Social Media and Corporate Trust
- Boyd Neil, Peter R. Aceto, Suzanne Fallender, Tom Watson
- Media Type:
- Item Type:
- Introduction of panellists by Boyd Neil who continues to speak. The decline in trust in companies over the past few years. Social tools such as YouTube, Flickr, Facebook, Twitter and blogging as catalysts for impugning corporate behaviour. Some examples. How these tools can be used by organizations and companies to build trust. Testing some hypotheses about social media and trust. Posing a few axiomatic beliefs of the speaker’s own about social media. Where his point of view comes from. Facing a sea-change in the universe of idea generation, news gathering and information sharing. Three things that social media changed that can be both obstacles to and facilitators of creating trust. The concept of personal expression and friends first. The principle of group formation. Facing vastly different news dynamic. What these three observations might mean for strategies meant to sustain, defend or build trust in corporations. Four ideas for discussion. Three questions prepared for the panellists to address. Peter Aceto begins by commenting on his decision as CEO of ING Direct to participate on Twitter as himself and to have his personality on display. Suzanne Fallender’s response to the possibility of a day when the blog in fact becomes the sole forum for managing CSR reporting. The final question is posed to Tom Watson about whether journalism today is surrendering its role as the watchdog of political and business behaviour to a much broader cadre of watchers, which sometimes includes members of the public who are simply in the right place at the right time. Several questions followed.
- Date of Original:
- May 7 2009
- Language of Item:
- Copyright Statement:
Empire Club of Canada
Agency street/mail address
Fairmont Royal York Hotel
100 Front Street West, Floor H
Toronto, ON, M5J 1E3
- Full Text
May 7, 2009
A joint meeting of The Empire Club of Canada and The Canadian Club of Toronto
Senior Vice-President, Corporate Communications, Hill & Knowlton Canada
Peter R. Aceto
President and CEO, ING Direct Canada
Manager, Corporate Responsibility, Intel Corporation
Senior Writer, Canadian Business
Social Media and Corporate Trust
Chairman: Jo-Ann McArthur, President, The Empire Club of Canada
Head Table Guests
Doug Cooper: Country Manager, Intel Canada
Reverend Bill Middleton: Minister, Armour Heights Presbyterian Church
Dahron Martin: Grade 12 Student, W. L. MacKenzie Collegiate Institute
William G. Whittaker: Partner, Lette Whittaker, LLP, and Past President, The Empire Club of Canada
Brendan Hodgson: Vice-President, Digital Communications, Hill & Knowlton Canada.
Introduction by Jo-Ann McArthur
Social media is something everyone is talking about, but few understand. More people are connected in more ways than ever before. And that can be a scary thing. The rule of thumb used to be that if someone had a bad experience with your company they told another 10 people. Well now you can tell thousands with a keystroke or by posting a video of those Domino guys making your pizza on YouTube.
Companies are being watched like they never have before—from how they treat workers in a branch plant in a foreign country to how they dispose of their garbage.
To guide us through these heady and scary times we have a goldstar panel and moderator.
At Hill & Knowlton, Boyd Neil uses his more than 25 years of experience in the public and private sectors as a communication strategist to provide senior level counsel to a variety of clients. He is especially skilled in reputation management around complex and sensitive public issues, corporate social responsibility (CSR) and crisis communications.
Please join me in welcoming Boyd and his panel to our podium.
Thank you. I’ll do the introductions of the panelists and then I will take the prerogative that I have as moderator to spend about 35 minutes to an hour talking about my point of view on social media and then if we have time we’ll ask the panelists to say something. Only kidding.
To my far left is Peter Aceto. Peter is President and CEO of ING Direct Canada. You can also find him on Twitter at CEO_INGDIRECT. His career with ING Direct began in Canada more than a decade ago as a founding member of its senior leadership team. Peter most recently was a member of the ING Direct U.S.A. executive committee and responsible for sales, marketing and corporate communications. He is also formerly the chief risk officer, chief of staff and a chief lending officer as well at ING Direct. Peter has degrees in law and psychology from the University of Western Ontario.
