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Academics threaten Observer boycott: the letters in full

August 21st, 2009 | 1 Comment | Posted by in Job losses, Jobs, Newspapers

As reported on the main site, a number of high profile figures in business and academia have already, or are threatening to, cancel their subscriptions to the Observer, after the paper – the threatened closure of which has been widely reported – cut the weekly column by management expert Simon Caulkin. Below:

(1) Original letter to editors of the Guardian and Observer protesting the decision from over 60 signatories, never published.

(2) Follow-up letter from a key figure in the campaign, Philip Whiteley on behalf of over 80 signatories, questioning the lack of response, never published.

(3) Email reply from Observer editor, John Mullholland.

Hat-tip: Private Eye Issue 1243, August 21 – September 3, page 7, for a story that alerted us to the protest.

Letters in full:

(1) Original letter to editors of the Guardian and Observer

15 June 2009

The Editor
The Observer

Dear Sir

We are astonished and appalled by your decision to drop the Simon Caulkin column just at the point when the ideas he has covered over the years have become more relevant than ever.

We are living through one of the biggest crises of governance in history. September 2008 saw not just the end of Lehman Brothers but the end of 30 years’ dominance of neo-liberalism as the guiding ideology in running major private and public sector institutions. The notion that ‘maximising shareholder value’ can be considered in isolation from society was exposed as a pretence – bad for business as well as for society. The mechanistic strictures of the dominant management orthodoxy, with its dehumanising notion of people as a ‘resource’, its target culture and its opaque lexicon of competences, outputs and so on, have wrought terrible damage in social care, the NHS and education, as well as in the private sector.

Over the past 16 years, one journalist alone has been consistent in exposing the shallowness and limitations of these approaches. Simon Caulkin has set out a coherent alternative, rather than merely channelling protest. The unifying theme of the thinkers that he has championed – W Edwards Deming, Jeffrey Pfeffer, John Seddon, Gary Hamel and others – has been that organisations and economies are best managed by understanding the inter-dependence of different stakeholders.

Your decision, therefore, is ill-judged and ill-timed. A wiser choice would be to elevate Simon’s column to the main section of the paper. There is huge potential in the ideas he has promoted to assist ideological renewal of political parties, as well as to help governance generally.

We hope that you will see this as not just a letter of protest, but as sincere advice to recommend urgently that you reconsider your decision, and retain a vital element of your paper that could continue make a major contribution to policy debate.

