Journalism hasn’t lost its business model. It has lost its purpose

A New Age of Media

Like half-popped corn grown soggy overnight in a forgotten bowl

Blither and drivel

No promise or invitation

Structure long decayed

Indolence becomes insult to the morning

And dirties the memories of the night

Put away the dregs of the party

Even use the recycling bins

Sweep the floor

Let us begin the new day with freshly baked bread

On shining new plates

With rich smelling coffee

Lets begin with the work of craftsman

Let’s begin the day mindfully

With what we need to hear

Wisdom having cleared yesterday’s issues

To celebrate the new day

Crisp, fresh, sweet smelling

Celebrating the people at our table

Flying pigs: social media is really showing up old media

Epworth
Image via Wikipedia

Following the flying pigs

I had a follow-up to my post on Managing in Africa.

My curiosity about the fate of warthogs that got in the way of a jet taking-off at Harare International Airport received some dry feedback.  Apparently, there were no pigs.  The plane ‘just’ lost its landing gear.

The pilot should obviously be congratulated for bringing the aircraft to a safe stop with no injuries.  The media should be following up the safety of that make of aircraft!

But pigs at airports that turned out to be flying pigs  . . .

A funny story that teaches us something about judging the accuracy of media reports

I was slow to detect BS.  That got me thinking.

  • I did notice that story was unfinished.  No one told us what happened to the pigs ~ or congratulated the pilot.
  • This is another example of how old media are only too willing to report the accounts of powers-that-be, even when they are in Zimbabwe.
  • This is another example of how old media are only too willing to regurgitate each others “news” without checking for themselves.

And I have lost my instincts for the truth of stories coming out of Zimbabwe.  I have been away too long.

We all judge stories by their narrative form and an essential player in every narrative is ourselves  When we are not part of the story, we will have difficult spotting inaccuracies.

Third parties are not necessarily good observers

Good accounts always have many perspectives.  Perhaps the first checks on any story is

  • Who said it?
  • Who repeated it?
  • Who was left out?

And above all, follow the money!

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Social media is not putting anyone out of work, not even journalists

Computers have never put anyone out of work!

I got my first job using a computer before I could use one!  I had been given a massive job calculating a correlation matrix for 500 or so people on 35 variables and I had 6 weeks to do it.

I didn’t fancy spending my summer doing clerical work, so I took a week’s course in programming, barely understood a word, talked my way into the University’s computer centre, found a programme, and finished the job in 3 weeks instead of the 6 weeks allotted. Two of those weeks were spent looking for a comma, though I didn’t know that then.

The last three weeks of my 6 week job were spent teaching at the Institute of Personnel Management, administering psychological tests to select junior bankers, and writing up the manual for a set of tests.

Herein, I learned three important lessons about IT

#1 Computers really can cut out the drudgery of office work.  Think how nice it is to cut cutting out 90% of the time you spend on paperwork.

#2 When you don’t know what to do, ask. Often the problem is something trivial that is obvious to someone who has done a similar job before

#3 Computers have never put any one out of work.

But will social media or web2.0 put people out of work?

The troubles of newspapers in today’s world has led me to wonder if it is still true that computers have never put anyone out of work. We hear of newspapers shutting because of competition from bloggers and Twitter.

Is it possible that web 2.0 will put people out of work where web 1.0 didn’t?

After some thinking and scouting around, my best guess is no. Work will change and some newspaper owners may not achieve ‘rents’ they achieved in the past. But the work is still there.

Big institutions need to manage an institutional voice

Today I looked at the NZ Labour Party blog and really, they could do with some professional journalists on their staff.

What does it mean to be authentic when you represent an institution

I know we all want an authentic voice on web2.0. I love it that Paulo Coelho is on Twitter and has real interviews every night.

A NZ Labour Party blog though, represents an institution. There is nothing wrong with MP’s dictating their blog post, or drafting it, and sending it to an editorial team who sub it and check it for coherence (dotting the i’s and making sure it toes the party line).

That’s what Obama does with his speech writers. He is in control and they work on replicating his voice.

In a political party, the MP’s would initiate content and the sub’s would tidy it up using the MP’s voice.

Because the Labour Party is a team, an editorial team would also check whether posts support or contradict each other, extract emerging teams and even hold up a mirror to MP’s about what they are saying and how it might be perceived by their audience.

There is nothing wrong with a service like this running in the background. It is no different from teaching people to write and edit, or, taking a degree in politics and history.

