Monthly Archives: June 2011

Let’s be honest

I don’t usually watch news programs on TV so I have no idea who this Mark Halperin guy is or why he thinks Obama is a dick. But I see that he’s been suspended by MSNBC for it.

Am I the only one who doesn’t think this is a big deal? Why did MSNBC suspend him? Oh sure, I know all the “reasons.” I just happen to think they’re bullshit. I think MSNBC are the ones who are dicks here. Quick, suspend me from the Internet!!!

You know what this all reminds me of? A conversation I once had with my father that I’ll probably never forget. First, a little background. We immigrated to the U.S. from Kiev in 1989. Among the reasons I had been given for why we did this was that we wanted to escape the oppressive anti-Semitism of the Soviet regime. However, I was already beginning to understand that prejudices exist everywhere no matter what the general ethos of a nation is. So once day I asked my Dad if he thought anti-Semitism was worse here in the U.S. or back in the USSR.

“It’s worse here,” he said to my amazement. 

“But, but… what do you mean??” I sputtered. I was sure he was joking.

“It’s worse here,” he went on “because here it’s hidden, it’s all below the surface. In the Soviet Union, it was official policy. You knew you would be discriminated against as a Jew so you always knew where you stood. It was out in the open. No one was afraid to mention it. Here in the U.S., you never know how someone feels about you being Jewish and you never know if they’re treating you fairly or not. You can only guess.”

To this day, I grasp exactly what he meant even though I still can’t find myself to agree completely. After all, was it better in South Africa under apartheid? That was also official policy. Was it better in the U.S. when we had slavery? That was official too.

But I hope you can see that we don’t have to understand my Dad’s outlook literally. What we can instead take away from it is that any sort of bias or prejudice is better to have out in the open than roiling beneath the surface. For a journalist or anyone else engaged in shaping people’s opinions with their work, the impetus should be all the stronger. Maybe “dick” wasn’t a great choice of words. But you have to admit it communicated Halperin’s sentiments about the president perfectly in that moment. And if this is a man who’s professionally responsible for reporting on national affairs, wouldn’t you rather know how he really feels? I know I would. And I bet my Dad would too.

Are you having a rational discussion?

Why conservative hackery beats liberal hackery every time

Conservatives have developed an ideological critique of a wide swath of elite institutions that serve a mediating role — media, academia, even science. In the right wing view, all these institutions are bastions of liberalism hiding behind a facade of disinterestedness. Conservatives have developed their own alternative networks, whose members operate under a far more partisan and ideological ethos, on the view that they’re merely offsetting the liberalism of their counterparts. Thus the political culture is tugged right by the asymmetry of liberal elites trying to act objectively and conservative counter-elites making no such attempt.

Walmart Case: Supreme Court Aids The Powerful

Walmart gets to be a behemoth when it is setting the prices for the patio furniture and volleyball sets that it purchases from factories in Mexico and China, but when its employees want to band together to address alleged abuses in the court system, suddenly the Walmart corporation might just as well be a collection of little mom-and-pop shops that happen to have the same name.

This is your brain on Fox News. Any questions?

According to recent polls, Fox News viewers are the most misinformed of all news consumers. They are 12 percentage points more likely to believe the stimulus package caused job losses, 17 points more likely to believe Muslims want to establish Shariah law in America, 30 points more likely to say that scientists dispute global warming, and 31 points more likely to doubt President Obama’s citizenship. In fact, a study by the University of Maryland reveals, ignorance of Fox viewers actually increases the longer they watch the network.

They used to be called “cable talk show hosts” :-)

Now THIS is a flash mob ;-)

Free online doesn’t lead to decrease in sales; who knew? ;-)

It would seem that the book going viral would be a detriment to book sales. But the extraordinary success of ”Go the F to Sleep” — whose print edition, at press time, was in its 44th day in Amazon’s Top 100 — perhaps proves that there are plenty of people out there who are willing to pay for the cow even though they could have gotten the milk for free.

How one magazine magnate sees it and what others can learn from him


Jann Wenner, whose company publishes Rolling Stone, US Weekly and Men’s Journal, recently gave what I thought was a very interesting interview to AdAge. You can find it here.

As the headline suggests, one of the things Wenner does in the interview (quite convincingly I might add) is to outright ridicule publishers who have come to embrace the iPad as some sort of second coming of Jesus. Yes, he is partially (and maybe deliberately) misrepresenting many people’s views by saying that. Nevertheless, there are many great points made about this and other topics. I’ve pulled out the ones that resonated the most with me. Let me know what you think:


Mr. Wenner: The most important thing a magazine can do online is maintain its brand and be very strong in terms of delivering on that brand. And then link it to the magazine in such a way — or at least this is going to be our strategy — link it to the magazine in such a way that it does things in the same field with the same brand and the same point of view, but not things you can do in print.

Now I think that you can build both successfully — make the whole experience more exciting for your print reader and vice versa…

This is a particularly salient point because I feel it applies not only to magazine publishers, but to newspaper publishers and really anyone who has a print and an online product.

I hate to beat a dead horse and I’m always heaping praise on them, but The Atlantic does this exceptionally well and they continue to be noticed for it. As that Business Insider story says, this is a 153-year-old institution that has created an online brand every bit as powerful as the print one. In fact, as I’m fond of telling people, I first encountered The Atlantic online and didn’t realize at first that they were a print magazine. Once I did, I actually became a print subscriber because I wanted to monetarily support a publication I felt was doing such excellent work.

Moving on to more Wenner quotes of note:

Unless you’re really good you’re in trouble.

Though he was referring at this point to the look and design of print magazines and how quality now matters more than ever, there is a larger point to be made here. For all the hand-wringing we often hear about all the crap the Internet churns out, the reality is that even online people still value quality and especially uniqueness. You have to be good and you have to be different and if you do both extremely well and consistently, you will be rewarded with increased readership and loyalty. There’s just no other possible outcome.

Back to Wenner’s point, because digital content is so freely and widely available you do have to become exceptional in print. “Good enough” just isn’t, well, good enough anymore. You just can’t slap the same thing up in both places which is still what so many news organizations are doing. You have to do things unique to each medium, whether it be print, online or mobile. You have to periodically do things in each one that you can’t do in the others. 

Finally, on magazines rushing to the iPad, Wenner has this to say:


From the publisher’s point of view I would think they’re crazy to encourage it. They’re going to get less money for it from advertisers. Right now it costs a fortune to convert your magazine, to program it, to get all the things you have to do on there. And they’re not selling. You know, 5,000 copies there, 3,000 copies here, it’s not worth it. You haven’t put a dent in your R&D costs.

So I think that they’re prematurely rushing and showing little confidence and faith in what they’ve really got, their real asset, which is the magazine itself, which is still a great commodity.

We can surely debate the view Wenner takes here as regards the iPad, but what I think is not a topic for debate is how important it is to have confidence in one’s product.

This is, again, a lesson not only for magazine publishers but also for other publishers and really anyone who is trying to sell a product or service. And for a business whose primary product is words, information, images and videos, it’s even more important to have a clear sense of the value proposition you bring to your customers and to not be shy about declaring it.

Think of the commercials you see on TV for products that actually are necessary for people’s lives like, say, toothpaste or trash bags. The reason those companies advertise (even though most people already brush their teeth or take out the trash) is to try to build in the viewer’s mind the idea that their brand is somehow unique or better than the others. In many of those cases of course, it might not even be true. So please understand I’m not suggesting that you brainwash your readers/viewwers/listeners. I’m saying you need to actually be original and different (not just say you are), be confident in it and communicate it to your audiences. If you want loyalty from them, you need to constantly be giving them a reason to give it to you.