I was invited to speak to a media trade organization today – I’ll spare them the specifics – with the assignment of provoking discussion about new models, which I’m happy to do, even if I do often hear the same old lines and take the same old arrows. I also hear new challenges and learn from that. I was also looking forward to spending the rest of the day with the group to hear about their ideas and opportunities and needs were and, at their invitation, to share a drink at the end of it. I was going to get a chance to catch up with people I’ve worked with over many years and meet some new people I was looking forward to getting to know and I would learn a lot. It was an off-the-record session, which may not be ideal – for them – but is pretty standard; I’m used to that and abide by the desire.

But after I finished talking and sat down to hear the next panel, I was ejected from the meeting. It wasn’t anything I said, I don’t think. It was that they now wanted a closed meeting. As I was rather unceremoniously rushed out, still noshing on my cookie, grabbing my coat and hat and trying not to let the door hit me in the ass on the way out, I turned to the room and said, “One last thing: Think open-source, people.” It got a laugh and even a hand.

I was angry – insulted and embarrassed. But the problem is worse for this trade group and its industry. Talk about an echo chamber. What these people need is hear more new voices – newer than old me. What they really need to do is share their challenges and ideas openly and hear new perspectives and new answers from unexpected sources. Hearing the same old stuff from the same old group will get them nowhere. Witness the last 15 years.

If I were such a group, I’d be bringing in people from many different backgrounds and perspectives – from bloggers to technology executives to inventors to investors to customers to kids – and share quite openly my business with them (it’s not as if media’s problems are a secret!) to get new ideas and solutions. But then, that is the reflex I have learned here, online. That, sadly, is still not how media people think. As a group – not to a man – they’re still closed. Too bad. That will hurt them. It already has.

: LATER: A rather lengthy addendum, in response to a Jay Rosen comment, here.

  • Rod

    Nice…this doesn’t surprise me. Thanks for continuing to push the edges and still showing up to these events/”discussions” regardless…

  • I think it has something to do with what you are, you are not one of them. I know this feeling.

    They invite you, maybe even ask you to provoke the audience, paying their price to all this crazy stuff by listen to that crazy professor. But than they want, the need to go back to their real business as they see it, to do things much more important to them ;-)

  • I think that we cannot underestimate the fundamental shift that the new economy asks of those mired in the old. Giving something away for greater long term gain is still heresy, regardless of how many ships have capsized as a result. I bet that the human genome project will find that the idea of being proprietary and secret and protective of intellectual property resides on chromosome #453.765.

    You have explained how this works (in what Walter Benjaim called the age of mechanical reporduction) as well as anyone. My take is probably pathetically simple, but so many cases seem to bear it out:

    Give it away before someone takes it away .

  • I was in the audience for the session at this event and I was embarrassed for you, Jeff, and for us. Rest assured, you didn’t miss anything that would have ever been remotely proprietary from the Wall Street Journal Digital guys who presented–and who objected to your presence. The whole point is that these sessions are all about learning. I think your presence would have challenged the WSJ team to deliver deeper learning to all of us.

  • All I can say is Congratulations! I guess if they can’t take they heat, they felt like they had to throw you out. I understand it was embarrassing and insulting but the people who threw you out are the ones who should feel embarrassed by their insulting actions. I definitely agree that new ideas are desperately needed but it’s always easy(ier) to shoot messenger isn’t it? Keep up the great work.

  • Dom

    Embarrasssing? To the biggest A-hole in the industry? Aw, I feel for you, man.

  • In the novel Catch-22, a senior army officer cries out that he just wants someone to tell him what’s wrong with his outfit.

    Major Major goes to raise his hand. Yossarian slaps it down.

    MM says (in effect) that didn’t you just hear? The general wants to know.

    Y says the general just told everyone that if they know what’s good for them, they’ll shut up. :)

    The association is fully within its rights to hold closed-session meetings, but it was rude of them to not inform you of that fact in advance.

    And it may be emblematic of a mindset that is keeping its industry from engaging in needed change.

  • Giselle Benatar

    I was there too – and have to admit the whole thing didn’t make a great deal of sense from any angle. I observed you at a recent conference, Jeff, and can report that you are generally quite well behaved… for a blogger ;). Thanks for your earlier presentation, which shook up the room. And we benighted and closed-minded old media people certainly missed out by not keeping you in the room to challenge and provoke us.

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  • Trade associations are one of the next ones to go. What exactly do the people who run them get paid to do? Is it really the best, cheapest, fastest way to do it?

  • Cooler Heads

    Jeff, you were the hired entertainment. Of course they asked you to leave.

    • I wasn’t hired. No one paid me. I was there to be with people in the industry.

