The magazine I work for got a bit of bad publicity this week.
On Thursday, influential blog BoingBoing posted a photo of a poster based on an article that appeared in the magazine in 2001. The poster and article listed 10 reasons that the internet will never replace the profession that the magazine serves.*
The list was pretty anti-internet. (It’s accurate, though grossly oversimplified, to say that “anti-internet” was and to some extent remains a mainstream position within the profession.) Furthermore, many of its points have aged spectacularly badly. As a result, BoingBoing’s post treated the poster with an understated snarkiness, and the commenters absolutely crucified it.
How did we deal with it?
1. Understand the situation. Some of my colleagues’ first (and second) impulses were to celebrate our appearance in pop culture and post a comment bragging that the article appeared in our magazine first and inviting people to our site to comment. This made sense to them, because they missed the subtle mockery of the post, and ignored the comments completely. (And, if truth be told, probably still agree with or at least hold affection for even the more egregiously wrong points.) Fortunately, I was able to intercept this, which would have done nothing for our audience but would have invited a bunch of tech-savvier folks to turn our comments into a river of flame.
2. Depersonalize. This was easy for me—the article in question was published before I joined the magazine, so I have no interest in defending it. But my colleagues, who may well have been part of approving the article, did have to. The alternative, some kind of “How dare you attack us?” message, could have led to nothing good.
3. Make it a positive. Yesterday, I wrote a blog post on our site acknowledging the BoingBoing post and the critical reaction. At the end, I invited readers to help update the list, or at least, a slight revision of it. (I eliminated any reference to the internet in my question, instead asking for the most important reasons that the profession will always be indispensable.)
We didn’t put anything on BoingBoing about this—while some of our readers no doubt read that site, very few of their readers read ours, so a post there would add a lot of noise to our site but not much signal. It’s hard to say yet how much reaction the post will ultimately get (both because it went up on Friday afternoon, and because our website traffic is heavily driven by an e-mail newsletter that gets sent on Wednesdays) but early numbers look promising.
*A semi-apology for being so evasive about my employer. While I doubt that there would be too many consequences for what I say, I’d rather at least leave a bit of obscuring in place.