Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

How to Survive the Media Meltdown: “Imagination, Enthusiasm”

sunriseStill have a job in media? Looking for a wee bit of inspiration in a gloomy week in a miserable year? Here’s a free pep talk, courtesy of editor Paul Maidment.

There’s nothing newsworthy in this memo, sent out last week in the wake of CEO Jim Spanfeller’s departure. There’s no staff-shuffling detailed, and no grand strategy revealed. It’s really not much more than a “keep your head up.” But things are dour enough these days that even that counts for something, I think.

The sun has risen. Another day. We kick on. Our audience knows little and probably cares less about our internal organization. What they do care about is that we continue to serve them with indispensable journalism in that forthright, robust way that is our hallmark.

The late Jim Michaels liked to say that a Forbes story made readers richer or smarter. Smarter, certainly, about the world around them and understanding the choices they’ll be facing; smarter at running their business and career; smarter at investing, and smarter at enjoying the rewards of success. But a Forbes story can also make readers richer in spirit, heart or mind. Richer/smarter remains a good lens to look through at all we do.

We celebrate entrepreneurism all the time, and we should look for that same spirit in ourselves. You don’t need me to tell you that our industry is changing beyond all recognition, both in its forms and in the business models that pay for it.

We now compete for the time of busy people with a whole range of new competitors with an equally broad range of journalistic standards, approaches and ways of paying for what they do. Now more than ever, we need to be flexible and open to how we think about our journalism, and to question past assumptions about how we work — holding fast to our core principles and never putting the trust our audience has in us and our brand at risk — but being ready to experiment with how we create and distribute our journalism.

Not every one of those experiments will work. We shall have to be disciplined in measuring their relevance and usefulness to our audience, and bury our losers while cultivating our winners.

As at every publication, there are serious constraints now on our resources, but there are no restrictions on our imagination, enthusiasm or editorial entrepreneurship beyond those we impose on ourselves. We all still have to do our day jobs, make sure our audience is served in the most forthright way we know how with great journalism, and help support a business underneath it all to pay our salaries.

I learned long ago that there is nothing like robust cash flow to support robust journalism. We shall still have to set priorities for what we can take on, but I am sure I speak for [Forbes magazine editor] Bill [Baldwin] and all our senior colleagues when I commit to do all I humanly can to get as many of the best of your new ideas in front of our audience as we can.

We are a publication across all our media for people in business, rather than a business publication, which lets us range wide in what we cover an how. We now have a broad audience comprised of many overlapping sub-audiences, but all seeking in various ways that Forbesian voice, insight and timely wisdom that we offer.

We need to stay relevant to every one in a changing and challenging world. So let’s kick on with vigor and imagination to make as large an audience as we can richer and smarter however we can. ‘Cos that is what we do. And our audiences deserve no less.

[Image credit: Eye of einstein]

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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald