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Voice And Point of View

By - April 18, 2008

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These are the two essential ingredients to any successful media property, to my mind. But I’m not alone, I’m really just parroting Clay Felker, my partner for a few brief years when I taught at Berkeley, and a legendary figure in the world of magazines.

So why do I bring them up? Because for once, I have something nice to say about Time Inc., in particular, its flagship magazine, Time. When I was in Europe, I read the cover story of Time that week, “The Clean Energy Myth.” The piece was a winner – a conceptual scoop, an important and timely topic, and – this was the really surprising part – a true argument, an attempt to make a point. It was so refreshing, and so different than the warmed over “on the one hand, on the other hand” pap I was used to from most newsmagazines. This article was great journalism, and it had a serious point of view. The last graf, for example:

Advocates are always careful to point out that biofuels are only part of the solution to global warming, that the world also needs more energy-efficient lightbulbs and homes and factories and lifestyles. And the world does need all those things. But the world is still going to be fighting an uphill battle until it realizes that right now, biofuels aren’t part of the solution at all. They’re part of the problem.

I figured it had to be an article for only Europe. But when I got back, I was thrilled to see it on the cover here as well. I have not checked, I’m hoping they didn’t water it down. But in any case, it struck me that Time was starting to realize what conversational media properties already knew inherently – you can’t survive on distribution alone. You need Voice and Point of View.

I noticed another thing about Time recently: The magazine now writes a leader opinion piece, often strongly worded, to kick off the entire magazine. I love this idea, we did it at The Standard. It says “This publication stands for something. We’re leaders, arbiters of analysis.” Bravo, Time.

(Of course, I think nearly every site represented by FM has Voice and Point of View in some way or another, but I’m biased. Or rather, that’s my point of view…)

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11 thoughts on “Voice And Point of View

  1. SorenG says:

    I like the article too, John (and I guess I should really be posting this on somewhere but i don’t know where) but I found it lacking. It made a good point against biofuels (with our current technology) but if we invested more into it, might be able to significantly increase the energy we get from them?

    I found it implying “be happy with gas — it’s cheaper.” Of course, it makes little sense to cut down rain forests to grow biofuels, but there are other problems with gas, of course, like the emissions, the wars, the supporting harsh regimes through oil purchases. I was looking for a direction, an “if not this, then what,” and I never got it.

    I am not content to forget biofuels and be happy with oil-driven transportation. I don’t think the author was saying this exactly, but he did seem to argue for oil under the current technologies available. It is easy to say why something does not work, harder to present another course of action. If not biofuels, then what? That is my conversational-media for today.

  2. the article was interesting with their main point being that we are destroying rainforests and savannahs which “eat” carbon to plant corn for biofuel for a net carbon gain. HOWEVER they fail to mention any OTHER alternative energy sources besides oil like wind, geothermal, solar, or tidal.

    while obviously you can’t hook your car directly up to a tidal or wind turbine, this renewable energy can be stored in batteries for electric type vehicles.

    not to mention the obvious political importance of not having to rely on the middle east to run our country.

  3. Randy White says:


    Ethanol and biodiesel are completely different, yet always lumped together as biofuels as if they are one in the same.

    Corn is not the answer, which is why we should focus on additional feedstocks such as sugar beets, kelp, mesquite, cat tails (65% starch) and many additional methods for creating alcohol fuel.

    Anything with sugar, yeast, and nutrients on a small scale using permaculture. Until you understand this, adding your support for unfounded proclamations makes you seem uninformed.

    You HAVE to read David Blume’s book “Alcohol Can Be A Gas”

    Thom Hartmann (Air America) says it’s one of the most important books for Americans to read.

  4. nmw says:

    You may be #1 for “John”, but is #1 for “time”

    😀 nmw

  5. Markus Koch says:

    The problem with Time taking a stand is the amount of people they can influence with their opinion. How many people you think will have the brains to process the information and go after different points of view? Media companies should focus on sharing information, not writing editorials.

  6. Rob says:

    Another interesting read covering biofuels is from the British “New Statesman” magazine:

    Personally, the growing relationship between the rising cost of food across the world, suffering and the western worlds push towards biofuels worries me.

  7. kabin says:

    How many people you think will have the brains to process the information and go after different points of view? Media companies should focus on sharing information, not writing editorials.

  8. vanderleun says:

    Well, since you ask twice, I’ll answer once.

    First the assumption that most people won’t have “the brains to process the information” fails in two points.

    1) People who actually resort to and read extended information — on a page or on a screen — already form a self-selected group that is apt to contain a very high proportion of people of influence or who can influence others.

    2) People pf “brains” do not as a rule just “process the information.” They think about it and about the point of view and feed it back into the system.

    “Sharing information” is for kindergarten kids. Adults add information and pass it on or take action based upon it.

    Point of view is important so that, over time, people can judge what to refer to on a continuing basis and what to defer on a continuing basis. It goes to filtering and you could say that filtering towards an already held point of view or filtering out opposing points of view is “wrong,” but time is finite and attention even more finite.

    You can’t compete on raw feed alone, you have to have POV.

    I hope my voice is not too harsh here, but my POV is that I don’t care.

  9. Marl Balou says:

    John – good post. Would you peg “The Economist” as one of the publications that has a strong voice & POV? I can’t think of any other magazine that even comes close to what the Economist provides…

  10. I can’t think of any other magazine that even comes close to what the Economist provides…

  11. John Battelle says:

    Yes, I would Mari. And they have the results to prove it.