Diversity of Opinion Requires Free Flow of Information

Wired Magazine Editor Attempts to Stab at Heart of Public Relations

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Jonathon Feit Jonathon Feit
Chris Anderson, editor of Conde Nast's Wired magazine, has been having a big week. First, he pulls a high-profile media stunt that proves he's outgrown his journalistic britches; and then he gets an Ad Age story all his own.

Last week I received an unexpected note -- on Facebook, no less -- from a media colleague whom I had recently seen at the 2007 American Magazine Conference in Boca Raton.

The note contained a link to Anderson's personal blog. I braced myself for exposure of the unexpected kind.

What I found was distasteful, distressing, and downright inexplicable: a list of all the e-mails that Mr. Anderson didn't know and therefore had deemed as spam. The act was designed as a very public tongue-lashing excoriating the so-called "lazy flacks" from whom Mr. Anderson had received unexpected e-mail. Of course, this rant was not railed against fake pharmaceuticals or penile implant adverts; it targeted public relations executives.

Excuse me, Chris, but I'm not a publicist, and I made your list. Do you feel silly? Arrogant? Ignorant?

Within hours, The New York Times was all over the story and reasonable people (including "the hand that feeds me") will disagree as to whether Anderson deserves to be flogged for his flogging, or not.

But let me be crystal clear about my problem with Anderson's faux pas:

As author of "The Long Tail," a book often spoken in the same breath as Malcolm Gladwell's "The Tipping Point" for its meta-analysis of social change in a new information universe, shouldn't he have at least a smidgen of understanding about the way our modern information economy works?

How about the fact that, in our modern (read: Western) world, a free flow of information is the Great Equalizer?

It obviously failed to register that the freedoms of speech and of the press are founded upon the very real change that not everyone reaching out with something to say -- whether by email or by Federalist Papers -- is "pitching." Sometimes they ask for nothing but a moment of your time.

Sometimes, the Mr. Andersons of the world (suddenly, I feel like I'm in The Matrix) are lacking information. And as much as we talk about diversity in this space, all the professional inclusion in the world is meaningless if the marketplace of ideas is Members Only.

Consider: In addition to this blog, I publish a complimentary newsletter called the CITIZEN CULTURE's Equality Media Newsletter, that delivers news about diversity in media, marketing, and corporate America to journalists and community organizers nationwide. Concise digital packets of information are laser-targeted, opinionated, paperless and distributed weekly with relative unobtrusiveness. (After all, one can always delete or unsubscribe.)

Like every one of my blogger colleagues, I am out to influence minds at the pinnacles of power. Amid an increasingly fractured media mix, it is my responsibility to do whatever it takes to slip beneath the radar and into consciousness.

But I am not pitching. I'm flattered and honored when I receive any response, but I'm certainly not looking for anything but social change for the better.

With a multiplicity of voices comes a barrage of information, the constant din we all know, revile, and contribute to. In an era of information overload, it can be tempting to forget that behind all "user-generated content" is a "user" -- a human with something to say. Like a Mormon or a Jehovah's Witness proselytizing at your door, all you have to say is "No thank you, I'm not interested." Slamming the door in their smiling faces does not make you look bigger -- just bitter.

No legitimate marketer, journalistic, PR exec, or otherwise, strives for annoyance -- that would be utterly counterproductive, not to mention illegal. Companies like newly-public Constant Contact (which I use for my newsletter) keep a vigilant eye on the federal CAN-SPAM law.

Technology rightfully places the onus to be interesting upon the purveyors of information; messages need to be worth letting past TiVo and junk filters. But once that goal is accomplished, our utopian vision of diversity requires the recipient to have a curious spirit and a willingness to be touched, even by those he doesn't already know.
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