Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Review: Tension City by Jim Lehrer

Tension City, by Jim Lehrer (2011)
[Cover image courtesy of PBS.org]

For people who follow presidential debates, Tension City is both wonderful for its insights on the process and tiresome for its focus on the "key debate moments" that we have heard about many times through the years: George W. Bush looking at his watch, the "you're no Jack Kennedy" moment, Ford on Soviet influence in Europe, sweaty Nixon, etc.

So why did I like it? Two reasons:

1. Jim Lehrer has moderated more debates than anyone else, and his unique perspective from the moderator's chair gives insight that one rarely sees or hears about in all the discussion and punditry of presidential debates.

2. I listened to this book as an audiobook, narrated by Lehrer himself and including actual audio from the moments in debate history that he refers to throughout the book. That alone makes this a brilliant piece of nonfiction, because you can't read a quote and get the tone and tenor of the moment that is the most important aspect of how a statement is PERCEIVED in a presidential debate.

So it's a fantastic book when listened to in audio form, but otherwise just a good book about presidential debate history coupled with the view from the moderator's chair if you're reading it in print.

4 Stars.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Paradigm shift: Apparently the only way things change anymore

Political discourse about the U.S. economy and the government's role in fixing it seems to have coalesced around the gulf between the party of the wealthy (Republicans) and the party of everyone else (Democrats).

Frustrated by the absolute vehemence of wealthy conservatives to defend any perceived controls on "job creators" (i.e. rich, profit-driven corporations), I made a graphic:

I think a lot of younger people like myself, who don't yet have a bunch of amassed wealth to defend against the clutches of government, believe in fairness and redistribution to some extent, and that a measure of a good society is how well it helps those at the bottom of the economic pile.

The fact that the GOP seems to work so hard to prevent this from happening really makes it seem like the old wealthy conservatives who don't want anyone taxing them more (while still of course demanding that they get all the Medicare in the world, regardless of whether they need help paying for medical expenses or not) are just fundamentally uncaring.

Entrenched beliefs are hard to change, and I'm not in the business of teaching old dogs new tricks, so I came to the frustrating if ultimately satisfying conclusion that, given time, the selfish old people will die out while young and compassionate people will hopefully take those qualities into their golden years.

And maybe when the next generation (my generation) starts running things we'll do so with more of an eye toward making more of our people comfortable instead of protecting the interests of the already wealthy.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

5 Ideas for Fortune on social media

Fortune Magazine these days appears to be making a concerted effort to beef up its online presence, and in addition to its efforts to ramp up the multimedia content of its franchise lists, the magazine is looking to put some dedicated energy into social media.

I've thought a lot about Fortune's lists (see that post here) and decided to put together a few ideas I had about improving the brand's social media presence as well. 

At close to 500,000 Twitter followers, readers clearly have a ton of interest in following what the magazine has to say in real time, and I think more can be done to capitalize on those relationships.

1. Lists: One great way to easily maximize the value of so many Twitter followers would be to create lists with every existing feed for the companies that show up on each franchise project (@FortuneMagazine/100Best, @FortuneMagazine/40under40, etc.), as well as CNNMoney and Fortune feeds. 

These can be embedded in various parts of the website and people can follow them on their various Twitter management applications. Such a thing can be easily integrated into the iPad app, the splash page for the list itself, and can be referenced in the hard copy of the magazine to direct people to the online content and give some real-time immediacy to the print product.

2. Outreach: There is a great opportunity to use social media to create content by asking the magazine's half million-plus followers who they think are the most influential businesspeople on all of those social media platforms (G+, Tw, Fb) and use the answers to create a new list of the 50 who get the most votes as a 50 Most Influential on Social Media or the Fortune 50 Social Media Stars or some such. With so many followers across multiple platforms there is a great multiplier effect with this sort of effort.

3. Quora: For me, Quora is the next big thing in social media, and I think there is huge potential for Fortune to build the brand and attract new classes of followers there. There are currently 3600 users who follow the Fortune magazine topic, but there is no Fortune magazine account. 

Many of the questions under the topic (which sees new posts pretty much daily, sometimes multiple times a day) are people looking to discuss the current issue or who have questions about methodology, or why a certain decision was made about a certain story. This is a great opportunity for an official Fortune account to answer those questions and provide a bit of transparency to the process, all while creating interesting answers to readers' questions that are sure to get disseminated on other platforms. 

This is another great way to generate content as well, since the social media editor could get those questions answered by the relevant Fortune staff members (the cover artist, the photo editor, the list editor, the graphics person) on camera, and those videos could be put on the Facebook page (where "behind-the-scenes" content works very well) and other channels.

4. Video: Such behind-the-scenes videos could also be put on a YouTube channel, which Fortune does not currently have (though there is a specific Fortune MPWS account). While Fortune's video content appears on the CNNMoney YouTube channel I think a dedicated Fortune channel would pay significant financial dividends from ads as well as other gains in terms of visibility. Because the content just sits there and doesn't feel the effects of age as much as on the chronologically organized Twitter and Facebook, some good SEO-friendly headlines on the many evergreen Fortune videos can just sit on YouTube and be watched forever.

