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Why we are 'Doan obsessed,' as one person said

I had mentioned that I was invited to speak before the ACT/IAC Voyagers recently in a program that was about the press, the government, and industry, and how they all get along -– or don't.

Thanks to the able work for moderator Dan Chenok, SRA's vice president of business solutions and offerings, I thought it was an interesting discussion, if I do say so myself. I hope the Voyagers got something out of it, but…I thought it was a fascinating discussion.

One of the topics was why the media covers what it covers. And I was talking about how competitive the media world is these days. Increasingly, our competition isn't against another publication, but it is against the clock. You, dear readers, only have 24-hours in your day…and you have a lot of information coming at you. And that doesn't just mean magazines. There is e-mail. There is TV. There is radio. There are blogs… Web sites… white papers… advertisements… books… newspapers… We are all really flooded with information these days.

On top of that, if we don't thrill you as readers each and every day, there is some Web site or something that is more then happy to take our place.

So, my goal as an editor, is to ensure that my publication gets that prime spot on the top of the pile sitting beside your bed – rather then at the bottom. And that is no small task these days. Again, our real competition is the clock – so I have to compete for your attention against Paris Hilton going to jail, or the latest in the Anna Nicole Smith story… or whatever other hot topic comes up. So we not only have stick to our core mission – to bring you information that helps you do your job better – but we also have to do it in a way that grabs your attention.

My mother is a former high school English teacher and she was very good at dealing with this. How? Well, I always remember growing up when she would teach Shakespeare's Macbeth, she would literally dress up in a witch's costume for the wonderful scene that starts that play. Imagine being a high school student and your teacher is there in a witch's costume. There is probably a good chance that you're going to pay attention – and continue to pay attention because you'll never know what this potentially crazy person is going to do next. And my mother always says that her task was to get the horse to the water… and then to help it drink.

In a way, we have a similar task. We have to present information in an accessible way -- particularly us given that we are dealing with some dense issues. We have to do the stuff that leads you to the water, but we also have to present information in an interesting and accessible way. After all, let's be honest – some of the stuff we deal with is somewhat dense. I mean, I know that enterprise architecture is important, but… And it is no small task these days. Not only do you have a lot of information coming at you, but you also just don't have much time.

So, during the meeting with the Voyagers, I noted, that is one reason why we have covered GSA as much as we have. First off, it is an important story for so many parts of our audience – for agencies who depend on GSA to carry out their missions, for the acquisition community who either are at GSA or are watching GSA, and for industry, which uses GSA to reach their customers.

And one person -– a GSA person who will go unnamed but for whom I have enormous respect – said that FCW… or perhaps me, I don't remember – was "Doan obsessed." (See also comments such as these to a recent post.)

Perhaps. But, as I said, GSA is an important agency. I continue to believe that GSA's scope is much larger then its size and budget. And let's acknowledge that GSA has been plagued with problems.

And then there is the Paris Hilton effect. GSA, and, specifically, Lurita Doan, have provided us with some really remarkable stories. Unfortunately, there are real people that have to go through all this, but… I mean, a former GSA chief of staff is serving a jail sentence, for goodness sake. The GSA administrator is quoted in one of the nation's preeminent newspapers equating her IG with terrorists. That's just irresistible -- both for you, and for us.

I understand that many within GSA feel that they get much attention when the going is tough, but little if and when the going is good. I'm sure you're not alone. In part, it is the nature of news. Almost by definition, news is something out of the ordinary. When GSA -- or any agency -- is doing its job, that just really isn't news. When things go wrong -- bingo!

For our part, FCW has tried to treat GSA as fairly as we can. And, frankly, publications like ours are much more likely to report fairly then the mass-market publications. Sometimes we can learn as much from what is being done well as we can from what went wrong.

Recently, for example, we reported on the HSPD-12 card coup -- GSA's price is significantly lower than Interior's.

Another person asked specifically -- isn't the media 'culpable' -- I believe that is the word she used -- to provide a wider range of stories. My response was: How are readers culpable? The sad truth is that during the whole Anna Nicole Smith fiasco, ratings on the cable "news" networks shot up. Ditto for Paris Hilton.

In our world, we do a story about Doan's problems, and it gets read... and talked about. Layer a competitive environment that I discussed earlier and -- there you go.

So is the media culpable? One of our roles is to give you want you want to read. If you didn't want to hear about it at all, frankly, you wouldn't read it. But you do -- voraciously.

GSA has the added benefit of also being important.

Former Nightline anchor Ted Koppel has always been one of my idols. In fact, he is one of the reasons I got into journalism. And I remember seeing him speak years ago back when the OJ trial was going on. (Remember what a circus that seemed like? If they had only seen the Paris Hilton trial!) Somebody asked Koppel why Nightlight did so many stories about the OJ trial and, he said, because viewers watch. And the over the top ratings for OJ gave ABC some cushion to allow Nightline to cover... Dafur or Iraq and Afghanistan or some other story that may be complex and may be dense but that we know is important.

There isn't a precise parallel here. We cover GSA because it is important, but we also cover it -- and have played it up -- because it gets you to read. And if you read a story about GSA, from which we hope you learn something, you may also see some other procurement story... or policy story... or management story... or something that will enable you to do you job better.

That is why we are 'Doan obsessed.'

Posted by Christopher Dorobek on Jul 09, 2007 at 12:16 PM


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