Jan 17 2014

The real unsung heros of Forbes.com

Published by at 11:08 am under General,Journalism

Adam “Shattered Glass” Penenberg, one of the original writers at Forbes.com in the mid-90s, yesterday said I was the “unsung hero” who had the vision that eventually became the business news behemoth Forbes is today.

Whatever. It was more of a case of being in the right place at the right time and being the first to raise my hand. I’m flattered and I share Adam’s opinion that we didn’t know what we were doing, we ran the Digital Tool as pirate ship, and had a one-in-a-lifetime experience experimenting with online journalism. He was also too modest to say he put us, and digital journalism on the map as a force to reckon with when he and Kambiz Faroohar uncovered Stephen Glass’ record of deception at the New Republic (hence the movie “Shattered Glass” that featured a very idealized concept of our rodent infested newsroom). He wrote:

“Being an online journalist 17 years ago was a bit like being stationed in Siberia. We’d publish story after story but had no idea if anyone actually read them. There was little glory in it, and print reporters looked down their noses at us, viewing us as a marauding band of upstarts who couldn’t possibly have their skills and ability. Nevertheless, we persisted, experimenting with form and structure, largely because there were no best practices at the time. Should we mimic print’s inverted pyramid or adopt a more conversational and informal approach? Should we write short? Medium? Long? Should we concentrate on offering “tools” like financial calculators and de-emphasize original journalism, or go all in on providing news and analysis? Over time we evolved, but in the beginning we treated the site as one grand experiment.”

Not to blush with false modesty, and not to second-guess what Forbes.com has grown into under Jim Spanfeller and Lewis D’Vorkin, but I want to say that two people are the true unsung heros behind Forbes’ high valuation as it is about to be sold by the Forbes family and Elevation partners (most likely to a foreign buyer).

CEO Tim Forbes embraced the digital future with no reservations, immersed himself in it, and knew — as clearly as Adam and Om Malik and me and everyone else involved — that one day the online version of the brand would be bigger and more valuable than the printed one. He drove us, he made it happen. He wrote the checks, put up with our shenanigans and he told the nay-sayers to shut up and get on board.

The second unsung hero was Jim Michaels, the legendary editor of the magazine, my mentor, a crabby, colorful and keen editorial genius who had our back and encouraged us to take the risks and make the mistakes that led to our success. He knew we were killing off the world he had lived in for forty years, and I hope in the years ahead I can be half as curious and accepting of the future and wrenching revolutions of new technology as he was.

As the Forbes family let’s go of their namesake,   there is a merry band of original Forbes.com alumni who should take a bow: DeWayne Martin, Om Malik, Charles Dubow, Dustin Shephard, Stacy Lu, Vicki Contavespi, our copyeditor Eve, John Moschetto, Greg Zorthian, Miguel Forbes, Michael Noer, Sabina Forbes, Stephen Johnson, David Minkin, Paul Caparotts, Nathan Washburn, Kambiz, and of course Adam. Apologies to all the others I’ve forgotten who were there at the beginning.

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