A few nights ago, with the entire team in town for the first PandoMonthly event, Sarah organized a dinner at Blue Plate in San Francisco. As an occasional contributor, I decided to gate-crash. And I’m glad I did — because during the meal, investor Andrew Anker told a story that really resonated.
His was talking about his time at Wired (Anker was CEO of Wired Digital) and how editor Kevin Kelly had a simple rule: each issue of Wired should make 20% of its readers mad. The trick, of course, was to make sure it was a different 20% each month. “That,” said Anker, “is what defines a media company as opposed to a technology company. A media company doesn’t attempt to please all of its readers each month. It just tries to do the best work it can.”
Anker’s comments — and Kelly’s rule — summed up something I’ve been thinking for a while. That I’d much rather be a “media person” than a “technology person”.
The distinction is particularly relevant at the moment, where every day we see another technology company twisting its spine to apologize to users for storing data or failing to launch or changing its business model.
Compare the behavior of those tech CEOs with that of, say, Barry Diller or Harvey Weinstein or Rupert Murdoch. How often do media guys say they’re sorry for making decisions which upset their core audience? In the case of Rupert Murdoch — who remains consistently unapologetic on his Twitter account — it takes a full-scale government enquiry, triggered by the hacking of a dead teenager’s voicemail before he’ll issue a mea culpa.
And never mind public opinion, Weinstein doesn’t even let his own filmmakers call the shots. There’s a fun story (one of many) in Peter Biskind’s Down and Dirty Pictures which sums up Weinstein’s attitude on that front. It’s summarized on his Wikipedia page thus…
‘When Weinstein was charged with handling the US release of Princess Mononoke, he received a samurai sword in the mail with an attached note that read, “No cuts.” “I’m not cutting for fun”, Harvey Weinstein [responded] in an interview. “I’m cutting for the shit to work. All my life I served one master: the film.”‘
Samurai swords can’t deter Weinstein from doing what he feels is right by his product. Murdoch bows to nothing short of a Commons Committee. And even then he refuses to send loyal staffers like Rebekah Brooks to the guillotine just because the crowd is calling for her head. Contrast Path’s Dave Morin or Wahooli’s Dana Severson or Netflix’s Reid Hastings — any of whom, you get the feeling, would dye his hair purple if enough users demanded it.
Much of the debate over old media and new, Hollywood vs Silicon Valley, can be distilled down to who ultimately calls the shots: the producer or the audience. To paraphrase Paul Weller: In a technology company, the public gets what the public wants. In a media company, the public wants what the public gets.
Despite his solid Silicon Valley credentials, Anker finished his story by saying that what he likes most about PandoDaily is that it’s striving to be a media company. That’s what I like about it too. I wouldn’t be writing here if it were otherwise.