Archives for March 2012

Temporarily Closed

I’ve been away from my blog for over a week, and I’m afraid that’s going to continue. Why? I’m working on two new projects that require my full attention. There’s so much to write about, too, but I just can’t. I need to focus elsewhere, and so I’m shutting down for a couple of weeks and not feel guilty about it.

As Ah-Nold famously said, “I will be back.”

We need to get over ourselves

Business Insider PageThere it was, staring at me with remarkable clarity, a headline from Business Insider on the sad state of newspapers pared with a picture from the film “All The President’s Men,” the story of Bob Woodward & Carl Bernstein, The Washington Post and, of course, Watergate. The irony? Evidence (Gallup) suggests that this event — the elevation of everyday journalists into superstar status — was the bellwether occurrence that began the downward slide of press trust in the U.S. Of course, you won’t hear contemporary journalists speak such heresy. After all, Woodward & Bernstein are the model of what it means to be the successful professional (a.k.a. “real”) journalist of today, and this is why BI used the photo.

The BI article examines new research from LinkedIn on sectors of the economy that are losing jobs.

On a percentage basis, newspapers shed the most jobs, down 28.4% between 2007 and 2011.

The good news: online publishing had job growth of 20.4%. But it didn’t add as many jobs as newspapers lost.

We’ve heard from thousands of insiders and outsiders, experts and armchair quarterbacks on what’s causing this decline, and all tell part of the story: disruptive innovations, Craigslist, the recession, failing to initially charge for content online, and so forth. But most of these are shortsighted, and the Gallup research is the only evidence that points to the origin of the decline in press trust in the country, and it begins shortly after Watergate.

I’ve written much about what I think happened, that journalism subtly shifted from a way from a career in which a single person could make a difference to one of riches and notoriety (see: “I love to be in front of cameras” below). The ability to hobnob with those they covered — and, therefore, gain status simply by rubbing elbows with the famous — became the wish of many of those who passed through the gates of accommodating journalism and communications schools. I witnessed this up close and personal in my own career. Employees who “wanted to be on TV” became the majority, and then there’s the ugly side of market-hopping, the slow shift from parochial news coverage to cosmopolitan news coverage in smaller markets as more and more Woodward & Bernstein wannabes expressed themselves for the sake of their resumes instead of the community they were supposed to be serving. How else do you explain stories of young TV reporters doing things like jumping a fence at a very small market airport to “prove” how easy it would be for a terrorist to do likewise? This kid got himself arrested, but that’s not the point.

Playing hotshot super sleuth in a place like that wasn’t even close to reporting news for the community, and the thing we’ve always failed to see about this is that people — you know, the audience — have been paying attention. It’s crystal clear to them that news people are in it for themselves and serve neither the public nor the profession. Beginning at the university level, an entire industry swung from making a difference to the quest for the big bucks (“quest,” because we never really got there, except for the few, right?), and the hell with what the audience might think.

This is why I wrote last week of the Great Winnowing that has begun, wherein the practice of journalism is having its way with a whole generation of misled practitioners. I have faith that the demand for journalism remains (and will be) strong and that people will earn a decent living at the end a really rough season for most.

Ego is a funny thing. It drives people to great personal risk, which can produce great rewards, but it can also create unrealistic expectations and turn normally sane people into preening peacocks of staggering insanity.

What has been our chief sin since Watergate? We just can’t seem to get over ourselves.

Of Britannica and pulse weaponry

Downstream thinking — a.k.a. living in the future — is a stressful but necessary pastime for one interested in innovation. Why? You must be prepared to look for unseen, hidden or unintended consequences. As astronaut Frank Borman told the congressional committee investigating the Apollo I disaster, it was a “failure of imagination.” A fire on the ground wasn’t something they had considered.

The inevitable decision announced today by the Encyclopedia Britannica to cease its print publication in favor of its digital unit is one such event. Let us all enter into this with eyes wide open. Through such decisions, we’re saying as a culture that we prefer our knowledge stored electronically, so let’s take a look at a downstream issue that badly needs discussion: how do we protect digital storage?

One of the problems with people is that whenever somebody builds something new — especially when it means an advantage — there is an immediate need for somebody else to tear it down. This is especially true in Western Civilization, where imagination and invention are rewarded through steps up the social ladder. Maybe it’s because we’re predisposed to destruction, but every new thing seems to be immediately weaponized or turned into something that can be used to our advantage.

So it is with electricity and the electromagnetic space. Electromagnetic Pulse weapons (EMP) — which we have — can take down electrical grids and permanently (until parts are replaced) destroy instruments, devices, systems and infrastructures. “Blinding” and “deafening” the enemy is more than just the physical destruction of cell towers, for example; it’s about blowing out the electrical components that make everything work. We’ve long known this was a side effect of nuclear bombs detonated high in the atmosphere, but we’ve refined the process in modern times.

