PCWorld founder David Bunnell remembered: The mutiny, the magazines, the Mao suit

He was a pioneer and a bit of a prankster, as longtime colleagues recall.

David Bunnell staged the mutiny that started PCWorld—and he once famously wore a Chairman Mao suit to a company meeting. As we mourn Bunnell’s passing on Tuesday night, PCWorld’s launch and the Mao stunt surface most among the editors who knew him. We’ve started collecting memories about Bunnell, and will add to this story as we reach out to compatriots who worked with David over the years.

Bunnell and Cheryl Woodard put out the first issue of PC Magazine in January, 1982, only to leave later that year with most of the staff after the publication was sold to Ziff-Davis without their consent. With funding from our parent company, IDG, that staff started PC World (as the print magazine was then spelled) with founding editor Andrew Fluegelman. The magazine quickly grew to be a leader in technology journalism. Bunnell went on to co-found Macworld and other technology publications for IDG, and eventually left for other ventures.

You can read more of our origin story in this excellent recollection from our 25th-anniversary issue, and you can read even more about David in his Wikipedia entry.

‘Nobody knew anything’

Rich Landry, former PCWorld Editor in Chief

I met David in 1986, and I was hired, actually, when nobody knew anything. No journalists knew anything about computers, and no computer people knew anything about journalism.

david bunnell pcw column

David Bunnell built up the walls between editorial and sales.

I was very unsure of how to manage this very big and kind of crazy magazine that was growing like a weed and at the same time having enormous challenges. He expressed sincere confidence in me based on I’m not sure what, and he continued to do that when we worked together later at HyperMedia Communications.

David was a challenging person in a lot of different ways. He got into a lot of little scraps with different people, many inconsequential, some very consequential. He had some big successes and big busts. But even today the one thing that really, truly remains is that he saw what people could do and he reflected that right back to them.

Robert Luhn, former PCWorld Senior Editor

David was the hippie who became the industrialist. At one point PCWorld had 13 competitors, and you almost couldn’t help but make money with a decent idea and a printing press. He took advantage.

PCWorld was his little stroke of genius, and he had the good fortune to do it at just the right time with just the right people. Andrew Fluegelman was the driving force who got David’s idea really rolling.

Karen Wickre, former Corporate Development Manager

The mission of the magazines was to cater to readers with better-quality content and a better look and feel. It was easy to see all the schlock that was out. There were pretty thin walls between ad and editorial in those days. David took a stand, said we’re going to have more of a wall, not give happy-talk reviews.

Galen Gruman, former Editor of Macworld

People were very loyal to David, or they did not get along—it was hard not to have one reaction or the other given the force of his personality. David was not just an editor who figured out the formula for what became computer product journalism but a man who very much wanted to influence that new industry. It was a small industry, and you could have huge effect as an individual—younger people will get a glimpse of that in “Halt and Catch Fire,” though the drama was rarely as made-for-TV as on that show.

The Mao suit

Karen Wickre: We had an all-staff meeting, and David decided to show up in a Red Army uniform to the meeting. The editorial people were all really crazy about him and felt like he was one of them, as opposed to, say, the business side. And this meeting sealed it for good or for bad. He kind of did a power-to-the-people thing.

It was kind of a goof, kind of a joke, but he had a point. There was no protest, no walkout, but he was not liking the suits.

Robert Luhn: At this big meeting, he strode down the aisle dressed like Mao. I thought, come on, David, but I can remember how David liked spitting in the eye of IDG.

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Melissa Riofrio

PC World (US online)
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