Thursday, August 22, 2013

What Justin Smith, new Bloomberg CEO, gets wrong about digital media

Bloomberg LP is getting a new CEO, and though Justin B. Smith's track record of turning around The Atlantic and creating excellent products like Quartz and the Atlantic Wire are enough to say that Bloomberg got a major score here, what I've read about his vision for the company gives me two reasons for pause.

Smith has the mind of an entrepreneur, and has used that with incredible success in his career. And he clearly values speed as an essential ingredient of innovation, as Digiday quotes from his email of introduction to the staff:
"Moving quickly is paramount: the faster you move, the more you learn, and the sooner you can optimize for success. Fred Wilson, the VC behind Twitter, Foursquare, Zynga and others, argues that ‘speed’ is the quality he seeks out above all others in digital media entrepreneurs. I agree.”
For plenty of products, that's true, but as it relates to Bloomberg's media arm, my Spidey sense tingles whenever I see a hint of velocitatum super omnia. 

Speed is always going to be important, but I've seen brands diminished (TV news is a big offender in this category) because of a devotion to being first that can lead to unverified reporting and the spreading of false information. Speed, sometimes, kills.

My second reaction to Smith's email, though, is one that I think is much more problematic: I see no mention of the user in his vision for the future of digital media. Yes, he is quick (and correct) to assert that the future is not yet written:
“Anyone who tells you they can predict the future state of media and its consumption patterns or business models isn’t being honest. No one knows where things are going and how they’ll play out. To succeed, we must accept this state of confusion and embrace the chaos."
But I think the one thing we DO know about the future of media is that the balance of power is shifting always in favor of the user. Homepages are less relevant as users pick and choose content a-la-carte; the conversation around the news (read: social media) is often even more important than the news itself, and users, not editors, increasingly decide what the top story of the day is.

For me, any media organization that doesn't acknowledge this trend is leaving truth on the table.