Kill the Media

by wjw on December 13, 2008

How did Detroit get into this mess? Why is publishing such a disaster? Why don’t people make good movies anymore? Why does television suck?

Tina Brown tells you.

” . . . it would be marginally consoling if the pink slips were going to those who contributed so vigorously to their companies’ accelerating demise—the feckless zombies at the head of corporate bureaucracies who cared only about the next quarter’s numbers, never troubled to understand the DNA of the companies they took over, and installed swarms of “Business Affairs” drones to oversee and torment the people “under” them. There are floors of these creatures in any behemoth media company, buzzing about each day thwarting new ideas or, worse, having “transformative” ideas of their own when what is usually required is to revive, with a bit of steadfast conviction, the originating creative purpose of the enterprise. It’s the same with the auto companies . . .

“What do cars, debt risk, and collapsing television networks have in common? The suits running them all lose sight of what they condescendingly call “product”—i.e., whatever it was that motivated the company’s spirit of excellence in the first place. The trouble is, those guys and their appointees don’t seem to be the ones who are leaving, do they? Indeed, the recession is giving many of them air cover. “It’s not my fault, it’s the times we live in.”

In all these big, lumbering companies every effort at innovation or practical efficiency gets strangled by something called “the process,” that long death march from an initial promising convergence of minds, not to rejection—rejection would be easier—but to indeterminate stasis. The cast of characters needed to reach a conclusion is eternally changing . . .

“Meanwhile, inside the company a “major restructuring” is announced and heads start to roll. That skill that took a lifetime to acquire—can he or she please cost it out on an hourly basis? Do we really have the time to slog through the details of a project that might, incidentally, save this company?

“Slowly but surely the talent drains away. It turns out that the two major best-selling authors only stayed at the mighty imprint because of that mousy middle-aged woman who really cared about their sentences—that’s right, the one who just got laid off. The talented TV director who made the network’s last hit series got tired of talking to a voicemail and took his next successful show to the opposing network. The investigative journalist whose Pulitzers the chairman bragged about at awards ceremony dinners was told to crank out five half-cooked additional pieces a week for the website and guess what, the paper or network doesn’t win prizes any more and the public finds it increasingly irrelevant . . . “

A glorious rant, with me standing at the foot of the soapbox yelling, “Hear hear.”

Dave Bishop December 14, 2008 at 2:32 pm

When I was working in UK Industry my speciality was Product Evaluation – which involved guiding product development and producing substantiation for product claims. Over the years I developed many test methods based on statistics and experimental design. Such theoretically sound methods were very effective and I managed to meet most of the objectives set for my department.
In the last few years so-called ‘brainstorming’ methods were introduced by ‘management consultants’. We ended up spending several hours every week coming up with ‘off-the-wall’ ideas and writing these on flip-charts. These ideas were typed up, filed and forgotten … and then we moved on to the next brainstorming session.
At one of my annual appraisals I was rash enough to express some scepticism about the brainstorming approach. I was told, in no uncertain terms, that, “I was not keeping up with modern methods!”
Soon after that my post was made redundant; I suspect that this was not a coincidence.
As far as I know my ex-colleagues are all happily brainstorming away … but I wonder for how much longer?

Mark Pontin December 15, 2008 at 5:34 am

There’s plenty of culpability to go around among Americans on all levels, who’ve been sleepwalking in a dreamy haze of entitlement for decades — managers and workers both — while the rest of the world has changed. As regards Detroit, in particular, the dirty little secret of the UAW has been that it’s been one of the primary forces that worked to help to:
[1] block universal US healthcare,
[2] force us nearer to peak oil and
[3]screw up the environment.

In 2000 I interviewed Peter Drucker, the political economist/management theorist, for a magazine —
Drucker told me that in the 1950s he’d been part of an Eisenhower administration initiative aimed at creating catastrophic coverage — e.g. if healthcare costs were to equal or exceed 10 percent of any individual’s income in a given year, then the government would cover those costs.

What killed that healthcare initiative, Drucker claimed, was an unholy alliance of the American Medical Association (as you’d expect) and the United Auto Workers — the latter because employer-paid healthcare was the last big perk the unions could offer their members.

In helping to kill that move towards universal healthcare, the UAW assisted in screwing the rest of us by imposing today’s diabolical US healthcare system, where we pay the most per capita in the world and receive somewhere between the 27th to 35th worst care in the world — and where more than half of the bankruptcies incurred in this country are the result of health emergencies.

Furthermore, of course, in the 1990s the Big Three looked at building cars to be competitive with the compact, well-engineered vehicles that foreign manufacturers were selling in increasing quantities in the US. Detroit did the numbers and determined that, given the healthcare component of their labor costs alone, such cars could not be profitable for them. Thence, they made the big push to sell giant SUVs, which were profitable for them, to the American public.

And when states tried to resist and impose fuel-efficiency regulation the UAW was right there, alongside Detroit management, in lobbying Washington to overturn those regulations.

What goes around comes around.

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