After all political voices aren’t ‘born’. They don’t come ready-made. They are cultured.  And we join political parties to work together on something we find important.

Social media creates better work for us all

So no, I don’t think social media puts people out of work. Social media allows us to work together and accomplish more than we did before.

Social media will not put journalists out of work. It will generate more opportunity for them.

And it may generate better work, in new career tracks, with more opportunity to influence the world.  Lucky them to lose old ways and find new.

The secret of an un-junked life is your own filter

Do you remember the days when you needed a ‘big man’ to present you to the world?

I barely remember, yet it was not so long ago that we had to find a patron, if we wanted to be heard.

  • If we wrote a book, we needed a publisher.
  • If we were into politics, we joined a political party.
  • If we kept counted the beans in business, we found ourselves an employer.

Some of these ‘big men’ were indeed patrons of quality

When we wanted information and advice of quality, we went to the same ‘big men’.  People of quality gathered around them.  We could randomly pick anyone of them. They would probably be OK.

Clay Shirky explains why we needed ‘big men’

Taking newspapers as an example – printing on paper was expensive.  Journalists couldn’t invest in the prohibitively expensive printing presses and distribution networks.  And newspapers proprietors wanted to be sure their printed papers would sell.  So newspaper owners had a vested interest in promoting quality and they become the arbiters and promoters of journalistic quality.

The internet has broken the ‘big man’ model

The internet has made publishing cheap and easy.  Working together has got cheaper and easier.  In short, the internet allows us to present ourselves to the world without going through a ‘big man’.

Every man and his dog has a story up on the internet and we feel drowned in a deluge of material – unfiltered and of indifferent quality. Junk food, junk mail, junk bonds, more junk.

The flip-side of everyone being their own ‘big man’ is that refereeing quality, and promoting quality, has become our job – perhaps our only job.

The secret of an un-junked life is our own filter.  And as the art of speaking is the art of being heard, for the first time we are faced with the task of truly understanding how other people filter.  We cannot rely entirely on ‘big men’ to do it for us.  Too much is going around and past them.

How do we filter the deluge of junk?

#1 Work with the ‘big men’ who remain

Political scientist, Matthew Hindman, reminds us that the old patronage systems are still up and running.

In so far as these systems provide a quality filter, there is no harm in using them.  We still go to university.  We read good books.  We even watch good TV programs!

What we have to get our heads-around is that as little as five years ago, the ‘big men’ provided the only channels, and the only filters. We lived with their definition of quality – like it or not.

Today, we do have a choice.  And we find ourselves having to judge the quality of the ‘big men’.  Do the filters that we’ve used for so long have the quality they promise?   Sadly, the alternatives, even the alternatives produced by amateurs, are exposing many ‘clay feet’.

#2 Actively reconstruct our filters on a regular basis

The power, and responsibility, for judging quality has shifted to us.  Our next step, fortunately seems to come quite easily.  We figure out what matters in the world.

Much of what happens is not worth reacting to.  I loved President Obama talking about racist responses to his initiatives.  Looking utterly relaxed on the Letterman show, he began, as if to make a serious point, then with good timing, reminded us he was black before the election.   It is true, he reminded the audience, with mock insistence.  How long have you been black? said Letterman.  Our mental models have become important. It doesn’t do any more to borrow from the great and the good.  We must have mental models of our own.

Julius Solaris, intrepid London networker, also wrote today of pruning his huge networks, much like my neighbors pruning their roses. A healthy network is free of dead wood and dead heads.  And for that matter, free of ‘dittoheads’ as they have become to be known on Twitter.

But do other people actively filter? Will they hear us among the deluge of junk arriving on their screens?

I count 5 ways to understand how information reaches, and doesn’t reach people.

#1 Old forms of patronage count

We shouldn’t dismiss the power of old establishments.  They might not fully comprehend the loss of their old monopoly, but they will defend their territory, and they will use the weight of their considerable resources to defend their position.

Be wise and take the back road to the high ground.

#2 Recommendations of friends still matter

Though many people are incredibly trusting of the old filters, they still trust their friends more.

Old fashioned communication systems remain influential.

Get close to the people who matter to you and be in touch – literally.

#3 Understand Google

How do we find information on the internet?  We can put up a website but does anyone ever look at it other than us?  Understanding the algorithm used by Google is part our our new literacy.

