Alan "Newsosaur" Mutter is one of my faves, and his brain drain post was a classic even before the comments started rolling in.
But the young net natives, for the most part, rank too low in the organizations that employ them to be invited to the pivotal discussions determining the stratgeic initiatives that could help their employers sustain their franchises.
“In most organizations, the people with the most online experience have the least political capital,” said one mid-level online editor at a newspaper. “It seems like the pace of change inside media is slowing, tied up in politics and lack of expertise in managing technical projects – while the pace of change is continuing apace outside our windows.”
This political-capital issue has long been my greatest concern about the organization fusion that's happening at many newspapers. I've seen it happen many times already: Newsroom resents not being in control of website. Editor maneuvers to gain control. Smart, creative new-media director is thrown overboard (or jumps overboard). Website takes a great leap backward, and only three or so years later does it begin to do creative work again.
There are many editors from the print side who are smart, thoughtful, observant and well grounded in the principles of operating on the Internet. There are others like this one cited by an anonymous poster on Mutter's site:
There's a story circulating about how the AME of online didn't know you could type a URL directly into a web browser... and there was that discussion on whether to include a blurb above a story describing, "what the blue underlined words were for".
Apocryphal, perhaps. But chillingly believable.
In a recent speech to the Arizona Newspaper Association, Tim McGuire said:
One last comment about innovation. It ain’t coming from anybody in this room. The chances of one of us here at the Scottsdale Chaparral going out of here an inventing a Google or even a viable innovation for newspapers is the same chance as all of us flying out of here on brooms. –None. So where is that innovation going to come from? Young people who, if we are smart, work for us. We don’t get the digital age and they do. And, that’s why its stupid, yes stupid for you to try to make every decision in your shop and act as if all wisdom resides in your office. It does not. If you want to foster true innovation in your organization involve your staff. Show them you trust them and build an environment which allows them to innovate.
Note that McGuire did NOT say "let them do whatever they want."
The role of a senior leader and manager is to cherish, coach, teach and grow talent. We need everything we can get from smart young people in our organizations. And we need senior leaders who know how to support them, how to clear middle-management roadblocks, how to say yes and when to say no.
We are at a critical turning point for American newspapers. We can't afford to drive away our smartest and most creative voices. The Internet not a publishing system, a Web site is not just another channel, and digitizing the thing we've been doing for the last century is not going to work. We need to think new thoughts, and pushing new thinkers out the door is a fatal mistake.