It doesn’t happen very often, but occasionally an angry contact, usually trying to persuade us not to write a negative story, will explode with “You’re not The f*ing Wall Street Journal“!
I found the best answer is usually, “Well you’re not [f*#&ing] Jeff Immelt either”. Undignified? Well, yeah…
Even so, the usefulness of our angry reader’s insult might be waning. These days we’re all the Wall Street Journal, or none of us is, not even the Wall Street Journal. So why aren’t we all taking advantage of this moment, instead of constantly carping about what we are losing? As a spokesperson for media companies that aren’t The Wall Street Journal, I can see that we’ve never had a better opportunity to enrich our readers’ experience. Most of us are not doing it.
We spend a lot of time in the media worrying about the business model, but too little time focusing on relevance. Relevance is someone getting so angry at your publication that they will resort to silly insults to try and shame you into capitulating. When people stop caring, they stop yelling, and then stop reading.
Relevance is not demonstrated by ad dollars or circulation metrics alone. It is better tested through the relationship of the reader to its outlet, and in all the metrics that we evaluate - from page views to uniques to good old fashioned pass-along readership - don’t bring us closer to understanding what we need to do to stay relevant.
I believe that many publications are growing more and more out of touch with their communities, even as we seem to be that much more engaged because of the immediacy of our digital networks. We are losing the personal connections that foster truly great journalism. Reporters are so busy blogging and twittering they don’t have time - or, rather, they don’t take time - to venture out and sit across from a table (or bar) from a contact and get at the unexpected, and the real.
I’m not going to round this off with a pithy answer. I just feel in my bones that we are missing a trick, as a media community, at a time when we don’t have to follow the herd to succeed. I hope to delve into this more during the coming weeks. Please note, there are no links in this post. In my all-too-sporadic blogging efforts, I was way too caught up in finding good stories to link to. I almost forgot that I have plenty of material without them.