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New Zealand’s technology press is well past its peak oil moment but there’s still life left.

Once there were more than 20 active locally published print titles covering computers and related technologies. At the top of the market, the collective circulation of these titles would have run to more than 400,000. Today the total circulation of local technology titles is under 100,000. Some titles have gone to the great recycle bin in the sky. Others, particularly those serving smaller niches, have now switched to online-only publication. Others may follow.

We’ll look at the online titles in a separate post later, but for now here’s a master list of the main specialist technology publications published in New Zealand:

ComputerWorld New Zealand

A weekly information technology newspaper, it frequently breaks local news stories before mainstream newspapers. The print edition is in tabloid format. ComputerWorld is mainly read by senior technology executives and other people who work with IT. The title has been printed in New Zealand for more than 20 years.

ComputerWorld is now the dominant specialist IT news publication in New Zealand.

New Zealand PC World

A monthly A4 magazine mainly sold on bookstands, in supermarkets and petrol stations. PC World is read by technical types who get to choose or heavily influence the products they use at work and home. Contains reviews and how to features. Coverage is largely focused on personal aspects of computing. Includes some games and consumer electronics material. The August edition featured the recently introduced 3G iPhone on the cover – a sign that PC World had moved way beyond just covering conventional desktop computers.

For more information see: PC World

New Zealand Reseller News

Fortnightly tabloid newspaper for people who sell and otherwise work in the IT channel. Has strong news focus with emphasis on business and people stories long with regular advice features and commentary. Now more than ten years old. New Zealand Reseller News is only sent to qualified readers (i.e. people who work in the IT channel)  who have requested the publication. In recent months Reseller has broadened its coverage to include more product related stories.

CIO New Zealand

Influential A4 magazine focusing on the business and strategic aspects of large-scale IT. Mainly feature based. Read by the people who make corporate buying decisions in large organisations. Published since 1999. Has a strong, active community with a comprehensive events program.

Gear Guide

PC World spin-off now on its second edition, essentially a buyers’ guide for home computer products and consumer electronics. A4 magazine format sold on bookstands.

Tone

Good-looking monthly A4 bookstand magazine covering home entertainment, technology and hi-fi. Heavy product focus, i.e. mainly contains product reviews and product-related features. Technology content is relatively minor compared to Tone’s consumer electronics coverage.

The Channel

Monthly A4 magazine for the IT channel. Feature-driven, lots of guides and “how to” stories. Now two years old.  Distributed to people working in ‘the IT channel’. Much of the content is paid ‘advertorial’. Tends to run pages of photographs from events without identifying the people.

iStart: Quarterly A4 magazine for “business and IT managers needing to improve their business with technology.” Mainly contains paid-for case studies. Has appeared on bookstands in the past, but the print edition doesn’t appear to be on sale any more (can anyone confirm this?).

New Zealand Netguide

Monthly A5 bookstand magazine aimed at less-technical readers. As the name suggests the publication largely covers Internet-related stories, but it also has product reviews and some games coverage. Recently sold by ACP Media to Action Media.

Telecommunications Review

According to the web site’s subscription’s page, the print edition of Telecommunications Review will return in May or June 2008. At the time of writing, this hasn’t happened. When Telecommunications Review was previously published it was a monthly, glossy trade newspaper for people working in the industry and their more technically advanced customers — in practice, this meant pages of stories about Telecom New Zealand the dominant player in this market.

IT Brief:

A monthly A4 magazine of “peer-reviewed industry comment”. (Although some of the content appears to be written by public relations companies). It is aimed at senior business and IT executives within corporate, government and (sic) enterprise businesses.  Disclosure: I’ve only seen a photocopied version of this so far.

Interface:

Published eight times a year (twice each school term), Interface is an A4 magazine aimed at school teachers responsible for using computers and information technology in the classroom.

Actv8: A quarterly free magazine for school students. Distributed via schools and supported by the Ministry of Education. Actv8 promotes careers and higher education courses in technology-related areas. The stories are short and written for teenagers. The design is colourful and loose.

MyMobile: A monthly mobile phone buyers guide with reviews and articles on how to get the most from mobile phones. Sold on bookstands. A5 size.

Without fear or favour | The Australian.

Miriam Cosic writes in The Australian about journalist Nick Davies. He says more than half the news in Britain’s top five newspapers was generated by public relations companies or taken from wire services.

Davies is in Australia to promote his book Flat Earth News.

While this is a great background piece that makes me want to rush out and buy the book – I will look for it this afternoon – it paints a depressing picture of the state of journalism.

