One door closes, another door opens

by Mathew on January 9, 2010 · 86 comments

I have to confess that I’ve been sitting here for a long time, looking at a blank screen, trying to figure out what to say in this post. Getting to the point is easy: as some readers probably already know, I’ve decided to leave the Globe and Mail to become a senior writer with the GigaOm blog network, which is run by my good friend Om Malik (who has written a blog post about my joining the company here).

That’s the short version. The long version, of course, is somewhat more complicated. The part about joining GigaOm is easy to explain — I’ve been a fan of Om’s ever since I discovered his blog in 2005 while he was still working for Business 2.0 magazine, and came to like him even more when we had him at our very first mesh conference in Toronto in 2006. He doesn’t hesitate to shoot down popular perceptions, and when he speaks his mind it is always worth paying attention to, even if (and in fact especially when) you disagree with him about something.

Over the past few years, Om and his team have put together what I think is one of the world’s premier technology blog networks, one that has a well-justified reputation for thoughtful and intelligent reporting and analysis, something that has become even more of a necessity as the Web has filled up with fast-food style news hits. I’m honoured to have been asked to join GigaOm, and to work with its terrific writers. It feels like the first day of school and I get to sit with the cool kids :-)

That said, I would be lying if I said that leaving the Globe and Mail after 15 years isn’t difficult (I’ve actually been working for the Globe for almost two decades, if you count my time at the Financial Times of Canada, which was owned by the Globe when I started working there in 1991). Despite my excitement at joining GigaOm, leaving somewhere after that length of time is never easy. And working at the Globe was a dream of mine ever since I graduated from journalism school.

There are plenty of things I’m not going to miss about working at the Globe, particularly in its ancient Front Street headquarters — including the often underwhelming cafeteria (not the fault of Bozenna, the world’s nicest cashier), as well as the world’s slowest elevator, the moldy carpeting, a distinct lack of windows and a lighting system that wouldn’t look out of place in a run-down 1960’s suburban rec room.

What I will miss is working with some of the finest journalists anywhere, a group of relentlessly smart and talented (and in many cases charmingly eccentric) reporters and editors, who manage to turn out a great newspaper every day under incredible pressure. On the Web side, I will miss the tremendously resourceful group of writers and editors who do the same under even more time pressure, with a deadline every minute, and manage to juggle several jobs, and some balky technology.

I want to make it clear (in part because a bunch of people have asked) that I’m not leaving the Globe because I think newspapers are dead, or because I think the Globe is going under, or anything of the sort. I think it’s pretty obvious by now that the newspaper industry is going through a tremendous upheaval, a clash of evolutionary forces that will cause some to expire and others to thrive. I think — and hope — that the Globe is well positioned to be one of the entities that can adapt to those forces, and in fact it has already gone some distance towards doing that.

Evolution is a messy business, however. And changing the tools that people use is not the hard part — changing the way people think and the culture they work in is the hard part (in some cases, it may even be impossible). And doing that while you are still operating a traditional legacy business, one that still provides the bulk of your revenue, makes it even harder (the old saying about “building an airplane while flying it” comes to mind). The Globe has made some progress in that department, and is making more every day, but there is still much left to do.

Part of me is sorry that I won’t be around to help the Globe continue to make that transition. I can’t say that it hasn’t been frustrating at times, because it has, especially the seemingly endless meetings and debates over policies and procedures — not to mention the fear and uncertainty that often underlie them — that can get in the way of journalists engaging with readers in a real and human way. I happen to believe that doing this isn’t just a “nice to have” feature, but is a crucial part of what journalism is now (a point I tried to make in my TEDxTO talk back in September).

Those battles are someone else’s to fight now, although I will be happy (and may even feel compelled) to provide advice from afar. Instead, I have the good fortune to be moving to an organization that doesn’t have to worry about legacy print products and declining revenues — an entity that is Web only, is growing rapidly, and has social media woven in and out of the very fabric of the company. A nice change :-) Onward!

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