An open appeal from Andreas Weber, Head of Criticism
“A good journalist can be recognized by the fact that he doesn't make himself common with something, not even with a good thing; that he is everywhere, but does not belong anywhere.” — Hanns Joachim “Hajo” Friedrichs, Nestor of the German news journalism.
I have been working as a journalist and publicist for over 30 years. People like Hajo Friedrichs have always played a leading role for me. Also and especially when I later took over marketing, communication and management tasks as well as publishing and editor-in-chief activities.
When I was able to take up my first permanent job as a trade magazine editor at Der Polygraph in Frankfurt am Main, Germany — at that time the leading print trade magazine with the world's best reputation — at the age of 28 after completing my studies and becoming self-employed, a wonderful world opened up for me. The contact to readers was cultivated intensively, great people from printers, the typography scene and the supplier industry.
First the joy, then the shock!
My shock was all the greater when I, the inexperienced youngster, was able to attend a top appointment on behalf of the editor-in-chief. A globally leading printing technology company has invited to start up a new, pioneering production facility on-site at a customers’ print shop.
I was excited. When we said goodbye, I saw that the PR boss (in personal union also the advertising manager!) handed over an envelope to all the chief editors who attended. I also got one and put it in first, while everyone else was used to it, and immediately opened the envelopes, looked in and put them in.
I checked it later at home. And got a snap attack. In the envelope was a letter, the content strictly indicated that the our press reports had to be meticulously adhered to. And as an attachment there was a bar check for 500.00 marks.
I was so scared that I had to talk to a fatherly friend. He said: Yes, this is something that industry likes to do. And a bar check is smart to cover things up as best as possible. I was speechless, but bravely resisted the temptation.
No dance around the golden calf!
Why am I describing this? Because it was a turning point for me. I immediately left the publisher and changed camp. In my function as head of marketing communications for a leading global supplier of prepress technology (yes, that was back then!), I did everything radically different.
Instead of "carrot and stick" I opted for open communication (I included the competition in my press mailing list so that the poor colleagues did not have to laboriously and secretly get hold of them). I spared no debate and the first thing I asked our salespeople, our customers and our trade press colleagues to criticize unrestrainedly is what we, our company, are doing wrong. I met many on site.
It was like a break of relief. And brought us extremely forward. Instantly.
In the year 1989 the leading German Desktop Publishing magazine dedicated a cover story with 10 pages to us. Why? I had offered the editor-in-chief to come to us, speak to the German management personally, and establish contacts with the headquarters and also with product development in the USA. True to the motto: #fulltransparency #zerobackschisch. The deal: the journalist could ask what he wanted. And he got concrete answers. We awakened mindfulness from the editor-in-chief and his team. And we met with respect. Without falling into mate. #Basta!
The editor-in-chief called me after publication to report shocked and upset that he had received an incredible call from our main competitor's communications manager. The question was: ”How much does a story like that cost you?”
As I said, it was all around 30 years ago. But can you say that it is better today? Everyone has adapted to the rules of corporate governance.
But the following as a fact:
1. Reader interest in most print journals has reached an all-time low.
2. Many titles have disappeared.
3. Thanks to the massive commissioning of PR agencies and the ubiquitous distribution of press releases (via their own websites, press portals, eNewsletters etc.), the trade media are virtually synchronized.
4. Only such (unfortunately few) print specialist titles are still popular, especially among readers who offer a high proportion of self-researched stories.
5. Now in the crisis — as before — most editorial offices are speechless. Probably also because their advertising clients don't want to read #badnews.
Copy & paste as a maxim or principle?
Most specialist titles for the print industry work according to the copy & paste principle. One only has to look at how the most recent, very well done drupa directorate's interview on the outlook on #drupa2021 has several unique authors worldwide. Colleagues take the text template, change it little if at all, even partially draw with their name and publish it in their publications. Hardly anything is questioned.
In addition, the following, which I quote originally from an email received last week from an international PR agency:
"The article — available in English, German, French, Italian, Spanish, Chinese and Japanese (Russian coming soon) — as well as images can be downloaded from the XY pressroom at | LINK |
Thank you very much in advance for publishing this article and sending us the respective magazine and / or link. Should you have any questions or need additional material, please don't hesitate to contact us at [Email]"
Of course, that fits in with common practice: companies have been inviting people to the most beautiful locations in the world for a long time, introducing innovations, and have prepared all publication materials for copy & paste. Organize gala dinners, pay the travel and accommodation costs, even if press participants want to stay a little longer. (And enjoy the airline miles bonus credits).
The PR behavior and dealing with the trade press is deeply unethical, respectively questionable under press law and at least not at all effective.
The macabre, strong thing for me: The few who independently research, dare new things, critically question and comment in the service of the readers are still attacked as the bad guys, the nest polluters, the phrase thrower. But NOT with an open visor, NOT with an open dialogue; but complaints are made behind the scenes, in a recent case colleagues even called for #boycott! — Are you crazy?
I am sure that is the good in bad times — the COVID-19 crisis will bring land consolidation here. Many or even all of the copy&paste trade magazines will disappear. Because it suddenly counts not to be opportune and complacent, but systemically important. Through mindfulness, critical thinking, critical distance and enthusiastic publishing.
NOTE: If you want to duel with me now, you can do so after lifting the ban on contact COVID-19 caused. I choose the saber as an old fencer! — For all others I will remain cordially connected to everyone else as before.