Book review: Blog – the Information Reformation

by Lee Hopkins on June 28, 2006 · 0 comments

in Uncategorized

[Cross posted from The Adelaide Bookshelf]

Hugh Hewitt's Blog book A true measure of a book’s value to me, I have discovered over the years, is the number of post-it notes it has sticking out of it by the time I’ve finished it.

Some books only have a few stickies, some none at all (and the books’ authors usually never get another chance with me). In the case of Hugh Hewitt‘s book ‘Blog: Understanding the Information Reformation that’s changing your world’ I thought it was a case of a book with far too few stickies in it to be of importance. I was wrong.

Although the book started with few stickies, now that I have finished it the book is festooned with little yellow flags.

Let me get what I don’t like about the book out of the way, so that I can concentrate on the many things I do like.

Firstly, Hugh hectors. He is a political commentator and chat show host in North America and he bashes his point home relentlessly. The point? That blogs are here to stay companies, individuals and especially CEOs (the target audience for this book) had better figure out a strategy for dealing with them.

Most assuredly, he does give example after example to support his argument. But the problem with the examples he uses are that they are probably only known about or relevant to North American bloggers. There is a very large world out here that doesn’t have a clue what Rathergate is about. Sure, he explains it, but the emotional punch is missing because we outside of the US don’t have an emotional attachment to Dan Rather.

About half of the book is taken up talking about North American politics and North American bloggers. For instance, I didn’t know that Glenn Reynolds of (the subject of a previous book review) is a highly regarded Law Professor at a major university and the most widely read blogger on the planet (at least as far as Hugh is concerned). Which again smacks of cultural snobbery — like I’d automatically know who Glenn was and so there’s no need to put any background info about him on his book jacket.

But such cultural snobbery (and strong whiff of imperialism) aside, Hugh’s book is absolutely chock-a-block with insight and ‘this is a great point’ moments (hence the plethora of stickies in the second half of the book).

Here’s just a few snippets:

  • The blogosphere was directly responsible for the downfall of Senator Trent Lott by highlighting a ‘throw-away’ comment and how it linked into his previous political record. Mainstream media (the ‘MSM’ such as traditional newspapers, radio, tv and other such outlets) couldn’t afford the in-depth background research that the amateur, unpaid blogosphere regularly conducts.
  • The newspaper the San Antonio Express discovered and ‘outed’ a serial plagiarist junior at the New York Times, Jayson Blair. But it was happened afterwards that defined the blogosphere as a fact-checking force, because as one pundit said, “who seriously believes that a blogger doing what Blair did could have survived more than a few months without being caught out?” It was the relentless discoveries and attention paid to the Times’ management, and in particular editor Howell Raines, by the ‘pyjamahadeen’ (a brilliant term coined by Jim Geraghy of KerrySpot for the bloggers who created massive and relentless blog storms around issues of truth in reporting) that led to Raines’ resignation and the serious besmirching of the Times’ reputation.
  • The blogosphere was directly responsible for the ‘outing’ of Senator John Kerry’s “Christmas in Cambodia” and other fabrications
  • The RatherGate Affair: Dan Rather, the host of 60 Minutes 2, ran a story asserting that now-President George ‘Dubya’ Bush had, in 1973, disobeyed direct orders, using as ‘proof’ of these allegations memos allegedly written by his then superior, Lt. Col. Jerry Killian. Within hours of the show airing serious concerns about the authenticity of the memos was airing across the blogosphere, including concerns about the font used, font kerning and the ‘slip’ that caused a ‘th’ to be superscripted, much as Word automatically does with dates. Word didn’t exist in 1973, nor was the machinery to create such superscripts in use other than with industrial printers and certainly not military Lt. Colonels and their typists. The amount of hard evidence collected in a few scant hours by the pyjamahadeen was beyond staggering.
  • Hewitt, himself a Christian, likens the Information Reformation of now with the Reformation brought on, largely, by Gutenberg’s gift of the printing press and the spread of the Bible from the ‘elite’ clergy to the masses. For the first time the masses were able to read God’s Word for themselves and make their own minds up on it, not have a power-broker (clergy) tell them what to make of it. With the spread of ideas that printing made available, the church’s grip on theological absolutes was gone forever. So too with today’s Information Reformation: now that publishing is so easy and free (there are plenty of sites you can create a blog for free), ANYONE can become an information producer and publisher. The power of the lone voice is no longer located only in the lone voice — one voice can influence millions. Witness the aforementioned Glenn Reynolds — his blog attracts over 500,000 visits a day. I doubt Australia sells that many newspapers across the whole continent. And the crucial currency of blogs — trust — is slipping away faster from a constrained mainstream media faster than you can say ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’.
  • Even though Technorati finds that, of around 46.2 million blogs, only around 55% are still ‘active’ three months later, that is now 25 million new publishers up against mainstream media — direct competition to MSM but curiously not themselves. Bloggers take great delight in not only telling and pointing out the truth (because they know that a lie is so easily found and publicised) but also in linking to each other, like a kind of virtuous circle. Oh, and according to Technorati, about 50,000 new posts are made each hour, 24 hours a day, around the world.
  • Hewitt asks the very relevant question: if the blogosphere were around in 1985 would CocaCola have made such a hash of it? Would they have p
    referred to pose important questions around New Coke to the relentlessly opinionated world of first-person open journalism?