Yours sincerely

Ricardo Semler, entrepreneur and author
Andrew Campbell, Director, Ashridge Business School
Philip Whiteley, chair Human Capital Forum
Dennis Tourish, Professor of Leadership and Management, Aberdeen Business School, Robert Gordon University
Susan White, Professor of Social Work, Department of Applied Social Science, Lancaster University
Petra Wilton, Director of Policy and Research, Chartered Management Institute
Joe Lamb, Emeritus Professor St Andrews University
Professor Jonathan Michie, President, Kellogg College, University of Oxford
Susan Scott-Parker OBE, chief executive of the Employers’ Forum on Disability
Professor Chris Brady, Dean, BPP Business School
H. Thomas Johnson, Professor of Business Administration Portland State University, USA
Mark Goyder, Director Tomorrow’s Company
Alistair Mant, Chairman, Socio-technical Strategy Group, Adjunct Professor, Swinburne University of Technology (Melbourne)
Ismail Erturk, Senior Lecturer in Banking, The University of Manchester
Su Maddock, Director Whitehall Innovation Hub
Dave Wastell, Professor of Information Systems, Nottingham University Business School
Gary Kirwan, Senior Employment Relations Adviser, Royal College of Nursing
Howard Clark, The Systems Thinking Review
Jim Standen, Director, Lignum Quality Services
Professor Bob Galliers, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, Bentley University, Massachusetts, USA
Nigel Nicholson, Professor of Organisational Behaviour, University of London
Clive Bone, Chairman, Institute of Value Management
GD Cox
Keith Reader
Professor Anthony Hopwood, Said Business School
Alison Widdup, Managing Director, Better for Everyone
Fred John, Estates Officer, NHS.
Roy Madron, political scientist, UK/Brazil
Dr Richard Howells, Director, Centre for Cultural, Media and Creative Industries Research School of Arts and Humanities King’s College London
Margaret McCartney (Dr) GP and writer
Max Mckeown, Strategist and Leadership Innovation Expert
Sally Garratt, Director Garratt Learning Systems
Bob Garratt, Visiting Professor Cass Business School, London
Andrew Sturdy, Professor of Organisational Behaviour and Associate Dean, Warwick Business School, University of Warwick
Dr Martin Parker Professor of Culture and Organization, Director of Research and Deputy Head of School Editor-in-Chief of ‘Organization’ University of Leicester School of Management Leicester
Dr Gordon Pearson, Keele University
Jan Gillett, Chairman PMI
Dr. Mihaela Kelemen, Professor of Management Studies
Ian Christie, Associate, Green Alliance, Visiting professor, Centre for Environmental Strategy, University of Surrey
John Carlisle, Visiting Professor Sheffield Hallam University, Founder, Cooperation Works Ltd and the Intlizyo AIDS Trust, South Africa
Morice Mendoza, editor and writer
Dr Olivier Sykes, Department of Civic Design, University of Liverpool
Ron Glatter, Emeritus Professor of Educational Administration and Management, The Open University
Bob Bischhof, Chairman – Vitalize Health Products, Non Executive Director – Henderson Eurotrust Plc, Member of Board – German British Chamber of Industry and Commerce
Dr Paul Hodgkin, Chief Executive, Patient Opinion
Alastair Mitchell-Baker, Director Tricordant Ltd
Adam Hogg, Managing Director, (Retired) Conquest Inns
Simon Hollington, Director, Leading Edge Personal Development Ltd
Dr Philip McGovern, Programme Leader – Technology Management Programmes ITT
Neela Bettridge, Founding Partner, Article 13
John Orsmond, Chairman Data Vantage Group
Peter Medway
Paul H Ray, sociologist, USA
Tim Pidsley, director Tricordant, New Zealand
Dr Timothy Wadsworth, NHS
Dr Bruce Tofield, University of East Anglia
Warwick Mansell, freelance journalist and author Education by Numbers: the Tyranny of Testing
Professor Tom Keenoy, The University of Leicester School of Management
Bill Cooke, Professor of Management and Society, Lancaster University Management School
Dr Leslie Budd AcSS MCIT MCILT, Reader in Social Enterprise, Open University
Ken Starkey, Professor of Management and Organisational Learning, Nottingham University Business School

(2) Follow-up letter from a key figure in the campaign, Philip Whiteley, on behalf of 80 signatories

29 June 09

Dear Mr Rusbridger, Mr Mulholland

We write to register a double protest over the unjustified decision to drop the Simon Caulkin column, and your refusal to acknowledge the wave of anger that this decision has provoked.

Some 60 distinguished figures, including some of the most influential people in the world of business and management education, jointly signed a letter condemning your decision. You did not publish this, nor even give any of us the courtesy of an acknowledgment. In addition to this jointly signed correspondence, we know that over 200 people have individually registered their protest. The only letter to appear was mildly expressed. In short, you have seriously misled your readers over both the nature and extent of the protest, and of the support that Simon commands.

The Guardian/Observer has a strong tradition of respecting and upholding the principle of freedom of speech and dissent, so we find it shocking to be denied a space for an entirely legitimate argument, made by some of your (previously) most loyal and long-standing subscribers.

Doubtless you have made this move on business grounds; but you appear to have made no calculation of the business consequences of this decision. The supporters of this campaign are not just any readers, but long-standing subscribers who have passed on the habit of reading the Guardian/Observer to friends, colleagues, children and (given the number of professors and authors co-signing) to students and readers also, but who are now reconsidering their loyalty.

Questions of governance and management do not constitute a side issue to those of economics and politics: quite the reverse. It is the culture of management that has led to chronic waste in the public sector and the banking crisis in the private sector. Simon Caulkin possesses a deep understanding of the underlying causal factors of these crises.

Since we began this campaign, the extent of the protest has grown, as can be seen by the extended list of signatories to this letter.

If there is a necessity to drop pages, we urge you to move Simon’s weekly contribution to the main section of the paper.

Yours

Philip Whiteley
On behalf of over 80 signatories (see list below)

Cc
Will Hutton
Polly Toynbee
Dan Roberts
Liz Forgan

Signed by:
Ricardo Semler, entrepreneur and author
Andrew Campbell, Director, Ashridge Business School
Philip Whiteley, chair Human Capital Forum
Dennis Tourish, Professor of Leadership and Management, Aberdeen Business School, Robert Gordon University
Susan White, Professor of Social Work, Department of Applied Social Science, Lancaster University
Su Maddock, Director Whitehall Innovation Hub
Petra Wilton, Director of Policy and Research, Chartered Management Institute
Joe Lamb, Emeritus Professor St Andrews University
Professor Jonathan Michie, President, Kellogg College, University of Oxford
Susan Scott-Parker OBE, chief executive of the Employers’ Forum on Disability
Professor Chris Brady, Dean, BPP Business School
H. Thomas Johnson, Professor of Business Administration Portland State University, USA
Professor Christopher Grey, Head of Industrial Relations and Organizational Behaviour Group, Warwick Business School
Mark Goyder, Director Tomorrow’s Company
Alistair Mant, Chairman, Socio-technical Strategy Group, Adjunct Professor, Swinburne University of Technology (Melbourne)
Hilary Wainwright, Co-editor Red Pepper magazine, Fellow Centre for Participation Studies, Bradford University
Ismail Erturk, Senior Lecturer in Banking, The University of Manchester
Charlie Hedges, Chartered Geologist
Dave Wastell, Professor of Information Systems, Nottingham University Business School
Professor Martin Parker, University of Leicester
Gary Kirwan, Senior Employment Relations Adviser, Royal College of Nursing
Howard Clark, The Systems Thinking Review
Jim Standen, Director, Lignum Quality Services
Professor Bob Galliers, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, Bentley University, Massachusetts, USA
David Davies, Director Didero Ltd
Nigel Nicholson, Professor of Organisational Behaviour, University of London
Clive Bone, Chairman, Institute of Value Management
GD Cox
Professor Anthony Hopwood, Said Business School
Alison Widdup, Managing Director, Better for Everyone
Fred John, Estates Officer, NHS.
Roy Madron, political scientist, UK/Brazil
Dr Richard Howells, Director, Centre for Cultural, Media and Creative Industries Research School of Arts and Humanities King’s College London
Max Mckeown, Strategist and Leadership Innovation Expert
Sally Garratt, Director Garratt Learning Systems
Bob Garratt, Visiting Professor Cass Business School, London
Andrew Sturdy, Professor of Organisational Behaviour and Associate Dean, Warwick Business School, University of Warwick
Dr Martin Parker Professor of Culture and Organization, Director of Research and Deputy Head of School Editor-in-Chief of ‘Organization’ University of Leicester School of Management Leicester
Dr Gordon Pearson, Keele University
Jan Gillett, Chairman PMI
Dr. Mihaela Kelemen, Professor of Management Studies
Ian Christie, Associate, Green Alliance, Visiting professor, Centre for Environmental Strategy, University of Surrey
John Carlisle, Visiting Professor Sheffield Hallam University, Founder, Cooperation Works Ltd and the Intlizyo AIDS Trust, South Africa
Morice Mendoza, editor and writer
Dr Olivier Sykes, Department of Civic Design, University of Liverpool
Ron Glatter, Emeritus Professor of Educational Administration and Management, The Open University
Bob Bischhof, Chairman – Vitalize Health Products, Non Executive Director – Henderson Eurotrust Plc, Member of Board – German British Chamber of Industry and Commerce
Dr Paul Hodgkin, Chief Executive, Patient Opinion
Alastair Mitchell-Baker, Director Tricordant Ltd
Adam Hogg, Managing Director, (Retired) Conquest Inns
Simon Hollington, Director, Leading Edge Personal Development Ltd
Dr Philip McGovern, Programme Leader, Technology Management Programmes, Institute of Technology, Tallaght, Dublin, Republic of Ireland
Neela Bettridge, Founding Partner, Article 13
John Orsmond, Chairman Data Vantage Group
Peter Medway
Paul H Ray, sociologist, USA
Tim Pidsley, director Tricordant, New Zealand
Dr Timothy Wadsworth, NHS
Dr Bruce Tofield, University of East Anglia
Professor Tom Keenoy, The University of Leicester School of Management
Bill Cooke, Professor of Management and Society, Lancaster University Management School
Dr Leslie Budd AcSS MCIT MCILT, Reader in Social Enterprise, Open University
Ken Starkey, Professor of Management and Organisational Learning, Nottingham University Business School
Kieran Doyle, General Manager Production at Sulzer Pumps UK Ltd
Dr Luke Mitcheson, Consultant Clinical Psychologist
Paul Buxton, Policy Officer, Crawley Borough Council
Roger Evans
Martin Meteyard (former Chair, Cafedirect plc)
Christopher Bird Owner, IT U Consulting Group
Laurence Barrett Associate Management Consultant
Paul Hodgkin Chief Executive at Patient Opinion
Bob Birtwell Tutor at University of Surrey
Andrew Campbell Director at Ashridge
Kathy Sheehy Williams Programme Manager at WEA
Rob Worth
Natascha Wolf, self-employed writer
Paul Summers, Corporate Programme Manager, Portsmouth City Council
David Kauders, Partner, Kauders Portfolio Management
Dave Kerr, Business Improvement Manager, Atkins
Paul Barratt, PMBprod
Kate Gott, PhD Student, Brunel Business School
Kevin Cryan, Analyst at DHL
Donal Carroll Associate at Open University Business School & Director at Critical Difference
Tim Casserley, Discovery Alliance & Edge Equilibrium & Author
Emma Langman, Head of Business Improvement at E Squared Thinking Ltd and Visiting Fellow in Systems at University of Bristol

