Fear Of Change Is Real In The Publishing World

Jezebel recently published an article written by Devon Maloney that detailed her decision to quit what was her ‘dream job’ – pop music editor at the Los Angeles Times – after a terrible four month experience. There are many takeaways from Maloney’s chronicle of the challenges she faced at the LA Times, along with disturbingly believable accounts of the sexism entrenched in certain areas of journalism. What I identified with most strongly, however, was her difficulty in successfully transitioning the publication from ‘business as usual’ to her own preferred management style and vision.

Several years ago I was offered the opportunity to come in and expand a relatively dormant arm of a publication that had enjoyed success in several other areas, but had left this aspect of its enterprise largely on cruise control. Although not a ‘dream job’ in the same sense as what was described in the Jezebel piece, I was intrigued, and buoyed by promises that the organization wanted to fully exploit the potential of its property, I signed on.

Initially, it appeared as though the company planned to make good on investing new energy in the project. However, as time went on, I began to encounter several of the same problems listed by Maloney. These included a reluctance to provide the resources necessary to further fuel the growth that the publication was enjoying past its first year spurt, meetings and phone calls that promised editorial independence from the existing assignment system, but which never followed through, and a distinct lack of understanding from upper management as to the differences between the publication’s existing market and the one that the revived letterhead was attempting to tap into.

Inertia is a very real thing in the business world, and the combined weight of existing systems and established practices can wear a rut so deep into the minds of employees and managers that it becomes difficult to see what lies beyond the trench currently being occupied. It requires strong buy-in from those at the very top of the ladder to be able to guide an organization along a different path than it is used to, particularly since, as Maloney notes, change can come across as ‘destabilizing’ rather than innovative for those with a deep investment in the status quo.

I didn’t have that support, and after several years of attempting to change the course of the publication by dipping a single oar in the water, I am no longer in the same position dealing with the same frustrations. What I do have is hard-earned knowledge from the experience of seeing how an organization can work against something it honestly thought it wanted, due to a lack of genuine, across-the-board management interest, and leadership unwilling to deviate from a course that had worked so well for an different aspect of the business. I’d also like to believe I now have the right questions to ask at the beginning of any similar project, so that I can avoid being dazzled once again by energy, promise, and potential that aren’t paired with foresight, commitment, and strategic planning.

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