Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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June 6, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

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.)

Kevin Drum 11:09 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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