Selling Out.

An editor is not supposed to interject their own voice or agenda into their publication; ostensibly, similar to stage managers or offensive linemen or HR generalists, our job is to stay hidden in the background; like the above professions, the only time anyone takes notice of our work is when we screw up.

An editor finds writers, coaches and coaxes content from them, counsels them past missed deadlines and blocked nights and frantic calls and frenetic PR or product people.

The writer, you see, is king, the byline everything. It’s their writing, after all; the editor has merely done the job of red lining it, ensuring it meets standards and getting the damned thing up in time.

The editor runs the editorial calendar and takes the heat from his publishers and public at the same time; it is generally the former, and not the latter, that tends to skew most content and editorial platforms.

The fact is that the editor works for the publisher, and therefore, much reporting, especially the B2B bullshit that passes as “journalism” in the wonderful world of social media and marketing automation, is designed explicitly with the editor’s patron in mind.

If they have an agenda, or a political view, or a beef (business or personal) with anyone even tangentially related to the editorial focus of their publishing business (and the money men almost always do), then that often overt angle is inevitably represented in the content (or, just as often, the lack thereof) that so many people rely on to shape their personal and professional lives.

Hell, William Randolph Hearst started a war to sell newspapers, just like SHRM Press became the exclusive provider of certification materials for their new proprietary credential. Rupert Murdoch turned a local Aussie tabloid into a global media conglomerate capable of right wing regime change, and LinkedIn’s acquisition of Pulse transformed a “professional network” into a repository of crappy content capable of crass, conspicuous capitalism. The only difference between Page 6 girls and official LinkedIn “Influencers” (get it?) is that the topless models tend to be much less overt in pimping themselves out to the highest bidder.

Keeping The Final Cut.

burger-king-600wI am lucky in that, as an editor, my publisher agreed, as a condition of my employment, to give me what’s called “full editorial control,” which is to say, he agrees to fund the operation and set up a Chinese wall between the marketing services and the content sides of the business.

This means, as is obvious, he does not review any of the content prior to its publication, and I get to write about whatever the hell I want to write about while publishing whatever the hell it is I want to publish. This is a very rare, very awesome situation.

This also leaves the door open for me to make like Hearst meets Murdoch meets Reid Hoffman as the editor of what’s become kind of like a journal of record for the recruiting industry. We do really impressive traffic numbers, considering our weird little industry niche; when we publish something, people actually pay attention.

This was never more apparent than a couple weeks back, when a publically traded company worth billions of dollars was forced to issue a press release and official statement denying a post that one of my writers had sourced and I’d fact checked, edited and published. I can’t think of a bigger thrill, frankly, than having the head of PR for the world’s largest staffing firm demand a retraction and public apology, intonating a lawsuit, then having to issue said release because, well, I’ve got to protect my ass and hence, have to have proof before I publish that kind of stuff. But I’ll never make the claim that I’m an actual journalist.

I am, however, a terrible editor. I frequently interject my own voice, and my own agenda, into pretty much everything we post on a platform I’m happy to say is otherwise completely vendor agnostic and entirely objective. While none of our content is explicitly designed to sell product, the fact is that I owe everyone an apology for being something of a perpetrator (or perhaps, a pawn), in what is quickly evolving into an epidemic that should make you sick, too – that is if you’re the rare recruiter that’s got any sense in you.

An Apologia.

tumblr_nvi8vo10Ik1t1ova9o9_400See, I publish a lot of posts by people like CEOs of shitty startups or recruiting leaders from crappy companies or “thought leaders” who might not have a thought in their head, but at least can be counted on for a nice jump in traffic.

Come to think of it, these “influencers” are the intellectual version of the aforementioned Page 6 girls – “full of sound and glory, and signifying nothing,” as my man Tennyson wrote.

But like the Light Brigade, I’m pretty sure what I’m forced to do, even as I maintain one of the most inherently objective publishing platforms in our industry, may be leading us to our inevitable ruin.

