retail news in context, analysis with attitude

It was with a certain amount of fanfare - and maybe even a little smug satisfaction - that, the news site founded by former New Yorker editor Tina Brown, announced this week that the longtime media columnist for the Washington Post, Howard Kurtz, would be joining the site as Washington bureau chief.

This came just weeks after Howard Fineman, the longtime Newsweek reporter and columnist, announced that he was going to (Of course, Newsweek has just been sold to a guy with zero journalism experience for the whopping amount of $1, so maybe Fineman saw the writing on the wall...)

The stories have been all over the media this week, trumpeting the notion that these moves - as well as plenty of others - reflect the broader changes that are taking place in how people consume news and information. It may not be a death knell for traditional newspapers and magazines, almost all of which have gone through major layoffs, restructuring and agonizing self-examination, but the people who work at such places have to be wondering when the bell will toll for them and their careers.

I did think that there was an interesting “think piece” on - which has been in business longer than DailyBeast or HuffingtonPost - which said that the Kurtz move was “terribly exciting news for fans of thrilling, new-media journalism experiments run by old magazine and newspaper veterans who don't understand and are honestly a bit put off by the Internet.”

The column went on, with tongue firmly in cheek, “Between this and Howard Fineman's move to the Huffington Post, this is a fine time to accept a great deal of money to go work for your rich friend's cheap-content farm. Keep working for next-to-nothing, kids, and someday you'll get to watch some useless old dude receive a fat check and a fancy title for penning the kind of equivocating, boring piffle that the Internet was supposed to kill.”

Now, that’s a little rough. I’m not sure I’d describe Fineman’s or Kurtz’s work as “piffle.” But it makes an excellent point - that innovation within the new business model could be diluted if there are too many members of the old guard put in charge of it.

That’s something that all business leaders, regardless of the industry, have to beware of as they pursue innovation and non-traditional responses to new challenges.

Now, this isn’t to say that the old guard has no role. in fact, they can bring a certain amount of institutional memory and yes, even standards, to organizations that may be so caught up in being innovative that they have lost sight of the bigger picture.

But it is a balancing act.

I find it hard to cast stones at Fineman and Kurtz, who probably just want to be relevant for a 21st century audience. I don’t have their resumes, but my career certainly has been one long search for continued relevance. I started in newspapers, went to magazines, then produced business videos and now am on the Internet. I figure that before I’m done, I’ll be beaming into your homes and offices each morning as a hologram... (Now there’s a scary thought.)

I had the chance this week to spend some time at Cornell University, where I was speaking to a business class on Monday evening. The early October weather may have been cold and rainy (is it always like that in Ithaca?), but I was warmed by the ideas and enthusiasms of the young people I met who have some unique business ideas about issues such as sustainability, food safety and obesity/nutrition - the very issues that captivate many of us on an almost daily basis. This is where the real innovation will come from, and their voices cannot and should not be lost as those of us looking to extend our career expiration dates try to march over them.

It forces us to be better, to be more open-minded, to be less strident in our thinking and actions. It probably forces them to work a little harder to be heard.

The ultimate responsibility for managing this balance, however, falls to the business leaders who are responsible for shepherding their companies into an uncertain future.

I never thought I’d have to say this, but I think that now it is a requirement if one wants to be part of the public discourse.

I am neither a witch nor a warlock.

Wasn’t even tempted when I was young.

Though I remain scarred by the fact that when I was a little kid, my mom dressed me up as a witch for Halloween, which annoyed me mightily since I was, and am, a guy. (Thank goodness I also managed to avoid gender confusion issues.)

I just wanted to get it out there.

You gotta love this story from Time.

Apparently there is a Lithuanian company that wants to set up a luxury resort in the Maldives, in the Indian Ocean, that will be completely run by blondes, and even plans to arrange charter flights to the island nation on jets manned by all-blonde flight crews.

According to the story, “The business plan has faced heavy criticism, with objectors calling the idea both sexist and racist.  But Giedre Pukiene, Olialia's managing director, denies that her company discriminates when hiring, adding that ‘when women with dark hair work here, they are surrounded by all these beautiful blondes, so eventually they end up going blonde too’.”

There are about 47 jokes in there somewhere, but I’m not going to make them because I don’t want to be accused of being either sexist or racist.

Last week, Mrs. Content Guy and I went to see a play Off-Broadway called “The Flying Karamazov Brothers,” which is the latest iteration (the original version opened in 1973!) of what can best be described as a circus without elephants - it is essentially a review, with music, juggling, jokes and plenty of awe-inspiring tricks. I mention this because there is a touring company traveling the country, and it is a fun evening at the theatre - especially if you can tear your kids away from their video games and computers. There is nothing like live theater - in this case, the performers are quite literally working without a net, and “The Flying Karamazov Brothers” is a wonderful way to introduce them to a centuries-old tradition that seems entirely fresh and entertaining. Check them out online...and if you get a chance, check them out onstage. They’re terrific.

Last Saturday morning, Mrs. Content Guy showed me a book that a friend had lent her - “The Film Club,” a memoir by David Gilmour. I had other things to do, but I picked it up to browse the first few pages. A few hours later, Mrs. Content Guy had to remind me that we had theatre tickets and had to head into Manhattan ... which we did. But when I got home, while she went to bed, I grabbed the book and finished it, finally hitting the sack in the early morning hours.

I loved it.

“The Film Club” is about a father who sees his son failing in school and showing absolutely no aptitude for traditional learning methods. Fearing that he may lose him, Gilmour made a deal with his son - he could drop out of school and would not be required to pay rent or get a job, but the price was that they together would watch three movies of Gilmour’s choosing each week.

What happened then was remarkable - and makes up the bulk of this touching, highly readable book. Gilmour was a writer and film critic, and thus perfectly positioned to guide his son through a century’s worth of movies, make them relevant, and even turn them into a hidden learning experience. But at the same time, he saw shades of his son that he might have missed under more traditional circumstances, and I found myself caught up not just in the connection between real life ands films, but in the dynamic between father and son.

This is a terrific book, and I suspect it would be great for book clubs since it opens the door for discussion of a wide variety of subjects - child-raising, alcohol, drugs, marriage, fidelity, the state of the educational system, and, of course, the past and future of film.

I cannot recommend “The Film Club” enough.

That’s it for this week. Have a great weekend, and I’ll see you Monday.

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