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Upside's phony bile and Janet Reno's catchy style

Suck may no longer be the Net's enfant terrible, but that smarter-ass-than-thou attitude is now being regurgitated as an online marketing strategy, as Upside magazine has just revamped its Web site with "below-the-belt" coverage of the high-tech/high-finance world, according to an ad that's been running in major daily papers.

Arriving home from my Newton support group meeting, I encountered a situation any parent would dread: There was Vermel, drinking Jolt Cola and reading the Suck book, a collection of essays grafted from the famous Wired-affiliated Web site and redone in pulp form. Bon Dieu! Did I really want mon jeune fils mainlining such powerful hits of "attitude" and "irony" at such a young age? We finally agreed that he could read it under my careful supervision.

Suck may no longer be the Net's enfant terrible, but that smarter-ass-than-thou attitude is now being regurgitated as an online marketing strategy, as Upside magazine has just revamped its Web site with "below-the-belt" coverage of the high-tech/high-finance world, according to an ad that's been running in major daily papers.

The poster child for Upside's new up-your-interface approach is Tish Williams, a twenty-quelque chose whose "Daily Tish" column speaks loudly but fails to stick. So far she's spewed foam about Bill Gates as an S&M fetishist and the many fashion moods of Steve Jobs. "A bold choice of topics from someone wearing a Tom Petty hat," I mused, but what do I know--I wear a fedora, after all.

Described in a combative Upside Media press release as a purveyor of "highly attitudinal reporting," Tish seems to be the spirit of the "new" Upside made flesh. But fair Tish is only the tip of the naughty iceberg. Two of the regular features on the site's "People" page are "Upside Sh_tlists" and "Down the Toilet." If Tish's hit counts don't make the grade, I guess publisher David Bunnell could always give Mr. Hankey the Christmas Poo a trial run, a move certain to boost the site's readership among the highly desirable 10- to 16-year-old demographic.

Upside is obviously trying to put some distance between itself and other "CEO centerfold" publications such as Fortune, the Red Herring, and Fast Company, whose mission is to fawn over the nouveaux riches of the Valley and other high-tech hot spots. In that corner of the world, an acerbic, skeptical voice is always welcome. Here's hoping that the adults end up running the show.

Reading the latest issue of the Herring, by the way, one might get the impression that networking giant Cisco is scratching for cash, with CEO John Chambers lending his name and playing shill for not one but two high-tech law firms. On page 81, he waxes nostalgic about the legal beagles of McKenna & Cuneo: "Before we became the third largest company on Nasdaq, McKenna & Cuneo treated us like an important client."

A mere 14 pages away, Chambers scratches the back of Valley legend Brobeck, Phleger, & Harrison: "Brobeck has been our primary outside counsel since our start-up days." What's next, Chambers posing with Alan Dershowitz, Johnny Cochran, and even the late Raymond Burr? He ain't in the networking business for nothin', I guess.

If there's one tech CEO that could learn from Chambers's approach, it's Bill Gates. Having long snubbed D.C., Bill's karmic chickens came home to roost recently as he found himself squirming on national TV, justifying his existence to a Beltway curmudgeon named Orrin. Things could get even rougher for Bill, since a pro-Microsoft judge in the MS-DOJ case has been replaced with a much more activist, consumer-oriented jurist.

Apart from her judicial leanings, there's something else about the new judge, Patricia Wald, that Gates is apt to find more disconcerting:

Her hairdo bears a striking resemblance to that of Madame AG and MS nemesis herself, Janet Reno, who made no bones about the importance of the Microsoft case by holding a press conference last fall to kick off the antitrust investigation. In addition to being Janet's hair apparent, Wald was once in the running for the attorney general job before Slick Willie landed on Planet Janet. Does Clinton have a Moe fixation regarding his top cops? Only his hairdresser knows.

A final hair note: My minions have passed along a press release stating that James R. Fyffe, a 33-year IBMer, has been named to the board of directors of The Barbers, Hairstyling for Men & Women--a chain of nearly 1,000 stores. Kind of gives new meaning to the term "Wysiwyg," non? Don't be afraid: Show me some of your Rumor Mill attitude and send me all your hair-raising rumors.

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