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MicroScope at 40: Billy MacInnes looks back

The former editor of MicroScope shares his memories about his time covering the channel

Forty years ago, I was just starting the first year of my English degree at Bristol University. While I was trying to get to grips with Anglo-Saxon poems such as The Wanderer and Beowulf, there were people in London busy launching a computer magazine called MicroScope. I hadn’t even seen a computer.

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

By that stage, MicroScope was a well-established weekly channel magazine with a reputation for unearthing great stories, even if, on occasion, vendors 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 channel at that time were not slick corporate business professionals. Unlike many vendor representatives, they were not media-trained within an inch of their lives. For a journalist, this was something to be appreciated as you were often talking to people who were only too happy to give you stories or a comment.

Working 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 on to a late dinner at a local Italian restaurant. Being based in central London had its perks.

For a number of years, we operated in splendid isolation on the top floor in offices (three rooms if I remember) in Newman Street. Then came the move to proper offices in Bolsover Street with all the other Dennis titles. While it was great to be part of the wider Dennis family, MicroScope was still something of an outlier as a B2B weekly title in a mainly consumer-focused publishing company.

It was while we were at Bolsover Street that the magazine embarked on its own “big bang”, doubling the number of reporters to 10 and dramatically increasing the pagination. If I remember rightly, we hit 200 pages with our 15th anniversary edition.

In 1998, our tenure at Dennis ended when the magazine was bought by Reed Business Information and relocated to Sutton. For some people on the magazine, the move south of the river and into the suburbs was too much, so a few jumped ship. Some baulked at joining a “respectable” company like RBI with a canteen, people over 50, share options and a pension scheme.

As editor, that was one of my most stressful years because 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 channel weekly while keeping as many people on board as possible.

In the time I was there, we tried to foster an office culture that was lively and fun. It was still a serious business magazine, but there was a lot of laughter. It was certainly the best place I ever worked.

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

It’s bizarre to think that I have worked for MicroScope, on and off, for 31 years out of its 40-year existence. I doubt the people who put the first magazine together back in September 1982 ever thought it would last this long. Some of those involved at the beginning and some who worked on the magazine over the years are, sadly, no longer with us.

Many people passed in and out of MicroScope in the time I was there. I hope they have fond memories of the time they spent on the magazine. I feel fairly confident that wherever they ended up, nothing else was quite like it.

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