Archive for the ‘journalism’ Category

The redemption of business journalists

Monday, August 10th, 2009

I never liked business journalists. Their articles always struck me as editorially slanted toward “good” or “bad” stories, without much interest for the subtle tapestry of most business issues. At the personal level, I found many business journalists to be cynical and arrogant. By definition, they’d always have the last (written) word and relish their ability to make or break you at the stroke of a pen, a power (and lack of accountability) they ferociously defended under the guise of journalistic independence. Fourteen years later, I can still remember waiting all night for the appearance on the BusinessWeek web site of a negative article calling out the reputed inconsistencies between my firm’s strategy (Gemini Consulting, now integrated into Cap Gemini) and a book I had just co-authored. I can even remember agonizing over how to explain to my then 12-year old daughter that her dad was not a hypocrite, in spite of what was being implied about him.

This morning, I woke up with a new faith in business journalists. It all started two weeks ago with the discovery that McGraw-Hill is considering selling BusinessWeek, after owning it for the last 80 years.

I was first animated by a vague sense of poetic justice in seeing my old tormentor deal with the same business downturn issues my firm had faced long ago. When I opened up the BW web site, I found, much to my surprise, that John Byrne, now head of BusinessWeek.com, was inviting readers to suggest stories BW should write about (I remember meeting John a couple of times when he was Management Editor and he struck me as wicked smart, but not particularly interested in co-creation at the time).

Still skeptical, I then ran across another blog on the BW site, written by one of their senior writers, Stephen Baker, which is downright touching in its honesty and the transparency it fosters. For the first time, I found myself connecting with a person of flesh and blood at BW, who talks about his own uncertainties on the value of his writing and editorial work, and who genuinely invites readers to think with him about new ways to create value for his magazine. If BW and McGraw-Hill have any sense, they will engage this gentleman and others like him in becoming the transformation agents for the magazine, rather than rely on some hypothetical new business model provided by a private equity firm or investment banker.

As for me, dear Stephen Baker, I want to thank you for reconciling me with your profession. I do not know you – the title of Senior Writer leads me to believe you must be a very old man with a long white beard — but any journalist who writes as you do clearly understands the power of co-creation in publishing. Please send me your invoice for your counseling services in helping me overcome my journalistic phobia.

Defending WaPo – the journalist as a co-creation agent

Monday, July 6th, 2009

Late last week, the Washington Post received a spate of unwanted coverage. In a nutshell, the paper sought to recreate the salons of its past – intimate dinner gatherings of decision-makers, hosted in the home of famed, former publisher, Katharine Graham. While the salons were clearly rooted in precedence, the attempt this time around to seek corporate sponsorships caught the ire of the news media, Post journalists included.

In fact, the press has been unanimous in its condemnation of the current Post publisher’s idea to host a sponsored dinner on healthcare (and potentially other topics) that would bring together regulators, corporate providers, and its own journalists. (The current Post publisher is the late Mrs. Graham’s granddaughter, Katharine Weymouth).

The idea of charging corporations $25,000 to participate in such a dinner is indeed objectionable in that it amounts to selling access to both regulators and the paper’s own journalists. (The Post has explained the intended fee-basis as an over-aggressive marketing ploy.)

But underneath this stinky wrapper lies the more intriguing idea that the journalists’ role is to participate in the co-creation of a point of view on the industry across the interests of regulators and corporations. Doing this job requires access to both, and the idea of a dinner platform to foster an off-the-record dialogue between all three constituencies encourages a modern and accurate view of journalism, particularly if compared with the popular myth of the independent newsman writing penetrating articles from the sanctuary of his paper’s newsroom.

While investigative journalism does indeed require protecting one’s sources in the best tradition of Deep Throat and Watergate, most business writing should come from the transparent brokering of points of view defended by players with a stake in the game, be they regulators or corporations. In that spirit, having the Washington Post organize such an event to institutionalize a dialogue between parties does not sound bad to me.

However, given the vigorous and swift coverage of the pay-for-play gaffe, the proud journalistic profession clearly prefers its long-standing, journalist-centric view of value creation. They may be in for a rude awakening…