't so exclusive anymore.

What remains exclusive is the party Inktomi is planning October 1. In order to attend, you need to have in hand a special invitation, which consists of a black felt ring box with a small stone. Engraved on this fetching fetish are the words "Inktomi rocks."

Knowing that the company could be starting down a rocky road with this campaign, I called Inktomi PR for its side of the story.

"We didn't want the party to be one of those staid, blue-suited events," explained spokeswoman Shernaz Daver. "That's not the Inktomi culture. We wanted it to be...Inktomiesque."

The point of all this Inktomiesquerie, to coin a grotesquerie, is to illustrate how Inktomi is "scaling" the Net. The party will feature a 27-foot stone wall, which is to be scaled by execs from Inktomi partners AOL, @Home, Yahoo--"people you'd love to see climb a wall," Shernaz explained.

The party will also feature Inktomi's own rock band, with two musicians from marketing and two from operations. Special guest appearances from industry rockers are also promised.

"Lastly," Shernaz continued, "we'd like to think that we rocked as a company, from both a business and from and a cultural standpoint."

Invitees in the media are interpreting things differently. "Dumb as a box of rocks," opined one colleague. "Is everyone going to be stoned?" queried another.

Which begs the question, does he mean stoned like Shirley Jackson? Or Scott McNealy? I'm not about to quit smoking, which is why I'm hanging out in a stone-cold garage with the Starr report and a cell phone while I jones for your inside dope.