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The Tick-Tock: When Big Names Leave, Who Wins?

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This story dropped a few days ago but it seemed like a good choice to share on a lazy Sunday and the topic is something that’s been kicking around in the old sub-conscious for a while. Jim Romenseko has long been the go-to media critic at Poynter.org where he spent twelve years poking at – and changing – the online/print media landscape. On November 10 Poynter essentially forced him out by accusing him of misattribution weeks before retirement and he recently wrote about how the whole thing went down, in typical online style. The He-Said-She-Said, it seems, has been replaced by the He-Emailed-She-Emailed.

First, why is this important? As odd as this sounds, the rules are still changing in the world of blogging. When I started at Gizmodo in 2005, the job consisted of summarizing 28+ stories a day with plenty of links to the source. Hence the formulation at the end of most posts, “JoesBlog via JoesMomsBlog via TheJoeAggregator,” ad absurdum. It wasn’t pretty, but it worked. That has changed but essentially you want to link to your source.

So for anyone to accuse Romenesko of misattribution is probably sour grapes or, more likely, simply an effort to criticize the critic in order to improve this “journalistic process” called blogging. Romenesko knows how to do this stuff but, that said, he’s out at Poynter and now he’s blogging at JimRomenesko.com. He notes that move was pretty hard to make:

My discussions with Julie continued after our July 6 email exchange. I knew she was frustrated, trying hard to figure out exactly what I wanted and how she could keep me at Poynter, which sold ad space and attracted traffic (although declining) with my name. Meanwhile, I was asking myself: Do I really want to give up a job that paid six figures, let me work in coffee houses around the country, and put $100 on my Starbucks card every month?

The answer, I decided, was yes.

With the misattribution story, however, he feared his reputation would be sunk as he left. The latter is true and if the site is any guide, he’s still got a loyal following. All’s well, as they say, that ends well. If I hadn’t have brought it up you probably wouldn’t have known about the whole ordeal. In the grand scheme of things, it’s unimportant.

Other big departures – Dan Frommer from BusinessInsider, Harry McCracken from PC World, and the recent departures from this perch high over the battle-scarred fields of Silicon Valley – point to a lesson that media folks and entrepreneurs can both take to heart: it’s so easy to make something new and, with enough effort, a little audience, and some intelligence, there can always be a second act.

Sure TC and BI and PCWorld and Engadget have been reduced by the loss of their big names but bold moves in one industry are often seen as earth-shattering and life-changing while, on the aggregate, nothing has changed. Arrington still posts great stuff, Romenesko will still do what he did, and BI and Poynter (and TC) will muddle along, somehow, producing content much as it had in the past.

So to answer my headline question, I don’t think it’s a question of winning or losing. It’s a question of change. Is the organization strong enough to survive a big name departure? Will the loss of the lead programmer to an Ashram in West Virginia really change that much at an organization? Will the move of Top-Notch CEO #1 to Hot Start-Up #2 effect Top-Notch CEO #2 at Hot Start-Up #1? With the right people in place around him or her, the organization is self-healing. If it doesn’t heal, there are larger structural problems at play than whether Jim is blogging at a different URL.

[Image: PHOTOBUAY/Shutterstock]