We celebrate the 20th anniversary of CableFAX Daily with pride, freely acknowledging its role as the best source of daily news about cable, even if it might seem that we’re breaking our arm to pat ourselves on the back.
Yet nearly all of us in the media — trade and consumer — have been part of at least one project that flamed out. So when something works, continues to be a valuable editorial product and has a bright future, we have to salute it. We also must be thankful for the loyalty of our readers and the effort of the editors and reporters who have produced this trusted daily for two decades.
We’ll admit that CableFAX Daily is showing its age in one area: its name. What the hell is a "FAX"? Maybe one of the old-timers around here knows. Anyway, a name change was briefly considered not long ago, but why bother? The name " CableFAX Daily" is synonymous with timely reporting and sharp writing, not to mention extreme brevity and low-key levity.
It started as a daily newsletter that was actually faxed to subscribers, and now is read as a PDF e-mailed to subscribers. From the beginning it challenged the trade rags’ weekly news cycle. In that sense it anticipated the pressure so-called 24/7 Web news reporting (and Web news cannibalization) would exert on traditional news media. So when the Web media age hit full force, the Daily was more than ready. CableFAX — 20 years ago, and today — is nimble enough to cover the most important cable news as it occurs. And, unlike most blogs and me-too sites, it reports that news straight from the source.
Noodling at Boccolino’s
As many readers know, CableFAX Daily is the brainchild of Paul Maxwell. In 1989, Paul was CEO of Summit Media, which published Communications Technology, among other things.
One day, Paul and Communications Technology publisher Paul Levine were sitting at Boccolino’s, an Italian restaurant in Cherry Creek, Colo., lamenting that they couldn’t directly compete with Multichannel News because of the prohibitive cost of producing a daily newsmagazine. (It should probably be noted here that Multi was another of Paul’s ideas, that one coming in 1980.)
"Well, we were stumped," Paul says. "But way back in the Multi days I had created a show daily that was simply short news bits — cheaper to produce, but just as expensive in which to advertise. So I was musing about that when Levine took out a fax with some comments on it. Voila! Try a daily ‘fax’ news digest and charge — like cable networks (duh) — for both ads and subs."
This format was simultaneously of its time (the faxing element) and ahead of it (the daily news briefs and original reporting), and found a receptive audience of busy cable industry executives.
In 1993, Paul sold CableFAX Daily to PBI Media (now Access Intelligence), but its style of reporting endured — having Paul remain with CableFAX as a columnist may have something to do with this.
CableFAX is cable’s town crier — it informs, gossips and entertains. The editorial mission, as Paul conceived it, is simple: "Cable first and foremost. News about the industry, for the industry, by the industry."
And, it can’t be stressed enough, delivering that news succinctly. "I think the Daily is best thought of as a briefing sheet," says CableFAX editorial director Seth Arenstein. Adds the Daily’s editor-in-chief Amy Maclean, "We’re proud that many executives say it’s their first read. We aim to keep it that way."
Arenstein began editing the Daily in the late ’90s, and it was his goal to cram in as much news as possible, keeping the write-ups down to the level of a haiku.
"Of course, I had to get used to writing short," Seth says. "I remember the first item I wrote for the Daily. I thought I had written it tight. My first draft was more than 300 words, but in those days the entire news hole was about 800 words, so it was way too big." How long did it take Arenstein to learn to write short? "After 12 years, I’m still learning," he says.
The publication also is known for analysis and just a bit of attitude, often pro-cable but not always. "We tell the truth, pleasant or not," says CableFAX Daily executive editor Michael Grebb. "Our readers expect no less."
It also took awhile for Arenstein, who trained as a Pentagon and White House reporter, to get accustomed to covering cable’s births, marriages, parties and human-interest items. "Now with the Internet, everyone is writing these types of stories and in an informal style. I guess we were blogging long before the word had been invented."
As Arenstein points out, CableFAX anticipated blogs in its editorial style, so in that sense it’s right in step with the times. "I’m not sure it matters what age we are in," says Seth. "The Daily has a niche, providing news, commentary, color and gossip in a brief and entertaining way. I see no reason why it should change its basic mission if it’s still working after 20 years."