Many gasped when it was discovered last summer that China was building EMPs to hypothetically use against U.S. aircraft carriers in the event of war.

I’m certainly no alarmist when it comes to this stuff. I’m 100% behind the fuel and the products of the Digital or  Information Age. I just think it would be prudent to explore all aspects of what we’re doing as we make big cultural decisions like this.

Think about it. How would you and your neighbors respond if everything suddenly stopped working? The ensuring chaos would be unspeakable. I’ve often wondered why Hollywood hasn’t grabbed this concept.

The Air Force is responsible for protecting the electromagnetic space for us. Do we have an anti-pulse weapon weapon? I wonder…

The new old breed

Jean-Sun Hannah AhnFrom the Seattle Times comes word that Miss Seattle, Jean-Sun Hannah Ahn, tweeted her disdain for Seattle and its residents after going to school for four years in Phoenix. The story is one of foolishness and the permanent record that is Twitter, but there’s something deeper here.

Her dream is to be a TV news anchor.

“I love to be in front of cameras,” she says

I rest my case.

An open letter to newsroom employees everywhere

The business of media has been a part of my life for over 41 years. I care deeply about it and especially the people who are in it for reasons of journalism. It is to you that this open letter is addressed:

    To Whom It May Concern:

The time to prepare for the collapse of the institution that employs you is at hand, and I thought it would be useful to lay out a scenario in which you come out on top when it happens. You may think I’m nuts or overly negative or a doomsayer or whatever, and that’s all right. I claim no special vision of tomorrow; I only follow the bigger trends as they relate to culture and our profession, and frankly, there’s just not a place for specialist newsrooms that pay living wages in the world into which we’re heading. You don’t have to believe that for it to be true, but it would be wise to at least consider the road ahead.

Most media companies are publicly-owned. In such cases, management has a fiduciary responsibility to the company’s shareholders. This is as old as the stock market, but a sweet return on investment for those shareholders is getting harder and harder to provide. That’s because it isn’t about revenue with these companies; it’s about growth, and in a fragmenting, disintermediated marketplace, the lack of growth is a real killer. Privately-held companies can absorb stymied growth somewhat better, but even the people who own these companies would like to see their compensation growing instead of shrinking. There are only two ways to produce growth: either increase revenue or reduce expenses, and these two challenges are not going away. Ask anybody who’s been in media management for very long, and they’ll tell you the growth is gone. Political advertising produces gold every other year, but there’s no guarantee this will continue and it’s a poor model to begin with.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s still a TON of money being made in the media world, but the industry has matured and the ROIs just aren’t what they used to be. There’s no sign either that things will ever be what they once were.

This reality exists in the background, as we go about our daily lives holding our collective breath. The TV upfront season is upon us, and there’ll be increases announced. The illusion will be that everything is fine. The NAB conference in Las Vegas next month will be filled with positive statements and sessions about how to capitalize on this innovation or that one. The NAA’s mediaXchange conference in Washington, D.C. next month promises that “media thought leaders” will “provoke and inspire attendees.” But managers in the industries of media know well that these are challenging times, and that the background threatens to become the foreground with each passing day.

So how does this impact you, and what should you be doing about it?

If you haven’t already done so, now is the time to begin building and refining your personal brand. The good thing about this is that you’re in charge, so you get to pick and choose how and how much you are promoted in the world of personal media. It’s not necessarily the size of the fish in the pond that will succeed tomorrow, although that’s always a nice advantage. What will be important is your niche and how valuable you are within that niche. This will produce value to the people who will want exclusive or first crack at the content you’ll create, regardless of the financial structure available. If aggregation and curation are the filters for media consumption downstream (they are), your place in the queue matters much more than which corporate brand you represent. You control this through the quality of your work and attending to the marketing of yourself. You can’t blame anybody else for success or failure here.

For lots of excellent and practical advice on personal branding, I highly recommend tuning in to The Personal Branding Blog. It’s a wonderful resource for the hows and what-to-dos of personal branding. Spending a few hours here will shortcut your learning.