I’ve worked in the industry for almost thirty years. I can’t help but agree with Davies’ basic premise that today’s journalists are now expected to do a once-over-lightly job and rock the boat as little as possible.

Blame the large media companies

Davis points the finger of blame at the media corporations. This analysis can’t be separated from the widely reported decline of traditional news media.

Conventional thinking says people are moving away from newspapers, magazines and broadcast news because of the Internet. I believe the audiences would be declining even without the arrival of online news because news audiences are being turned off by the news media.

One aspect of this whole issue that was overlooked in The Australian story is that public relations companies now massively outgun newspapers in terms of personnel, expertise and experience.

This is particularly noticable in New Zealand. Here the newspapers appear to be largely staffed by young reporters in their 20s and early 30s while many of the brightest and best of the older generation are now employed by PR companies.

This post was updated at 20:00 on August 25.

Marketing communications – telling customers about your products and services – has two parts: advertising and publicity.

Advertising is straightforward. You pay money, the media company publishes or broadcasts your message. You control your message and its presentation.

Advertising is a commercial transaction.

Publicity is different

Publicity also costs money – plenty of businesses accept payment for promotional services .

With publicity you don’t usually pay the media to promote your message. And you have no say over timing, placement or presentation.

You can’t even be sure your message will run.

In theory, you get publicity when the story you tell is so compelling journalists and editors fall over themselves to publish it. Remember their idea of compelling isn’t the same as yours.

Editors need to give readers, viewers or listeners the hottest news, up-to-date information, the most relevant background features and the best stories. They also look for entertaining material to brighten their pages. They can be grumpy.

Editors are not your sales team

Editors don’t care whether their stories help you or your business if they are doing their job properly.

There are publications where this doesn’t apply.

A common misunderstanding about publicity is a press release is best way to get it. This is a pre-written version of the story you’d like to see in print. Press releases are usually written in a highly stylised format, containing the basic facts together with background.

Press releases can work. Usually they don’t.

Many go straight into the bin. And rightly so. That’s the place for rubbish. Press releases mainly exist because clients like them – they create an aura of useful media activity.

Press releases just part of the mix

Some of the best communications professionals – they may call themselves public relations consultants, press agents or something posh sounding like ‘media consul’ – will tell you press releases are only one, not particularly useful, strategy and account for a tiny fraction of their work.

We look at the press release mechanics elsewhere.

Publicity involves enticing the media to write or broadcast information about your company, product or services because you have something new, important, exciting or otherwise interesting to say.

The best way to do this is to call a journalist and tell them, quickly and concisely, just what your story is and why it may interest their readers. Like everything else in business, this is about forming the right relationships.

Media training

If you don’t feel comfortable doing this, get some media training or hire a press agent to call on your behalf. Good public relations professionals know who to call and how to pitch stories in a way that makes them more interesting to journalists or editors. They introduce you to the right people, set up face-to-face meetings or organise phone interviews and help you prepare for these.

Occasionally when you have something important to announce, you may want to hold a formal press conference or maybe host a less formal gathering of journalists for morning tea, lunch or afternoon cocktails. This kind of event works best when used sparingly, it isn’t always the best way of telling a story, but it is a great way to make or maintain contact.

You don’t succeed or fail a psychometric test.

There are no pass and fail marks. There are ways to get the best from a test.

If a boss asks you to take a psychometric test, the chances are they want to know if you are right for a job. If you don’t match their needs, they may find a suitable opening elsewhere.

Psychometrics make the best use of employees

Some bosses use the tests like the Hogwarts sorting hat to make the best use of employees.

Supporters think the tests reveal attitudes and beliefs as well as personality. They can put empathic workers with good communications skills in front of customers. They can keep miserable bastards in the back rooms where they won’t upset anyone.

This is controversial. Not everyone agrees psychometric tests have value. Reducing personalities to a handful of key terms is handy. But it oversimplifies. It can lead to wrong assumptions about how people react to various circumstances.

Also, people change. If you take the same test on two different days you may get different results.

 

Cheating pointless

While it is possible to game a psychometric test: to show the personality needed for a plum job, cheating is hard and pointless.

Well-designed psychometric tests have subtle cross-references to tease out inconsistencies and spot cheats. Testers know when replies are not genuine.

Showing up as flaky and dishonest is not good (unless perhaps you are seeking a career where these traits are an asset). Alternatively, you may just end up looking like you’re confused or crazy.

This aside, cheating a psychometric test is pointless because the purpose is to decide whether you are a good fit for a particular job.