5. Twitter timing: As a basic Twitter strategy, I think the every-three-weeks publishing schedule of the magazine allows for an approach focused on a week of reflection and promotion of the latest issue, then two weeks of questions, contests and preview of the upcoming issue. This would take place over the ongoing strategy of "from the archives" links, promotion of new posts on the website (as well as RTs of Money and CNNMoney posts of course) and reactions to the news from writers and staff.

** See part 1 of this exercise: 11 ideas for the Fortune 500

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

11 Ideas for the Fortune 500

When I saw that Fortune.com was looking for an editor to oversee its franchise projects (Fortune 500 and the like), it got me thinking about what I would do to reimagine content like this for the digital age.

There is a lot of excellent data here, but the online presentation really appears to be an afterthought to the static version that appears in the magazine. The feature up right now is "
100 Best Companies to Work For", so I made that one the subject of this exercise.

In thinking about how to package such lists I am guided by my fundamental belief about the power of multimedia journalism to allow a reader to go as deeply as he or she wants to into the content. I believe in layering information on the web - causal visitors should be able get all the top-level data they want at a glance, then one click takes the reader into the next level of analysis and another click gives people the raw numbers and customization they want to personalize the experience.

For me the overall concept should not be of making a bunch of digital lists, but rather of creating a deep and rich database of American corporations, and comparing them to each other in meaningful ways. With that kind of structure I think Fortune could bring in new readers, draw them in to more content, and not alienate the power users who want everything. 

Here is what I would do:


1. I would put the overall top 10 companies on the splash page. A row of clickable thumbnails with the logos of the top 10 would give readers the most important data without any extra clicks, and they are already able to get into the list wherever they want to depending on which company interests them most, without having to click in order.

2. The main articles and galleries ("They're hiring!" "25 top-paying companies" ...) are fantastic and I would do more to highlight them, like to make this a section of "Top Stories About the 100 Best Companies" populated with thumbnails for each story.

3. Instead of the nav bar at the top ("Full List | Near You | etc.") I would consolidate these sections and place them lower on the page. They could even go in expandable menus for "View list by TOP COMPANIES | BEST PERKS | Etc."

4. Instead of the video thumbnails (repeated in the video box on the right) I would add a video player right at the top, either with those four thumbnails that load a video in the box or with one on autoplay. 


1. Create a Twitter list (@FortuneMagazine/100Best) populated with accounts from these companies (those that have them at least) and Fortune/CNNMoney's accounts, and embed the stream on the page. 

2. The more video, the better. While creating a video profile for each company is not realistic, if there is a video component for one out of every 10 companies (meaning 10 total) I bet the pre-roll ads will bring in significant revenue. Some could surely be pulled from past interviews with certain company or industry leaders that Fortune/CNN have run before as well. A great way to repurpose content.

3. I think it's important to relate this list to the other franchise lists. I would love to see a box on the right or lower on the page with a prompt like "Companies on this list also show up in:" and add linked icons for the other lists, whether they be lists of companies or of people who work for those companies. 

4. I like the idea of a "create your own list" feature across all of the franchise lists where a logged-in user can create their own database of companies. It would be like the "Perk Finder" but with a few more options and the ability to save it not as a custom URL but as a section on their "my account" page.

Obviously this one is a little bigger or long-term than the other ideas, but I think it would have the added effect of allowing journalists or news organizations anywhere to create their own mini-lists or galleries using FORTUNE's data, with all the links back and visibility that would entail.


1. Persistent navigation is essential here. People should be able to jump around to some extent rather than going through each list linearly. Each page/entry should have the full list in a set of scrollable thumbnails along the bottom so that wherever in the list one is, one can decide where they want to go next in the list.

2. I think a set of logos for each list would be a great way to have some continuity across the features and would be a good visual cue that can be used elsewhere. Google appears on many lists, so its page on any of them could display the icons of the other lists the company is mentioned in, and a simple click goes to that new list.

3. Generally the ads are where all the color is on the page so they are what draws the reader's eye, a problem I would address by spicing up the title banner to look more like the main banner that has an integrated FORTUNE logo (rather than one in a box) and a minimal arrow for the dropdown menu. Doing that in a contrasting color like a silver could make it pop nicely. 

New content

I also see the potential to vet these lists a bit more for readers, always with an eye on the topics that are of most interest to readers in this changing business climate. Entrepreneurship and innovation, for example, does not have a very prominent role on these franchise projects. Some ideas:
Most innovative companies

Most-improved companies (turnaround stories are always appealing)
Rising stars (sort of a preview of next year's list)
Most charitable corporations
Most influential people in media
Most influential people on social media
Leading entrepreneurs

Who knows how these lists will evolve once the right person is hired, but Fortune needs to prepare for a day when the printed version may not even exist, and a Web-first mentality would vastly improve the interactive experience with the projects on Fortune.com.

This, I think, could help achieve that.

** Read part 2 of this exercise: 5 thoughts on what Fortune can do on social media