March 10, 2006
Liz published this at 11:33 am
The Nice One
I was working for a privately-held publishing company for about 9 months. The company had been losing 10% a year for the past three years running. In the morning the Major Partner and Chief Financial Officer were coming to visit to hear our plan to turn the company around. I had been chosen to voice the plan.
That night at dinner, the Operations’ Director and close friend said to me over wine and dinner, “You know, the success of this company really depends on you.”
“You’re talking about our meeting tomorrow. That will be fine.” I said.
“No. I’m talking about the execution of the plan.”
“You’re the only one who’s not jaded. You’re the nice one,” she said.
Why am I telling you this story?
So that I could say that my friend, Peg, said I am the nice one.
Reading the White Space?
Tom Glocer said some things to the Online Publishers in London. Almost everyone, except Scott Karp, Dave, a few others, and me, thinks he said good things. I wish I could agree with them. The truth is I can’t. I’m not sure he said anything at all that was good.
I commented on it earlier this week and was done. Then Tom Glocer said it again in this week’s Financial Times, which made more people–people smarter and nicer than me say that Tom is insightful.
I want to believe them. I just can’t. The editor in me knows better. It’s shouting out, “NO.” I worry that Tom is shaking their hands and smiling for the camera, while he’s checking their sleeves and planning his takeover.
I’m the nice one. I rarely go negative on anything. This situation is a problem for me.
Too many years in publishing has trained me to read the white space better than the words.
I went to my husband–we never agree on unimportant things. Without preamble, I asked him to read the Financial Times article. He responded the same way that I did. “Who does this guy think he is?” That’s saying something. My husband is not involved in the media or in blogging.
The Underlying Premises
Now that I’m sure that there’s a problem. I’ll lay out the basic premises before I begin. There are some things that most people, I think, aren’t considering and as the story moves on those basic facts are becoming less and less prominent. However, I find them to be very important to remember when considering Mr. Glocer’s words.
Premise 1: This Wasn’t Just Any Guy Talking
Tom Glocer is the CEO of Reuters. He didn’t get there by saying frivolous things in print. The words that he said were first said in a speech to the Online Publishers Association in London. This wasn’t some off the cuff conversation with a friend. I have no doubt that the words were carefully crafted, both what was said and what wasn’t.
Premise 2: He’s Talking ABOUT Bloggers Not TO Us
The speech that was written up in Financial Times as “Comments” was directed at the Mainstream Media not at what Mr. Glocer calls “not just bloggers â€“ it is citizen journalists armed with their 1.3 megapixel camera phones, people “mashing” together music and images to create new music videos, kids making their own movies and posting them on sites such as Stupidvideos.com or MySpace.com.” Bloggers and citizen journalists are not being spoken to, they are being spoken about.
Part of my job all of these years has been learning to read what people aren’t saying as much as what they are. Editors use this information to coach authors to make sure that their message says what they mean it to. What follows is point by point what Tom said and how this editor would respond to him about the unwritten subtext.
Point 1: What Has Changed
It is important to understand what has changed. Bloggers, after all, have always been a part of history â€“ read Daniel Defoe, Samuel Pepys or James Boswell. The same is true for citizen journalists: just check out first-hand accounts of any big historical event. The difference now is the scale of distribution and the ability to search. Because of this, we in the media industry face a profound challenge, as significant and transformational as Internet 1.0. So how should we respond to and control content fragmentation in this era of two-way flow?
1. It sounds as if you are saying “We can no longer ignore that bloggers are here to stay. They are, in fact, gaining ground.”
2. It appears that you are trying to show you respect bloggers by tying it to great men in history. However, this doesn’t work given your earlier definition of people mashing music and StupidVideos.com. In fact, it’s more likely that fans of Daniel Defoe et.al. should be insulted to be grouped into your aforementioned definition of blogger.
3. An operative phrase here is “we in the media face a profound challenge.” This phrase is excluding in nature, particularly since it is followed by the question of how the media should control things.
Point 2: Seeder of Clouds
. . . media companies need to be â€œseeders of clouds”?. To have access to high-value new content, we need to attract a community around us. To achieve that we have to produce high-quality content ourselves, then display it and let people interact with it. If you attract an audience to your content and build a brand, people will want to join your community. This is as true for traditional “letters to the editor” as for MySpace.com.
1. It appears you are saying “Only the media can provide quality content. If we don’t get a community around us soon and hold onto it we will become irrelevent.”
2. Operative phrase: “let people interact with it.” Let us? Allows us to? Let implies control. Invite would have been a better word.
3. Operative example here is MySpace.com Why choose what’s primarily a teen hangout as an example rather than something mainstream readers might easily relate to, such as TomPeters.com or Slacker Manager? This seems to continue the stereotype that blogs are online journals–unorganized, undocumented information, and therefore “less than” mainstream media.
Point 3: Provider of Tools
. . . we need to be â€œthe provider of tools”?. This means promoting open standards and interoperability, which will allow a diverse set of consumer-creators to combine disparate types of content.
1. You appear to be saying “If we don’t open the doors to new ideas, they will EXCLUDE US.”
2. Provider of tools? This is total spin, using big words to cover it. Bloggers already have the tools that they need–bloggers are teaching corporate how to use them not the other way around.
Point 4: Filter and Editor
. . . we must improve on our skills as the â€œfilter and editor”?. Media have always had these functions. The world will always need editing: consumers place value in others making decisions about what is good and what is not.
1. False premise–media has NOT always been filter and editor.
2. Unstated assumption–the audience wants the mainstream media to choose for them. This is not spin. This is just a faulty and telling premise on the part of media.
This is proof that Mr. Glocer DOES NOT as they say “get it.”
Editors know that the words and examples writers and speakers choose show how they think. Mr. Glocer, you use words of control and superiority. Your examples reinforce that view. This speech has voice of congeniality, but the subtext is a defensive posture. You speak as if you are strong, but your words betray weakness.
The paragraphs that follow those that I quoted go on to say how the professionals should work with the amateurs. That leaves me wondering how you define those two words. Corporate job, you are one and no corporate job, you’re the other?
As any four-year-old might say, “Mr. G., I’m sorry, but you’re not a dictionary. YOU DON’T GET TO PICK.”
A blogger is an entrepreneur by definition. That’s why the corporate rules aren’t working.
Some Folks DO Get It
Some in the “Mainstream Media” do “get it.” They are learning not teaching, and there are plenty in my neighborhood. OnMilwaukee is a thriving online magazine that boasts major advertising accounts. The suburban newspaper, The Chicago Herald has recently started Beep, a blog Network for 21- to 34-year-old professional. The Chicago Tribune has Metromix that’s Tribune Interactive–both print and online.
The idea is to let go of what you think should be in favor of making content that readers find relevant.
Got that Mr. Glocer? . . . I thought not.
Call me. Let’s talk. I promise I won’t call you an amateur.
I’m the nice one.
–ME “Liz” Strauss
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