Marketers, Media Boldly Go Where No Man Has Gone Before...And Hilarity Ensues
It’s been an awkward time for corporate marketing departments trying to transform themselves into content creators.
In every marketing operation that has taken seriously the notion of creating compelling content, noses have gotten out of joint. Some egos have grown and others have been smothered. Predictable production processes have been made a mockery of, comparative chaos now rules the day, and still the results are terribly uncertain for most of us.
But if you think you have it rough, trying to become more like a media organization, imagine being in a media organization, trying to become more like you.
"We are no longer a newspaper company," Sun-Times Media Holdings LLC editor-in-chief Jim Kirk declared in a memo to the staff of the Chicago Sun-Times, reported yesterday in Crain’s Chicago Business.
Well, Captain Kirk—you can see the writers and editors and photographers and graphic designers gobbling the memo through wide eyes—what are we?
"We are a technology company that happens to publish a newspaper,” Kirk said, by way of announcing the latest editorial reshuffling.
A technology company? We are a technology company? Okay, let’s ignore the obvious question, “What kind of deranged technology company would publish a newspaper?” Let’s allow Captain Kirk to describe this bold journey to go where no man has gone before.
“We deliver content.”
Content. Assuming the stress is on the first syllable, and we don’t have to deliver contentedness—what is content, exactly? Is it stories about aldermen’s campaign coffers and property taxes and school boards and police brutality and gang activity? Is it restaurant listings and theater reviews and concert criticism? Is it sports, and celebrity gossip? Cuz, like, that’s what we’ve been doing since 1844, so what’s the change?
“And we will deliver content on many platforms,” Captain Kirk continued, “and in ways that we haven't yet fully considered.”
The hard-bitten journalists will inevitably interpret that, correctly, as meaning that Captain Kirk has little idea what the organization is going to do next, but is buying time by using corporate communication jargon to signal to his corporate bosses that he’s willing to do and say anything to keep afloat the “technology company that happens to publish a newspaper.” Which is all right with them, as long as the company still issues paychecks and lets them keep writing, reporting, editing, taking pictures and designing pages.
Napoleon said a leader is a dealer in hope, and so this episode ends with Captain Kirk, quoted in his own paper, describing a bright future in the wonderful world of nimble, platform-rich content delivery: “It will open up new avenues for our excellent reporting, great analysis and commentary and the countless little things we do day-in and day-out that make this media company the best news source in the city.”
Or, in the words of the original Jim Kirk, spoken at another crucial moment in the history of the future, “We’ve got to risk implosion. We may explode into the biggest fireball the galaxy has seen, but we’ve got to take that one in a million chance.”
Beam me up, Scotty.
David Murray is a longtime commentator on communication. The editor of Vital Speeches of the Day, he also writes for magazines and newspapers. And he blogs about his work and his life at Writing Boots.