Seth Godin is a big fat idiot

Originally published at: GerardMcLean.com

Seth Godin

Seth Godin

Ok, I don’t really believe that, but I think sometimes Mr. Godin spends way too much time thinking up stuff instead of doing stuff. And, I’m also reasonably sure that Mr. Godin will not ever see this blog post and if he does, he really won’t care what someone thinks of him. I’m too old to be Gen Y, so my feelings will not be hurt if he doesn’t give me feedback on my opinion of his ideas. Really.

As you were.

Seth Godin wrote this blog post about how now is a good time for all these idle real estate brokers to start a newspaper. In his head, the process is easy; take the number of folks in your office, have them call X people a week, interview them and compile this newspaper of their stories and interesting stuff. As someone who has done this as a hyper-local project with a newspaper and been given the freedom to write anything without seeking permission or editorial review, here are the problems Seth just ain’t seeing.

People do not see themselves as interesting
Its true. Very few of us have a CV that they can tell as a refined story. Most of the time, people will not know what you are asking and will view your questions as intrusive. They will also be filtering themselves, based on what they think you want from them and how you will use that information. If you want a good interview from the average Joe, you’d better be one heck of a good story-teller yourself and put them at ease quickly or come up with a 10-question bulletin.

People will dodge you
Again, people do not see themselves as interesting, so their first inclination is to dodge you. What do you want? Why do you want to know? Or, I don’t have time for that. When you interview businesses in the area, you better not plan on getting anything from any of the employees or managers without it going through legal first.

Original content will dry up
Really, it’s true. The good stories will dry up after a few issues, as will the photos that you will need to illustrate the columns of words. And speaking of photos, don’t rely on your interviewees to send them in. If they do, they will be out of focus, pictures of their cats, posed photos and almost nothing illustrating the interview. You had better budget now to get in your car, go to their homes, takes your own photos and process them yourself.

Things will get busy
Business will pick up and all of a sudden the newspaper — not being a product of your core business — will become a thing that causes everyone stress. I know, it should be seen as a marketing tool, but because of all the things you will have to do to ferret out content, schedule interviews, take photos, etc., it will be dropped when business picks up.

People really don’t want to join in the hunt, they want to be fed. They want you to find the interesting news and bring it to them. Only a few will want to help create the content. The myth of “citizen journalism” is just that; a myth. For the few folks who live 24/7 online, they believe that most people create content and if given a chance, will tell their story. They don’t. That is why shows like CNN’s “It’s News to Me.” is a pathetic re-run of YouTube videos everyone has already seen. (Trust me, it will get cancelled soon.)

And just in case you are wondering why I can speak authoritativly on this matter, unlike Seth Godin, I have actually done what he proposes with the soccer community and the Dayton Daily News. You can see some of the stories here. From Aug 2006 through May 2008, we wrote stories of participants attending TourneyCentral soccer tournaments. This community is over 4 million strong, with just a little over 500,000 participants to our events. Emails would go out to coaches and parents of the upcoming events, asking for stories and photos.

On average, we would get one, maybe two interested people per event. Over half of the stories were requests for funds for someone on the team/club/community dying of cancer*. The others were a team photo with almost no copy. In order to get the stories, we had to hire a reporter to go out, talk with teams a full day on Saturday and take our own photos.

And, when we stopped running the stories, nobody noticed, complained or even bothered to ask. We lost a stream of news and the DDN lost about 600,000 ad impressions for their advertisers. Apparently the ad impressions weren’t valuable enough for the DDN to ump in and help out with the reporting.

So, Mr. Godin, I appreciate you are able to sling out ideas like this, but my post takes one of your ideas and puts it in the real world out here. If you want to prove me wrong, I have a job for you. It pays nothing except for the satisfaction of saying, “You were wrong and I was right!” if you can make it work.

* I don’t have anything against supporting people dying of cancer, but run 2-3 stories like this and suddenly your soccer articles that are supposed to highlight the people in the sport gets really depressing.

** I know that Seth Godin will appreciate my Al Franken reference.

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