Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Layoffs and shortcomings

The layoffs are coming so frequently in B2B media these days that the announcements have become little more than background noise. It's getting harder to remember who has lost their jobs, which publications have folded, what companies have had their debt downgraded, etc.

But sometimes a piece of the bad news catches my attention and I feel obliged to say something.

So it is today as I hear that Crain is laying off 150 of its staffers.
I'm terribly sorry to hear this. I offer my sympathy to the folks who have lost their jobs. I've been laid off in the past. And it's a painful experience.
But there's also a part of me that is somewhat less than sympathetic.
Here's why:
Way, way back in the days before the Web, Crain was my idea of just how good a B2B publisher could be. I was a fan of the company and many of its brands. I thought of Crain as a guide to what all of us in B2B were supposed to do.
But since the arrival of the Web, Crain has become a company I tend to use as an example of what not to do.
And it was nearly two and a half years ago, as I wrote a piece criticizing the company, that I decided Crain would never "get" the Web.

I have no doubt that the folks who have made bad decisions at Crain in recent years will survive the layoffs. That, as unfair as it may be, seems to be the way the world works. Many of the newly jobless are likely innocent of any sin against journalism or the Web. A quick read of the comments in that post I linked to above shows that at least one journalist at the company was struggling even then with the limits placed upon her. And I assure you, I've met several other Crain journalists who have voiced similar thoughts.

I would like to think that things can change at Crain. I'd like to think that somehow the difficulties of the economy and the shock of the layoffs will prompt the survivors to take more risks and practice a more serious form of Web-based journalism. There are reasons to be hopeful -- the Web sites at Crain have in fact improved -- albeit slightly -- since November of 2006.
But tonight I don't see the one thing that would convince me the company is still serious about journalism.
That's because as I write this piece tonight, I can't find a story about the Crain layoffs at either of the Crain sites dedicated to covering this industry: Media Business and B2B Magazine.

UPDATE (3/19) As a comment to this post points out, Crain did eventually publish an article about the layoffs. It appeared on Wednesday. March 18, at 1:25 in the afternoon EDT -- nearly 24 hours after the layoffs were announced.

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  1. Crain announced layoffs at 4 pm on Tuesday. BtoB covered the layoff on Wednesday. You can see this on the BtoB site and it was in the BtoB Daily alert newsletter as well.

  2. Anonymous,
    Yes...that's true. A day after I published the post, Crain's brands did cover the news.
    But therein lies the problem.
    The layoffs were announced on Tuesday before the close of business.
    BtoB publishes something the following day at 1:25 p.m. EDT.
    That's nearly 24 hours after the announcement and nearly a full day after a competitor broke the story and a blogger starting talking about it!

  3. It's a great response, Paul.

    Another interesting observation about this story is that PaidContent posted it at 3:19pm on Tuesday...even before the apparent 4pm official announcement.

    B2B publishers are going to struggle until they fully understand the information needs of an online audience.

  4. Paul, your blog post is right on the money, and believe me, employees left at Crain who read it agree with your view. We have editors at Crain who believe posting news immediately on the Web is equal to scooping the print issues because then our competitors can read those headlines. These same editors don't see the value of blogs or social media. They either don't understand it or don't have time to implement these features. And they're the same people who got to decide who to cut.

  5. Crain missed the web because its leadership lacks vision. The late Gertrude Crain nurtured editors, publishers and executives who thought outside the box. Her son, Keith, who now chairs the company, prefers yes men and women. Until fairly recently, he defiantly pledged allegiance to paper and ink while clinging to publications focused on smokestack industries such as Detroit's Big 3. It takes vision to navigate change and sadly Crain Communications has been blind for years. It's future is well behind it.

  6. Your post came up when I searched for info on layoffs at Crain's, so I thought I would share this tidbit.

    Today I opened my Crain’s Small Business Newsletter dated Dec. 4, 2009, and saw a story about AdRide, a company an old friend of mine was involved with. When I congratulated him on the great press, he was confused at first and then realized that it was an article from last year! He said that AdRide, a bike-based mobile advertising concept, is barely alive--their last job was around Memorial Day, and he has moved on.

    Really strange that Crain's would 1) rerun an old story in a newsletter 2) not fact check as to the company's current status. Which means that they either 1) don't have enough staff to write stories or 2) don't have enough staff to fact-check.

    So it looks like Crain's is still not quite on top of things.

  7. Anonymous,
    Thanks for the info.
    I don't have access to the newsletter in question. And when I search the Crain's site, I don't find any reference to AdRide. So I can't confirm your findings.
    With that said, given that your friend has left AdRide, perhaps it's possible that a new press release -- perhaps from new management -- was sent to Crain's.
    Then again, it's entirely possible that someone mistakenly ran a press release from last year. I've seen that happen before at several places. The error is usually caused when someone does a search for keywords and then doesn't notice that the press release or story found is quite old.
    It's a silly error. And one that's easily prevented. But it does happen.