Getting Down to “Brass Tacks” on the Editorial FAIL by Fast Company

July 6, 2010 in It is what it is - opinion column | Comments (9)


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Editorial integrity.

In my mind those two words are inextricably linked and have been since long before my days at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. So when I saw the first Tweets pass by about something called The Influence Project by Fast Company Magazine, I clicked immediately. The person from whom the Tweet came was someone I respected and of all the business rags I read, Fast Company has always held a top spot for great reporting/writing and rock solid editorial integrity.

I was wrong.

After musing on it for a few hours, I sat down to write up some thoughts, and then caught sight of a link (from someone other than the person noted above whose judgment I now question) to this post. Rather than re-write the wheel, I asked the author, Amber Naslund, for permission to repost it. I highly recommend checking out the original post to see the comment thread.

UPDATE – this story apparently has an even more ugly backstory than I’d thought. I mean, I knew that there had been a rather dirty crossing of the line between editorial and marketing by an agency being used for this, but had no idea it was so grievous. SF Weekly reporter Alexia Tsosis had asked me for a quote for a story she was writing … and upon reading her post today was shocked to see the deeper details.


By Amber Naslund, originally posted at Brass Tack Thinking.

I’m a Fast Company fan. I’ve been reading for years, and they have some super smart writers and contributors on their team.

But I really think they missed the mark with The Influence Project, in a big way, and confused the idea of “influence” with ego.

To me, influence isn’t about popularity. Or even reach. It’s about the trust, authority, and presence to drive relevant actions within your community that create something of substance. That last bit is key.

I clicked this morning on a tweet from Tac Anderson, someone I like and respect a great deal. I even uploaded my picture, all that stuff that I was supposed to do, hoping that there was something really interesting that would happen at the end, something I was supposed to do. Spread the word about a charity? Encourage people to contribute thoughtful content around an idea? Something I could sink my teeth into to show how great ideas can spread?

Nope. This is in the confirmation email I got:

1) You can use any means to spread your unique link to your online network. We shortened it for you so you can share on Twitter and Facebook.

2) Your goal is to influence as many people to click on it as possible.

3) You want those people to sign up as well, since they will be spreading your influence along with their own.

4) You can track how your influence has grown, where it’s lead, and where you stand at any time on the site.

5) Your picture is going to be in the November issue of Fast Companymagazine, where we’ll reveal the most influential person online!

Seriously, Fast Company? The goal is to influence clicks to my stupid profile? And I want people to sign up to be my minions so they can “spread my influence along with their own?”

This isn’t influence. This is an ego trap and a popularity contest, pure and simple. There’s no goal other than click pandering. Already, Twitter is full of people shouting “click on my junk!” and flooding my stream and countless others with nothing more than clamoring for…well…validation.

Influence can be quiet, understated, and wielded with grace. Influence is NOT jumping up and down, begging for people to click on stuff so that they, too, can find the gatekey for their own path to feeling important in the online fishbowl.

I’m sad that there wasn’t more to this. I was expecting something different, something meaningful, something that shows that influence isn’t about numbers and eyeballs and fleeting stabs of attention in the maelstrom of 140-character snippets.

I’m disappointed. I’m sorry I clicked, and hoped for something different. And I’m frustrated that, once again, we’re going to have to discuss influence in its proper context, the work that it takes to create a truly influential platform that people can trust, delineate the difference between people who can inspire meaningful action, and those that seek the panflash of popularity in an attention-starved space.



9 responses to “Getting Down to “Brass Tacks” on the Editorial FAIL by Fast Company”

  1. The Influence Project is driven by editorial alone. Mekanism produced it, but there was no money exchanged, and there is no a sponsor involved. The fact that you trot out your Medill credentials in this post without bothering to do any reporting to find out the truth speaks volumes (and that you relied on a source who did no reporting either). I have personally handed you my business card, and I know that you have the email address of at least one other staffer here. You really have no excuse for making these claims and should know better–you were trained to know better.

    Noah Robischon
    Fast Company

  2. Cathy says:

    You’re right Noah … I have no excuse to make those claims. That’s why I didn’t. I never commented about money changing hands. I never stated that there was a sponsor involved. I understand this was driven by editorial. That was a substantial part of my issue with it. Perhaps it’s a new fangled thing for newsrooms, but in my experience editorial teams don’t generally bring in marketing agencies for projects. What I did was voice my opinion (and opinion shared by myriad others, I might add) that the entire nature of this project is suspect – regardless of any involvement by a marketing firm. Oh, and last I checked this was my blog and so I’m allowed to voice my opinion here. If you’d like me to provide links to the numerous other blog posts written about this with opinions being voiced of the same stripe, I’d be happy to as quite a few were written today.

    Another point – If you read the post on my site carefully you’ll see that it’s a republication of the post that went viral about this … a post that speaks out to the dirty feeling that myriad people felt about this project and how it exploited people and their networks. I will admit that I should have included a more clear delineation in the post showing that the post itself was not mine and that the responsibility for that content belonged to its author. I should have known better on that and as soon as I save this comment will rectify that. I’m guessing you may not be aware that the woman who wrote the post that I republished is in contact with your publication. She’s stated in her Twitter stream as such and that she will be publishing the results of that conversation.

    As far as my relying on a source who did no reporting – again my commentary was one of opinion and distaste at the nature of the project, the disingenuous way in which it was promoted/executed and my feeling/opinion that it is promoting precisely the kind of bad use of social media that those of us who work in the stuff every day try very hard to counsel people against. The initial blog post I republished here was a reflection of that opinion as well.

