Tag Archives: Jim Romenesko

Navigating by Stars in a Digital Universe

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I’ve had a particularly close look at the disintegration of legacy media. Close as in the front row of a movie theater, that uncomfortable place where you have to put your head back on the headrest to try to take it all in. 

The kind of front-row seat you would normally ask for a refund for. 

But I can’t ask for a refund, because this is the career I chose. Or perhaps it chose me, I don’t know. 

I used to write condolence notes to friends who were axed from their jobs as reporters, copy editors and photographers. 

And then I found myself in the sights of the hedge trimmers that are the corporate interests that run most of the traditional media in the United States. 

And my friends sent me their condolences. 

I wrote a private note to a few friends on Facebook, and someone sent it to the all-seeing Jim Romenesko, who published it and significantly changed the course of my career. 

Here is what I said:

“I believe in the process of news and the responsibility of a local newspaper to provide news to the citizens. Unfortunately, newspapers are helmed by old, decrepit captains who cannot see past their bifocals way down their noses reading about yesterday with all the relevance of the Hindenburg blimp disaster.”

I haven’t worked at a newspaper since I wrote those words.

And I only write it here again, because like everything else you ever do on the Internet, it never goes away. You only have to Google my name and scroll a little ways to find it.

At the time that I wrote it, my only experience was in newspapers. But now that I have worked in television and radio, the same applies to each of these legacy formats.

My point was not a personal attack on any one “captain,” but a condemnation of the bigger picture, the one that saw newsrooms excoriated to feed the bottom line. 

Rather than build something new and powerful to engage in public discourse, shed light on corruption and establish information that is truthful and accurate, we harvested all the old growth and sold it downriver so we’d have enough product to carry us through until the current set of leaders could retire comfortably on dwindling but still magnificent profits. 

Many years ago, after the full realization of the first dot-com bubble burst finally made it into writing and when talking heads could rattle off I-told-you-so’s on the morning shows and evening news, I said that legacy media should redefine itself like a startup. 

Risk, creativity, reinvestment in quality, innovation, strategic partnerships and chaos. All are hallmarks of startup culture. 

And all are exceedingly exciting when I think of how journalism could, should apply these to a new business model. 

Thomas Carlyle wrote that “(Edmund) Burke said there were Three Estates in Parliament; but, in the Reporters’ Gallery, yonder, there sat a Fourth Estate more important far than they all.”

That was in 1787, when the press was little more than a political instrument wielded deftly by politicians for purposes of propaganda. 

Slowly we grew into the skin coined for us in the term and ideology of the Fourth Estate, never realizing that one day we might actually shed the skin for another to pick up and wear. 

The press has reverted to a propaganda instrument, wielded instead by corporate interests and less so by politicians. 

We’ve lost the mantle of the Fourth Estate to something not entirely proletarian, but more so than today’s media. 

Where did the Fourth Estate surface after we dropped the mantle? It surfaced in the colored revolutions in Georgia, Ukraine, Iran and in the Arab Spring in Egypt, Libya and Syria. 

It surfaced on YouTube and Twitter and to some degree on Facebook. It surfaced in lightweight storytelling technology like smartphones and inexpensive laptops with cheap USB cameras. 

It surfaced in the capable hands of the public, that very public the media has defined like so many define children, that is should be seen and not heard. 

And I stand on the other side of the glass wall of the 1A meeting room and watch as we continue to push out “all the news that’s fit to print,” without consulting or involving the very audience leaving us in droves for pseudo media outlets that allow them the interactivity they desire. 

Perhaps the most egregious difference between today’s media and the pseudo media that is outpacing it is the loss of talented thinkers, innovators, revolutionaries and leaders.

In my career I’ve been lucky to encounter a few of these for a short period of time and usually toward the end of their run of glory. These are the people who’ve imparted the most wisdom, insight, vision and direction to me.

These are the Yoda’s and the Obi Wan Kenobi’s to my Luke Skywalker, the Gandalf the Grey to my Frodo. 

The longer I stay in the media business, the more time passes between meeting the crazy ones, as Steve Jobs described them. They are passing on, either to newer and more welcoming industries or just out of the consciousness of our particular industry. 

And the helms of our ships are steered by captains who do not understand GPS and who would rather navigate by the stars instead. 

For nine years I’ve held on to the last thread of hope for media, a tenuous connection of legitimacy that is thinner now to the point that sometimes I can’t see the line in front of me. 

Maybe it’s time for the floundering dirigible to crash and burn, so that a Phoenix can rise from its ashes. 

You can listen to me read this article here:

Throwing Stars and Dylan Thomas: Why the media should be relevant and relational

Every company is scrambling to come up with a strategy to deliver their goods to consumers and to interest their customers through a brand relationship. 

This includes media companies.

Some years ago I made a mistake. I posted a goodbye note to my friends after I was laid off from a small newspaper in Missoula, Montana.

Frustrated as I was at the thought of having to find a media job in a morass of confused and ultimately dying dinosaurs, I lashed out and wrote this: “Unfortunately, newspapers are helmed by old, decrepit captains who cannot see past their bifocals way down their noses reading about yesterday with all the relevance of the Hindenberg blimp disaster.”

I posted this as a Facebook note and tagged a bunch of journalists. Within 8 hours, it was posted on Jim Romenesko’s blog. Within 24 hours, it was everywhere, and I was fielding calls, emails and Facebook friend request from media and non-media alike.

Unfortunately, it cost me a possible job as the digital manager at the St. Louis Post Dispatch, though I’ll never know that for sure. I was simply told to keep looking.

My comment was ageist. I’ll not deny that. But the spirit of it was not.

Two things drive my journalism career. Relevance and relationship.

