By Mark Schlack
This post is adapted from Mark’s speech at the 2013 ASBPE National Editorial Conference.
I’m very honored and excited to take on the role of president of the ASBPE at a very exciting time in the media world. For more than a decade, the media in general have been in the midst of a storm and it has occasionally been terrifying. I hope the worst of it is over.
As it happens, almost exactly 30 years ago I started my first full-time editorial job at Cahners Publishing as an assistant editor at Plastics World. Neither of them is still around; much of the last 30 years has been a tumultuous time for me, but also our industry and our profession and craft. And I feel like I have lived most of that roller coaster and have both the scars and the good memories to prove it.
In 1994 the Web happened. I put my toe in that water and by 1998 I was working fulltime online, for an online publisher, and that’s been mostly the story for the last 15 years. So even though I’m an old fart, I’m apparently the first online only president of ASBPE, which I’m actually somewhat tickled about.
Having divided my career about evenly between print and online it’s obvious to me that we have moved out of the print versus online world into the print and online world. Whatever the mix of the two is for you, ASBPE is a place for you. And if tablet apps supplant both, then we will be the group for that, as well. Whatever new form factor comes along to bring independent, professional information to business readers, we must embrace all of that, with all it implies and brings with it.
So here’s where I see ASBPE in all of this.
My view is that ASBPE can help you advance your career with skill and integrity.
The worldwide Web will be 20 years old as a commercial entity next year, but it’s about as mature as any 20 year old. We, the ASBPE, need to be part of that maturation process. Ethics, skills training – these are vital to modernizing our profession. Most of us today are not just concerned with words and images, but also video, audio, social media, virtual trade shows and whatever comes down the pike next week or next year. I want ASBPE to be an organization that helps us all cope with these changes, that returns to us a sense of mastery of our own craft.
Many of us work in very different companies now than the classic publishing powerhouses of the past. Once, we did occasional battle with sales but were generally left to our own devices otherwise. Today, the new world includes not only sales, but SEO, developers, user experience folks and who knows what else. Many of those new players have very definite perspectives about what we should be doing, and sometimes they have the authority to make those opinions stick. We can and should learn from those folks, but they can also learn from us about what it takes to build and keep an audience, something many of them have little experience at or knowledge of. Failure to respect the audience is, in my opinion, the single greatest cause of death of all media properties. So we must continue to champion the needs of our audiences for independent, skeptical information.
Another way our profession has changed, too, is that we are increasingly using data to inform what we do. Many of those other folks are better at data than many of us, and too often they win arguments simply because they can use data better than us. So we need, as a profession, to learn about that and not be drowned out by the occasional bad ideas dressed up as science. Rather than get frustrated, we need to lose our fear of Excel and get in the game. And that’s another area I think ASBPE can help you with.
Lastly, most of our companies are either implementing new business models or searching for them. As people who know what it takes to attract and keep an audience, and also, in many cases, as people who know what’s really going on in our markets, we have the chance, really the duty, to be part of the conversation. Whether you work in print or online, your companies are often both and many of them do not yet know how to be both, much less all online, and they need all of our experience and intellect to figure that out. It’s not about helping your publisher attract an advertiser by writing about them. It’s about helping your publisher understand how to carve out an audience, a unique editorial approach, and a sustainable editorial product in this new world.
100 years ago, newspapers were facing that new beast, radio. Our profession was really born in that era when we had to figure out how to gain and keep the public trust, and provide reliable, important, accurate information. Today we face that same challenge. We live in an age where many people think that having a message is more important than whether it has any meaning, when the act of communicating seems more important to some than the facts being communicated. Many forces in the business world want to commoditize what we do, turn it into a shell of real journalism. That’s just the cards we’ve been dealt. There’s just no point in whining about it or wishing for the good old days. They weren’t that great anyway.
What we do know is that truth, clarity, and usefulness are always in short supply and great demand, and that’s what we do best. We have an opportunity few generations get – to help shape, in however small a way, a major medium that connects at least 3 billion people together. At the same time, to recalibrate and preserve what’s best about the 500 year old medium of print. If that doesn’t fire you up, sorry.
We have a lot to do. In two years my hope is that I can introduce our next president knowing that we have more active vibrant chapters like the Chicago chapter that has helped host this year’s excellent annual conference. That our group better reflects the growth of online B2B while preserving our heritage in the print world. That our association has continued the good work it has been doing to help sort out the constant new ethical dilemmas that this new world generates. That our awards continue to be recognized as one of the major yardsticks by which B2B publishers and editors measure themselves, and that we will expand that tradition into the online world and embrace and praise not just the best in print online, but the best in innovation online. I look forward to working with all of you over the next two years toward those ends.