Next to Peter is Suzanne Fallender who is Manager of Corporate Responsibility for Intel Corporation in the U.S. She is from Phoenix. She refuses to answer questions about whether or not the Phoenix Coyotes are going to transfer here. She doesn’t want them to. She wants them to stay. That’s because she is from the East and I’m sure that means she is a hockey fan. Suzanne has more than 12 years of professional experience in the field of social responsibility and corporate governance. She works with groups across the company including environmental health and safety, supply chain, human resources, legal, government affairs and community relations to track and report on performance and identify opportunities for continued improvement. Suzanne regularly engages with Intel’s external stakeholders including socially responsible investors through Intel’s social media channels, such as Intel’s corporate responsibility blog, which is blogs.intel.com/csr. She also works internally to use social media to improve ongoing communication of Intel’s corporate responsibility activities with employees.
And finally Tom Watson. Tom Watson is a senior writer with Canadian Business. He is also an editorial board member of Canadian Business. He said at the lunch table he’d rather be sailing today actually. He is also a sailor. He’s covered business, finance, politics, and technology for various news outlets throughout the world in his career. He has just been nominated for two national magazine awards including a feature on the Facebook group that successfully used the Internet and faced down Bay Street over the ABCP fiasco. He received his first magazine award nomination for exposing a stock manipulation plot aimed at Waterloo Ontario-based Open Text in 2000 when he was head of investor relations for an international venture capital outfit in the City of London. He holds graduate degrees in journalism, international relations and politics and undergraduate degrees in history and politics. He blogs at Double Take on the Canadian Business blog and is on Twitter at NotSocrates.
So there’s your panel.
It’s self-evident I think that trust in companies has declined significantly over the past few years although if you want to argue the point I can direct you to quite a number of studies that say so including H&K’s own corporate reputation surveys that make the case. It has also become manifest that what can be called social tools—YouTube, Flickr, Facebook, Twitter and blogging among others—have been catalysts for impugning corporate behaviour. Just ask Domino’s Pizza or McNeil Consumer Healthcare, TASER International, Continental Airlines or Dalhousie University.
What is less obvious, I think, is how these tools can be used by organizations and companies to build trust. There are a number of hypotheses about social media and trust, which I hope we can test in our short panel discussion. By doing so, I think we will get a better understanding of what those of us who manage reputation both inside and outside organizations have to do differently.
I’d like to get things going by posing a few axiomatic beliefs of my own about social media. My point of view comes from four or five years of blogging, engaging in social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, providing counsel to clients on transforming crisis reputation and issue management strategies through the analysis and application of new social tools, teaching new direction in communications for two Canadian universities and discussion online and in person with people much smarter than me, some of whom are here today.
Let me start by arguing that companies and organizations today are facing what can only be called a sea-change in the universe of idea generation, news gathering and information sharing, whose only precedent may be the impact that the creation of the printing press had on industrial society after the fifteenth century. I can think of at least three things that social media changed that can be both obstacles to and facilitators of creating trust and make many of our past reputation management approaches obsolete.
First the concept of personal expression and friends first. In his recent book, which I recommend to everybody, “Here Comes Everybody” by New York University professor Clay Shirky, he says, “We’re living through the largest increase in human expressive capability in history.” The midwife of this expression is the ability of anyone to poster-publish anything anytime anywhere and have an audience for this expression. Now the audience may be small and may only be an audience of friends, but you can never be sure that it will stay small or that it may not persuade a much larger network of people or dispose them to act. It is important to recognize that this is not about the technology, the social tools, that makes interaction possible, but about the anatomy of the interaction, the new anatomy of the interaction. It is an interaction that is consistent with our oral tradition of politics and story telling. Think about comparable images like seventeenth-century coffee houses. I think social media are now the places to assemble, to exchange ideas and, if desired, to organize action and dissent.
