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June 06, 2003

BLOGS AND HOWELL RAINES....Nick Denton has a different take on the resignation of Howell Raines at the New York Times. He says Raines was trying to shake things up, and the real power of the internet is that it allowed disgruntled employees to resist the shakeup:

Let's face it: most people are disaffected. They're paid too little, promoted too slowly, passed over, humiliated. They haven't realized their dreams, and they blame everyone around them, and above them in particular. Apart from conservative opportunists, who wanted Raines out of the Times? Duh. The old farts who'd lost out to him in the power struggle, the pedestrian reporters who resented the paper's cult of soaring writing, and those whose metabolisms would never achieve the speed Raines wanted.

He'd lost the confidence of the newsroom? As if the happiness of the workers is far more important than the satisfaction of the readers. Give me a break. Raines, sometimes crassly, was trying to institute change; the organizational reactionaries didn't like it. In a previous era, a manager would have been able to execute the ringleaders, and ride out the discontent. But Raines was up against a powerful combination of old labor unionism, and the new industrial action: a leak to a weblog, tittle-tattle over the IM, whispered conversations to Howard Kurtz.

It's an interesting thought, and similar to the questions about Donald Rumsfeld's style at the Pentagon: is he disliked by the brass because he's trying to shake up an entrenched bureaucracy, or is he disliked by the brass because he doesn't know what he's talking about? It's hard to say, isn't it?

But was it really blogs that brought down Howell Raines? I continue to be skeptical of blog triumphalism and I have to wonder if it was really as important in this case as people are making it out to be. Journalism is a tight knit community, and I have a feeling that the hail of criticism directed at Raines from the journalism community would have been the same regardless of the internet. The internet made it more public, but when you get right down to it, the criticism from his peers was a whole lot more important than the fact that people like me got to listen in to the scuttlebutt. Remember, Trent Lott wasn't the first politician forced to resign over a scandal and Howell Raines isn't the first editor.

Anyway, that's how I feel on even-numbered days. On odd-numbered days I think that the "death by a thousand cuts" theory of blog influence has something to it. In other words, I guess I really don't know.

(On the other hand, I do think that blogs can transform internal business communications — to employees, to resellers, to suppliers, etc. However, when I've mentioned this to friends of mine in marketing departments, I just get blank stares. Blogs obviously still have a ways to go.)

Posted by Kevin Drum at June 6, 2003 11:09 AM | TrackBack


Comments
(On the other hand, I do think that blogs can transform internal business communications — to employees, to resellers, to suppliers, etc. However, when I've mentioned this to friends of mine in marketing departments, I just get blank stares. Blogs obviously still have a ways to go.)

You are absolutely correct. Back in the mid/late-90s, I was working in the MIS department of a small-ish, regional bank. We instituted some innovative and very good ideas (for the time) on the intranet site. We got weird looks from the Marketing folks, but we also figured that wasn't really our problem.

And, yes, I suppose modern lingo would term at least one of them a "blog" although we did it the old way, with Perl and no backend database, just manipulation of text files. ;)

Posted by: John Yuda at June 6, 2003 11:17 AM | PERMALINK

The blogs did not take down Raines. I don't know where that meme came from.

Posted by: MattS at June 6, 2003 11:17 AM | PERMALINK

Blogger triumphalism re: Raines would be justified if, in fact, Raines was canned for their reason - pushing the times to the left.

He didn't, and that isn't why he got pushed out, so other than some noise at the margins, blogs had nothing to do with this.

And i thought this yesterday and i think it today, so it's not an even-odd thing for me!

Posted by: howard at June 6, 2003 11:17 AM | PERMALINK

Innovators like Rumsfeld and Raines will always be resented. And experience teaches us that, as vital as innovation is, the fact that someone is an innovator doesn't mean they're right.

I can see the pros and cons on Raines' management innovations, but you're right that they made him more vulnerable to attack on his many other flaws.

Posted by: Crank at June 6, 2003 11:24 AM | PERMALINK

Agreed. Blogs may have nipped at his heels, but once the "major" media got on him, his fate was seeled. A lot like the Lott affair.

Don't think for a second that the WaPo/Newsweek crews didn't get complete satisfaction from the tumble of the once mighty...

Posted by: Kevin Aylward at June 6, 2003 11:27 AM | PERMALINK

Andrew Sullivan's take on Raines' fall is so smug, pompous, and self-congratulatory that it's almost enough to make you think that Sully is nothing but a deluded hack.

Wait a minute...

Posted by: Realish at June 6, 2003 11:28 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin, expand on your parenthetical "on the other hand, I do think that blogs can transform internal business communications" (even to the extent of making it a blog post of its own).

Posted by: Martial at June 6, 2003 11:47 AM | PERMALINK

d00d.

Andy Sullivan is the future.

There is no spoon.

Posted by: John Yuda at June 6, 2003 11:48 AM | PERMALINK

It's understandable the Sullivan would so obsess over Raines. After all, by publishing a journalistic fraud, Raines was transgressing Sullivan's domain. Sullivan had to act to protect his franchise.

