Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Kumbaya Print and Online

I guess they must like me, because I got invited to a Bild party last night. Oh my! Bild girls, corporate execs, and the hundreds of grunts who churn out information for both print and online. Print folks got a button that said "Kiss me, I'm Print" and online "Kiss Me, I'm Online".

Let the healing begin. Apparently, this was the first attempt to socialize print and online departments. As Stefan, who just started working in the video section 6 weeks ago said, "This would have been unthinkable a year ago."

So what's changed? Things have settled down after the big office move; the ship is gliding into the waters of digital nirvana which are not as choppy as many thought; and oh yeah, the bosses say if you don't like it, you can go somewhere else.

But here is one trend I have noticed, well, a couple, I took away from last night. One is hopeful that it could mean a change in the content of the trashy, splashy, unabashedly provocative and political Bild; the other fears a backlash. So here is trend numero uno:

The Bild has hired a bunch of young people who have either worked at small web designer companies or alternative online products. I talked to Thomas quite a bit last night - terribly interested in how the web is being used to distribute information. Clearly a guy with an eye towards the public interest. Needs to pay his rent - so he applied for a job at Bild Digital. He wants to go to Paris to shoot in the fall, is skeptical however that Bild will get him accredited and all that. He says he'll do it anyway - and this is the thing that makes me hopeful - the change going on with the website makes it possible. It gives people like Thomas, a guy with ideas and vision and a conscience, the opportunity to pursue his passion. And as long people are clicking away on, I don't think the execs really care.

The young folks are quite critical of Bild - surprisingly open about it, too. But on the flip side of them you have what I fear may be the backlash: the ex-public broadcasting folks wooed to Springer, I guess with better pay, because I don't think the working conditions are that great with the constant pressure. These guys are very cynical about public broadcasting, the politics of the fee structure used to support it (Stefan told me last night it was a "hidden tax") and the cozy relations between politicians and public broadcasting. You have a group of former public broadcasters who are pretty pissed, and could check the youthful idealism of the younger webbies (the ex-public broadcasters are late 30's, early 40's.)

What to make of all of this? I suppose it's the reason for the party. How do you get these people to work together? I haven't mentioned the old, crusty print guys either - Elmar was quite poetic when I talked to him. An inspiration.

Management understands for this integration to work, to "harmonize" (that's the official corporate speak in the memos), everyone has to get along. I'm rather amazed that things run as smoothly as they do. Sure, there are some kinks (see below), but they got the money to figure it out and apparently the power. Everyone tells me it all comes from Diekmann (Kai Diekmann is some high up executive. Imagine a Sulzberger, or a Graham, or a Murdoch.)

I suspect more parties are coming. And perhaps a button that reads "I bat for both teams."

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