The Gizmo Manifesto, & magazine questions


The above screenshot is from the online version of my first Yachting column.  I wasn’t tickled that the print title, The Gizmo Manifesto, got changed (to better attract search engines, supposedly), but the text is all there as written, and I hope you’ll check it out.  I turned it in before actually taking possession of Gizmo the vessel, but my notions of what’s possible for her electronics, and fears of the complications I might run into, are materializing.  My June column on Monitoring is also online, and overall I’m getting in a happy groove with Yachting and the other Bonnier marine pubs I work with.  But perhaps you can help make these magazines better…

In fact, I’m now on Nantucket attending an annual Yachting edit meeting, and tomorrow will be discussing electronics topics for next year.  What aspects of marine electronics do you think Yachting readers would appreciate knowing more about?  And if you haven’t seen Yachting in the last six months or so, please don’t presume to know who it’s written for.  After wandering off into the “luxury lifestyle” desert for a while, Yachting is back to being a serious magazine about premium boats.
   Meanwhile, Cruising World has maintained a consistent personality over the years (one I like), and it too is trying to plan electronics and other topics for the coming year.  (So far only my May Miami Boat Show roundup is online at CW, but I’m writing fairly long electronics features every other month or so.)  What do cruising sailors want to know about, gizmo wise?  And to what degree are they, and/or the yachting types, similar to the Mad Mariner readers who responded to its interesting tech survey?  Heck, I’m curious what you think of boating magazines altogether, present and future, and how should they evolve their web sites, iPhone apps, etc. (also on tomorrow’s agenda).  Don’t be shy with your opinions, please!


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Ben Ellison

Ben Ellison

Panbo editor, publisher & chief bottlewasher from 4/2005 until 8/2018, and now excited to have Ben Stein as very able publisher, webmaster, and editing colleague. Panbo is going to the next level in 2019 and beyond.

13 Responses

  1. cw says:

    Magazines are all about sell sell sell, not use use use (or, perhaps, use it correctly). Big mistake in this economy. I’d love to see a cross between Ocean Navigator and This Old Boat. If I want to see new stuff, and I do, I don’t want to see that to the exclusion of practical application. Your recent posts vis broadband radar are a grand case in point of how things ought to be editorially: I can see (1) NEW TECH (emerging trends); (2) practical application (short range definition); and (3)health considerations (practical information)combined. Sail Magazine had an excellent write-up along similar lines. The web is awash with the consequences of poor training and/or incompetent user/operator mishaps. CW needs to tackle this, particularly with ever-changing technology. One assumes Yachting readership will hire competent crew.

  2. HNickM says:

    Glad you mentioned about Yachting trying to change.
    We get a free subscription, but I usually tell the mail forwarding service to shred it, as in the past it was a content-free mag.
    Next time I’l look at it.
    Emerging trends would be interesting – just look at any AV mag.
    The above (or is it below?) commenter made a number of salient points.

  3. Sandy Daugherty says:

    With a single exception (you) magazine writers and editors have been unable or disinclined to present objective and in-depth articles that could make manufacturers and advertisers less than thrilled. The results are uniformly short, fluffy and vague. It takes more work, but side-by-side comparisons and critical questions about marketing hype are what I want to see. Practical Sailor does this well, but perhaps with less technical competence. They try to present themselves as the average boater, but they miss the boat on Electronics, perhaps thinking their readers are less technically savy.
    I hope there are a significant number of people who read these magazines to learn something, so teach them something they don’t already know!

  4. Butch Davis says:

    A couple of my monthly automobile mags do long term tests. The cars being tested have monthly updates which discuss any expenses, observed fuel economy, and subjective information on performance and handling and overall observations.
    How long term testing on electronic gear should be handled would require a lot of thought but could be worth consideration.
    If long term testing is beyond the capability of your lab perhaps some forum contributors who have installed some interesting electronics would be willing to provide monthly reports.
    The new radar systems recently discussed would provide an interesting starting point, no?

  5. Larry Brandt says:

    I would like to see an article that looks at current AIS-B offerings, including a matrix of mfr/model versus price/specs etc.

  6. Dan Corcoran (b393capt) says:

    I would like to see, especially in Crusing World, articles on:
    – Raymarine ST70 on the water in depth review, not something that compares or contrasts to a competitor, but instead something dedicated and indepth about this one product from someone who has added it to an existing instrument cluster.
    – A practical radar reflector solution for a sailboat, something that I can leave up all the time … not just put up when the weather gets rough, and something also that adjusts to my angle of heel without being a menace in a real blow.
    – A full blown article on the Airmar PB200

  7. Dan Corcoran (b393capt) says:

    Sandy … not a single article ? I understand where your coming from, but does that include Sail Magazine, January 2009 “Avoiding Boomers”, or recent Cruising Magazine article on NMEA 2000 wiring options from Ben ? Would you like to see more of that, or something else ?

