In times of crisis it’s ideas that count. That much has just been forcefully argued by Paul Krugman in the New York Review of Books. You might think, well, that’s kind of trivial, isn’t it? Indeed, but there are still human resources in the upper echelons of management especially in the media industry that haven’t understood the message. They respond to the obvious misconception of the current pipe systems by applying even more hydraulics.
You should definitely read Roger Ebert’s gorgeous diatribe on occasion of the issuing of new guidelines for movie reviews by AP. A 500 word limitation and recommended focus on celebrity gossip? What has that to do with movies, and how the hell do you think that people like Robert de Niro or Scarlett Johansson have acquired their celebrity status in the first place?
Take an example closer to my home turf: the ‘newsification’ of all german online media. What kind of sense does it make for a leading high-brow german weekly like DIE ZEIT, famous for sophisticated background, analysis and opinion, to force their limited online staff to work the newswires? “Oh,” said a high-ranking ZEIT editor when I asked him these questions, “but you have to see how our clicks go up when there is some quick news item on a major event.” Yeah, right. Imagine what you could do to your clicks with some well-placed sex! The move is simply exploiting the reflexes of customers already related to the brand, it does nothing to further develop the brand, and in the long run it will bore even those loyal customers that it has originally been addressing. For news, they will find, there are other, better places.
Or on another level, think about the recent decision by german publisher Gruner+Jahr to bring the reporting resources for four major business titles into one big editorial pool. How can you develop good products when their very identity is already subverted by the production workflow? That’s cheap buzzword politics at its worst. I can imagine the words “newsroom” and “synergies” glowing in red on uninspired powerpoint slides shown in G+J headquarters.
Roger Ebert has a wonderful example of the way many media people think these days:
A good friend of mine in a very big city was once told by his editor that the critic should “reflect the taste of the readers.” My friend said, “Does that mean the food critic should love McDonald’s?” The editor: “Absolutely.”