    So I’m guessing that by “source who did no reporting” you’re referring to Alexia Tsosis of the SF Weekly to whose article I linked in the “update” section I added today – an article in which she included the Mekanism slides and quotes from the Fast Company editor and Mekanism. I’ll let her know about this comment thread so she can chime in directly but knowing her and her work, I know her to be a reporter who takes her work seriously and am sure she’ll have something to say about your claim that she did no reporting.

    As far as reaching out to you or anyone else … you’re right I could have, and I’d have done so if by the time I had the time to do it, the author of aforementioned blog post hadn’t mentioned that she was in contact with the publication already and discussing this. It seemed redundant and a waste of time to open yet another dialogue with someone else when it was already underway.

  3. Noah Robischon says:

    I can’t believe you’re saying it’s perfectly fine for you to take someone else’s claims and republish them even if those are not accurate. Sure, Let someone else handle the “ugly backstory,” but you’re innocent because you simply republished the claims on your blog? You know very well that would not hold up at Medill. It is total hogwash for you to hide behind her shoddy work because “It seemed redundant.”

    Yes, this is a forum for your opinion. But you make assertions about the integrity of Fast Company in it. Yet you fail to back up those assertions at all.

    Again, you highlight your Medill credentials at the top of this post, but in your reply prove that you have no place talking about editorial integrity.

  4. Cathy says:

    Let me get this straight, Noah. You’re saying that the entire article written by Alexia Tsosis is not accurate? Or that Amber’s opinions are inaccurate? Because in terms of Amber’s post, as with the claims you insisted that *I* made, which I hadn’t, Amber’s post doesn’t actually make any claims other than calling out the project on the way in which it proposes to qualify influence. In terms of Alexia’s article, are you saying that the quotes she published are lies or that the details she’s outlined are false? Or perhaps you’re calling into question the editorial integrity of SF Weekly saying that they published something utterly false that has no foundation? I suppose they’d not be the first publication that had done so. The NY Times had its own issue with that as has even the Wall Street Journal – instances in which other publications and media outlets as well as bloggers took information that had been published by these august organizations, assuming that the internal editorial process had been sound and republished it.

    So I will certainly be digging into the SF Weekly story and talking with Alexia to confirm this, and should it be found that her article is indeed utterly false and baseless as you claim I will certainly correct myself. That’s what people with integrity do. Of course, if her article is found to be accurate and all the facts true, I somehow doubt that you would recant your personal attack on me.

  5. […] In my mind those two words are inextricably linked and have been since long before my days at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. So when I saw the first Tweets pass by about something called The Influence Project by Fast Company Magazine, I clicked immediately. The person from whom the Tweet came was someone I respected and of all the business rags I read, Fast Company has always held a top spot for great reporting/writing and rock solid editorial integrity. I was wrong.-Cathy Brooks […]

  6. Noah Robischon says:

    Let’s go back to the first two words of your post: editorial integrity. You say that in the past you recognized the magazine for rock solid reporting, but now it’s lost its integrity. You don’t back that assertion up at all. You make no claim for why that would be the case. You don’t bother emailing anyone at Fast Company to learn more about the project, even though you have easy access to staffers there. But you happily re-post someone else’s story–which also has no original reporting in it–to support your baseless assertion.

    Now, let’s talk about editorial integrity. You have had Nokia as a client in the past (even now your site has a flattering quote from Nokia’s director of brand management on it). You are serving as an “expert” contributor to a project sponsored and led by Nokia. Your bio on that Nokia Ideas Project website doesn’t mention that the company has been a client of yours. But you do call yourself a journalist in the first line of that bio. You also received a netbook for participating in that Nokia-sponsored project. You considered giving it to charity, but your old netbook is broken so you have decided to go ahead and use the new one.

    Since you went to Medill, you know that what you’re doing runs afoul of the policies of most all news organizations in the U.S. You are using the cloak of journalism to hide your “strategic marketing” work.

    Now, Fast Company is engaged in a purely editorial project. We’re working with Mekanism, which is a marketing firm that has a lot more technical skill than the magazine has internally. But they are not being paid any money for this work. And at launch there is no sponsor for the project, or even a single advertisement on those pages. We have been completely transparent about the genesis of this project, it was documented in the May issue of the magazine. The briefs from Mekanism have been available publicly on the website since then as well. This entire process is being written about openly, transparently, and will culminate in a feature this November.

    So tell me: who has a problem with editorial integrity here?

  7. Cathy says:

    Apparently your time at Gawker taught you well in the category of personal attacks and wasteful communication. If you had shown up here in a thoughtful manner, willing to have an open dialogue I would be happy to continue engaging with you. Even in light of your mudslinging thus far I have provided response to your snide commentary and incorrect assumptions and in the cases where you have raised a reasonable point (for example my need to amend disclosure statements on my site as well as asking the IdeasProject team to do same) I have addressed them. I am done doing so. I’m a bit perplexed by the spite and anger with which you continue to attack me, and can only assume that you’re a terribly unhappy person or that for some reason you have some personal issues leading you to lose any sense of reasonable communication you may have had. I will not engage any further in this dialogue with you as you have proven that you’re not here for discussion but rather for attack. Whatever it is that makes you such a cranky person, I do hope that you are able to find peace. I wish you well.

  8. Hey! Do you use Twitter? I’d like to follow you if that would be ok. I’m definitely enjoying your blog
    and look forward to new posts.

  9. Cathy says:

    I sure do … Twitter handle is @CathyBrooks 🙂