(3) Reply from Observer editor, John Mullholland (by email)

1 July 2009 [by email]

Dear Phil Whiteley

Thank you for your letter and I must apologise for the delay in responding.

Simon Caulkin is a tremendous writer and his column has added enormously to our understanding of British business and management. For these reasons, the decision to lose the column was not taken lightly. It followed much discussion and only after exploring many different options did we reluctantly conclude that we had to take this course of action.

As you will doubtlessly appreciate, this was just one of a host of difficult decisions we have had to make in order to reduce costs across the newspapers at Guardian News and Media.

Newspapers and media groups are experiencing the most difficult trading conditions imaginable. Not only are we suffering, like everyone else, from the catastrophic fallout from the credit crunch in terms of severely reduced advertising revenues but, additionally, our industry is under structural assault from digital media which is causing enormous disruption to our business models.

In these circumstances, we are having to make extremely difficult decisions many of which have caused real anguish as we seek to cut costs. I do hope that Simon can continue to have a relationship with the paper and that we can continue to publish his writing from time to time. Should the economic climate change, then perhaps we can revisit the issue.

Thank you for taking the trouble to write and I completely understand your sense of loss but hope you can appreciate the dilemmas we are facing.

Yours sincerely
John Mulholland
Editor
The Observer

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Jon Bernstein: What if the business model for news ain’t broke?

July 8th, 2009 | 16 Comments | Posted by in Comment, Online Journalism

In what may feel like a twist of logic too far, there are a growing number of non-media companies who are adopting the Fourth Estate’s digital business model.

That’s the ad-funded, free-to-the-consumer model.

You know the one.

It’s at the root of the crisis afflicting the newspaper industry around the world, an industry which is trying desperately to make money online. Or at least not haemorrhage it.

To believe the unholy trinity that is News International, Daily Mail and General Trust, and the Guardian Media Group, the media model is unworkable, unsustainable and it’s got to go.

The three are not sure if it should be replaced by paywalls, micropayments, subscriptions or something else entirely.

But what they are agreed on is that it cannot be business as usual. Because that business is going under.

So why do we find the likes of Facebook, Digg and the mighty Google – and perhaps soon Amazon- adopting the ad-funded model to support services and software.

Take Gmail. It’s not a media entity, it’s email, but it is ad-supported.

One answer is that that advertising is the last, desperate (and largely) failing attempt to generate some money, given nobody wants to pay for their products. In short: free reigns.

On that latter point, Wired’s editor-in-chief Chris Anderson is likely to agree.

His new book ‘Free: The Future of a Radical Price’ – appropriately available to read and listen to online without charge – celebrates ‘freeconomics’, but has a much more positive take on its effect on the business world.

The reason, he says, people are convinced that ad-funded won’t work is because they are applying the conventional rules.

Offline – in newspapers, magazines, billboards, TV and radio – advertising is predicated on scarcity not abundance. Ad sales people trade on ‘space’ and the less there is the higher the yield.