Content, you see, is our collective Crimea.

What I mean by this is simple. While I recognize this is biting the hand that feeds me, I have to believe that my editorial policy, which is to provide equal access for anything with anything interesting to say – vendors included – has given me an indicative window into the fact that the advice that so many of you take as gospel is written by college interns, junior marketing managers and PR account reps with absolutely no experience, and even less insight, into what the hell recruiting or HR pros actually need. I know. I publish far too much of it.

And it’s starting to make me sick.

If You Can’t Write Anything Nice, Don’t Say Anything At All.

tumblr_inline_n52wjzrZFG1sbrjwgI’m often asked how I get to do what I do, and I will admit it, I lead something of a charmed existence, even if it does require implicitly buying into these stupid, specious notions of “thought leadership” and “influence” that I’d much prefer to shit on.

But I’m lucky enough to get to do some cool stuff, and meet some cool people, and actually have enough visibility to kind of help steer the conversation the littlest bit, even if nothing actually changes. The ‘aha’ moment is enough. It has to be enough.

Frustrating as it is, I’ve made a choice not to actually affect any tangible change, since I’ve given up recruiting for merely writing about it long enough ago for me to really lose any claim on being in touch with what’s really going on at a ground level. Instead, I have to live vicariously through the hundreds of practitioners I’m lucky enough to meet, and I’ve listened to hundreds all around the world tell me their frustrations with the present and their hopes for the future of recruiting – and tried, somehow, to impart this career-related collective’s collective will into my unapologetically biased posts.

I have this weird thing that when I write something with my name on it, you know, I have to have actually written it. The very idea of contracting out content – the only thing I really own is my (un)intellectual property – much less take credit for someone else’s work, their thoughts or their writing as my own strikes me as unquestionable. But it seems I’m fairly alone in this sentiment.

The fact is, there are only a handful of us who actually write our own stuff. Most of the most visible and heavily trafficked professional platforms and publishers in our industry are nothing but a bunch of talking heads with paid ghostwriters and publicists who work with editors like me to get their clients “placements,” often at the expense of the audience who largely trusts us to keep them informed and up to date about the stuff that’s supposed to matter in our industry. And those of us who do write our own stuff, well, almost all of us have had to fall out of the frontline to keep the content mill cranking online.

So you shouldn’t listen to people like me, either, although I do maintain that I’m mostly right (and have the track record to prove it, too). Because I’m just kind of guessing, or trying to fill content holes. Just like the PR reps who byline the posts you read on most reputable sites, which are, in fact, nothing but big special advertising sections.

Back to my advice about how to do what I’m doing. Although I’m not sure why anyone would want my existence, frankly, I admit that it looks on the outside at least like a far better job than filling reqs (and actually is, most days). The answer is simple: write.

Happily Ever After.

kfcThat’s all you have to do. Write. It doesn’t matter if you’re any good or have anything to say. No one else does.

But if you’re a practitioner, and you’ve got a voice, then it’s really up to you to save the industry from people like me.

Because we’re certainly not doing you any favors, but damned if I can find any contributors, even when you reach out to me to ask how to blow up your social media, online, brand or content marketing presence online.

I always offer – several times a day, at least – my platform to people who want it, under the condition they write something interesting, unbiased and that’s relevant to real recruiters (although hell if I know on the last one, frankly). No real recruiters really ever take me up on this offer, because writing is hard, tweeting is easy, and y’all have a real job to do.

The people who do take me up on that are the CEOs of interesting startups, or the economists working on surveys that some vendor is sponsoring, who promptly pass me off to some marketing flunkie or external PR person for a “guest post” that they obviously wrote, and badly, too.

I spend hours trying to make them serviceable, for what purpose, I don’t know, except maybe the fact there’s enough of this content out there without another completely asinine addition to the canon of crap. And the sense that by publishing these posts, I still have to do a service to my readers, even if most of them are loathe to actually step up and write anything.

