Last week, the Financial Times ran a piece written by Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson on the rise of corporate news and brand journalism. In fact, there seems to have been a rash of interest in this subject of late – as highlighted here in GigaOm. As one would expect of the FT, it was a very comprehensive and considered piece, but it was a perfect illustration of an inability to produce a truly useful analysis. The article began thus:
A population of 100,000 is no longer a guarantee that a city like Richmond, California can sustain a thriving daily paper. Readers have drifted from the tactile pleasures of print to the digital gratification of their smartphone screens…
Tactile pleasures of print versus the digital gratification of smartphones. Has Andrew ever tried to experience the tactile pleasures of reading the FT on a crowded rush-hour tube train I wonder? It is certainly a different interpretation of tactile – one that is in danger of straying into the pugilistic. Far easier to access the same information on a small device you can hold in one hand. That’s not gratification, it is convenience.
But in starting his article this way, Andrew has already compromised its usefulness by tainting it with prejudice and support of vested interest. Change, in an off itself, is never either good or bad. There will be good bits and bad bits. Our ability to ensure that it becomes change for the better will depend on our ability to recognise this and distinguish between the two. However, it is difficult to do this when the debate becomes a competition between those with a vested interested in clinging onto the ways things used to be, versus those smelling a future opportunity.
Andrew’s article makes some good points, but it employs the familiar tricks of subtle distortion: taking extreme cases and nudging them into the norm, conflating issues that are best understood separately, establishing (tactile) angels and (gratificationary) demons, warning of either insidious creeping dangers, or else creating pivots of crisis. But he is a good journalist and these are just tricks of the trade. It is perhaps more informative to consider why he finds it necessary to deploy these tricks with such abundance. Continue reading