"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 7 August 1996. Updated every WEEKDAY.

Sub-Middle Management Worksick Blues


[Side Step]

I thought I knew how to negotiate

bureaucracies - how to

side-step the George Romero

zombies of middle-management who

aren't comfortable unless they

have a meeting to decide when

the next silt-deposit-paced

meeting is going to take place.


Well, I was wrong.



Did anyone expect the web

"industry" to be any different

than say, the movie industry or

the music industry? Vanity,

corruption of power, insecurities,

neuroses, unprofessionalism, and

flat-out back-stabbing have all

shown their ugly head in this

nascent enterprise - and perhaps

that's the surest sign that the

web baby will reach maturity...

if it doesn't drown in its own

filth first, of course.


[King of Soul]

"Payback's the thing you gotta

see" said James Brown, and the

time is nigh for a little

payback to the weasels of the

web. If there were such a thing

as a web industry veteran, I

think I would qualify. I've got

two start-up sites under my belt

since 1994. I've worked for

little companies that became

big, big companies that wanted

to think small, and big

companies run by small people.


Most recently, I tangled with the

latter animal; I was hired to

create a site aimed at the 18-35

demographic. As a director (at

least in title), I recruited

talent, did conceptual

brainstorming, and co-developed

a business/operating plan.


We created a budget for equipment

and employees, and while it was

too high, it wasn't sent back

for revision. After one of

countless re-orgs, it simply

disappeared .



Months went by. Finally, we sent

out a distress signal to the

Land of Middle-Management

Zombies. "Please help us

navigate the bureaucratic shoals

and political riptides of this

corporate behemoth," we said.

And from Central Zombie Casting,

they sent us a Seasoned Zombie

Pol. A slick and resilient lifer

from the hallowed halls of the

parent company, he came coated

in Teflon and bearing holsters

full of Pam. Hopes were raised,

fears allayed - the Seasoned

Zombie Pol would act as

"business manager" and help us

finesse the budgetary dollars we

needed, and push our agenda in

the halls of the top management




Once all the talent (writers,

production artists, editors) was

pushed through the molasses-slow

hiring process (as employment

offers were known to sit on

desks for weeks at a time,

trying to get someone hired was

on par with squeezing Tom Dolan

into his swim suit - slow going,

but worth it...), we were able to

deliver an impressive prototype

in less than a month. But, as is

the case sometimes with young,

hastily-assembled teams, we

slowed down.


There were still deadlines, but

they were seldom observed,

because the launch date was

never etched in stone. A

placeholder launch date kept

getting pushed back, as the head

of the project got cold feet

about committing to a firm date.

Morale was plummeting. Something

had to happen. So I pushed for a

shuffle of editorial management

positions. It seemed like the

only answer.



A firm date was set, and the crew

felt relieved to know where they

stood. The site launched on time

and while not perfect, things

did look bright. But a funny

thing happened on the way to the

circus. Our new editorial

management staff chose to spend

countless hours in a

tautological feedback loop -

checking out what was being said

about them and defending

themselves against critics on popular

online forums of discussion.

Patting themselves on the back,

bragging loudly, slagging other

websites, and defending their

work on a daily basis, while

investing minimal work to

improve our site - it became yet

another example of a

generational tendency toward

instant gratification and

solipsistic discourse.


[Sink ME]

Now, I have nothing against

spending time online. Online

discussion can be a valuable

marketplace for exchanging

thoughts and ideas with peers.

But when the balance of hours

tips away from creating actual

online work, and toward

strutting, puffing, and clucking

about said work in online

forums, well that's when it's

time for some egos to check

themselves, because the

competition is real - and cheap,

personal vanity is as common as

zip codes.


Below me, I wanted to steer the

technology of the site with a

team of programmers and coders.

Before launch, I tried to

organize and set goals for the

team. But, I was unpleasantly

surprised by the some of the

responses of a few

twenty-something hot shot

webmeisters (at that time

working on freelance contract)

to the request of actually

doing work. They refused on

occasion, and sometimes

threatened work-stoppages if not

paid faster than "Net 30."


[NY Times]

Nothing can age you faster than

seeing how babies behave, and

the arrogance these kids showed

is rare among those already out

of diapers. Not so much helpless

as willfully lazy, it was

difficult to believe that kind

of work ethic could put one

anywhere else but in a nursery

or the unemployment line. Still,

with the current fluidity of the

web job market, young

webmeisters know that they can

go elsewhere. Coming in at 2PM

and working hard until 11PM has

never bothered me. Coming in and

refusing to do the work

assigned, while playing video

games, web surfing, or chatting

in a Palace site... well, I

guess a DreamJob is one you can

wear your Pampers to.


[Jenny the VJ]

Meanwhile, the Zombie Pol

"business manager" started

riding this project like it was

Jenny McCarthy, or like he was

Jenny McCarthy riding a

sub-tsunami PR wave. However you

work it out, it worked for him.

The zombie's association with

the site's (initial) success

gave him new life in the eyes of

the company. Though the mere

prevalence of bestselling

management books that talk about

the dangers of being a

"control freak" or a

"micro-manager" doesn't mean

much, there are times when

common sense burbles through

even the granite of a MBA.

Still, micro-manage is exactly

what the zombie decided to do.

It's an undead thing, I guess.


After I was relieved of all my

authority and agency, I decided

to leave the project. It's

little comfort to know that the

project is floundering still.

(They actually expect it to make

money next year!) It has also

been victim to the whim of

corporate belt-tightening budget

cuts. But this does not change

the overarching fact that to

have one's name associated with

something less than a team's

best effort is no honor and of

even less value.


[Biz Model]

In my gut, I know that if I

decided to leave the industry

right now, and come back in two

years, it would be a lot easier.

Sure, the technology would have

improved dramatically, but more

importantly, the fucking

business model would have been

figured out by then. Websites,

done on a large scale, are

expensive propositions, and no

one's really making money doing

them. Nevertheless, when a site

is mismanaged (and by

inseparable extension, the staff

of a site is mismanaged), it doesn't matter

how much money is thrown at the

goal - it's going to be second-

rate. For some companies, that's

good enough. But no one says you

have to work for them.

courtesy of Lotte Absence