Apparently, the way one impresses the boss at MediaWeek these days is by being a nasty ass. Except the boss can carry it off better than the staff. The dying mag has a profile/hatchet job of NYC’s new digital maven, Rachel Sterne, aiming to snark her without a bit of subtlety or wit. She is attacked by someone whose resume is dominated by the word “intern.” Note how few people are quoted criticizing Sterne, except the so-called reporter. I’m quoted in one line from an email to Michael Wolff, said boss, who asked me to speak off the record. Here’s what I said (I also offered an introduction to Daylife, where I am a partner and where Rachel worked until recently):

* * *

Fine being on the record….

I do not understand the kerfuffle. I’m a big fan of Rachel Sterne’s.

Who are we going to have leading digital initiatives? Someone my age or yours? By that logic, Mark Zuckerberg should not be the CEO of Facebook but Don Graham should. That’s absurd. Digital America is led by young people.

Rachel Sterne is young and entrepreneurial and journalistic. She started Ground Report and created platforms for journalism and led meetups for local journalism and joined high-level discussions about journalism at such forums as the Aspen Institute with the Knight Foundation. She is smart, directed, serious, accomplished. I have recommended her in many contexts.

I find criticism of her appointment to be sexist and reverse-agist….

The story here is not Rachel Sterne but the political sniping at her.

  • I don’t understand the big to-do either, Jeff. Rachel Stern’s smart, motivated and accomplished her goals in eloquent ways. Methinks, there are some jealous individuals out there who realise just that and made Ms. Stern a target for their insecurity. ^..^~

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  • question.internet.authorities

    We are talking about a public position in a major city so Stern (and supporters like yourself) should be prepared to undergo public scrutiny which is what this reporter did. There was nothing sexist about the article and it does seem to reveal that like many social media ‘entrepreneurs’ her primary achievements were self promotion and building alliances with others who are similarly skilled in ‘staying on message’. These are not unimportant skills but one would expect more to be brought to the table in a public policy role (although perhaps what her appointment reveals is that it is really more of a public relations or communications role.) The bullying that has begun to occur in social media circles when critiqued is thin-skinned, undemocratic and ironic given all the proselytizing about how the internet can open up debate.

    Finally, this line of thinking that somehow young people are especially well equipped for contemporary media policy is just silly when you look at the demographics of online engagement and the fact that we’ve been attributing special affinity between young people and the internet since at least the early 90s (all of those young men and women, like myself, are now middle aged). This is not to say that young people aren’t making important contributions–many clearly are–but that this generational line of thinking is counterproductive and divisive (and ironically pushed by men in their 50s. )

    • Well, at least the others of us in this discussion have the balls to do so behind our names.Who are you?

      • ironyoverload

        Who I am is irrelevant to the discussion at hand. I believe that pseudonymity corrects real power differentials that persist online.

        As I posted and you deleted:

        I don’t have any balls, I have a vagina.

        What this means is that I am a woman. Vagina is not a dirty word and I made this statement to call attention to the irony of you calling Byers sexist while using pointedly sexist language to avoid dealing with critique by demanding to know who I was. (It was much better as a pithy one liner…sigh.)

        If you must know I have no particular interest in the story at hand. I’d never heard of either Byers or Stern or her website before I read the Media Week story. I don’t live in New York or the US so I don’t have a personal interest in how you spend your tax dollars. But I do care about about civil democratic discourse online and off.

        As a journalism educator it seems particularly uncharitable of you to try to undermine the Byer’s reporting because of the quality internships he has undertaken (and yet another irony that you accuse him of reverse agism while suggesting that Byer’s youth prevents him from good reporting and analysis.) On the other hand, the fact that Stern fudges her own internships is a relevant detail in this report as is her relative inexperience.

        I could go on but it seems you’d prefer to hear only from the yes men (and the yes women when it suits.)

        *I tried to post as question.internet.authorities but was blocked

      • Little Balls

        I second “ironyoverload”/”question-internet-authorities”. The criticism in your post and in the comments to the article are unworthy of media savvy New Yorkers. Reread your post, it’s almost entirely a string of ad hominem against the author and the publication (with a little straw man “don’t hate her because she’s young and beautiful” thrown in).

        Are there any facts in the piece you’d like to challenge? Is Ground Report a significant media property? I’m guessing your blog gets more traffic that in did. Is her PR firm significant in any way? The “accomplishments” you rattle off — starting a small website, leading meetups, and participating in professional panels — are not what a typical chief officer would list as their proudest moments. Rachel Sterne simply doesn’t (at this point) have a resume to support being charged with charting the digital future of this city. You can argue that the position isn’t that large a role but that might even be a more damning revelation, that the digital strategy of the city is largely rudderless.

        Perhaps, like many with talent that exceeds their experience, Ms. Stern will prove herself quickly in her position and make fools of her doubters. But c’mon Jeff, attacking the skeptical just because she’s a friend or former employee is unbecoming of someone of your stature.

  • Nanker Phelge

    Jeff, did you LOOK at the Limewire case? This is not a business that did something that may have been illegal. This is a business that knowingly pursued a business that the court had already ruled illegal.

  • Nanker Phelge

    Jeff, isn’t her name spelled Rachel SternE?

    • yeah, i know better and used the proper spelling in my header; in the email to wolff, i apparently mimicked his. thanks. fixed.

  • eveline

    Dear Jeff
    I’m a dutch master student studying Imagineering ( Imagination+engineering , business transformation from the experience level).
    I would like to THANK YOU! We had to make a book report and i enjoyed reading WWGD!
    greetings eveline

  • i posted a comment over on the article, but since you led me there, thought i’d add it here as well:

    it’s too bad the tone was so hatchet-y, because the piece actually touches on interesting topics. true that maaaany online ventures succeed precisely because of sleight of hand of founders. whether that’s a good thing or bad thing? i don’t know. probably a little of each, depending on the situation and the start-up in question.

    bottom line: missed opportunity to explore a much wider and more significant trend in the tech/media world.