Sullivan, Kaus, and Raines, the hack trifecta!

Posted by: MKHack at June 6, 2003 11:53 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin:
I don't think the Big Four (Instapundit, Sullivan, Volokh and Kaus) took down Raines, but they did keep the ball in the air long enough for it to do some damage. Most normal people don't read them, but the chattering classes do, big time. And it's the Manhattan and Washington chattering classes that affect the status of the Times. This may sound silly, but Pinch Sulzberger and the Times board sure isn't listening to me. So who do they listen to? Their peers, and others who are big in media and society in NYC and DC. These people read Glenn Reynolds, and love to soak up the gossip.
Before blogging, this would have just evaporated because noone would have kept any pressure at all on the Times, the story would have died from lack of oxygen, because nobody - like NOBODY - would have written about it. Fox, maybe, but the chattering classes doesn't care about Fox (trust me on this one).
As for the whining quote you published, I'm amused that Liberals are horrified that - yes - worker complaints can bring down a boss! How horrible! Shut the little bastards up and make 'em do their jobs, we don't want their stinkin' opinions. They're just workers, right?

Posted by: tony at June 6, 2003 12:12 PM | PERMALINK

Libruls! Always keeping the man down.

Posted by: squiddy at June 6, 2003 01:05 PM | PERMALINK

squiddy, you're spelling it wrong.
It's "wibbewals".

Posted by: tony at June 6, 2003 01:16 PM | PERMALINK

I don't think the blogs were primarily responsible for Raines downfall. It was Raines himself. What conservative blogs exposed was Raines'violation of journalistic prinicples in support of his political agenda (Kissinger is against the war, Iraq is [a bit - deleted] different than we were led to believe etc.). It's clear to me (because he admitted it) that Jayson Blair's multiple transgressions were overlooked by Raines because fostering a successful career for a young African American writer was more important to him than preserving the credibility of his paper. It was Raines' inclination to go over the line in pursuit of his agenda that is the common thread between what the blogs exposed and what in fact brought him down. In the end, Raines has done a huge disservice to the liberal ideas (like affirmative action) which I support.

Posted by: Mark at June 6, 2003 03:07 PM | PERMALINK

Blogs, schmlogs. Raines was duped by a sociopath. Should have known better. So he's out.

It didn't help that no one at the paper liked him much.

Blogs have no influence on such stuff.

Posted by: tristero at June 6, 2003 03:55 PM | PERMALINK

It also didn't help that the pervieved "backlash" of firing Raines was non-existant. If the big 4, as mention helped push things along, the lack of support from every place else just greased the skids.

Blogs DO matter, if only to help spread what would normally be local memes to a wider audience. They would be irrelevent if there was a more aggressive left-wing media, but such is life.

Posted by: Glenn at June 6, 2003 04:07 PM | PERMALINK

BTW, just as an add-on, I think the right-wing blogs are rather redundant, due to the national access of the right-wing media, especially talk radio.

Reinventing the wheel, in a way.

Posted by: Glenn at June 6, 2003 04:08 PM | PERMALINK

Let's take Nick at face value and admit that most people are disaffected. They're paid too little, promoted too slowly, passed over, humiliated. They haven't realized their dreams, and they blame everyone around them, and above them in particular. . . We've all had moments like that at work; at least I've also had moments where I've felt empowered, intellectually challenged, recognized for my achievements, and one with my employers goals and vision. The financial compensation has been thin of late, but then again my employer is still financially solvent and not shedding workers by the thousands, yet.

Putting the preciousness of the Times journalistic reputation aside, what seems to have been Howell Raines's downfall is being a poor manager. Nick's vision of the newsroom presents a thoroughly toxic workplace, which would drive out the smart people in droves.

If you can't persuade people to your way of thinking with the carrot as well as compel them with the stick, if you coddle your stars and don't give them the responsibility of mentoring and growing their less capable collegues, if you're going to lead from the top down rather than foster leadership all around you, and if you're going to blame everyone but yourself for a lack of success, you don't deserve to be in charge. It doesn't matter how much of an innovator you are, if you're an asshole all the time you're not going to be very effective in bringing change to an institution.

. . . [a]s if the happiness of the workers is far more important than the satisfaction of the readers. Any business leader who sacrifices his or her employees in the name of client satisfaction will soon run out of both employees and clients.

Posted by: JLowe at June 6, 2003 04:18 PM | PERMALINK

Realish-

As distasteful as it is to pimp my own site (especially after having been linked by Kevin only yesterday), you seem like someone who would enjoy this.

Or maybe not. But either way...

Posted by: The Mighty Reason Man at June 6, 2003 07:09 PM | PERMALINK

Denton is still a dot-commer at heart. Change is good, staying the same is bad. blah blah blah.

Posted by: Eric M at June 6, 2003 09:41 PM | PERMALINK

What is the top 1/5 net worth and income of Americans?

Posted by: bob at October 21, 2003 07:27 PM | PERMALINK

Assassination is the extreme form of censorship.

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