Sunday, June 24, 2007

'Cyberphobia' afflicts many Time Inc. writers

Never fear shadows. They simply mean there is a light shining somewhere nearby."
- Unknown

'Cyberphobia' afflicts many Time Inc. writers
Commentary: By Jon Friedman, MarketWatch

NEW YORK (MarketWatch) -- This column is a public-service announcement: I want to help some needy, ignorant people conquer an illogical fear.
The group consists of many journalists at Time, Fortune and presumably other pockets of the "old media." Their nemesis is the dreaded Internet. Somehow, they seem to have developed a serious case of what I'd call "cyberphobia."

I would like to propose a sure-fire solution to Rick Stengel and Andy Serwer, the respective top editors at Time and Fortune. Both are published by Time Inc., a division of Time Warner Inc. What's required isn't an outpouring of tender loving care -- not that Time Inc. is exactly a touchy-feely company these days, anyway. Instead, I'd recommend that Stengel and Serwer kick prima donnas, who think they're too good for online bylines, in their backsides.
The editors should issue this warning: "Write for my Web site or you're history."

When journalists start writing for the Internet or a blog, they often find what I discovered when I joined MarketWatch nearly eight years ago. This is the most demanding, liberating, creative and fulfilling work available today in journalism.
It's a hell of a lot of fun, too.

Time magazine spokeswoman Betsy Burton reported in an e-mail message: "We're doing well on the Web and have large participation by staff. We have 12 blogs and May was the highest traffic month yet, with over 4.6 million unique visitors and [the] time spent by users on the site up by 50%." Fortune is also pleased with its progress. "Most Fortune writers produce for both the magazine and the site," according to spokeswoman Danielle Perissi.

Get tough
I suspect that the leaders of Time Inc., particularly Editor in Chief John Huey, are pushing the magazine's senior managers to put the Web on the front burner.

On Monday, Andy Serwer, the managing editor of Fortune, told me: "I'm going to hold people accountable on the Web. Their compensation, in part, will be tied to how much they do online."

To me, this is the journalistic equivalent of Mommy or Daddy telling Junior that he had better clean up his room, or else he won't get any dessert.
The following day, Gawker's Doree Shafrir had a story, headlined "Time Shoving Its Reluctant Writers Online."

While Stengel, Time's managing editor, informed his staff that the relaunched has seen page views jump 70% over last year he chastened the troops: "We're doing well ... but not well enough." The problem is that "needs more content, much more," he said.
Stengel acknowledged that many of his people are contributing to the Web effort. But he noted that the list of contributors "needs to grow. ... Evaluations of every Time writer, correspondent and reporter will be based on the quality and quantity of the contributions each makes to both the magazine and to"

Then Stengel qualified his reprimand: "I suspect that some of you regard writing for as an obligation, and not what you came to Time to do. But times have changed, and we have to change with them."

Sheesh. If any of them needs to be prodded to get up to speed, they can talk with journalists who just lost their jobs at, say, the San Jose Mercury News and the San Francisco Chronicle. They could also pick the brains of the ex-Time magazine employees who were shown the door in the past year.

"The memo was a reminder to staff about moving things even further forward," Time's Burton told me.

Meanwhile, Sports Illustrated, also published by Time Inc., gets it.
The magazine's best-known writers, Peter King, Rick Reilly and Tom Verducci, are all on board. Plus, Media Industry News noted that in the month after the SI relaunch of recently acquired FanNation, a social-networking site, the site contributed 4 million monthly unique visitors and 30 million page views to SI.
I'd recommend that Time and Fortune spring for a cameo by Alec Baldwin.
Time Inc. says it's making progress.
Spokeswoman Dawn Bridges points out that her company ranked 12th among media properties in terms of page views. Time Inc. also has built a studio in the basement of its headquarters and is "aggressively pursuing video online."
Still, I can't get away from the conclusion that the editors feel the need to cajole, if not plead with, their writers to jump on the bandwagon. That's certainly not what Stengel came to work on at Time.

Time Warner is famous for its events. So I'd recommend that Time and Fortune spring for a cameo by Alec Baldwin. He could reenact his memorable scene in "Glengarry Glen Ross."
To light a fire under a room of jaded salesmen, Baldwin's character tells them: "We're adding a little something to this month's sales contest. As you all know, first prize is a Cadillac Eldorado. Anybody want to see second prize? Second prize is a set of steak knives.
"Third prize is you're fired." Watch the video clip.

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