  8. Dan Corcoran (b393capt) says:

    Ben …
    Some observations to help with your meeting in Nantucket (where you and Gizmo both there when I was, July 2 – July 6 ?)
    (1) I have not figured out what exactly they did right … but SAIL magazine’s current issue (or at least what was current, 3 weeks ago before I left on vacation), was surprisingly “incredible”. I think it was pitch perfect for a wide range of readers, and I can’t put my finger on it … but I was drawn into reading it cover to cover for the first time. Even David Schmidt’s piece on prop line cutters, which I would normally think was a good piece, was made to look like the worst article in the issue with all the other great content. If that wasn’t a one off issue, and they found a new formula that is repeatable, I think it is worth figuring out what they did right. (The January 2009 issue was of course really impressive)
    (2) Like TV series that have arcs that span multiple episodes, there should be multi part articles that go into great depth on a topic, and not afraid to share the bad with the good. Something that brings you thru 3 or more issues, or in the case of Sailing (the fun of) magazine with the infinitely repeating “Dave Perry on Design” is extremely valuable, and one of my favorite repeating articles of all time. Actually I find little else to like in that mag , I buy it only for that Dave Perry thread which is often critical and gets very in depth as he reviews 3 or more boat designs each issue (including Russ Irwin’s custom beauty). As challenging as it might be to find something similar for your new employer’s magazines, I highly recommend every magazine they publish has something like this on some topic of interest to their core readers. The way it was done in Sailing, I suspect Dave Perry isn’t a risk of offending advertisers either.
    (3) Another general idea .. .I think, just as you have in Panbo, if all your employers magazines had an on-line forum where readers could interact with the author of the article, maybe for a period of 2 weeks (to put a reasonable limit on things) and/or interact with readers (8 weeks or more ?) who wanted to comment on the printed magazine article, it could be a way to enable readers to dive deeper into product reviews and find them more valuable by seeing what other readers think.
    Hope that is helpful, Best

  9. Russ says:

    I’d like to see content that is closer to the now, less “look at all the stuff that coming some day…”. This could be real world comparisons of current products (horrors – some advertiser’s product will come in last) or long term evaluations (i.e., how is all that whizzy stuff you bought last year working out…).
    Help us sort through these products and buy the best stuff, while in the process providing some direction to the manufacturers.
    Movie critics aren’t afraid to pan lousy movies, and the press isn’t afraid to print them. Why does most everything in the marine press (with the exception of Practical Sailor) sound more like a high school cheerleading section?
    There are some real problems that you point out in Panbo that don’t make it to the printed magazines. N2K from vendor X can’t be calibrated from vendor Y, etc, etc.
    Get real, get honest. I look at the pages in the sailing magazines I receive and they are getting thinner and thinner. I think it reflects that I, and others, are not willing to pay to subscribe to a magazine with warmed over press releases.

  10. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Russ, did it occur to you that boating magazines might be thinner because the boat building industry that largely supports them has nearly collapsed? I hear that many magazines have lost half their revenues, and some 75% or more! Every magazine you’re looking at is being produced with a fraction of the manpower and budget it used to be.
    You’re way off base in regard to me pulling punches in magazines, too. Your purported example, in fact, is excellent. I think I first wrote about the NMEA 2000 calibration issue in Sail; I can’t find the thing online right now, but know for sure that the feature took electronics manufacturers strongly to task for confusing the standard with proprietary names and cable systems.
    I definitely wrote honestly about N2K calibration and other gotcha’s in PMY a year ago:
    And I recently wrote about the calibration and update issues for a feature that will be in the September issue of Cruising World.
    However, in a way, NMEA 2000 is the exception to the rule regarding enthusiast magazines. I’m extremely enthusiastic about N2K and think my fellow boaters should be, too. Therefore, it’s important to be informative about the negative aspects of systems I think they should be considering getting involved with.
    But why would I use up precious page space dissing a product I’m not enthusiastic about, and don’t think my readers need to bother with?
    That’s not to say there isn’t some junky magazine writing out there. Oh, man, is there. But it’s nuts to characterize all boating magazines as the same, or all articles as cheerleading. My observation is that blanket negative opinions of that sort — like the bs about most ships filtering out Class B AIS — have little to do with truth and lots to with some weird self satisfaction the speaker gets from uttering them.
    How’s that for honest, Russ?

  11. Dan Corcoran (b393capt) says:

    1) I was just rereading my entry, and realized what I wrote about SAIL might not come out so clear.
    SAIL has been my favorite magazine for years. Unfortunatly I don’t get to read Ben’s good work any more in each issue, but the issue I referenced took it up another level to get me to read it “cover to cover”, something that in the past I have rarely done with any mag.
    2) Russ … talk to us buddy, are you still with us ? That was a tough shot of honesty !

  12. Dan Corcoran (b393capt) says:

    Ben wrote “But why would I use up precious page space dissing a product I’m not enthusiastic about, and don’t think my readers need to bother with?” … I have to say this really resonates with me.
    I can see how each of my recent pieces I have written may appear overly positive as the negative reviews don’t make it over the finish line as magazine space and my time is very valuable.
    Having the opportunity to write about a few products, the one’s I am enthusiastic about get finished … and the others that had serious flaws don’t make it or are sitting waiting to see if the next version of the product is worthy of further investigation.

  13. Richard C says:

    A few years back I wanted to write a magazine article on my autopilot installation aboard a double-ender. In the article, I was going to be honest and critical of a certain manufacturers product but was told this may create a problem with the advertiser. If the magazine allowed negative comments about the brand they might pull their advertising. In addition, I was worried about being accused of causing lost business and sued as a result of my writing, (I know of one case that happened about ten years ago). Even if I can prove I’m right on those negative comments I would still have to spend money for a lawyer to represent me which is not something I had any intention of getting into when I wrote the article. In the end, I canned the idea and scrapped the article. I can see why a magazine cuts a perfectly good piece into shreds before publication and the reader ends up with a washed out version of an originally powerful and informative critique. I think this is one reason there is so much discontent with technical boating magazine articles.

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