A series of tweets last night reminded me of a lesson I should have included when I blogged last month about lessons from my TBD experience.
It was fairly late last night, and a late-night tweet often goes unanswered. But this tweet drew a quick response from Alan Mairson:
I thought about why I had responded the way I did, and whether I had written about it. I had written some about transparency, and had practiced transparency for the first several months of my TBD experience. But I had eventually gone nearly silent about TBD matters. I responded to Alan:
Alan responded with several tweets:
I retweeted those tweets and Alan fired off a couple more:
So I decided I needed to blog about the value of transparency, even in tough times. This won’t be a tell-all about the final months of my TBD experience. While I have no interest in ever recrossing that bridge, a few of my old colleagues remain at TBD. I empathize with them and have no desire to make their lives more difficult by stirring up TBD attention. Obviously, even writing a little about this will stir something up. But I’ll try to be brief, without many details.
Early in our TBD experience, transparency was an important value, and I was a leader in pushing for and practicing transparency. After we chose our name, we blogged regularly about plans for TBD. Our blog post about our correction policy and commitment to accuracy (written in response to a question asked on the blog) drew some attention for its transparency.
We launched with a media preview that was mostly transparent (we didn’t announce the actual planned launch date because we weren’t sure whether we’d launch on schedule, and we released some comps of pages, but not the home page).
As external bloggers criticized or asked questions about TBD (even before our launch), I (and other members of the community engagement team) responded in blog comments and tweets. Colleagues who wondered whether we should respond generally agreed after the fact that our transparency approach defused potential problems and helped us build credibility and community conversation. (One post of mine went too far, some colleagues thought, though I still think it’s better to follow a transparent approach too far than not far enough.)
Many media organizations don’t feel comfortable with transparency. For years, I heard from too many bosses that people don’t care about the “inside baseball” stories behind the scenes in a newsroom. I disagree. People do care. They sure ask (and asked for decades) a lot of questions, if they don’t care.
In the news business especially, transparency is always the best approach (recognizing that some matters, such as personnel and pending decisions, might justify exceptions). You shouldn’t shine the spotlight elsewhere in the community if you can’t handle the heat of the spotlight yourself.
John Paton’s blog, and his transparency in discussing the company’s Digital First approach, drew my attention to Journal Register Co. and made me interested in that company long before I ever thought I might leave TBD. It’s one of the best things about working at Journal Register.
The TBD approach changed quickly with Jim Brady’s departure. I blogged about his leaving, though we were not unanimous about whether we should even do that.
I won’t go into detail about what happened or why, but the approach to transparency changed this year, as TBD changed directions and cut staff. Though I didn’t like it, I pretty much shut up, except for one post linking to media coverage about what was happening and a series of posts praising staff members as they left. It was one of the most unpleasant stretches of my career.
Transparency helped TBD in its brief glory days and lack of transparency has hurt TBD since.
That’s about all I care to say about the issue and my experience with it at TBD. The lesson, for me, is clear: Whether you’re riding high, as we were after launch, or taking heat, as we did when we cut staff, transparency helps build credibility. It’s not the most comfortable approach, but it’s almost always the best approach. If you’re not uncomfortable with your media organization’s degree of transparency, you probably aren’t being transparent enough.
Other blog posts praising TBD’s transparency: