I want to do a couple of posts on the LA Times, triggered in part by the Hiltzek news, over the next few days.
There are two issues here, one petty and one serious. Let me get the petty issue out of the way first, and then let’s spend some quality time on the serious one. This overlaps my professional life enough that I want to both approach it with care, but also to claim a little bit of authority in that much of what I’ve done for the last three years has been to advise major companies – including one publisher – on how to respond to “Web 2.0” and the rise of “social media” – like blogs.The petty issue is pretty simple; the LA Times gave a column to a business writer who was well-credentialed (a Pulitzer, no less) and aggressive, but whose politics and worldview were, in my eyes, so doctrinaire that very little of what he wrote was original; we could have cut-and-pasted policy papers from SEIU and press releases from the state Democratic party and had an equivalent level of analysis (note that both the SEIU and Democratic party do engage in analysis – often very good analysis, but it’s deeply partisan analysis). He was, to boot argumentative and rude, and when challenged, was fundamentally just irrational and bizarre.
So I disagree with him on some policy issues, don’t think much of his analysis, and found his behavior bad enough that I’d probably have banned him from Winds.
And then there was the sockpuppetry. He lost his column over that, was moved to sports, and over the intervening time has managed to position himself to get his column back, starting next month.
We’ll see whether his analysis has become more interesting, and whether he has begin to ‘get’ the kind of behavior that’s needed in the world of journalism 2.0, where the audience gets to talk back. I hope he does, on all counts, and sincerely hope that his column is a fruitful source of thought and debate over the state of things here in California – which are troubling.
That’s the petty stuff. Take a look at these posts on this site and on Patterico’s site for an overview. I can’t link you to Hiltzik’s side of things, or to the Times’, because you won’t find it on the LA Times – his old blog, and all discussion around this issue, appear to have vanished (or at least I can’t find them using the Times’ search engine).
For the serious stuff, I’d like to dig into this whole episode from the point of view of a Web 2.0 strategist, and offer the Times what I hope they will take as constructive criticism. Because, Lord knows, they need it.
By the current social media playbook, they have done pretty much everything wrong, and continue to do so. Now, I don’t think that social media is the automatic answer to any question, but one point I make to my clients is that regardless of what you want or how well you think it applies, your customers, employees, and stakeholders are increasingly used to engaging via social media – and they increasingly get that kind of engagement from other brands they are involved with. So even if you don’t plan to make it central to your brand presence, you need to figure out how to react to people who think you are.
So – late on Friday I went over to Jamie Gold’s blog and left a comment critical of the decision, in light of the history. It was a comment from the petty side of the issue (my disagreements with Hiltzik’s analysis and behavior). As of today (Sunday night) it’s not there. I doubt it will be there in 24 hours, although I hope it will.
Here’s why. The first thing all my clients say when we talk about allowing user-generated content onto their websites is “What about people who don’t like us? Won’t they say mean things?”
Yes, they will. And if you’re smart, you’ll engage those mean things in a thoughtful and engaging way, and if you do that well, you can make a critic into a fan. here’s what I consider to be the gold standard for that kind of online aikido:
Forget the brilliant execution (and resources) behind this video – think about the attitude that looked at a petty criticism like that and saw in it an opportunity.
People want to engage with the ‘megaphones’ that are in all our lives; on a micro scale, having this blog has introduced me to people interested in engaging with me. People want – and increasingly expect – engaged conversation with the people they see on TV, read in their newspapers, or even – God forbid – elect to office.
In the next few posts, I want to go through the history of the Times around this one issue and try and highlight what they did badly, and make suggestions about what they could have done that would have made it better. I’ll be interested in hearing what you folks all think.
A 27-year Times veteran, Michael has distinguished himself since returning to Business a year ago (after a brief stint in Sports) with smart, analytical stories, many of which have been followed by our competitors.
Now the facts of that little hiatus were somewhat more complex. Here’s former editor Dean Baquet (as cited at Patterico):
Baquet called Hiltzikâ€™s undoing a professional tragedy, but said he knew immediately that – regardless of what the blogosphere thought – Hiltzikâ€™s use of pseudonyms to post favorable comments about himself and disparage his critics violated Times ethics. Baquet said he wasn’t certain sure how to punish Hiltzik until he read about Ken Layâ€™s trial last week and thought how the Enron saga would make great fodder for a business columnist. He realized then, Baquet said, that his business columnist – Hiltzik – could no longer write credibly about duplicity in the business world. Thereâ€™s no place, he said, for dishonesty under the Times banner.
Well, hey – Baquet’s gone, so why does that matter?
Well, in a comment I left on Gold’s blog – a comment that has yet to see the light of day – I said:
“It’s somehow perfect timing that a dishonest reporter is brought back to cover business at a time when dishonesty is so much a part of the story.
Look, I’d kind of like the LA Times to survive; when will it become apparent to the powers-that-be there that what you are selling me is credible information.
And reporters like Hiltzik – who have shown that they have a – broad – set of values about candor and honesty don’t help convince people like me that the apples in your produce stand don’t have worms in them.
Oh – and were you not going to mention why?
The media keep thinking they can sell us catfood and tell us it’s sushi. Until they stop doing that, the floor is going to slope downward pretty steeply for them as institutions.
That’s depressing to me. Los Angeles needs a strong voice. It hasn’t had one for years, and it looks today like it will be years until we get one.
Over at ExposureManager, we’ve just launched a new service for photoblogs called “BuyThisImage!” (notice the button below this image). I’ll use this as a testbed, and donate all the net proceeds to the best organization I can find that promotes human rights in Cuba. Leave suggestions in the comments.
I’ll take a moment and break my self-imposed silence (I decided I’d take off from blogging for three weeks while I deal with the blog move – it’s been weird…) and add my reminder to the remembrances of Pearl Harbor that have floated around the blogs. Not as many as in the past, and I think that outside the milblogs, there’s a real fatigue about issues of war and peace that has settled over not only the blogs but the commentariat as a whole.
That’s worrisome, because to paraphrase – we may be tired of war, but that doesn’t mean war is tired of us.
When the distant drone of warplanes broke the peace of morning on that “day of infamy” 67 years ago, 19-year-old Seaman 1st Class Leonard Brugnola was sitting in a church pew, awaiting the morning service in Aiea, a hillside enclave overlooking the Pacific Fleet.
And when the first torpedoes splashed into the placid blue waters of Pearl Harbor, piercing the hulls of American warships, Fred Dietrich was on duty in the engine room of the USS Phoenix, where he served as a machinist.
“I was there that morning, and I won’t ever forget what happened,” Brugnola says. “The smell of burning oil, the cries for help – those things don’t leave you.”
Yet “Never Forget,” the rallying cry of millions of war veterans, is slowly fading for the witnesses of the sneak attack that propelled the U.S. into global conflict in 1941.
Now, nearly seven decades later, both longtime South Bay residents are among the few living survivors who saw the dawn of the war for America.
Their ranks thinned by age and time, World War II veterans are dying at a rate of 900 a day. Many fear the personal accounts of heroism and bravery that serve as living American history may slip away with them.
New soldiers, with equally-strong new memories, are taking their place. And their stories are equally a part of our patrimony and so our patriotism.
Today,Code Pink is holding its annual Los Angeles event: “War is SO Over: Prepare for PEACE!”