Tuesday, November 7, 2006

Parting the Curtain

it may be that Schlesinger is the most senior editorial executive blogging (though not the highest paid. See Katie Couric or Brian Williams or Charles Gibson for that.)
There is something new going on at the traditionally stodgy place where I used to work. I've already written about Reuters' foray into covering non-events from a place that doesn't exist by opening a "bureau" in the Sims-like online community, Second Life. This may be too hip to be cool or too cool to be hip, but either way it is iconic rather than informative.

Now, the global managing editor at Reuters, David Schlesinger, is taking the lead in blogging for senior editors at the news agency. This is notable in at least three respects:
  • Reuters has always been exceptionally insulated, not behaving as if it were terribly concerned with public image
  • Reuters has tended to be at best reluctantly reactive to the discussion of journalism hot topics, engaging in public discourse only when necessary and usually only to defend itself
  • Reuters has been slavishly devoted to the notion of not appearing to take sides on anything
So now we have a conversation about news coverage in general and Reuters' approach to it in particular laid out by the executive most responsible for it, for all the world to see.

As a former insider I am, frankly, astonished. In the two weeks or so since inception Schlesinger has already taken up citizen journalism and deciding what's news in his occasional entries. Global Editor for Political and General News Paul Holmes has blogged about the plight of Iraqi nationals who work for Reuters covering the war. He responded to a number of tough questions about the pay and conditions for these local hires, whose contribution to the world's knowledge about what is going on there is scandalously unappreciated and even unknown by the general public.

I haven't made an exhaustive study of this, but it may be that Schlesinger is the most senior editorial executive blogging (though not the highest paid. See Katie Couric or Brian Williams or Charles Gibson for that.)

I don't expect the Reuters Editor blog to be quite as transparent or prolific as the those by the U.S. TV networks, and it isn't exactly an ombudsman's space either. But it does seem to be a sincere attempt to go public by a congenitally non-publicity-seeking company.

It may be that I may be able to say so and that David couldn't possibly comment, but since he is an old Asia hand with extensive knowledge of China culture, history and politics, I would wager that the irony cannot possibly have escaped him.

1 comment:

Bob Crooke said...

Having spent 13 years as Reuters' media relations executive in the Americas, I know that the company feared being talked about in the American media to such an extent that it preferred anonymity to publicity. Of course, it never understood the meaning of publicity, i.e., a "conversation" with the public. I'm not surprised that an executive like Dave Schlesinger has taken a bold step suggesting a new and positive way of thinking about this issue. Political parties, the broad media "establishment" in America, and other institutions, are learning more and more that the blogging phenomenon represents a "deinstitutionalization." In politics and news media, this is actually a return to the more public-driven, republican-democratic style expressed in the country's founding documents. The reason a protection of "the press" exists in a First Amendment is precisely because the Founders saw "the press" as an expression of the public voice. Many non-media corporations are also coming to understand that blogging represents a "sea change" in their customer, investor and employee relationships. These publics are now in a serious, ongoing conversation with companies, about product quality, employment practice, shareholder involvement, and many other issues that these established corporate institutions will either join or not, at the risk of their own existence. Major media corporations now seem divided into two camps: those that understand this trend, and those who still whine about it. Dave Schlesinger understands that this phenomenon is really less about Reuters than it is about Reuters' customers and other constituents. Dave wants Reuters to join the conversation. He knows that an institution's public image is never an accident, but rather, always a precise expression of an inner truth, an inner reality. Institutions always have the public image they deserve, and indeed, desire. They either talk to the public, or ignore it at their own peril. Dave knows this. And good for him.