Anonymous Media Interviews

Posted by Nipun Mehta on Jul 1, 2008
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In the last month or so, we've had couple of major interviews.  Two of them, in Reader's Digest and Better Homes and Gardens, have been consciously anonymous.  Now, as magazines go, Better Home and Gardens has the second highest circulation in the US, and Reader's Digest is number 3, so it's a pretty significant pass on "branding" and outreach and the whole shabang.

That's a curious pattern.  By the mere virtue of being organized, there is some centralization, which implies some sort of a brand; what happens when a brand works in the anti-brand direction?  If you do this early in the game, you won't get organized at all (which isn't necessarily a bad thing).  If you don't do this at all, you become a behemoth of aggregated power (which typically tends to corrupt) and/or become very personality driven (which has a different draw than being purpose-driven).  If you do this mid-game, in the context of a network economy, it's not clear what will happen.  And we're on the way to finding out. :)

I didn't do the Better Home and Gardens interview, but I can talk about my conversation with a Reader's Digest editor -- she was blown away!  And ironically, because I had nothing to take, it just amped up the trust level, the focus was really on the content and by the end of the conversation, we were talking about the potential of a regular kindness column and she was asking me off-the-record questions like, "So what does the world look like, if everyone does a little bit of this gift-economy?"  It was no longer an editor-interviewee dynamic, the power dynamic shifted from the interviewee feeling like a prized winner to the editor feeling like the recipient of humble service, and it made the whole interaction more human, personal and subtly far-reaching.

From our end, we did this because it's a process that resonates more deeply with our values.  Anonymity for its own sake, though, has its share of problems -- as journalists often argue, anonymous sources don't fly as credible citations; just a mention on this blog mildly breaks anonymity; anonymity can often be a facade for cowardice.  Taking ownership and accepting credit certainly has its own merit (Bo Lozoff once went on 1.5 year silent retreat, because he didn't have the humility to graciously accept a compliment from a prisoner). 

Still, from an organizational design perspective, our behavior throws a bit of a monkey-wrench in the traditional paradigm.  Maybe we lose out on opportunity to cash-in, maybe we stay a bit smaller, maybe we gain credibility and it powers more word-of-mouth, maybe it's just silly.  Either way, CharityFocus is uniquely poised -- with its social capital driven infrastructure -- to experiment boldly. :)

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