Senior people, senior executives and communications professionals find it difficult to get their minds around this change, because their strategies now require people more than communication products. The expectation now is for personal relationship and responsiveness, not just facts and information.
Second is the principle of group formation. Clay Shirky also goes on to say, “By making it easier for groups to self-assemble and for individuals to contribute to group effort without requiring formal management (and its attendant overhead) (social media) tools have radically altered the old limits on the size, sophistication, and scope of unsupervised effort.” In other words, we now have what my colleague, Brendan Hodgson, who is sitting over here calls empowered detractors and supporters—individuals and small groups who can challenge a point of view, force transparency, expose malfeasance and also become allies and friends.
What empowers them is the ease with which they can be assembled in small but potent networks using social media. And because of the low barriers to participation and action, power increasingly resides in the hands of the committed and the concerned. The Motrin Mom’s campaign is one recent example in which an angry individual used social tools like YouTube, Flickr and Twitter to defeat an advertising campaign.
The third belief I have is that we are facing a vastly different news dynamic, because news can come from anywhere and increasingly frequently comes to the public consciousness not through the traditional news infrastructure but through social networks. Listening, vigilance and conversation are more important now than they have ever been. At the same time, although circulations of newspapers are declining, publications are disappearing, our appetite for news keeps growing. That means that companies that want to affect the way they are seen will have to be prepared to provide a steady flow of information and news supported by crystal-clear conversation and dialogue rather than waiting only for what in the past they have judged worthy of being released.
So what do these three observations mean for the strategies meant to sustain, defend, or build trust in corporations?
I’ve got at least four ideas and I hope we discuss them in the course of the session today.
First, communication strategies or reputation strategies that depended on the publication of information must now be scrapped in favour of strategies that find and/or build communities of interest and small networks of advocates, champions and apostles.
Second, strategies meant to influence government or specific social behaviours or even encouraging buy-in behaviour must now recognize that the new backbone of influence is the small but highly connected networks of ordinary people. Media impressions, the historic but oh so inadequate measure of the success of communication programs, by counting how many people likely had access to a certain media piece just don’t tell us much anymore.
And finally, generic brand-building strategies should now be supplemented, maybe even replaced, by programs that start from people, that engage networks and that reveal personality, because, as a Deloitte consultant once wrote, “It is harder to distrust a person than it is to distrust a corporation.”
So now let’s see what our panel has to say about all of this. I have three questions that I have asked each one of them to prepare an answer to and then once they have answered those three questions I hope that we will begin some dialogue with questions from the floor. I believe there is a microphone available for you to use to ask your questions so that it will be recorded for the taping. So I’d like to start with a question for Peter Aceto if I might.
Peter, as you may know, is on Twitter. I know that he runs five kilometres sometimes and he bikes 20 kilometres sometimes, but he has other purposes too to Twitter. You made the decision as CEO of ING Direct to participate on Twitter as yourself and to have your personality on display as it were. Since it doesn’t appear they have a specific marketing purpose, you are not selling ING Direct and I follow your tweets everyday, I assume that you feel that this very personal involvement in social media helps build trust and confidence in ING Direct. Could you comment.
Thank you very much Boyd. Let me begin by saying thank you for allowing me to be a part of this very prestigious panel and it is a great honour to meet Tom and Suzanne. The subject matter is very interesting and I’m happy to offer my thoughts on it.
Yes, I am a regular participant on Twitter. I tweet probably about four to eight times a day and anyone who follows me will know that I tweeted my notes to everybody about exactly what I was going to say today to give a couple of you a little heads up on what I was going to refer to. I’m also involved as the CEO of our organization on Facebook and will be entering the foray of blogging next week and could probably use some guidance from my fellow panelists.