So when there is infinite space online, their greatest selling tool disappears.

Right? Wrong.

Anderson argues that there is another kind of advertising which is epitomised by Google’s text ads:

“Google doesn’t sell space. It sells users’ intentions – what they’ve declared to be interested in, in the form of a search query.

“And that’s a scarce resource. The number of people typing in ‘Berkeley dry cleaner’ on any given day is finite.”

Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt – admittedly a man with a vested interest – estimates that the potential market for online advertising is $800bn.

“That’s twice the total advertising market, online and off, today,” notes Anderson.

So why is his tone at such odds with that of the media he is writing about?

Perhaps it has something to do with the production-cycle of book publishing. This book was in train before he had even finished writing the much-admired The Long Tail.

Clearly much of his thinking predates the collapse of Lehman Brothers which sealed our current economic fate.

His penultimate chapter, presumably added very late in the day and titled ‘Coda: Free in a Time of Economic Crisis’, is an acknowlegement of that, although not a denunciation of his core argument.

Just maybe, it’s the down-in-the-mouth media owners who are out of time, not Anderson.

Maybe this rush to find other ways to monetise will be a passing phase and when the economy picks up so too will online advertising revenues.

After all, what’s the alternative?

Pay walls may work for niche information but not for mainstream news and exclusives. That’s something that even the Wall Street Journal, poster child of the paid model, accepts.

Interviewed earlier this year its executive editor Alan Murray said:

“Look, if it’s a big news story, if we report a takeover and – we could hold that behind the pay wall. But if we do, BusinessWeek or someone else will simply write a story saying ‘The Wall Street Journal is reporting x’ and they’ll get all the traffic. Why would we do that?

“So if it’s that kind of a big, broad-interest news story, we’ll put it outside the pay wall and go ahead and take the traffic ourselves, thank you very much.”

Jon Bernstein is former multimedia editor of Channel 4 News. This is part of a series of regular columns for Journalism.co.uk. You can read his personal blog at this link.

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BBC enjoys bumper web traffic as banks’ fortunes slide

September 17th, 2008 | 1 Comment | Posted by in Online Journalism, Traffic

It might be doom and gloom for Lehman Brothers staff, but at least someone’s gaining from it… Business news sites are reporting excellent traffic over the last few days – not least of all, the Beeb.

According to an article from yesterday’s Ariel, the BBC’s in-house magazine, the bbc.co.uk story from Monday ‘Lehman Bros files for bankruptcy’ was the site’s ‘most popular story’ in its 10-year history with more than 1.7 million page views.

From Ariel:

Boom time for business online as Lehmans goes bust: records fall while Wall Street trembles

Monday saw records tumble at the BBC news website’s business section.
As financial crisis circled the globe, culminating in the closure of Lehman Brothers, the BBC’s business pages enjoyed a record reach with 2.35 million individual readers logging on, double the usual amount.

And it also set a new record for most-read story: ‘Lehman Bros files for bankruptcy’ had more than 1.7m page views, making it the most popular story in the site’s 10-year history.

All told, the section attracted 9.25m page views in a single day.
Tim Weber, the business section’s editor, praised coverage of Lehman Brothers’ demise, which he said was ‘fast, comprehensive and authoritative’.

And he told ariel online: ‘Business and economics stories have always been more popular than most people suspect, but since the start of the credit crunch a year ago our daily reach has soared by about 50%.

‘However, Monday’s meltdown of investment bank Lehman has taken things to a new level.
‘It’s the most fascinating time in my live as a business journalist, but it’s also great to see that our audiences really appreciate our output.

‘Right now, at 1530 UK time on Tuesday, we’ve already reached more than 1.45 million people – it’s bound to be another bumper day.’

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‘Making light of a bad situation’ – CNN report gets pranked by kissing couple

September 16th, 2008 | No Comments | Posted by in Broadcasting

A CNN report from outside collapsed investment bank Lehman Brothers was on the receiving end of a prank from the Howard Stern show yesterday.

In an unlikely segue, the channel’s anchor said the two men kissing in the background of the live report were ‘obviously trying to make light of a bad situation, pretending to “console each other” out there’.

According to the New York Observer, the pair ‘making out’ were in fact Stern Show employees Richard Christy and Sal Governale.

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