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Reflecting on a Life in CE

Editor’s note: This is a repeat of Steve Smith’s last regular column as editor in chief of TWICE. It originally ran on Aug. 4, 2014.

In preparing to write this last column in my role as editor in chief of TWICE, I remembered the first time I heard the term “consumer electronics.”

It was back in 1978 when I was a reporter, a couple of years out of college, with Electronic News (EN), a chip and components weekly written for mostly purchasing agents. I was on the “Materials, Packaging & Production” section. Soon after I joined, I found out there was also a “Consumer Electronics” section in the paper too.

Quickly bored with my coverage of cooling fans and printed circuit boards, I wanted to move to CE even though it only covered the parts for TVs, turntables and the like. When I asked one of the editors why EN never covered the actual products, he mumbled and never really answered the question.

So a seed was planted. Four years later, I covered the 1982 Winter CES in Las Vegas for a now-defunct toy trade magazine, my first CES, and I was hooked.

When I was in college, I had dreams of writing a column for a New York-based newspaper on either sports or politics. Thanks to CE, I got to edit a New York-based business publication and write this column. Based on the state of sports and politics, I’m quite happy I’ve covered CE for 32 years.

It is impossible in this space to describe how much I’ve loved getting a glimpse of our technological future by covering this business, first at the old Home Furnishings Daily (HFD) and then here at TWICE.

But in the past few weeks, people have asked the same question: “If you love this business so much, why are you leaving?”

Well, first off, I’m not completely leaving. I’ve been asked to become TWICE’s editor at large — volunteering my opinions of the goings-on in this business in columns and blogs.

And it sounds trite, but my wife Marion and I want to see family and friends more; I want to write a couple of books (none about CE, at least not yet), and we want to travel more — no offense to my many industry hosts over the years — to places of our own choosing.

Like many of you, I have been to Las Vegas more times than I ever thought possible. Between CES and all the other industry meetings held in Vegas, I estimate that I’ve lived there for more than 260 days in my career.

And I’ve always said, “Cover the CE industry and see the world,” and I have the frequent flier miles to prove it. I’ve been to Orlando, Fla., about as many times as Vegas, California, Washington (the state and the capital), the great city of Chicago, and a lot of other wonderful places nationwide — heck, even Jackson, Miss., headquarters of Cowboy Maloney’s Electric City.

Of course, I also made several visits to Japan, mostly to cover CEATEC, where I got to know the people and appreciate the nation’s culture and the business approach of the many well-known brands that carried this industry for so long. There were also trips to China, Mexico, Italy and even Bermuda.

Like anyone my age, when you look back, it confirms the long-held notion that time is a thief. For instance, I’ve been in publishing 37 years — 32 years as an editorial manager. It all seems like yesterday … except when you look at old issues of TWICE.

I’ve survived being editor of a CES daily for 25 years (21 doing the Official Daily at TWICE), which has to be some kind of Guinness record or something.

Jokes aside, editing the Official Daily of CES over the years has been a great opportunity for me personally and for TWICE, thanks to the support and trust of Gary Shapiro, Karen Chupka and the entire CEA team. It continues to enable TWICE to show off the expertise and professionalism of its staff during the most pressure- filled week of the year.

In terms of new technology, the expansion of the Internet looms over everything that I have seen in the past 32 years.

But as far as technologies that TWICE’s audience has sold, I think there are two that have had the widest impact: the development of digital high-definition TV (with a U.S. standard no less) and the debut of the compact disc.

Watching this year’s World Cup and Stanley Cup playoffs on a 50-inch or so HDTV is a completely different and dramatically better experience than watching those events in analog era on the best 32-inch or so tube TV in standard definition.

Compact disc was so important because it was the first digital audio/video format that enabled consumers to understand and crave what came next: DVD, Blu-ray, and digital audio and video broadcasting and downloads.

While it is important to understand the technology when you are in this industry — you’d better have a firm understanding of how the products are marketed and sold.

I still see my share of brilliant new products that fail because too many manufacturers or retailers don’t know anything about sales, marketing or both. So many still think that giving away margins for market share is a great strategy.

So I’m thankful to have learned more about the marketing of CE products, and how business works in general, via discussions with many successful industry leaders — too numerous to mention — than if I had gotten an MBA.

As for the publishing business, like in any other endeavor, you learn by example. Here are a few people many of you know who have helped me along the way:

Manning Greenberg helped make HFD the key CE news provider for years and he generously shared his expertise and news sources with me when I first joined HFD.

Jeff Malester hired me at HFD back in 1985 and I returned the favor around 15 years later at TWICE. His strong work ethic, editing skills and reporting savvy were memorable.

Bob Gerson, the original editor of TWICE, along with founding publisher Richard Ekstract and Marcia Grand, set the publication’s template of being a trusted source of news and information. (As for Marcia, whom I worked with for 20 years, I think I said it all in a story about her in the April 22, 2013, issue of TWICE.)

Of course the highlight of my career has been the 21 years I have spent at TWICE. I’ve known the current editorial staff for a while.

I first worked with Greg Tarr 25 years ago at HFD when he began covering video; Alan Wolf endured Toy Fair with me via a monthly trade magazine back in the early 1980s; Joe Palenchar predates me at TWICE, but I knew him and his work ethic since the mid-1980s; John Laposky moonlighted to work on the first Official Daily for the 1994 Winter CES and was quickly hired as TWICE’s managing editor; Lisa Johnston has been at TWICE for a decade, handling a wide variety of beats and responsibilities; and our freelance photographer Alan Perlman, who began taking pictures for TWICE when it debuted in 1986, still works with us today.

Any success I have had, or the brand has had during my 21 years at TWICE, is due to the work of these people, along with our publisher Ed Hecht and group publisher Adam Goldstein, and the many other editors, freelancers, reporters, artists and photographers — as well as publishing execs and ad salespeople — who have worked here over the years.

As a group, we have created a top-notch, reliable source of news and information for one of the most important industries of our time. And by “group,” I mean all of TWICE’s staff, but also you, our readers and advertisers.

As I move to a new role at TWICE, and in my life, I humbly thank all of you for your encouragement, support and guidance over the years.

It’s been a heck of a ride so far, and I can’t wait to see what’s coming up next.