On the subject matter at hand, trust is very fundamental. I think it’s fundamental for any business and I think that’s particularly true in the context of a financial-services business for obvious reasons and particularly a business like ours where we don’t really spend a lot of time face to face with our customers. We talk with our customers over the phone and over the Internet, so trust is a very important issue for us. In particular, if you work for an organization like I do, that has a set of values—values about openness, about honesty, about transparency, about no surprises, and giving great value to your customers—if your business is built on a foundation of a culture of innovation, of trust, of improvement and getting better, then social media is a fantastic place for a business or an individual representing a business to be to reinforce those values and reinforce those cultures. As Boyd mentioned, customers and prospective customers are beginning to demand that every day and if you can do that in an effective way you can really, really build trust.
There is a whole bunch of things about me and I’d say even more about ING Direct, the organization I work for, that our customers understand. Prospective customers if they understood them better would have a much higher level of trust in us. I think that has huge impacts and huge benefits. Customers who trust you and believe in what you do are more apt to refer friends and family and colleagues to do business with you. In fact, almost a third of our customers come to us through referrals from other customers and that’s a metric we watch very carefully. That gives us a good idea about whether we are living up to the promises to our customers. If customers have a high level of trust in your organization they will give you more of their financial world, which is obviously something that we are interested in as well.
For us, I think, social media really opens the door for our customer and for us. It is a door through which customers can look inside your organization and if your organization believes in the values and the transparency of things that I’ve alluded to and Boyd has alluded to, the level of trust will be increased by opening that door to customers.
I think the other thing, maybe most importantly, is it also gives you an avenue through which to listen to your customers. If you care about self-improvement and if you care about giving your customers the service that they want, opening this door via social media really is a powerful tool. Because customers and prospective customers are willing to tell you what they think if you’re willing to listen and you have an organization that can listen and implement changes, social media is the place to be.
If you or your business is willing to be authentic, if you are willing to tell the truth, if you’re willing to be real and you can deliver on that promise every day, then that will serve you well in all relationships. That will build trust and will serve you in all relationships. I was going to make a joke on Boyd and suggest that he go home and try some of these things at home with his wife but I found out that he has been married 35 years so he must believe in many of these qualities in his personal life. I think it is very, very true in a business context as well and that’s why I in the persona as the CEO of ING Direct have chosen to share and be so active in the social media world.
Thank you. Save your questions because we will go through the other two and get their perspective on social media and then we will have an opportunity for anyone to ask questions. So the next question I’d like to pose is to Suzanne. It appears that corporate responsibility reporting in particular is moving from a once-a-year glossy four-colour print publication model to a model that is based on ongoing engagement with communities and other stakeholders. Intel has a very lively blog, the CSR blog, and so I’d like to ask Suzanne if she could see a day when the blog in fact becomes the sole forum for managing CSR reporting. In other words we will get rid of those expensive four-colour glossy publications that people tend not to read and instead have an ongoing live interaction with stakeholders in which you’re reporting on objectives and successes in a regular way.
Thanks Boyd and thanks for having me here today. Asking me this today is not entirely fair since I’m a little bit biased. I’m editing our report that is going to be published in two weeks and I’m rather sick of looking at it and think I’ll just blog and get rid of it altogether.
I don’t think you will get away from the annual report any time soon. It’s a decision between reporting and reporting and communications together. From a report standpoint I wouldn’t really want companies to stop doing their financial statements either, but I don’t sit down and read and compare annual reports or securities filing front to back. There’s value in having an annual accounting of your strategy, of your performance, so you can compare your performance back through time. There’s also the possibility of comparison with other companies. I think as corporate responsibility has moved into the mainstream and as more investors and other stakeholder groups recognize that companies really should be managing their environmental impact, their social impacts along with their economic impact, this needs to be treated as you would treat financial information.
That said, will social media become more a part of what we do in terms of our communications and CSR? Absolutely. We have never treated it as a once-a-year publication. We have actually done a lot of engagement but we have done it through channels and face-to-face meetings. We do annual roadtrips to meet with social investors and other stakeholders. We have an e-mail account and people send hundreds of e-mails that actually go right to my BlackBerry. We respond and people are actually surprised that they get personalized responses to e-mails from all around the world.
