Putting together a winning team is tricky. Take the original Manhattan Project, remove two or three key players and you probably end up without a bomb. A sports team, same deal. One year you win the Super Bowl, the next you don't even make the playoffs.
Magazines work in much the same way.
To put together a great team (on the editorial side) you need...
Grunts - People with good organizational skills that know how to get things done, and make things work. They usually have some kind of love for journalism, but could just as easily be working in a bank. Grunts make up the majority of your staff.
Talent - Not in the broadcast way, but people who actually have amazing journalistic chops, whether they're editors, writers, photographers, fixers, artists or whatever. They produce the majority of the content and do the majority of work. Talents make up about 10% of your team.
Wild Cards - These are the goofy people who shouldn't be employed anywhere that doesn't serve fries. In truth, they probably don't have any marketable skills. You need the real deal. (Be careful that you don't end up with a con artist who is just posing as a Wild Card. It happens.) Someone who will see things completely differently then everyone else on both your staff and your competitor's staff. Somebody that brings the special to your magazine. It's hard to say how many you should have. How much crazy do you need to achieve brilliance?
Whether it's a sports team or an editorial staff you need the right mix. The problem is, true Wild Cards are rare and expensive, and what they contribute to a team is hard to quantify. When money gets tight, they're the first to go. Think of a sports team that doesn't really care (or need to) win. As soon as they stumble across a true Wild Card, they get rid of them.
The Talent is the next to go, but only the older more experienced ones. The young Talent is still cheap enough to keep around, but without the Wild Cards or the experience of the older Talent, they'll probably end up ruined pretty quick. Talents need to be nurtured.
You've still got the Grunts, but let's face it, once you've stripped journalism of the fun, crazy and money, the Grunts are going to find a job somewhere else.
This is how things like this photoshop creation end up in once important magazines like TIME.
Somebody at TIME thought this was a good idea. You can read about it here.
You see, the word TIME was magic. It would knock down doors that abacadabra couldn't even budge. The catch was, that if a person didn't get some treasure out of the cave after using the word, the cave would be sealed forever. At this point, the magic word has all but lost its power in Washington D.C. (and much of the rest of the world).
(The same is true for the word NEWSWEEK, of course.)
So the Mary Landrieu thing is a past mistake, but what about the future? How do you create something lasting and monumental when you've gotten rid of the Wild Cards and most of the Talents on your team?
How do you recapture the greatness, or the magic that you once had?
Unfortunately, you don't. At least if this report is accurate.
I've been following the progress of this new Manhattan Project... yes, the name alone gives one cause for concern, the idea is to republish the magazine content on various electronic reader type of devices, and all I can ask is why?
While I don't agree with some of the points Jesus Diaz makes in the Gizmodo piece (it's getting the right readers, not the most), I must say it's stunning to think the Powers of Time Inc. seem to think the problem with their magazines is the paper.
The sad truth is the Time Inc. give us absolutely no reason to browse their product, regardless of the platform. There's nothing there. That's why you get photoshopped little puns on Halperin's TIME blog instead of useful insight into the Healthcare debate.
The caves are sealed.
Listen, I'm not sure exactly how great TIME ever was. I don't think it was ever as great as it should have or could have been. Without exception I was always a little disappointed on Monday morning (when the mag came out). But isn't that how you become a winning team, by never being satisfied?
Winning programs don't go down the drain overnight. At some point everyone kind of realizes that going to a bowl game every year isn't a forgone conclusion. I wonder if the management realizes that they need to start recruiting again? They need some Wild Cards, and some Talent.
Time Inc. you aren't the Chicago Cubs. People aren't going to look at your magazine if you're not winning.
Does anyone remember this? If the Manhattan Project is another Pathfinder (and it sure sounds like it is) these guys are toast.