  • Contrast that with the reaction I’ve gotten after posting the “5 Fatal Flaws Killing Local Internet Plays” (click on my name above to link to it for those who haven’t read it) on the newsinnovation site that you and David Cohn put together. Since it was posted earlier this week, I’ve gotten open-source thinking back in spades and I’m smarter than I was a week ago about how to monetize the local sites I work with. Mel Taylor, as an example, has sent me links to his presentations (video and powerpoint) without hesitation and we’ve had a nice exchange of best practices. He could have thought of me as a competitor but instead took this as an opportunity to help an industry colleague.

    At the New Business Models for News Summit, one of the parting questions you asked was “what else should we be doing that would help the industry?” You got some good ideas. Here’s another one that you could help on both technically (though that’s the easy part) but more importantly using your bully pulpit. That is, create an open wiki that captures the best practices, lessons learned, etc. of how to build a successful news site. I’d argue that it’s needed most in the local arena but perhaps the national sites would benefit as well. Your bully pulpit could encourage a lot of people to participate.

    On the revenue side of the ledger, I’d be willing to open source the high level 13 phase process my consulting firm goes through that has worked very well for a bunch of companies in optimizing their sales process. The details that would be filled out underneath that could be super valuable just as the ideas Mel willingly shared with me. No doubt, the same thing could be done for content development and audience development and would be just as useful. If people think it has merit, I’m happy to jumpstart the process.

  • This is the sort of war story one expects to hear about a bunch of terrified Republicans cowering behind closed doors after discovering that everything they thought they owned was mortgaged to the hilt.

    It’s fear, Jeff. These people thought they could control events; they are beginning to realize they can’t, and are now embarrassing themselves and the industry they no longer represent.

  • The fact that it didn’t occur to anyone in charge at that event, when you got off your closer and received applause for it, to swallow hard and smile and say “Hey, whoops, please c’mon back in, Jeff” is not a good sign for that organization. How is what you ended up writing — had to write, in a way — worse than what you might have done if you’d stayed? Still no names involved, and if there’d been something proprietary, they could have asked you to sign a non-disclosure on that element or something.

    WSJDig shouldn’t have been given the final word, anyhow. Craziness, but there’s plenty of it to go ’round.

  • On the face of it, I’d be disgusted, too. But I’m wondering what WSJ Digital’s take is. Did they remove Jeff because he’s a blogger? Did they remove him because he consults for Daylife? The combination of those or other factors?

    Basically, I’d like to know if there was a perceived threat or if it was just a matter of “Jeff’s not involved in this next bit, so 86 him.”

  • Frankly, whatever the reason, it’s pathetic. I really want the news industry to not just survive, but thrive. But when I hear about events like this, a sense of disgust comes over me and I think ‘survival of the fittest.’ In which case the guys with the protectionist, walled-garden mentality (WSJDigital) can start saying goodbye,

    Atleast some of non-involved participants had the balls to come here and apologize or give support. As it happens, John Byrne also twitters and gets social media – coincidence? I think not.

  • After I inquired, Ashley Huston, Wall Street Journal spokesperson, told me: “Any suggestion that someone from the Journal asked Jeff to leave is inaccurate.” She said I should ask the Online Publishers Association what the deal was because “they set the ground rules” for the event. I have a call in to OPA president Pam Horan, who is on a plane, I am told.

  • I guess they liked the concept of provocation far more than engagement. Maybe they need an Elizabeth Kubler Ross expert before they invite in a provocateur.

  • Walter Abbott

    @ Jay Rosen,

    You and Jeff need to pursue this to completion. Nothing disinfect like sunshine. Make them admit why they did what they did.

    Jeff, the dinosaurs are never going to like you and they’re scared to death of you. But you can make them respect you because you know what you’re talking about.

  • UPDATE: The Online Publishers Association told me that Pam Horan, president, would be calling me Friday to explain what happened. She did not. The Wall Street Journal said no one from their shop asked that Jeff be removed, and that the ground rules were set by OPA, so I should talk to them.

    Wrinkle: When asked if anyone from the Wall Street Journal said anything like, “hey the ground rules were that Jarvis would not be here, so what gives?” which would not be asking for Jarvis to be booted but rather that the ground rules be enforced, triggering said booting, the spokesman would not say and directed me to the statement, ““Any suggestion that someone from the Journal asked Jeff to leave is inaccurate.” Make of that what you will.

    It’s possible that Pam Horan thinks I am going to forget about this; if she simply doesn’t call me back it will go away. It’s also possible she was too busy traveling Friday and will phone me Monday. And it’s also possible that I will have to start calling her board to get her to reply. Which I will do, if necessary.

    • It’ll be rather simple: They’ll say there was a misunderstanding: I was going to be there all day, they changed their mind. That’s not revealing. My lesson in this is in the next post: being closed does this industry no good. Not everyone in the industry is closed, of course. But it’s a default of trade associations because it had been the default of the industry and that’s what’s revealing.

      The next argument will be that the reason to be closed is so people feel more comfortable to talk with each other. One guesses that’s because they’d share dire secrets (I think we’re going to die!) or great ideas (eureka, we’ve got it!). But, of course, that doesn’t happen at these sessions – one member said in a tweet to me there were no secrets unveiled after I left – because these people see each other as competitors. As another member said in an email: The Wall Street Journal isn’t going to reveal trade secrets in a room with the New York Times and Business Week just because I’m not there. So that’s a fallacy.

