Journalist Karen Southwick succumbs to cancer

The accomplished author and leader of CNET's software coverage worked until almost a week before her death.

Karen Southwick, an award-winning journalist who authored five books, died of cancer Sunday at her home in San Francisco. She was 53.

Southwick's career spanned more than 25 years as a reporter and editor at various newspapers, magazines and online publications. Her latest book, "Everyone Else Must Fail: The Unvarnished Truth About Oracle and Larry Ellison," was released in 2003 and praised as "illuminating" by The New York Times.

Southwick was most recently an executive editor at CNET, heading the technology news site's computer software coverage. She worked until almost a week before her death, at a well-organized desk surrounded by books, posters and photos. She led the staff's coverage of the long-running legal battle between Oracle and PeopleSoft, and wrote on other important topics, penning, among other things, a special report on Net-based health care company WebMD. She also helped win a National Magazine Award for general excellence.

"Karen was the bravest person I knew," said Editor Jeff Pelline, who knew Southwick for 20 years and worked with her at both the San Francisco Chronicle and the Sun-Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., throughout the 1980s. "Despite her illness, she was energetic, upbeat, dedicated and incredibly prolific."

Pelline added: "Most people didn't know she was this sick, and she wanted it that way. Through all this, she kept telling me, 'I don't want to be treated differently.'"

Southwick was born on May 17, 1951, in San Francisco. She graduated with a bachelor's degree in communications from Brigham Young University and earned an MBA from the University of California at Berkeley. She was named one of the "legends" at UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business in 1999, along with former Levi Strauss CEO Walter Haas, Vodafone chief Arun Sarin and former Secretary of the Treasury W. Michael Blumenthal.

Southwick worked as a Sunday business section editor, consumer writer and reporter at the Fort Lauderdale newspaper from 1980 to 1985. She then joined The San Francisco Chronicle as a business features editor, covering biotechnology, health care and utility companies until 1987.

In 1992, she was named executive editor of Upside, a magazine that covered the business side of technology, and four years later supervised the creation of Upside Books. "Karen was somebody we always could count on to get an interview with somebody important," such as founder Jeff Bezos or PeopleSoft founder Dave Duffield, former Upside CEO David Bunnell said.

Southwick became executive editor of Forbes ASAP in 2000, chronicling the boom and bust of the dot-com era for the magazine.

To the amazement of her colleagues, she found time to write extensively researched books about the industry she covered, despite the rigors of her other work. In addition to her book on Oracle, Southwick published "Silicon Gold Rush"; "High Noon: The Inside Story of Scott McNealy and the Rise of Sun Microsystems"; "Kingmakers: Venture Capital and the Money Behind the Net"; and "Compassionate Capitalism: How Corporations Can Make Doing Good an Integral Part of Doing Well."

"Karen Southwick was a thoughtful and compassionate woman," said Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, who co-authored "Compassionate Capitalism" with her. "Her work at publications such as Forbes and CNET was highlighted by her outstanding books that focused on some of the greatest personalities in the computer industry, including Larry Ellison and Scott McNealy. We will miss Karen and her unending contributions to making the world a better place."

Southwick was held in equally high regard by both her peers and those she covered, often a difficult accomplishment for any journalist.

"It was a real pleasure working with her. She was a consummate professional," said Ray Lane, general partner with Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and former president and chief operating officer of Oracle. "She is a real loss to journalism and was a real professional at her work."

She is survived by her husband, Alan; mother, Vinette; sisters Jenny, Becky, Amy and Nancy; and brother, Ken. A memorial service is planned for Saturday, July 31, at 11 a.m. at the Sunset Ward of the Church of Jesus Christ Latter-Day Saints, 1601 22nd Ave. in San Francisco. Donations can be sent to the San Francisco SPCA online or at The San Francisco SPCA, 2500 16th St., San Francisco, Calif. 94103-4213.

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