Why would you want to trick your way into a role which, by definition, you are unsuitable? Not only will you make yourself unhappy, but you’ll almost certainly doom yourself to failure.

So, what can you do to get the best from a test?

Ten tips for getting a good psychometric test result:

  1. Have a good sleep before your test. You’ll think clearer.
  2. Relax. Calm those nerves. This isn’t going to hurt. You’ll give a more accurate picture of your personality if you’re in relaxed frame of mind.
  3. Read the instructions carefully. Read the questions carefully. Reread anything that’s unclear. If the tester says anything you don’t understand before the test starts ask for clarification.
  4. Make sure you are comfortable.
  5. Don’t hurry. Psychometric tests are rarely timed, so work through the questions carefully and consider each answer before ticking the box or clicking the mouse.
  6. The testers want to know what you are like as an employee, so answer the questions based on what you are like at work and not at home or in private.
  7. Answer the questions based on how you feel now and not in the past or in the future. The company wants to use your current personality.
  8. Don’t read too much into each question. Individual questions don’t have hidden underlying  meanings, the subtlety lies in how the questions mesh together.
  9. Avoid making too many extreme answers. If you have to mark things on a scale of one to five make sure there are more twos, threes and fours than ones or fives.
  10. After the test is over ask the tester to discuss the results with you. While you may not get the job in question, the test may offer insights in to more suitable career options.

psychometric tests

Psychometric testing is controversial.

That hasn’t stopped it being popular with human resource managers and recruiters. They see it as a quick, efficient way of sorting people.

From their point of view CVs, interviews and references only show a person’s skills and experience. Uncovering their personality – in particular their ability to mesh with a corporate culture – is harder.

That’s the sales pitch. In reality stressed recruiters use a barrage of tests, including psychometrics, to speed hiring.

Some tests are automated. Candidates sit computerised psychometric tests – perhaps in a recruitment company’s offices. In other cases professionals supervise paper-based tests.

Psychometric testing a waste of time?

Without a qualified, experienced professional to interpret results, psychometric tests are a waste of time.

The results are complex to interpret and sensible analysis is beyond a layperson. It might be fine to hire a cleaner on the basis of an automated test, sane people wouldn’t hire knowledge workers that way.

I met psychometric testing a decade ago.

After a series of intense interviews for a senior position, I was asked to take a series of tests. The session lasted four hours, almost without a break. I warmed up with what looked like IQ tests and moved on to logical reasoning exercises.

A long and vaguely baffling exercise followed where I had to choose from seemingly random pairs of job titles in order of preference. For example, the test might pair ‘janitor’ and ‘rocket scientist’.

Picking one of those isn’t hard. In fact, the test was obviously designed for an American audience and included some job descriptions that, while not incomprehensible, certainly were not familiar.

Not difficult

Finally the real psychometric tests – I suspect the job-ranking test might be a form of psychometric exercise too. Answering the questions isn’t difficult; indeed, the tester asked me not to think too hard but to go with my first response to any question.

By the end of the four-hour test session I was emotionally drained, physically exhausted, thirsty and hungry. After a 30-minute lunch break I returned for a task-specific question and answer session.

A few days later an industrial psychiatrist called me to discuss the tests. He discussed my longer-term career prospects and plans and made suggestions that I hadn’t otherwise considered.

I worried the tests might show him that I was an employment basket case – or worse. In fact the news was largely positive and insightful. It turns out I’m far better at certain things that I previously thought. As it happens I got the job, but that’s another story.

Some merit

Going purely on my experience, I can see some merit in the ideas behind this kind of testing. Personality is the most important factor when hiring an executive, more important than skills and experience and as important as aptitude. It makes sense to establish objective benchmarks that go beyond the kind of human prejudices we can all be, even unwittingly, guilty of.

I have two concerns. First, despite what the professionals say, it is possible for people to learn how to answer psychometric tests in a way that portrays them in a favourable light.

Many years ago I interviewed John Wareham a New Zealand-born recruitment expert who helped develop these tests, he said the trick people quickly learn is to avoid the extremes.

Most tests ask you to rate things on a scale of 1 to 5 – if you want to get a good job make sure the bulk of your answers cluster around the centre of this range. On the other hand minor alarm bells ring if you fail to tick any extreme answers.

Wareham also said the tests quickly detect any dishonesty by cross-referencing, so answer truthfully or you’ll be exposed as a phony.

My second fear is that managers often use it as a way of offloading decision-making responsibility. External objective measures are good, but they can’t make decisions. There’s a temptation to just look at printouts and test scores and not go beyond this to look at other, possibly more compelling, evidence.