Posts Tagged ‘National Business Review’

Today has been a remarkable day. Rarely do we see such an epic failure of communication as we have seen from Alasdair Thompson. Because these events have played out mostly in public, they also present an unusually transparent example.

What follows is ten specific strategic communication lessons which are clearly evident from these events. My analysis isn’t political — I have political and ideological views on this matter, and I intend to write these up after some reflection, but the purpose here is to look at things dispassionately and pragmatically and consider what was done wrong, and what might have been done differently. They are framed quite generically and can be pretty widely applied. This is a long post, so I’ve hidden most of it below the fold.

Everything here is presented on an “in my opinion, for what it’s worth” basis, and should under no circumstances be interpreted as reflecting the views of my employer, or anyone other than me personally.

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Enough rope

datePosted on 10:34, June 23rd, 2011 by Lew

On Mike Hosking’s Newstalk ZB show this morning, a discussion of the gender pay gap and Catherine Delahunty’s bill on the topic — and an object lesson in not believing your own hype:

Alasdair Thompson [Employers & Manufacturers’ Association CEO]: “Let me get down to tin tacks here. It is unfortunate, if you like, that men and women are different –“
Helen Kelly [Council of Trade Unions President]: [incredulous laughter]
AT: “– they are. The fact is, women have babies, they take time out of their careers to have babies. Women have — look, I don’t like saying this, this is how contentious this is, but here’s a fact of life. If you really want to keep some statistics, look at who takes the most sick leave. Why do they take the most sick leave? Women do in general. Why? Because, ah, you know, once a month they have sick problems. Not all women, but some do. They have children that they have to take time off to go home and take leave of. Therefore their productivity — not their fault, it’s … it may be because they haven’t got it sorted out with their partners, where the partners take more responsibility for what happens outside work. There are all of these issues, and none of this is covered in these statistics that this bill wants to sort out. Now, I’m sorry, I don’t like saying these things because it sounds like I’m sexist, but it’s a fact of life.”
HK: “Sure does, Alasdair, I’m glad you said them, it’s fantastic. I let you go on that one.”


Helen Kelly played Alasdair Thompson like a harp here. For a start, his argument is bogus — as Kelly says, the figures don’t back it up in the general case, and where they do back it up there’s a host of confounding variables. (For just one of many possible objections, since women already earn less than men for the same work, there’s an advantage at the margin where they retain the primary childcare responsibility, all else being equal. On the basis of this Thompson says they should be further penalised.)

But quite apart from the standard of the argument, Thompson ended up defending the indefensible in indefensible terms. It’s one thing to defend the indefensible in terms that seem reasonable, quite another to do so in terms that are repugnant. Rather than arguing the difference of interpretation and retaining the dignity of a Captain of Industry, a benevolent leader of men (and women) who cares about their wellbeing, he slipped into the worst sort of boss-man-splaining. This might work just fine in boardrooms where the interests of those present are aligned, but it’s not much good in the public sphere. He clearly realised this, but only once he had committed to it: his delivery was garbled and disjointed, clearly ad-hoc, and so heavily caveated that it’s hard to take any of it seriously.

But that’s what we must do. This guy is an experienced representative of New Zealand’s employers, speaking in his official capacity on a topic for which he had (or ought to have) prepared, in a mainstream media outlet. We are entitled to take him at his word, and we should thank him for telling us what he really thinks. And we should thank Helen Kelly for giving him such a plum opportunity to do so.

Update: Not one to do things by halves, Thompson has doubled — or, tripled down, with a press release arguing that women are paid less because they’re just not worth as much, and statements to the Herald blaming “socialists”, “Labour” and “unions” and claiming 90% support for his position. That number has now mysteriously vanished from the Herald’s story, and comments by readers of the National Business Review — Thompson’s natural constituency — are running 80-20 against him at the time of writing this update.

You could say he’s quadrupled down, even, since he’s now taken to twitter, responding to criticism and barbed quips with cut & pasted lines from his press release. A more epic fail is hard to envisage.


Duelling imperatives

datePosted on 11:00, July 17th, 2009 by Lew

So, the National Business Review has decided to (partially) monetise its interweb presence.

In a rather petulant letter, publisher Barry Colman takes aim at the enemies of journalism and backs his team to be able to make a paid content model work where very few have done so before, and never in such a tight and competitive media ecology as we have in NZ.

As you know, there has been endless discussion for a number of years about the crazy model adopted by newspapers in most parts of the free world in which they pay the enormous costs of running professional newsrooms only to give their content away free – while at the same time slashing newsroom numbers to save money as circulation and advertising revenues fall.
And to add to the madness it has been the aggregators that have profited the most from the supply of that free news copy. Worse still the model has spawned a huge band of amateur, untrained, unqualified bloggers who have swarmed over the internet pouring out columns of unsubstantiated “facts” and hysterical opinion.
Most of these “citizen journalists” don’t have access to decision makers and are infamous for their biased and inaccurate reporting on almost any subject under the sun (while invariably criticising professional news coverage whose original material they depend on to base their diatribes).
It is only a matter of time before the model collapses. The alternative is newsrooms decimated to the point of processing public relations handouts or unedited government propaganda from their fully staffed team of spin doctors.

Good luck to them. Unfortunately, blaming competitors (yes; bloggers are competitors for reader time and attention) for the (slow) failure of one’s business never made the business suddenly work better, and this sort of competition-blaming is typically the refuge of people who believe they have an ordained right to profits. As Dan Conover says:

This spring and early summer has been a continuous parade of naked emperors and specious arguments. There’s the Cable TV argument. The iTunes argument. They’ve argued the Watchdog Case and the Piracy Case. And as the combined knowledge of the network ground each of these quickly down to dust, the salespeople moved on to the next one. Did the “blame the bloggers” approach flop? OK: Blame Google.

(Conover has links in his post, which you can follow if you go there. He was a newsman; now he’s a blogger. Go figure.)

Blame anyone except the industry itself for failing to sufficiently move with the market. But perhaps that’s what Barry Colman thinks he’s doing. There are good reasons behind the decision, chief among which is the importance of maintaining a strong and well-resourced newsgathering apparatus. He’s aware that a move to a pay model needs to be accompanied by a dramatic increase in quality, and posits the fairly reasonable idea that people will pay for it.

The trouble with artificial scarcity is partly highlighted by Cactus Kate:

For the pay-per-view am I to be reading low paid first-jobbed twenty-something children repeating the news, or will I read serious senior business journos actually breaking stories that matter?

Good question. If you withhold your best content from the market, you’re cutting off your nose to spite your brand. The imperatives which drive your business conflict: you want to put your best content in front of as many people as possible because it’s the best content (not the ordinary content) which drives your readership and reputation; by locking it away, you hide your light under a bushel so few people know about it, and even if people chance to find out about it (from those relatively few who do have a subscription) then they can’t access it anyway. This is not the way to become a news or commentary source of record. And if you don’t, And if you don’t put your best content up there, then what are you offering again?

At best it seems like this model will rob Peter to pay Paul – that is, the NBR’s ordinary content (and readership) will suffer for the benefit of those few subscribers. This is also what online commenters the NBR site seem to think, and online opinion is predictably scathing.

There has to be a better way.

Edit: I should add that artificial scarcity can potentially work if the content is strong enough. Fairfax’s Australian Financial Review is probably the best daily newspaper in Australasia, and because of its exceptional content, extremely strong commitment to journalistic practice and authoritative market position it is able to dictate such strict terms of access that it causes major headaches for media analysis companies, archivers and researchers. The AFR has no real competition, and that’s what enables it to call the shots. But the NBR is not the AFR – nowhere near, more’s the pity.