Will Trump’s War on the Press Include B2B Media?
In Catch-22, one of the great American novels, main character Yossarian told everyone in alarm, “They’re trying to kill me!” He was referring to the fact the Germans kept bombing his USAF base in Italy during World War II. To calm him down, his fellow Air Force officers respond, “But Yossarian, they’re trying to kill everybody.”
If you are in B2B media, should you take the war on the media President Donald Trump and chief strategist Steve Bannon have declared personally? Just because you are not in their crosshairs today, are you off the hook? Since I am probably the only publisher in America to have his trade magazine put out of business by government rulings, I want to warn you that you are not immune to government interference.
I used to run publications on Wall Street and insurance compliance. We relied on government sources. I currently have clients who report on the FDA, the Department of Agriculture, Treasury Department, HUD, and the Department of Energy. If these publishers are frozen out by those departments because their reporting on government actions is not rosy enough, their businesses are at stake in addition to their readers’ right to know.
Allow me to invoke some street cred: my former partner and fellow PubExec columnist Bo Sacks and myself had the offices of our underground newspaper raided by the police for publishing controversial material. Half a dozen police cars swooped in one day and rounded up our staff. This was before Bo and I were involved in launching High Times. Local police brazenly admitted they were harassing us for what we wrote in our paper. I’ll never forget sitting with Bo in our truck as a cop who had pulled us over asked, “Seeing a lot of my friends lately?”
Trade Magazine Shut Down by Government
In the late 70’s I owned Paraphernalia & Accessories Digest, a magazine serving the then billion-dollar head shop industry. Local and state governments began passing laws to ban these retailers. Outlawing pipes and rolling papers was not easy, since tobacco is legal and both categories were between a hundred and a thousand years old. I was summoned to testify in front of a congressional committee. Lawmakers had to come up with ways to determine which pipes and other accessories could be made illegal.
By 1980 the courts accepted advertisements in my magazine as prima facie evidence that a product was illegal. Advertise in my magazine: go to jail. Every advertiser had to pull out of their contracts and I couldn’t blame them. Although a similar scenario is unlikely to happen to your publication, my experience should serve as evidence of the government’s ability to silence the press by freezing a publisher’s business. If it happened before, it can happen again.
The banning of some of the most respected media in the United States from press briefings because the government does not approve of what they write shakes me to my core. I have been in the White House briefing room. It is much smaller than you think. The seats have little plaques reserving each for reporters based on seniority and recognized importance of the media those reporters represent. The reporters banned last Friday own seats in the first two rows. Regardless which room briefings are held in, leading national reporters must be included. As former President George W. Bush said on the Today Show this morning, “I see an independent media as indispensable to democracy.”
I have lived freedom of the press. After launching High Times magazine, we were banned by Canada, England, and every country on the planet except the U.S., Germany, and The Netherlands. Not sure what kept us kosher in those two European countries, but the reason I did not go to an American jail was our glorious First Amendment. I long ago committed to do my part in protecting that constitutional right.
I am thankful for having come up in the New York media, knowing reporters, editors, and television producers my whole life. I cannot think of a more honorable group, across the board. They do not get into their professions to get rich. Even those working on fashion and automotive magazines are generally true believers in honest, honorable journalism.
I’ve spent much time in B2B media. I consider those reporters, editors, and publishers of the daily newspapers and national networks to be our brothers and sisters. Like Yossarian, when you declare war on the media, you declare war on me. If you are a publishing executive, I don’t care who you voted for, war has been declared on you, too. Should you wait until there is a knock on your door to get nervous?
They say the best defense is a good offense. If you cover a federal agency for your market, now is the time to double-down on careful reporting. Agencies are where the real action is and you are on the front lines. Watch more closely than ever before exactly because you are being told not to.
Andy Kowl is a journalist and entrepreneurial publisher with more than 30 years developing, marketing and growing publishing companies. He is senior vice president of publishing strategy for ePublishing Inc., the leading enterprise publishing system (EPS) provider which manages content, audience data, workflow, newsletters and e-commerce for hundreds B2B online publications. He helps publishers increase reader engagement and response by integrating behavioral data with contextual content, and shows them direct ways to monetize the results. Andy writes the B2B Beat blog for Publishing Executive magazine. His background in B2B includes publishing, editing and/or owning magazines and information products covering specialty retail, horse breeding, real estate, credit unions, Wall Street compliance and wireless technology.