After the industry association (and the industry)

Following my bum’s rush from a industry association meeting yesterday – not a big deal on any scale; just personally aggravating, insulting, and embarrassing – I got to thinking (now there’s the danger) about the future of the industry association … and of industries. I wonder whether there is much of one.

By being ejected yesterday, the group decreed that I was an outsider. By one definition, that’s clear: I’m not a member; I don’t pay dues. But by a more sensible definition – we’re in this together, we people who care about the future of news – I’d say they’re defining insider way too narrowly, dangerously so. As I harrumphed out, I said this is the problem with the industry: It is too closed, still. It is not hearing enough new voices and perspectives and ideas. And this trade association is only exacerbating that insularity. Instead of calling it an echo chamber, perhaps my aural reference should have been to a crypt.

And as I walked out, I started to wonder why the people in that room need a trade association anymore. Isn’t Meetup the new trade association? If people in the industry want to get together to talk about their problems and search for solutions together, can’t they just arrange a meeting at a Starbucks? And wouldn’t it be better to open the tent wider – to expand the definition of inside – and get new people with new ideas to those meetings?

I will volunteer to play host to such meetings here at CUNY. Helping news transform is part of our mission, so we should. I’ll bet other universities would agree. Indeed, as budgets are cut back and trade association dues are lopped off, there’ll be a need for such ad hoc meetings – more need than ever. (Note, by the way, that the outsiders are getting together on their own at News Barcamp and we’re playing host to part of it at CUNY.)

And the wheels kept spinning. If there’s less need for trade associations – if they could even be dangerous because of the very limitations that define them – then doesn’t that indicate a diminution of the role of the trade (or industry or guild or craft or union, for that matter) in the future, when the tools get democratized and anybody can pick them up, when you don’t win through control of scarcity anymore but through supporting abundance? The idea of a closed industry and its closed association controlling a closed segment of media or the economy becomes absurd. In short: Who made you publishers and not you?

: BTW: There was a report that it was the WSJ that had me bounced. I didn’t think that was the case and Jay Rosen tweeted some reporting: It’s not.

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

  • Hi Jeff,

    Your experience yesterday did sound insulting. Unfortunately most organizations are more about protecting the interests of their aristocrats than evolving to serve the needs of the rank and file member or customer. (RIAA anyone??)

    There’s no doubt that we are in the midst of a wave of social reorganization sweeping through society due to the Internet.

    When given the tools people will connect themselves if you don’t serve their needs. Examples surround us including Meetup (as you reference), Wikipedia, Ebay, and Twitter, Seth Godin’s new book Tribes, and blog forums like yours and mine, too.

    Market forces + new communications tools = look out old guard gatekeepers!

    Scott Fox

    • Joseph LoRe

      Hey! Wait a minute! According to Sarah Palin, all you bloggers are supposed to be anonymous and not to be taken seriously. What’s with all the names and pictures and substance?

      Seriously, there is a growing group of people that get most if not all of its’ information from the internet.

      In reference to Scott Fox’s post, I think that it is too late for the “old guard” to do anything about it. The social reorganization mentioned in another post has already begun. More and more people get all their news from the internet box. And more and more people are moving away from TV all together. Why stay? You can watch just about any show online and all cable news is online, is local news really relevant for anything but after the fact coverage?

      Case in point. I moved away from Buzzmachine about a year ago due to lack of interest in some topics discussed and moseyed over to the KOS due to the amount of topical election coverage. I recently decided to see what the buzz with twitter was all about, Jeff’s name came up as being on there so I started following his tweets and boom, back at buzzmachine following the fall of print media. Meanwhile, I canceled my newspaper subscriptions over a year ago and can guarantee that I won’t be renewing them ever.

      My H.S. science teacher had a great sign hanging above the chalkboard that is burned into my retinas: Adapt or die. Three words print media and for that matter much of the industries that manufactured anything relevant in the last hundred years have failed to heed.

      • Joseph,
        Welcome back. Delighted to see you again – because of comments like this. I wish you had a picture of that science teacher’s sign.

  • I’ve observed a similar thing happening among hobbyists and enthusiasts. In the past, you might have been a dues-paying member of a club, which had a newsletter and regularly scheduled meetings. Think computer user groups, for one example. Now, such groups becoming more ad-hoc and gatherings are more informal and viral, like a group meeting in a bar or cafe. Dorkbot ( is a good example of this new kind of get-together. Dorkbot meetings and the Dorkbot “association” are both loosely defined and loosely organized; you become a member by showing up. I do think groups like Dorkbot are bringing like-minded people together, but they’re a lightweight version of the previous models. It’s also organized in a way that allows a lot more one-on-one interaction among those who do show up. (No “Robert’s Rules.”) The more traditionally organized groups seem to get in the way of the open exchange of ideas and interests. My guess is that membership numbers in these traditional groups have been shrinking, while these new-style groups are growing but largely under the radar.

  • Trade associations, conferences, and other granfalloons allow one to interact with only the highest caliber of individual, to hear the opinions of only those that have been fully vetted and sanctioned, to honor with special invitations and awards those that have contributed immensely to the field, to get tasty morsels along with my free coffee, and have my company pick up the tab for the moderately priced hotel and adult videos.

  • Instinct tells us to save energy. So we resist expending energy except when it is vital. Unless you can convince us that the expenditure is vital, we’re going to fight you.

    That’s what you have here. Elements in your audience are either not convinced the need is vital, or denying the existence of the need. Such people will fight hard against taking action, largely because of another instinct. This one being the instinct to defend yourself against attack. Even the appearance of attack.

    Which means in turn that the resistors often end up expending more energy resisting the change than they would have enacting the change. We have a positive talent for contradiction.

    So in the instinct to conserve energy and the instinct for self-preservation you have the foundation of the association’s discourteous behavior towards you. There’s more of course, but such explication requires a full blog post of its own. (I’d claim I don’t feel like expanding the energy, but it’s more the case I’m having trouble composing the damn thing. I hate being unoriginal and unconvincing.)

    Change comes when it can’t be avoided. It would be better if change came because we worked to bring it about, but that is a rare and hard sought event. The old generation shall pass, a new one arise, and things will change. And as the song puts it, “And all your money won’t another minute buy.”

  • I’ve been at trade group meetings where non-members were asked to leave so the group could go into private session without their deliberations becoming public. It doesn’t strike me as particularly outrageous. People share way too much personal information these days anyhow.

    Don’t take it personally, Jeff, it’s just business.

    • Because I was to be there all day. If I had not planned to be there all day, I probably would not have attended at all.

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  • I feel your pain, Jeff Jarvis.

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