Thursday, April 5

Validating Critics: Jeff Hunter

While this post touches once again, ho hum, on Jason Goldberg, CEO of Jobster, it is not about Jason Goldberg. If you want another post on him today, visit Workfarce. It's not a great post, but it is an interesting continuation on communication myths that seem to creep in as well as a fine example of the the love-hate relationship some fans seem to have from the nosebleed section.

Personally, I'm more interested by a comment left by Jeff Hunter on Cheezhead, which originally sparked the revival of the Goldberg discussions. Hunter quoted President Theodore Roosevelt:

“It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by the dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions and spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who, at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly; so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory or defeat.”

Now, Roosevelt was an amazingly smart and astonishingly multifaceted man. He is one of my favorite leaders in American history and you can read more about him at Theodore Roosevelt Association. His quote, above, made a lot of sense within the context of what he was talking about.

However, and I mean no disrespect to Hunter, I don't think it applies to social media. Sure, it's the cornerstone of the argument that "only Jason Golberg knows what's happening at Jobster" so you have no right to write about him even though he wants to be written about, unless you're promoting his message, whatever that might be.

Perhaps because I've worked as a paid journalist/critic (about 10 years total experience or so) — dining reviews, show reviews, tourism reviews, company reviews, political reviews — it's easier for me to see the distinction between armchair quarterbacking, customer feedback, journalistic feedback, and what occurs within the context of social media.

Not always, but more often than not, the purveyors of blogs are more than merely critics. On the contrary, they are the very people whose faces are marred by the same dust and sweat and blood that mars the people they write about. And I, for one, do not see criticisms as criticisms as much as I see them as conversational discussions between industry leaders to guide the direction of the industry and ensure it is not shaped by someone who might very well be wrong.

This was one of reasons I began changing the format of my blog in mid-August last year. I saw people shaping the direction of communication through social media (and I am not saying they are all wrong), but they didn't know much about strategic communication. Many of them were too busy being "agents of change," willing to blow up everything in favor of, well, nothing … provided they can put their name on it.

While the thought is well intended, I don't agree with the idea that criticisms jeopardize any industry, provided that those criticisms are valid or at least lead to some other validity with open, honest communication (short of malicious intent).

Further, I don't believe it needs to be the obligation of industry leaders to lift every other industry leader up in the face of adversity for the betterment of the industry. In fact, I have been a board member of too many non-profit professional organizations where out of the well-intended notion that "we all need to support each other and every idea all the time" came erroneous actions that resulted in the death or near-death of an organization or program.

Ergo, criticisms are only invalid when the discussion of an idea gives way to popularity contests between people and not their ideas or undue polarization of an issue where people try to convince everyone that it is either all or nothing, black or white.

Recently, Jim Durbin rightfully took me to task when he wrote that I stretched too much in my attempt to take "a major issue issue (the January layoffs and Goldberg's December posts), and conflating them with other issues that are not related and of the same magnitude." While the stretch was intentional, though not obvious enough as I conceded, kudos for Durbin.

That is the way it should be. In fact, had it not been for his post, I may have never dug a little deeper and visited Blogpulse. If you trend "Jason Goldberg," you'll see my stretch wasn't all that far off. The largest spikes tend to be the result of negative news and commentary, including one some might call an insignificant disagreement between two bloggers.

In the realm of social media, it seems that exchange has as much impact as any. Perhaps even more telling is this: on the same day the "Knowing When To Post" went up, Richard S. Levick, president and CEO of Levick Strategic Communications, posted a comment on my February "Discussing JetBlue" post, which I responded to. Those two comments on JetBlue beat out Jobster 5-to-1. (Heads up: I'll revisit JetBlue on Monday.)

What does this mean? Well, that has never happened before. So could it be that interest in Jobster has waned? Maybe. At minimum, when bad rumor spikes begin to outweigh good news spikes, it's time to rethink your strategy. Sure, people gawk at car accidents, but car accidents will only hold their interest for so long.

Anyway, thank goodness for people like Durbin who take the time to ask questions and offer comments. If people like him stopped doing it, then entire companies, organizations, industries, and countries could be led in the wrong direction. But then again, what do I know?

I only know that not so long ago, a public relations professional engaged me in an e-mail exchange that insisted my critique on his non-recruiting client's release was unfair and unprofessional. Then, he basically asked me to shut up. Who am I to argue? If he wants to insist that silence is golden, then so be it. I won't write about his client again, which is a shame, because I had some good things to say.

So I wonder what would have been worse: writing up his second public relations debacle or not writing anything at all...

Critics. We don't always like them, but maybe we need them.

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3 comments:

Rich on 4/5/07, 11:33 AM said...

Another great topic resulting from Cheezhead's post, this time on startups, can be found at Fracat right .

Dan Sweet on 5/2/07, 7:02 AM said...

Thanks for the mention, Rich!

In case anyone was searching for a link there, this is my post spurred by the Cheezhead debate.

Dan

PS: How did you post a comment on the 4th of May? Are you a time traveller?

Rich on 5/2/07, 10:07 AM said...

You're very welcome Dan; it was a great post. And thanks, by the way, for a better link. Mine turned into the "." that you see in my comment. It happens sometimes.

As for time-traveling ... there is no future in it. Ha! Seriously, I must have been so use to seeing the time stamp "day" before "month" ... that I didn't think about it.

I just fixed it, but now most people will never see how how funny your question really was... (my time stamp was 5/4/07 instead of 4/5/07).

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