We launched the blog and got into social media in 2007 in parallel with Intel really embracing social media in the whole company. We started in 2003 with some grassroots bloggers. I think they had servers under their desks. They got this following, our CEO decided to launch an employee blog in 2004, and then he started blogging.
Over that time there’s been a lot of groundswell in activity so we had to then ask, “How do we harness this to really tell our story to our customers and stakeholders in a variety of ways?” In 2008 we started to provide some resources and tools for our employees. It is one thing to say that we want all of our employees out there being ambassadors for the company, but it is another thing to send them out into the wild west and say, “Great, go at it.” So we put together a Social Media Centre for Excellence. We put together social media guidelines and created a very detailed digital IQ training course that provided everything for people who wanted to blog and warned of the things they should worry about for their own privacy concerns—the topics they needed to be careful about when they were blogging from a legal standpoint.
It was in line with what we are trying to do in corporate responsibility which is to integrate longer-term more into the social media phase and to say to our employees we trust you enough to go out and blog about your level of expertise and topics you care about on behalf of Intel. They were shown how to use social media internally to connect with each other and to share ideas better. Knowing what is being said about your company, hearing the things that are uncomfortable to hear, and knowing about them before they get to a crisis level is something that my group has always managed through the Internet and through regular print media. But using social media and monitoring it and creating ways for people to contact you is only going to help build that trust. It is ultimately about relationships. The person whom you are trying to reach may want to meet you face to face or they may be more comfortable in social media and want to be your friend on Facebook or LinkedIn or whatever they are going to join you on. I think you have to figure out what communication vehicle is going to be the more effective way to reach them.
That’s great. I’ve got lots of questions that follow on that. Finally a question for Tom Watson. In all the discussion about the impact of social media on the declining financial health of print and broadcast media, the most interesting question from my perspective, and I know Tom feels quite strongly about this, is whether journalism today is surrendering its role as the watchdog of political and business behaviour to a much broader cadre of watchers, which sometimes includes members of the public who are simply in the right place at the right time. Is this true?
No. What’s threatened in traditional media is the cost structure of newspapers and magazines. If you look at traditional media outlets like Ford and Chrysler, you can pretty much determine that people will be buying cars down the road, that people are going to be reading journalists down the road. How you build the cars or how you publish the journalism is what’s at question.
Currently we compete with social media for eyeballs and advertising dollars and I think that’s what threatens the revenue models of traditional media. But what we don’t necessarily compete with is the gentleman who won the Webby recently for a thousand awesome things including wearing warm underwear. I don’t feel threatened by that guy. The stories that I’m lucky enough to have the privilege of publishing in Canadian Business that I was nominated for were both almost year-long investigations that required libel lawyers, libel insurance, some tact, some lack of tact, the ability to realize that if CEOs are on Twitter you could track them down and go around people like Boyd.
Social media just empowers journalists even further. I am enabled to do a thousand interviews by a blanket shotgun e-mail to a company’s customers if there is a whiff of a scandal or a complaint. I can join a chat group. I think Boyd mentioned that I wrote about the Facebook group that pushed Bay Street to listen to them when they were doing the restructuring for the asset-backed commercial paper fiasco, a multi-billion dollar deal. It was a very small group of people and they couldn’t get anywhere. No one was listening to them. Even when they joined Facebook nobody listened to them. What happened was one newspaper that didn’t listen to the group before they joined Facebook decided that their social media story was cool. They did a story about this group using Facebook. They then got traditional media involved and so the two worked hand in hand. This group rose up, basically took over and got paid back in full while the Magnas of the world and the other companies hold paper that maybe is worth what Chrysler stock is worth if it was traded.