This is incredibly important for you, because, like it or not, we’re moving to a scenario where you very likely won’t be employed directly by a media company. You’ll work as an independent contractor and sell your work in a variety of ways. It’s simply more cost effective for media companies to hire independent contractors than it is to carry the burdensome costs of employees, but that’s not the only reason you should be thinking this way. Telecommuting is one of the big trends in employment in 2012, and people who play in this world really, really like it. You — the currently employed — will be able to live a happy and successful life outside the bonds (that’s right) of employment. Absent the old, colonialist practice of “owning the help” through a paycheck and benefits, you’ll do better, more important work, because you’re doing it for yourself. You’ll enjoy working from your home. You’ll enjoy the growing tax benefits of the independence, and I’m convinced that insurance companies will happily create umbrella options that will work better for everybody. The whole world is drifting in this direction, and the benefits vastly outweigh the negatives, the chief of which is simply fear. Fear is tissue paper disguised as a brick wall. Never forget that.

Don’t get caught up in the details, because they can and will all be worked out. Don’t judge tomorrow’s opportunities by today’s seeming reality. Even if I’m wrong (I’m not), you can still benefit from the advice to hone your personal brand. Remember that in the world of work, the only person who really cares about you is you. Technology has given you the opportunity to better yourself through personal branding, and I strongly recommend you get busy. Don’t fall for the illusion that you just need to hang on for a few more years and everything will work itself out.

  • Internally insist that you do nothing for pay that doesn’t directly or indirectly promote you and your brand. Nothing. Don’t be a fool here and get yourself into hot water over this, so let it be an internal driver only. Don’t worry; you’ll find ways to accommodate your mandate. It simply needs to be top-of-mind.
  • Pick a niche, something for which you have a deep passion, because passion can literally take over when everything else fails.
  • The days of a mile wide and an inch deep are over. You must become a/the valued expert in the information niche of your choosing.
  • Deliver the goods. Be the best you can be at news and information (or whatever) for that beat. Let no one best you. You’ll establish yourself through your work, not what you say about your work. Spend the hours up front that it’ll take to relentlessly pursue the promotion of you, your work, and your brand, but above all, be known by and for your work.
  • Get off the market-hopping merry-go-round. Seriously. Put down roots somewhere you want to live, and start living! Roots are an enormous asset even today, but tomorrow their value will be incalculable. A part of owning your niche is geographic, for parochial attitudes and beliefs govern many issues.

Blossom where you’re planted, and Life will show you the rest. Knowing that your brand’s value will increase over time, plan accordingly. But do plan! Take a really hard look at what you want and what you need. If your needed level of compensation is above what the market will pay (be realistic here), give serious consideration to doing something else, but also weigh that against the possibilities you have as an independent contractor. Is your niche such that you can find additional compensation elsewhere? Take your time with this, for your future is at stake.

I believe that a Great Winnowing is at hand, when those who’ve chosen journalism as a way to make a difference are separated from those who view it as a channel to be a big shot. Humility is a wonderful human attribute, but one that’s increasingly absent in the people who’ve chosen this career path. This winnowing will relieve us of many of the ego-driven personalities found in those who are using their employers to see their names in lights. Again, it’s your work, not you, that matters in a meritocracy. Embrace that or find a different way to make a living. You will not get paid in media just by showing up, not in any capacity.

Be smart and begin to disassociate yourself with the industrial age concepts associated with modernity. Don’t put yourself in a position where you function as a virtual slave to the one who signs your paycheck. Put your dependence where it belongs and move it away from your “employer.” You want to be self-reliant? You can do it, and there’s no time like now to get started.

And to the managers who work in newsrooms, it’s in the best interests of your company to assist in promoting the personal brands of your employees. You know and understand the marketing value of the mass. You know that it works. You also know that there’s a commensurate value that comes back to you in promoting the people who work under your brand. Moreover, your reputation as one who advances the personal brands of those who work for you will get around. Don’t you want the top of the class working for you? Don’t you want the real experts in the community working for you? Don’t you want those people free to grow their own followers beyond the reach of your signal or your circulation? Of course you do, so do what you can to puff your own, for it’s the smart — although initially counterintuitive — business path to tomorrow.

Understand that there are personal brands with “media” minds already growing in your community, and that some of them (even one) might provide very useful content as an independent contractor already. Begin looking at systems and compensation programs that will benefit everyone.

Also to the managers, begin studying and examining the processes and systems you’ll need to create a genuinely virtual newsroom. Embedding journalists in the community makes much more sense today, because the need to work from a centralized location is increasingly unnecessary. The cloud is the center today. More time in the field produces results, from both quantity and quality perspectives. Time is, after all, the new currency.

To managers in sales departments everywhere, personal branding applies profoundly to you and your team as well, and the same rules, responsibilities and opportunities that exist for news people are also there for sales people. People buy from people, and the net provides a unique connective thread that we didn’t have just a few years ago. We’re seeing some areas where car sales people, for example, are buying ads at the hyperlocal level in order to raise their profiles in the community. We should be doing the same things — and more — with and for our people.

