Social media is a threat to democracy: Joe Ripp, Time Inc

19th Nov 2016
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A veteran of the publishing industry, Joe Ripp, legendary former CEO and current Executive Chairman of $3.1-billion media company, Time Inc., has in the past been in top leadership positions with the likes of Time Warner and AOL. Known for challenging the status quo and keeping journalism relevant in the age of new communication technologies, he has some pretty strong views about the current generation. Although his comment that “A goldfish has an attention span of eight seconds and the current generation has an attention span of seven seconds,” is a light-hearted one, he is serious when he says that the death of long-form journalism can be dangerous for democracy.

He substantiates this fact by saying that in this social media culture of 140 characters that offer no analysis, people are susceptible to being misled by groups that can consistently focus on repeating the same message and shaping people's attitudes towards current affairs. He talks about how the world has changed and why human understanding is at an all-time low. However, he believes that startups offer the brightest hope to change old businesses. He believes that CEOs and editors should be quick to embrace

Joe Ripp substantiates this fact by saying that in this social media culture of 140 characters that offer no analysis, people are susceptible to being misled by groups that can consistently focus on repeating the same message and shaping people's attitudes towards current affairs. He talks about how the world has changed and why human understanding is at an all-time low. However, he believes that startups offer the brightest hope to change old businesses. He believes that CEOs and editors should be quick to embrace

He talks about how the world has changed and why human understanding is at an all-time low. However, he believes that startups offer the brightest hope to change old businesses. He believes that CEOs and editors should be quick to embrace digital change or else it could leave them running companies that would very soon become relics of the past.

YourStory recently caught up with Joe Ripp. Here are excerpts of the interview with YourStory organised by Mphasis and Knowledge@Wharton in New York:

Joe Ripp, Executive Chairman of Time Inc
Joe Ripp, Executive Chairman of Time Inc

1. Your comments on new-age media, or let us say, social media, are very daring and provocative; you seem to be unhappy?

JR: Yes, it is true, because I am a believer in long-form analytical journalism and these days these social media messages or 140-character-based news is destroying the fabric of journalism. I still believe in analytical views and without analysis, democracy is under threat. Look at the way these political groups use the media to make people believe in certain things that are not true at all. The headlines being covered by the media these days are questionable on many occasions. I am out of social media and I do not need it because I think it makes people (me) waste so much time without focusing on the job at hand.

2. Why do you think these things happened?

JR: There is so much fear today that everyone is comparing themselves with others. When I was younger, we failed more times than we succeeded. Suddenly, nobody wants to make mistakes anymore. I see that with kids and people much older trying to be like others. It is happening with businesses too. There was a time when people focused on what they had to become, rather than see other people and try to be like them. I see universities these days and they are not expanding minds towards analytical thinking. Now they are focused on making people think about their self-esteem. Whatever happened to going out there to learn and figure out life? Businesses should not fear failure and individuals more so should learn to accept failures to become better. I sometimes blame current-day parenting for the issues with this generation. The world is suddenly becoming very protective and inwards. There isn’t much time being spent to understand things. Technology and engineering is very important to the world. But not social media. I also think virtual reality, which can be used in engineering, if launched in the consumer world will be used to deliver services that will waste people’s time. It will make people lazy and give them experiences that are unreal, which creates illusions. There are moral problems that are going to converge between business and individual expression.

3. Do you see businesses making the same mistake?

JR: Let me talk to you about the media first. There is no analysis these days. For me, going digital is important, but today everyone is a publisher and there is so much noise. Good journalism protects human freedom and rightly so. I think going digital is very essential because of the speed at which you can reach audiences. But the content can be delivered with great quality and analysis, which is what media organisations should focus on digitally. The world essentially is about using data to draw insights about customers, vendors, and consumers. The world is about mass customisation and is influencing every company to customise to their consumers. Digital is about rapid rollouts and focusing on what consumers want today. I remember, a couple of years ago, senior editors did not like to move from print to video to podcasts. I say they have to use all the mediums to do compelling stories. The fear stems from the fact that they think they cannot change. But they have to because they have got so much insight from the digital world. At Time Inc., we had this problem that we were a magazine company. But we have changed that perception by employing people who can adapt to change. These are leaders who are willing to be humble and learn from new things. If they cannot do it, it is fine. I just ask such people to move on to places that support their beliefs. They have to move on. Similarly, if a person has run his course of learning in a company and has done everything that a company has thrown before him or her, then they should start up on their own or go be challenged by a new set of businesses.

4. Your advice to startups and the future of leadership?

JR: Be innovative, be open to change, respect others, and learn to accept failure. This was how I was brought up. My father just asked me to figure out life on my own. I ask all corporates not to kill the excitement of youth and youth should learn from experience. It is not easy. But that’s how organisations should break barriers and stay relevant. I believe startups in engineering and in medical sciences are going to make humanity stronger. Let me just say that these social media startups are not going to change the world and neither will they make money for investors.

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