I don’t think we are giving up anything. I think that in a crude sense you can say that any drunken fool can scream like a town crier, but the town crier has a position of authority and I think you are always going to need people who are trained to filter. I don’t know what form that will come in. If all the newspapers in the world shut down what would you pay for a Globe and Mail during an election year? Probably a lot more than you would pay today. So we are not trying to do anything. We are empowered. We might have to look for different forms of revenue. There might be higher subscriptions but I think journalists are more powerful today than they’ve ever been.
Great. Thank you very much. There were strong opinions from everyone. I have lots of questions but since I took 10 minutes to express my point of view at the beginning I’d rather open it up to the floor. Are there any questions? Does anyone have a question that they would like to ask one of the panelists to get the discussion going? Or does anyone disagree with the panelists? I know there are people who disagree in the audience.
How do you get to meetings and do other things you have to do and still find time for tweeting on Facebook?
That’s a good question. We should tweet more when we’re busy because the tweets would be much more interesting, but practically I wasn’t able to walk that talk. The reason why I tweet is because I like sharing my views about things I’m experiencing and learning during the day when I interact mostly with the people I work with. I will tweet sometimes on the weekend when I have quite a revelation or my kids do something pretty fantastic as they do all the time. It is really natural. It doesn’t really take a lot of time and most of the things I tend to tweet about for the most part is what I witness in our business every day. We have a lot of fantastic employees. There are lessons I’m learning every day from working with them. Things that went well, things that didn’t go well and I like sharing them. In 140 characters it doesn’t actually take too long although the challenge is to get an idea and an expression to be clear and concise. So it depends on the day. It is something that I naturally enjoy doing.
At the same time I decided to go on Twitter some of my colleagues chose to do so as well. I naturally took to it. I felt very comfortable and I had this innate desire to share things with others. I really enjoyed the feedback I was getting. Other people just don’t have a natural inclination to do that and they choose not to do it or choose another tool or another medium. I find time for it because I get value out of it. Other people get value out of it. Sometimes it takes me five minutes, six minutes a day. Sometimes I will spend half an hour or 45 minutes either reading or participating in a conversation. I think it’s a useful use of time so that’s why I invest a little in it.
I have a follow-on question to that. Is that a message that you think is worthwhile for other CEOs to hear? There is a lot of resistance to CEOs in particular blogging. There is a lot of resistance I suspect from legal counsel to CEOs blogging or being on Twitter. What might you say to them that would encourage them to perhaps not listen so closely to the lawyers and Peter was a lawyer so he can speak from experience from that perspective?
I like to disclose that I was a lawyer at the end so people might still be interested in what I have to say. A couple of things. One is you have to really look at your business before you decide to open the front door to let people in and I am honoured to work for a business that can open the front door and the back door and the side doors and share what it is that we do. You have to have those values. You have to be willing to be open and honest and you may discover things that you didn’t know and be willing to do something about it. If you can’t live up to that commitment then you probably shouldn’t be there. In the business I’m in I suspect that my fellow CEOs probably won’t be rushing to this place. I’m okay with that, but I also think it’s a missed opportunity for many businesses. As you pointed out, customers are beginning to demand a look inside and if you aren’t there your customers, your employees, your former employees, are there and they’re talking about you. So if people are talking about your business, if they are talking about your business at the dining room table, you’d rather be there than not.
I have another question for Suzanne. You also, I understand, contribute to another platform for community conversation which is Justmeans.com, that I believe is described as an opportunity for individuals to engage with companies about their social and environmental impacts. In other words you’re blogging in a space where people are coming and raising their individual concerns about corporate behaviour. Why did Intel allow you to do that or why did you choose to do that?
I think it falls under that broader encouragement of going out where those conversations are in your subject matter. I was looking at the different platforms that were there and found where people were coming to look for information about corporate responsibility. I found it was pretty easy to sign up and was an extension of the blog, so I just started to be present. I think what’s important is that there are different communities popping up and being able to find where they are and not just waiting for people to come to you is a great communication challenge. We don’t have to wait until the CSR report comes out. We can talk about different things that are going on. We can talk about some of the challenges we face in a two-way conversation. We find a lot of people aren’t going to come just to that blog only. They may want to stay in their other community, so you have to sometimes go out to where they are as well.