When is all of this going down? Gradually, at first, perhaps in the next 3-4 years. Unless something positive and dramatic happens with the economy, 2013 is going to be an absolutely brutal year for the industry (again), and all of this will accelerate. Don’t wait for somebody else to do it; YOU do it, regardless of your position within the whole.

Again, you don’t have to believe any of this, but my money’s on the folks who take advantage of what’s at their fingertips in building for themselves a better chance when the winnowing accelerates. Others will sit back and wait for more obvious signs that they’ll have to do something. By then, however, it’ll be too late. Nobody can rest on their laurels. Nobody.

Please accept this in the spirit with which it’s intended, and good luck.




This is my dwelling place

Like many whose pathways have been littered with the waste of addiction, I grew up feeling very different. An inability or incapacity to reconcile those feelings led me down many dark roads, and while I currently live in the Light, the power of feeling different still astounds me.

A part of living in the Light, I’ve discovered, is accepting that there is no “normal” against which we can (or, God forbid, “should”) measure ourselves, no middle ground of contentment and satisfaction within the human race. All are dysfunctional to one degree or another, and the object of life isn’t to overcome those dysfunctions as much as it is to learn to live with them and still feel good about oneself. I am, as we say in my crowd, “comfortable in my own skin.”

It wasn’t always so. I shared much in my note, “How I Know God Loves Me,” but that is not a part of my thoughts today.

Many, many years ago, an employer required that we all take a certain, very thorough personality/character test. I was about 35, and I’d spent my entire working life in positions of leadership and management, regardless of the industry. When working with the expert from the personality test company, she revealed that I had scored zeroes in the two key measurements of management ability. Zero. No innate capacity to manage. The lowest possible scores. “How,” I inquired, “can I possibly exist in management – and actually thrive – given this revelation?”

She turned to another section of the score sheet and responded, “Because you are in the 99th percentile when it comes to both intelligence and creativity. You make games of management requirements, so that you can resolve what is very unnatural for you.”

This was one of those life-changing moments for me. I’d always known that I was smart. School was easy. I’d also known that I have a vivid imagination, but this was the first time the degree of either had been scientifically revealed to me. It scared me, but it also was comforting, because it made a lot of sense. This was me: smart, creative, and very much alone. Such gifts can be a curse to one who only seeks acceptance and perhaps the hero worship granted to athletes. I wanted, I needed to be some ONE; what I had failed to realize was that I already was.

As a boy, I was most comfortable when I was alone. Mostly, I wandered the fields and forests of our neighborhood and beyond, where my imagination took me to new worlds and new situations, while my intelligence helped me figure out how to survive and thrive when the chips were down. There are no smarts like street smarts. I clearly lived in my head, surrounded, however, by the sights and sounds of nature, the warm glow of the sun, the breeze that moved my hair and cooled my skin, the taste of whatever I found to test and the beautiful smell that is a combination of all life. I also discovered Life, with a capital L, as I studied and applied my mind to everything around me. I also witnessed death and the paradoxes of nature. We anthropomorphize the creatures around us and empathize with their suffering, but there are important reasons the weak don’t make it. I hurt over this, but I understand.

My old friend Holly often tweaks me for not applying my intelligence through study, and I always appreciate that. I never went to college, nor did I “academically” study the things about which I write. It’s a catch-22, for while I’m sure I would have gained much (and probably still could) by such study, my reality is that it would interfere with what Life is trying to show me or teach me. There is Richard Adams’ “Unbroken Web,” where I can tap the source of all, and I’d rather get it raw from there than filtered by human study. It may make me feel ancient to discover for myself things I could learn from books, but the rewards of touching The Unbroken Web go way beyond knowledge filtered by human study. Answers exist in the Unbroken Web, because it is incapable of saying “No,” and these answers inspire the passion and energy required to bring them to the light. This is the world of art and the arts, for as Jonah Lehrer wrote, “When we venture beyond the edge of our knowledge, all we have is art.” Yes, the world of ideas versus the world of processes. My heart leaps with joy for being so alive. Who wouldn’t feel joyful in the presence of Life?

And when I’m there, in this world of absolute creativity, I feel safe, the only thing a young boy really pursues in the forests and fields of his world. There are no problems here, only solutions, and it’s here where the Light shines most brightly. Some would see this as the nonsensical “head in the clouds” of those who “should” know better, but it’s my home. I’m proud to exist here and thankful beyond words. Here, sensitivity is a gift, not a curse that must be overcome.

And as life goes by on my human journey through time and space, I find peace and joy and serenity in this dwelling place. It’s my heaven. Me, my spirit, my soul with its hopes and dreams will always be there.