The limited audience reach at the first newspaper I ever worked for taught me to think about reaching the people I wanted to reach through the mediums they were consuming.

My friends, being young-ish, smart and digitally savvy, were consuming content from a trough so big and wide, you could park yourself in one spot and hardly ever come across the same thing twice. My newspaper, the place where my words were appearing daily, was a salt granule in the trough.

The overwhelming reason for this was our (the newspaper industry and media in general) habit of posting yesterday’s news today.

Just in case you missed it.

Two generations of people living on this planet have access to tools that give them news the second it breaks. One generation is caught in between, but they’re catching up fast. And another generation, the one that formerly consumed news from yesterday today every day at the breakfast table with a cup of coffee in hand, is passing on.

Relevance is key, because the core audience has moved off the traditional delivery platforms and away from the very style of day-old news.

Forward-looking, progressive and analytical and context-driven news created and curated by journalists is what the world is starving for. But we (the media world) keep feeding them stale bread.

The other piece, the big piece, is relationship. One-way, closed-door relationships rarely go anywhere today. The walls of influence and power that once divided media outlets from the public for the ‘good’ of the 4th Estate, now act as historic landmarks, dried-up motes, if you will, separating an increasingly paranoid and frightened media from a public ravenous for forward-looking contextualized information.

Relationship with an audience, with the general public, is second to relevance only in the sense that one must come first. Be it the chicken or the egg, relationship only matters if you have something to contribute.

Digital media start-ups have understood the need for relationship, but many have misunderstood relevance. Some have understood relevance but not relationship.

To their ultimate demise.

There still is the trough, the giant world of options that is the Internet. An it is a problem.

But in a world of bland and purposeless media options, a few granules of relevant and relational salt may just spark interest, as well-flavored food does, and spread word-of-mouth around a community, a town, a city and a country.

Just as relevance comes with a number of intricate issues to work out in terms actualizing. So does relationship.

Those buzzword throwing stars are full of such hypotheses. User-generated content, crowd sourcing, iReporting and a dozen other olive-branch participation strategies.

Meanwhile, media companies keep the walls intact and label everything accordingly, ignoring an information-hungry public getting more and more used to finding contextualized information in their Facebook feeds – from their friends. 

I think Dylan Thomas said it best: “Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.”

Throwing Stars and Dylan Thomas: Why the media should be relevant and relational

Every company is scrambling to come up with a strategy to deliver their goods to consumers and to interest their customers through a brand relationship. 

This includes media companies.

Some years ago I made a mistake. I posted a goodbye note to my friends after I was laid off from a small newspaper in Missoula, Montana.

Frustrated as I was at the thought of having to find a media job in a morass of confused and ultimately dying dinosaurs, I lashed out and wrote this: “Unfortunately, newspapers are helmed by old, decrepit captains who cannot see past their bifocals way down their noses reading about yesterday with all the relevance of the Hindenberg blimp disaster.”

I posted this as a Facebook note and tagged a bunch of journalists. Within 8 hours, it was posted on Jim Romenesko’s blog. Within 24 hours, it was everywhere, and I was fielding calls, emails and Facebook friend request from media and non-media alike.

Unfortunately, it cost me a possible job as the digital manager at the St. Louis Post Dispatch, though I’ll never know that for sure. I was simply told to keep looking.

My comment was ageist. I’ll not deny that. But the spirit of it was not.

Two things drive my journalism career. Relevance and relationship.

The limited audience reach at the first newspaper I ever worked for taught me to think about reaching the people I wanted to reach through the mediums they were consuming.

My friends, being young-ish, smart and digitally savvy, were consuming content from a trough so big and wide, you could park yourself in one spot and hardly ever come across the same thing twice. My newspaper, the place where my words were appearing daily, was a salt granule in the trough.

The overwhelming reason for this was our (the newspaper industry and media in general) habit of posting yesterday’s news today.

Just in case you missed it.

Two generations of people living on this planet have access to tools that give them news the second it breaks. One generation is caught in between, but they’re catching up fast. And another generation, the one that formerly consumed news from yesterday today every day at the breakfast table with a cup of coffee in hand, is passing on.

Relevance is key, because the core audience has moved off the traditional delivery platforms and away from the very style of day-old news.

Forward-looking, progressive and analytical and context-driven news created and curated by journalists is what the world is starving for. But we (the media world) keep feeding them stale bread.

The other piece, the big piece, is relationship. One-way, closed-door relationships rarely go anywhere today. The walls of influence and power that once divided media outlets from the public for the ‘good’ of the 4th Estate, now act as historic landmarks, dried-up motes, if you will, separating an increasingly paranoid and frightened media from a public ravenous for forward-looking contextualized information.

Relationship with an audience, with the general public, is second to relevance only in the sense that one must come first. Be it the chicken or the egg, relationship only matters if you have something to contribute.

Digital media start-ups have understood the need for relationship, but many have misunderstood relevance. Some have understood relevance but not relationship.

To their ultimate demise.

There still is the trough, the giant world of options that is the Internet. An it is a problem.

But in a world of bland and purposeless media options, a few granules of relevant and relational salt may just spark interest, as well-flavored food does, and spread word-of-mouth around a community, a town, a city and a country.

Just as relevance comes with a number of intricate issues to work out in terms actualizing. So does relationship.

Those buzzword throwing stars are full of such hypotheses. User-generated content, crowd sourcing, iReporting and a dozen other olive-branch participation strategies.

Meanwhile, media companies keep the walls intact and label everything accordingly, ignoring an information-hungry public getting more and more used to finding contextualized information in their Facebook feeds – from their friends. 

I think Dylan Thomas said it best: “Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.”