- On June 17, 2015
A revolt took place at The New Republic last month. A new editor came in and out marched a troop of veteran editors and staff members.
In the first of many articles about the strife, The New York Times cited something the magazine’s new chief executive said in a memo to the staff: I want to reimagine the publication as a vertically integrated digital media company.
I was riveted by the account of the newsroom drama until that line broke the spell.
“Oh man,” I moaned, “what is that supposed to mean?” I have a vague idea about vertical integration (okay, I had to look it up: ownership of different parts of the production process), but not a clue what it means to be a vertically integrated digital media company.
Turns out I wasn’t alone in my confusion. There at the bottom of the article was this gem from one of the departed editors. “We don’t know what their vision is. It is Silicon Valley mumbo jumbo buzzwords that don’t mean anything.”
In subsequent coverage, Michael Kinsley, a onetime editor of the magazine, advised against making hasty opinions about the publication’s plans, but asked, “Have they said anything about what they’re going to do except in these vague and cliché-ridden terms?”
I asked a couple of my readers, who include folks in the media business, what they thought the new chief meant.
“I’ve decided we need to put all of our eggs in one basket online,” one wrote, “and control every step of the process, from how we collect information to how we deliver it.”
I’ll buy that.
Another speculated he might be thinking about building a business that produces and publishes content and lets other businesses publish the content, too.
I’ll buy that too.
But another reader, one of the smartest people I know, said, “I have no idea; I couldn’t even tell you if The New York Times is vertically integrated.”
So the moral of the story, which you’ve already surmised, is to steer clear of buzz-laden technical terms, especially if you don’t plan on explaining them.
You could risk losing your readers—and maybe even your employees.