My point is, if you’re not happy with the state of recruiting, well, it’s being shaped by assholes with absolutely no idea what the hell they’re talking about, which is a shame, because the people who do generally tend to stay away from any actual conversation (save maybe a few closed Facebook groups). They’d rather defer to the marketers.

Which is why, of course, recruiting and marketing are suddenly the same thing. It’s easier this way when you’re the marketing guy responsible for covering recruiting related topics, you know. And yes, I know this post is too long, and probably doesn’t have much of a point.

But then again, I’m officially an editor, not a writer. Which, by now, should be pretty damned obvious.

8 Comments on “Selling Out.”

  1. As always, Matt, I am totally incapable of finishing your blog, worthy as I know it is. But let me correct your statement at the top, which I imagine is based on never having worked for a print magazine.

    All the great ones have always reflected the editor’s POV in the stories assigned; how they are edited; how the stories are played on the cover.

    The major exception was “The New Yorker” in the really old days, which took a bottom-up approach and the famous editor William Shawn trusted his writers so completely — who were then the highest paid in the magazine world — that he just waited for their ideas and stories to bubble up. And then chose among them.

    Still based on his sense and sensibility and POV. Bet you do the same thing having “final cut.”

  2. I never really quite understood why people are making the argument that marketing and recruiting are the same. Sure, there’s some modicum of overlap but seriously, I’ve never understood the argument, and it’s always seemed to me that the people propounding this paradigm shift (cuz I bet you love that phrase as much as I do) are marketers anyway.

    What in-the-trenches recruiter has the time for *that*?

  3. Well. Damn it all to hell. I’ll send my articles to you. I have lots of them that get turned away; fall on deaf ears, through the cracks – never see the light of day. Lots of them.

    Yep, that’s what I’ll do.

    If I can remember my damn WordPress password.

  4. You see Matt, the recruitment industry is beset by problems, the current marketing fad is just the current iteration. What we continually fail to addresses, as an industry, is actually talking about, understanding, articulating or apparently giving a damn about solving problems.

    Much of our industry’s issues arise from the very Startups, Talking Heads and Thought leaders you mention and the credence we give the latest idea, trend, fad, tool, paradigm shift, whatever you want to call it. Can we call a spade a spade and agree that it’s just the fact we have an industry steered by clowns, charlatans and idiots who have created their own very complex set of problems and set up another set of clowns, idiots and charlatans to make money by solving problems that really have no right to exist (just to qualify, I’m one of the clown/idiot/charlatans I mentioned).

    Jaded HR Directors should stop chasing qualifications and box ticking, Employer Brand people should follow Bill Hick’s advice for anyone who works in marketing, marketing should probably shut up and go back to their day job before they get found out. Recruiters should stop looking for a ‘solution’ and go and do the job they were paid to (rather than implementing new solutions and managing vendor lists longer than the King James bible and more expensive than Kanye West’s vanity bills). 3rd party recruiters, staffing agencies and sourcers should remember they are middle men who are really lucky to have a job and if people woke up and realized that if they just kicked their staff hard enough companies wouldn’t have to pay anyone else. Software companies should also thank their lucky stars that we are in an industry so vain and stupid they will buy literally any old crap if it takes the attention away from the fact recruiters / TA / whatever have not been doing their jobs very well for years, they should also remember they’re in the business of being middle men much like the aforementioned staffing companies.

    But nobody wants to hear any of this, we just want to listen to thought leaders and bitch and moan about how ‘broken’ recruitment is and moon over the new tech that we can’t afford, can’t build and can’t actually get to work when we have it. We’d much rather go to awards, sit in conferences extolling the virtues of new things, listening to thought leaders and hitting the bar really hard afterward because, after all that’s what we’re really here for and who the hell else would have us?

    • The only thing that pains me is that this is an anonymous comment, which I think goes to show that the people with real thoughts aren’t “thought leaders,” but the peeps who are building companies instead of “personal brands.” Appreciate the insights.

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