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Fish Rot From the Head (and so do Media Companies)

Recently, I had the wonderful opportunity to speak at length with a very successful newspaper executive in another country (one far less privileged than the U.S.) about the problems that are plaguing our domestic publications, and he opened my eyes to an issue we on the business side rarely mention.

That is the role of the "editor-in-chief" or whatever title your company confers on your content czar.

In his country, the editor-in-chief is always on duty. (S)he recognizes that along with the title comes a responsibility to the community (read: audience) (s)he is serving. These folks earn large salaries, relatively speaking. They should work long hours. Their staffs always know how to contact them at any hour should a breaking news story of major significance occur.

In other words, they remain "on call," rather like an old-fashioned family doctor.

But here in the U.S., we live in an era where those who are entrusted with such positions â€" at newspapers, magazines, or websites â€" often sense a different opportunity altogether, it seems. Rather than seeing that being the top editor (or news director in broadcast media) is a sacred chance to serve a community, these selfish careerists sense a chance to become stars.

Therefore, you will see them appearing on TV shows, promoting themselves, rather than their publications. Or, you will see them publishing books, and going on book tours, leaving the less-glamorous work of actually supervising the production of stories back home to their underlings.

The foreign media executive I spoke to said he was shocked when he arrived to discuss a major business initiative with one major U.S. newspaper company because the editor-in-chief did not attend the meeting at all, as he was on a month-long "book tour."

You know, folks, I've been around a long time, had lots of jobs, including "editor-in-chief" positions, or the equivalent, in radio, TV, newspapers, magazines, websites, and other media companies, and I would have considered it an unforgivable error on my part had I ever been MIA when a major story broke, or a major business opportunity was being discussed.

You just don't do that, not in my book.

But of course I am old-school, which is probably why I am neither rich nor famous. Rather, I always just tried to do my job. We often point to outdated business models here at Bnet, but it is also true that the role self-oriented content execs have played and are playing in the destruction of their own companies is a salient factor deserving review.

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