      But even if one accepts that there is a benefit in talking with the group, I ask in the next post: What’s the group? Members? Professionals? Practitioners? Customers? People in what we used to call the audience? People who care? I say the group must be larger to get more ideas and inspiration. But that’s antithetical to trade-group economics: The benefit of being a member is talking to members, I suppose. These people could just as easily arrange a lunch date (or, as I volunteer in the next post, a meeting at CUNY). But then they wouldn’t need an organizer, an association, would they?

      I don’t think who said what when to whom is terribly telling. I was clear with them about my plan to be there all day. They changed their mind and obviously weren’t clear enough with me. He said. she said. So what? We learn what we need to know about the attitude of the organization in any case. To someone in the room, my presence there was seen as a danger, though not because I was going to blog – as this was happening, I said so the room could hear that I wasn’t blogging. Still, what the action said is that I wasn’t trusted and that’s insulting because I work with many of these people and I keep their confidences. But I don’t think it was me. It was my status: I was an outsider.

      As I say above, the real problem here is the definition of inside – It’s way too small – or even the notion that these people are the ones inside. That was the very debate that led to my book, or at least its title. At an event held by this association in London two years ago (where – full disclosure – they paid my travel expenses) Jeff Rayport and Andrew Heyward urged the group to bring the outside in. I agreed with the spirit of their advice but argued that it was still a mistake for these media people to think of themselves as inside. (That inspired these diagrams.) I urged the group – for the first time in public, I believe – to ask, “what would Google do?” That led to a debate with my friend and one-time employer Martin Nissenholtz – founder of this trade association – that Rafat Ali caught on video. And that inspired my book.

      The London event was public. It was terribly valuable for me because by hearing the press people talk about their business, I could better understand their world – its challenges and opportunities – and their view of it and that helps me come up with new ways to express myself – a book, even. You taught me that, Jay, with the title of your blog: Press Think. That’s the value I get out of coming to these meetings – and staying all day. That’s why I agreed to speak at this week’s event, even though being provocoteur sometimes feels like playing the rodeo clown, forced to take a few gores from the bulls (or at least bull from the gorers). It’s worthwhile to me because I learn a lot. You’d have to ask the members where my attendance is worthwhile to them. So there were my economics to this event: what I expected to get out of it. I wanted to listen. But after I spoke, I couldn’t.

      Note that I did not say what the association this was when I posted about it. I respected still the off-the-record assumption (it was never stated, but I did assume it). Other members revealed the group when they posted here and on Twitter in response to the event. And then there was speculation that one company wanted me out of there, which is what led to your reporting, Jay. I do not believe that’s true and have no reason to think so. (The exec who supposedly said something also told me earlier that we’d talk later in the day; he knew I was going to be there.) So to set that straight, I’m now more specific. But it’s not the specifics that matter here. It’s the attitude of the association – which may not reflect the attitude of its members; indeed, I don’t think it does, at least not anymore. And that’s what led to my post above about the fate of such associations and the closed industries they represent. They are torn apart … turned outside-in.

      And so, like you, I wonder in the next post not just about the unassociation (holding a gettogether at CUNY) but also about the unindustry. Is media really an industry anymore when everybody’s in it?

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  • More importantly… is there video of all this excitable-boy stuff yet????? If there isn’t, NO one was doing jack except listening to their own lip-flap.

  • walter

    this is such unbelievable, and typical crap, that i am embarrassed for you. grow up, or grow a pair.
    oh yeah i guess next time some old dinosaur media company invites you somewhere like london or florida or wherever you should turn them down on principle because they are so stoopid and old-media. good luck with that, pundit man.

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  • J. Dershaw

    The greater question this has lead us to is the value of the OPA. In the beginning, this was a vibrant orgnization, but under the currently osified leadership devoid of voice and vision, thier effectiveness has been minimal. With so many media companies on the financial ropes many of them are likely evaluating whether membership in the OPA is really giveing them any value. In this context, with shrinking revenue and minimal value delivered, is the OPA in its current form long for this world-and will anyone miss it?

    Perhaps it is time to bring in new leadership that has vision if the organization is to survive?

    Jay, maybe Pam can adress that when she finally gets off the plane.

  • Stupid question, but are you a paid member? Those cookies cost something :P
    Also, were you paid to speak – or did you do it gratis? I’ve been talked into speaking for free, only to be mortified that my badge had written on it “for one session only”. Won’t speak there again…

    • I was not paid. The reason I went was to talk with people all day and to listen.

  • Greg Matthews

    In the healthcare industry, we usually don’t allow “outisders” at all! ;-). That’s why I’ve vastly deprioritized any industry events. Social Media Jungle, TED and SxSW for me, thank you!

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