Thank You TST
This is one of those rare, strange times when I don't know how to start a blog entry. So I'll just start… I'd like to introduce you to a friend who died this past weekend. Peers knew him as Tom Hyphen or TST — short for Tom Steinert-Threlkeld. He was a family man, a journalist, and a cyclist. To hundreds of us in the IT media industry, TST was a mentor without equal. Let me explain why.
TST and I met around 1998 at Ziff Davis while working on separate media properties. By 2001, the media brand I managed — Smart Partner — was in dire straights. The dot-com implosion was all around me. Magazines at my employer, Ziff Davis Media, were closing left and right. Yet within the very same company, Tom Steinert-Threlkeld (TST for short) was preparing to redefine the IT media market — again.
In the late 1990s, TST was the driving editorial force behind Inter@ctiveWeek — the Internet's first newspaper. By 2001, he was working on something new. Something different. It was called Baseline — a business and technology magazine that thrived on investigative reporting. As the media world imploded, a Ziff Davis executive named Al Perlman put his faith in TST to make Baseline a winner. It was a good bet.
TST Pedals Against the Wind
The world was shifting to short-form news stories. Blogs were popping up everywhere. The web was in rapid expansion mode. But Steinert-Threlkeld headed in exactly the opposite direction. Baseline cover stories and case studies could run 10 or more pages. Teams of reporters spent months (yes, months) investigating the true nature of technology in business. Deep dive graphics explained how technology impacted business.
Now that I think about it, TST may have been the father of today's InfoGraphics. But his InfoGraphics were filled with highly valuable exclusive information, instead of lame attempts to get eyeballs.
The First Call
At one point in 2001, Tom reached out to me. He knew the magazine I ran was in rough shape. He wanted me to join the Baseline team. I was intrigued but I respectfully declined. I was worried about print media and wanted to make a change. When my own magazine closed in late 2001, I took a few years away from IT media to regroup and rethink my career path.
Not joining Baseline, and not working for TST, is one of my great career regrets. The publication in 2005 won the Grand Neal Award — one of the publishing industry's highest honors.
What made Baseline truly unique? Here's one example: Baseline uncovered a medical tragedy involving radiation-dosage software that led to the deaths of at least five patients. The article, which examined all sides of the issue, was used by prosecutors to convict the two medical technicians involved in the case of involuntary manslaughter and they were each sentenced to four years in prison, according to a Ziff Davis press release issued in 2005.
My Second Chance
As Baseline's momentum built, Tom reached out to me in 2003 — asking if I had any interest in re-joining Ziff Davis and working on Baseline. Again, I respectfully declined. I had heard Tom could be a difficult boss. And I didn't trust the print magazine industry amid the web's continued growth.
Still, Baseline's editorial excellence continued. And I had overlooked a key reality: Instead of being "difficult boss" the better term to describe TST was "demanding but fair." His demanding ways delivered staff excellence and editorial excellence at every career stop.
Third Time Is the Charm
By mid 2004 I was ready to get back into the IT media game. Ziff Davis had an opening that involved CIO conferences and events. I grabbed it. Then I gobbled up guidance from TST.
Among my challenges: Ziff wanted to launch a CIO Summit — but it needed a theme that would attract CIOs to the event.
Around that time, Oracle purchased PeopleSoft and Symantec acquired Veritas. The IT industry was consolidating around fewer, bigger suppliers. Navigating that consolidation was a big challenge for CIOs. With a boatload of help from TST and CIO Insight Editor Ellen Pearlman, we organized content and got the first Ziff Davis CIO Summit off the ground. (The Ziff sales team actually deserves most of recognition, but without TST and Pearlman blessing the content we would have had an empty stage.)
During my final career stop at Ziff Davis, TST emerged as my mentor down the hall. And he went on to mentor more editors at Multichannel News, ZDnet and Source Media, among other career stops.
Most recently, TST joined IBT Media as editorial director, B2B publishing.
As the ObamaCare websites experienced technical glitches in recent weeks, I began to wonder if or when TST would organize an investigative team to look at the problem and find its true essence.
Yes, TST was the one journalist who could have given us the complete story — from all perspectives — without any of the rhetoric from Washington, D.C. or Silicon Valley.
But it wasn't meant to be.
Sadly and tragically, TST's voice was forever silenced this past Sunday, when he died in a cycling accident. Friends and peers across the globe learned of Tom's passing when his wife, Kayte Steinert-Threlkeld shared the tragic news on Facebook.
A Different Kind of Friendship
The night I read the news about Tom's passing, my 14-year-old son asked me if TST and I were close friends. I hesitated for a minute or two before replying. My answer was a soft "no."
I was confused by my answer. And so was my son.
"Then why are you so upset?" my son asked.
Again I hesitated. It took me a minute or so to organize my thoughts. I told my son that TST represented excellence. The never-ending search for truth. The never-ending effort to pedal forward. The never-ending devotion to family. And yet, that never-ending excellence was gone in an instant, killed in a traffic accident on Sunday.
My mind still can't reconcile that new reality.
This is the first blog entry I've ever written where I'm turning off the reader comments section. If you knew TST or if you'd like to share thoughts, I encourage you to jump over to Tom's Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/tomhyphen
I'm not ready to say goodbye. Instead, I'll say thank you, TST. Thank you for all that you did and for all that you represented. You taught a few hundred editors about excellence in journalism. And excellence in life. We'll all keep pedaling forward here, inspired by the example you set.