#4 Join social networks

Our lives are now lived virtually as well as on the street.  Join up to major social networking sites and take part.  To be off the network today would have been like refusing to read newspapers in the 1960’s.  Odd to say the least.

#5 Become a respected filter

Build your own web presence as a filter that other people can rely on.  Let people see the world through your eyes.

If you are a fan of junk food, then yay, the world can discover junk food in your wake.  If you have an understanding of the deep structure that underlies good food, like Daniel Young, then show that to the world.

Working consistently on our web presence helps us understand our own filters.

Using the many statistics packages available (like Google Analytics) helps us track what other people respond to and deepens our awareness of their filters.

Sometimes this is deeply depressing – but hey, knowledge is power. If people come to this site to find out if they are good looking (told you it gets depressing), or at other extreme, how to do HR in the recession (deeply depressing), it tells me a lot about them. And it tells me a lot about how I manage my relationship with the world’s cybermediary, Google.

It is a brave new world. The deluge of junk can get overwhelming.

This is no time to be lazy.  Our job in this age is to define how the world works, to gather quality information around us, to digest it, and to put our understanding back out there for the next person to use.

Can you imagine doing anything less? If you can, I would like to know.

Because the quality of our filters seems both to preserve our sanity and be the basis of our earning power.

A casestudy of good HRM from Africa; and now from UK please

Giraffe Manor, Nairobi, Kenya

 

Image by Danny McL via Flickr

To keep our heads when those around us are losing theirs

We are living in calamitous times and it is not surprising that people are using strong words.  The essence of the credit crisis seems, for now, while we wait for a thorough post mortem, a bad case of “emperor’s clothes’.   What irony then that we act with scant regard for the technique of our respective professions, or the decorum we expect from people who wield influence.

Using African ‘names in vain’

Yesterday, I was shocked at the language used on Twitter to describe the detention of Corsi in Kenya.  I am not closely acquainted with the case but it seems Corsi arrived in Kenya to promote a book highly critical of Obama, who as you know was born in the USA of a Kenyan father.  Though I am not closely acquainted with the facts of the Corsi case, the accounts seem odd.  A) Would the profit on sales of a book in Kenya even cover the cost of the visit (are any books even on sale there?)  B) Kenya has just recovered from massive and murderous unrest and someone visits to provoke controversy? C) A US citizen arrives on business in a country he does not know well and he hasn’t requested prior assistance from his embassy (or has had his request declined)?

I have no idea which of these is true, if any.  What shocked me was the alacrity with which Tweeters referred to Kenyans as Obama zombies (@SmoothStone) and to the place where Corsi was being questioned as Torture House (@susan_s_smith).  Looking at their home pages, the first tweeter is Republican and the second Democrat.  I suggested to both that they apologise to African tweeters and only @susan_s_smith replied, unless I missed the other.  She was bemused at what might be offensive.

Emperor’s clothes

Returning to the times we live in, there are huge question marks about the way we are managing large powerful companies.  The Economist today summarized an article in Harvard Business Review suggesting managers should be held accountable for the effects of their management, in the same way we hold doctors, lawyers, architects and others to account for their professional competence.  It is time we lifted our game. Not to do so will lead to the equivalent of the credit crunch in other sectors too.

What we can we do

We are all guilty to some extent.  In HRM and related professions, we persist in muddling through and disregarding what we know to be the acceptable standards of our profession.  To link back to the Kenyan theme, follow this link to a newspaper article on HRM happenings in Nairobi.

Note the willingness of the newspaper to call the incompetence.

Note the ability of the newspaper to tutor its readership on what should be done.

Note the coherence and depth of the recommendations.

And above all note the temperate and professional language.

To those that way inclined, please desist from using cheap racist tactics of ‘dis’ing’ someone by invoking stereotypes of African incompetence.

To those of us who care about the professionalism of HRM, let’s move on to use the sound research done by our universities, and run our organizations in ways which we would make us all proud.   The Kenyan newspaper article sets a standard we can meet, should meet, and have no reason not to meet.  It is an excellent example for a university classroom and I have put it into my intranet.

I would like to add British case studies of equal professionalism that model for students

the HRM that we should be

HRM that adds value

and HRM that offers leadership in these distressing times.

If you have a case and you are not a blogger, I’d be most happy to host your article here, and even to write it with you.  If you are a blogger and you have a case, let me know and I will deep link back to you!

Have a winning day!

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