After having presented us with a full platter of facts and figures on ‘why’ the blogosphere exists, Hewitt then brings the argument closer to home to his target audience: what CEOs can do themselves.

He outlines a three-point strategy:

  1. Prepare a chain of command — a blog storm will eventually hit your company; you just need to decide who has the authority to move quickly to address the storm when it hits
  2. Prepare a policy on employee blogs — you already have bloggers in your company, whether you are aware of it nor not. Attempts at banning employee blogs is futile; they’ll just do it behind your back. So you need to think through and articulate a clear policy on employee blogging, what is acceptable and what is not, guidelines on the use of company information, best practise examples and what the consequences are for clear breaching of the rules
  3. Prepare for transparency — the ‘biggie’ because most CEOs and senor managers are paranoid about telling the truth, and most employees want nothing less than the truth and know they are highly unlikely to ever receive it, even at their Annual Performance Review. The blogosphere thrives on truth and transparency; professional cynics can spot a lie or an obfuscation at a thousand paces. So when the swarm attacks you don’t lie, don’t insult them (because that will infuriate them more and you will deserve all you subsequently receive) and put you and your senior managers on record. Admit errors if errors have been made but if there is no error then repeatedly defend your position with patience, humility and a sense of humour. Respond quickly, clearly and transparently. Nothing stirs up trouble more than rumours borne of darkness.

Finally, Hewitt goes to some length to show the benefits of CEOs writing their own internal blogs — the engagement scores that can go up, the trust in the CEO and the company, the leadership shown by embracing this new and ‘won’t go away’ medium.

For example, how happy do you think employees would be to read the following in the CEOs blog one morning:

Before we get caught up in end-of-year inventory, I’d like to take a moment to thank James Jones, Sarah Smith, and Archie Young. Their manager, Joe Grounds, sent me an email that these three spent their weekend here, churning out the report we needed to provide the compliance manager at CalOSHA. Without that report, we’d have gotten some dings for lateness. Instead we are on time, our report is professional and complete, and we can report that we have had no injuries at the Jackson plant for the fourth year in a row. This stuff counts. You did a great job, James, Sarah, and Archie — and you too, Joe. I checked. I understand you were here with them. Thanks to you all.

What would the effect of that post be on the CEOs four thousand employees? Those mentioned would love the CEO for ever, other employees would notice that effort was noted, and managers would get the idea that their efforts are appreciated as well. Plus, the CEO would get a growing number of emails from managers and staff, allowing them to have a much greater ‘handle’ on their company and what is really happening within the company walls.

Hewitt sums up the blogosphere nicely on page 155:

The key to keep in mind is that trust drives everything. To build and maintain trust is a tremendously difficult thing, requiring patient attention to detail and discipline over long periods of time. Mistakes by bloggers will be forgiven, but not deception and certainly not stubborn attachment to falsehood.

Fantastic book. Amazon sells it (disclosure: I get 2% of the sale price), as does Bruce in Australia (who I recommend you purchase from if you are in the Southern Hemisphere; experience shows me he can get it here quicker than even Amazon). Email Bruce now and reserve your copy — I can guarantee you won’t regret the AUD$32.95 purchase.

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