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The redemption of business journalists

August 10, 2009

I never liked business journalists. Their articles always struck me as editorially slanted toward “good” or “bad” stories, without much interest for the subtle tapestry of most business issues. At the personal level, I found many business journalists to be cynical and arrogant. By definition, they’d always have the last (written) word and relish their ability to make or break you at the stroke of a pen, a power (and lack of accountability) they ferociously defended under the guise of journalistic independence. Fourteen years later, I can still remember waiting all night for the appearance on the BusinessWeek web site of a negative article calling out the reputed inconsistencies between my firm’s strategy (Gemini Consulting, now integrated into Cap Gemini) and a book I had just co-authored. I can even remember agonizing over how to explain to my then 12-year old daughter that her dad was not a hypocrite, in spite of what was being implied about him.

This morning, I woke up with a new faith in business journalists. It all started two weeks ago with the discovery that McGraw-Hill is considering selling BusinessWeek, after owning it for the last 80 years.

I was first animated by a vague sense of poetic justice in seeing my old tormentor deal with the same business downturn issues my firm had faced long ago. When I opened up the BW web site, I found, much to my surprise, that John Byrne, now head of BusinessWeek.com, was inviting readers to suggest stories BW should write about (I remember meeting John a couple of times when he was Management Editor and he struck me as wicked smart, but not particularly interested in co-creation at the time).

Still skeptical, I then ran across another blog on the BW site, written by one of their senior writers, Stephen Baker, which is downright touching in its honesty and the transparency it fosters. For the first time, I found myself connecting with a person of flesh and blood at BW, who talks about his own uncertainties on the value of his writing and editorial work, and who genuinely invites readers to think with him about new ways to create value for his magazine. If BW and McGraw-Hill have any sense, they will engage this gentleman and others like him in becoming the transformation agents for the magazine, rather than rely on some hypothetical new business model provided by a private equity firm or investment banker.

As for me, dear Stephen Baker, I want to thank you for reconciling me with your profession. I do not know you – the title of Senior Writer leads me to believe you must be a very old man with a long white beard — but any journalist who writes as you do clearly understands the power of co-creation in publishing. Please send me your invoice for your counseling services in helping me overcome my journalistic phobia.

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