And yet, when I went to pay my respects recently to the family of John Cannon, the former CIO of the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC), the first and only thing greeting all visitors as they walked in the door was a framed copy of the issue of CIO Canada in which he graced the cover. I have to say, it choked me up. The same thing happened when, a few minutes later, I was introduced to his widow, who told me how much being a featured in our publication had meant to them.
“He was so proud of that,” she told me. “Everyone talked about it and congratulated him. It was a real achievement for him.”
This was a good reminder to me that what we do is important. Not simply because it provides a product that generates revenue, although we need as much revenue as we can right now to keep our products and our jobs alive. It’s important because our work can transform people, and often for the better. When we celebrate the successful accomplishments of a technology executive, their behind-the-scenes efforts are revealed for the value they provide individuals, teams, organizations. When we shine the spotlight on problems, conflicts and barriers within enterprise IT, SMB or the channel, we create a degree of attention around those things that demand action. We not only cover the debate but influence and shape it by the choices we make.
It’s easy to lose sight of this in the day-to-day machinations of publishing stories. To us, getting someone to speak on the record is simply one of the steps in putting to together an article, a video or a planning an event. To the people on the other end, however, it’s an opportunity to establish their authority, credibility and expertise – three things that have become even more powerful as currency in online social relationships. This is something we tend to give away too readily – too cheaply, perhaps – to the vendors, consultants and analysts who can often only offer a peanut gallery perspective on what it takes to manage information with hardware, software and people. We will always need to do a better job of getting the user’s voice in our stories, and we need to treat those voices with care.
While print publications may get lost or recycled, there have been several articles lately which have examined the way the Internet is changing the longevity of content. In “The End of Forgetting,” for example, the New York Times magazine showed how something written about someone 10 years ago may end up following them around for the rest of their life. At the Toronto Star, public editor Kathy English has been worrying about the tendency by some publications to routinely “scrub” their archives of quotes, comments or entire stories that someone – the person being profiled, or in some cases the original writer – has decided unilaterally should be struck from the record.
The dangers of such practices are too obvious to point out here, but suffice it to say there is little consistency in how to handle the seemingly permanent nature of online publishing. This is something we all have to think deeply about as we shift towards a primarily digital audience. Our work should inform, educate, inspire and entertain. But what else will it do? What kind of testimony does it leave behind? What kind of legacy will it become as it continues to show up in search results? If the concept of forgetting is really coming to an end, we need to spend more time figuring out how we want our work to be remembered.