Success has many fathers but failure is always an orphan.
And I would add to that old saw – failure is always something the experts predicted as they revel in their “I told you so” moments.
Such is the case on the dismantling of the Jim Brady project that was TBD.com. Oh TBD.com is still on the web and it still has staff. It just isn’t the brilliant experiment that Brady and his team initially built for Allbritton Communications.
And the idea that the company that green lit Politico.com dismantled TBD before it could walk and, by doing so, brand it a failure both baffles me and disturbs me.
The resulting coverage is as equally confusing and disturbing and, as one would expect with such a high profile journalism project, it has been voluminous. So, I will link here to just one such posting http://bit.ly/gV574w on the Poynter site by Rick Edmonds, described on the site as a “Media Business Analyst & Leader of News Transformation”.
Edmonds acknowledges “hindsight is 20/20″ but quickly adds “it is pretty easy to see a number of things that went wrong or were flawed from the get-go.” Really?
Edmonds then outlines the six business lessons to be learned from TBD’s “early demise”:
1. Branding Matters
2. Effective Ad Sales Are Paramount
3. Fill An Existing Need
4. Pedigree Does Not Equal Strategy
5. Building Out Big Is A Risk
6. Fail Fast
It is kind of hard to argue with Edmonds’ “lessons” since at their basic level they are business 101. He might have added to such stellar analysis that if you bring in more money than you spend your business will probably survive. That he links the failure to learn these lessons to Brady and the team and gives Allbritton Communications not only a pass but applauds them for trying TBD at all and “quitting when it was time to quit” is just plain bad analysis from Poynter’s “analyst”.
In my opinion, Allbritton Communications cannot be applauded for trying when quite simply they didn’t try. Allbritton did not back the TBD strategy of Brady and his team. They simply stated publicly the one they heard from Brady but clearly did not understand.
If they had backed the Brady strategy they would have worked it. That may have included downsizing or even removing Brady if they felt they had to as
they tried new and different tactics to fulfill the strategy. That’s any company’s prerogative.
What Allbritton did was “back” a high-profile strategy that got them lots of
positive press. It hit some bumps in the road and then they simply stopped because they never understood what they were “backing” and it was costing money. Perhaps more than they first thought. Well, welcome to the business jungle. That’s how it goes.
And now we have Poynter’s “analyst” calling it a failure and lauding the owner
for trying. That’s crap.
The inevitable negative fallout from the “told-you-so” analysts is that hyperlocal doesn’t work even for bold Allbritton Communications. Again, crap.
Worse crap is we now have the reputations of some of the best and brightest in the digital space effectively being maligned for being all talk and no walk – see Edmonds’ lesson No. 4: Pedigree Does Not Equal Strategy.
Allbritton Communications started something it didn’t understand. The economy and advertising market softened negatively effecting their bottom line. So they stopped TBD.
That’s like our Journal Register Company stopping Digital First because it is tough to do.
What does Allbritton think the future for its products is – keep doing more of the same? With the same results – long-term ad decline coupled with high legacy costs and ever-lower profits?
Allbritton Communications can do whatever it wants with its money – God Bless America – but it can’t pretend to have seriously tried the hyperlocal business space after a six-month experiment it derailed half-way in. And it can’t hide behind apologists like Edmonds.
Local journalism and the TBD team deserve better. So do the Americans who rely on their community news providers.