Writers I Read: Jim Dalrymple

For this interview, I had the pleasure of talking with Jim Dalrymple from The Loop. Well-known among the Mac-savvy, Jim has been writing about Apple since 1995. I was nine years old then.

Stephen: Jim, Thanks for taking some time to chat. I suppose we should jump right in. Mind telling the lovely people at home a little bit about you and your site?

Jim: The Loop is actually the third site I’ve been involved with since I started reporting on Apple. The first was MacCentral, a site I helped start in 1995. That was sold to Macworld in 1999 and I held several positions there, leaving a decade later in May 2009. I started The Loop one month later.

The Loop was a response to what I saw happening in the industry for the last few years. I really believe that people want to hear opinions from their favorite writers, no just re-hashing the news. There are sites out there that do a great job of breaking news, but breaking news isn’t opinion — I try to provide that whenever I can.

The site also gives me a chance to talk about a lot of different topics. I post about music creation, design and of course Apple and the tech industry. I like the variety and the readers seem to like it too.

I live in Nova Scotia, Canada with my wife, two kids, two Border Collies, and the beard.

Stephen: I think your years of experience covering Apple pays off often on the Loop, and I agree that people want to hear more from their favorite writers than just a re-hash of the latest news or rumor.

1995 was a very different time for Apple. How do you think the coverage of Apple news and rumors has changed as the company has grown so much?

Jim: 1995 was so much different — there weren’t many Mac websites around then. In fact, we received a lot of the press releases via snail mail, so breaking news was a few days old at best. MacCentral was one of the first news sites to go daily — we wondered if there would be enough news to post updates on a daily basis, but it all worked out.

The types of stories have changed a lot. In 1995 and even later, we posted straight news. That’s what we did at that point and it worked really well for us. Because news was so hard to come by, people were happy to hear about what was going on in the community. Now, everyone can find the basic news, so it’s important for me to share my opinion.

I not only write my opinion, I read other people’s opinion too.

Rumors were different too. Apple leaked like a sieve before Steve came back. There were no secrets back then — everything was out in the open whether Apple wanted it to be or not. These days being able to confirm or deny a rumor carries a lot of weight. Thankfully, I’m able to do that in a lot of cases.

Stephen: It’s clear from your writing that you have good sources, without a doubt due to your years in the industry. Honestly, the whole thing about press releases via snail mail sounds almost refreshing this day and age where news is recycled and regurgitated so quickly. But we’d be talking in circles if I asked you about that again, I suppose.

Last year, you and Peter re-designed (re-launched may be a better word) The Loop? What went in to that decision?

Jim: Relaunching the website was one of the biggest decisions I’ve ever made. We literally took every single element of the site and decided whether it was important enough to keep — did it serve a purpose and what did the reader get from having it on the page.

This was a very reader-focused redesign. I wanted the site to load extremely fast and be mostly text. That meant I had to rethink everything, including advertising. That was tough — I was making a decent amount of money on the money, but I hated visiting the site because I thought it was ugly. I contacted a designer friend of mine, Phil Letourneau, and the work started.

By this time I had decided to go with one ad on the site using Fusion Ads and supplement that with sponsorships and memberships. I told Phil what I was doing and he came up with the design, the new logo, the “Follow Us” images and then coded the entire site. With the help of fast servers from Cleverkite, page load times have gone from 10–15 seconds to under a second in many places.

It’s gratifying to measure site speed in milliseconds rather than seconds.

Of course, with the change also came a slight change in the content. Peter and I still post original stories, but we post more links to interesting stories around the Web now. That’s a lot of fun because we get to point out things that catch our eye and then give readers our opinion.

Stephen: I think the re-tooling of the site is simply wonderful, and I think it’s been well-received by everyone I’ve talked to about it.

One thing I think it has allowed you guys to do is to have individual voices in a new way. How do you and Peter work together? The though of having a co-writer makes me break out into cold sweats.

Jim: Having a co-writer is not an easy thing. However, Peter and I have been working together since 1996 and I trust him implicitly. We don’t always agree on everything, but he’s free to post his opinion whenever he wants. I don’t check Peter’s work and he doesn’t check mine — unless we feel another set of eyeballs would help the story.

I don’t know of very many writers that have the type of relationship that Peter and I do. We’re co-writers, co-workers, but most of all, we’re the best of friends.

Stephen: That’s really, really cool. I guess we can’t go much longer without talking about The Beard. It seems to have a personality all its own. How’d that come about?

Jim: The beard really has taken on a life of its own over the years. It’s to the point now where companies ask for appointments with the beard for a drink — I guess they just figure I’ll tag along.

The beard even has its own Twitter, although it’s not me that does it. Imagine my surprise to learn that my beard was talking to people on Twitter.

I guess I’ve had it for about five years or so. I just got tired of being like everyone else and decided it was time for a change. From there, the beard caught on and became a big part of my personality, online and in real life. It’s fun, I just go with it.

Stephen: Rumor has it that the beard would self-destruct if you were to shave, and in doing so, take you out with it. Any truth to this?

Absolutely true.

Stephen: Yikes. I’m nervous about asking any more beard-related questions.

Without a doubt, you’ve more experience writing about Apple — and writing on the web — than anyone else out there I’ve talked with. That said, I have two closing questions. How do you think coverage of Apple will change the next few years? With that in mind, what can writers do to remain relevant and enjoy growth?

Jim: Writers need to ready for change because Apple is. Apple will continue to enter more consumer electronics markets, so writers are going to need to understand the technologies in a broader market. That’s going to be tough for some people to do, but it will also open the door for new writers.

Relevancy in writing is a funny thing. You’re as relevant as your audience thinks you are — as long as they keep coming, most writers are happy to continue writing what they always have. I think that will change in the next few years too. There are a lot of fantastic writers out there who don’t work for big publications — these are the people I read the most. They don’t worry about pissing off advertisers, so they write what needs to be said.

That’s what I try to do everyday. I don’t try to be confrontational, but I write what I believe. Not everyone agrees with that, but that’s okay — it would be really boring if everyone always agreed.