Would you say that one of the biggest mistakes that many companies make is to think that what they have to do is create a community rather than in fact find a community that already exists and become part of it?
Yes and I think it is about understanding social media. It is that regularity and discipline and time is hard to find and I think that is something I personally struggle with. I think you have to continue to do it but you can’t just push out information. You have to be embracing it in your personal life and your professional life to get comfortable with going out and looking for different conversations to be a part of rather than saying I am blogging, I am doing everything I can do in social media and that’s the end of story.
With whatever form of media you want to pick, there’s garbage that goes in and comes out and good stuff that goes in and comes out. When I joked earlier about the guy who won the Webby I was not saying he didn’t have a quality Web site. I was just saying that what I do isn’t threatened by underwear jokes.
I’ve a follow-up question to that. One of the arguments was made that we need journalists in order to defend quality in the reporting of ideas and incidents, events, that kind of thing. Is that a fair comment? Are journalistic standards being maintained or are they declining as a result of the fact that in social media often you can report faster. You can get a message, often well written, out much more quickly. You can have a camera phone at the crash of an airline in the Hudson River faster than you can get a television camera there. The quality may not be there, although that was an outstanding image on YouTube, so do journalists feel pressure to get information out faster and does that affect the quality of writing?
You are asking a magazine guy who is technically on vacation. I am going down to the sailboat after this. My job typically is to let other journalists do the quick heads and then I get to cherry pick the best of what they do, add a few quotes and hopefully some new analysis and publish something at length more in depth. I don’t think the speed does anyone any good. If it is a plane crash or if it is a great picture or a newsworthy picture you can post that faster than anyone. There are certain ways you record accidents that I would not want to see taken over by social media because there would be no consideration for families and so forth. I’m not saying that traditional media always does that, but speed I don’t think is the issue and quality is going to be there in some publications and in some formats. I’d argue print does the better job of providing depth during political campaigns than television. My apologies to anyone in TV but it’s true.
I have two questions for Tom really on two themes in journalism and its relation to the Internet and social media. One is around the business model that you talked about and I was surprised to hear you say that maybe increased subscription fees would be an answer since the Web has certainly trained people to expect the “f” word, that everything should be free. The second more philosophical question would be whether you see some real risks in the fact that when one gets news online you tend to do your own filtering. I always use the expression that what I get online is the stuff I’m interested in. What I read in the Economist or Canadian Business or the Globe or whatever are the things that I didn’t know I was interested in until a trusted editor picked that out and put it in front of me and then I went, “Oh, that was really quite interesting.” There are thousands of stories that come in every day and some editor has to filter out which are going to get into the newspaper or into a magazine or not. That’s the other philosophical issue I wonder about with the Internet and social media—this ability for us to narrow the number of voices that we hear.
The ability to narrow your information stream is extremely increased. The problem is, and this goes back to the advertising model as journalism relies more and more on advertising and there’s nothing wrong with that (I love advertisers), we have to try to get a bigger audience, so we cover sports, we cover entertainment, we do movie reviews, as well as politics and business and everything. What you’re talking about are certain aspects of politics or business that you don’t know you need to know. It’s the extra step you get when you read about Gretzky and Balsillie trying to bring a team to Canada but also read about a stock scam or something of that nature that you found interesting. I think that as more and more information gets pushed out there and more and more traditional media outlets decline, people will be willing to pay more to have a trusted group of professional journalists. I think having a news outlet that you trust to put together that package (what I need to know about the world today) is always going to be there. I don’t know how people are going to pay for it always, but by no means do I think that my magazine is going to disappear. It’s been here over 80 years through many different downturns, in different formats for sure, but it’s up for best magazine of the year actually. So another 100 years, I hope.
The appreciation of the meeting was expressed by William G. Whittaker, Partner, Lette Whittaker, LLP, and Past President, The Empire Club of Canada.