20 February 2008

Requiem for a TV News Career, and Corporate Groupthink

Via Rob, this insightful entry from Chez Pazienza on his firing from CNN's American Morning for apparently blogging the wrong opinions.

One of the great myths of management in general (under the rubric of "transformative leadership") is that ideally, all employees of an organization should share the same vision and sense of purpose that has been established and handed down through the hierarchy by the leadership (who are seen to be the personification of the corporate consciousness, or some nonsense like that). The leaders hold the vision, inspire and lead the charge - corporate values become individual values in the transformative organization. People are then motivated to give their all, go above and beyond - you know, that whole 110% thing.

In a contemporary corporate landscape that is becoming increasingly dysfunctional, this translates operationally to such things as, being "asked to complete self-evaluations which pressed me to describe the ways in which I'd "increased shareholder value."" Or worse, as in Pazienza's case, being forced on pain of firing to vet anything he writes about any topic in any venue with the corporate "standards and practices department." Not that the issue is that he is writing. "It's also, you know, the nature of what you've been writing."

The extension beyond the limit of capability (not to mention reason) of this myth of tranformative leadership - hence forcing its reversal - comes from crossing it with BAH - Bureaucracy, Administrative controls, and Hierarchy. Although the company does end up with a goodly number of mindless drones, the most insightful, motivated and driven among their employees will take their motivation and drive elsewhere. What is left is truly a drone - clearly evident in the moribund, 24-hour, television-news-as-entertainment business:
During my last couple of years as a television news producer, I watched the networks try to recover from a six year failure to bring truth to power (the political party in power being irrelevant incidentally; the job of the press is to maintain an adversarial relationship with the government at all times) and what's worse, to pretend that they had a backbone all along. I watched my bosses literally stand in the middle of the newsroom and ask, "What can we do to not lead with Iraq?" -- the reason being that Iraq, although an important story, wasn't always a surefire ratings draw. I was asked to complete self-evaluations which pressed me to describe the ways in which I'd "increased shareholder value." (For the record, if you're a rank-and-file member of a newsroom, you should never under any circumstances even hear the word "shareholders," let alone be reminded that you're beholden to them.) I watched the media in general do anything within reason to scare the hell out of the American public -- to convince people that they were about to be infected by the bird flu, poisoned by the food supply, or eaten by sharks. I marveled at our elevation of the death of Anna Nicole Smith to near-mythic status and our willingness to let the airwaves be taken hostage by every permutation of opportunistic degenerate from a crying judge to a Hollywood hanger-on with an emo haircut. I watched qualified, passionate people worked nearly to death while mindless talking heads were coddled. I listened to Lou Dobbs play the loud-mouthed fascist demagogue, Nancy Grace fake ratings-baiting indignation, and Glenn Beck essentially do nightly stand-up -- and that's not even taking into account the 24/7 Vaudeville act over at Fox News. I watched The Daily Show laugh not at our mistakes but at our intentional absurdity.

More on this theme, and perhaps even on Celebrity Apprentice, and why Donald Trump doesn't know the first thing about management (which is different from simply making money).

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