Mark Twain, An Old Rock Critic and a Young Marketer

Ages of Enlightenment at SIPA and Beyond

“Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”
—Mark Twain

On page 5 of the SIPA July Hotline newsletter just posted yesterday afternoon—and also shown on the left—there’s a picture of Collin Berglund of Inside Mortgage Finance holding up his new iPad from randomly winning the Tweet Wall Contest at SIPA 2011 last month. Guy Cecala, CEO and publisher of IMF and SIPA’s past president, stands beside Collin.

Collin was a newcomer to the SIPA Conference, representing a younger demographic that SIPA is thrilled to see come out. So it’s interesting to look back at his tweets from the conference. They started a bit roughly: “Leaving the first day of #sipa2011. Lots of publishing vets (read: older folks) railing against social media (‘twittering’ was heard).” But as he got more absorbed into the proceedings, a change took place. “Great talk by @jbernoff: Use customers as advertising force through social media. #sipa2011” And then “#sipa2011 taught me a ton! #1 lesson: Many publishing vets know technology. Thanks again!”

I saved an obituary from last Wednesday’s Washington Post on Jane Scott, 92, who was a code breaker for the Navy during World War II and then later became, at the age of 45, a rock critic for the Cleveland Plain Dealer. She retired from that position at age 82. Here’s a paragraph from that article: “Jim Morrison invited her backstage for a beer. Jimi Hendrix took her along when he shopped for a blue Corvette. She sang ‘California Girls’ with Brian Wilson at a hotel piano bar during an interview. When Springsteen played Cleveland, he dedicated ‘Dancing in the Dark’ to her.”

Scott obviously took pride in her age. “One day I got a snotty remark at a concert,” she told the New York Times in 1999. “I said: ‘Don’t you dare call me mom. I’m old enough to be your grandmother.’”

When I joined SIPA almost two years ago, I marveled at the levels of online and Internet knowledge of the various members, young and old. I had come from the newspaper industry where it took far too long for most entities to embrace the technological freight train. (Sadly, I think the Post on my doorstep yesterday was the lightest one ever.) Here was an association of recent newsletter vintage where the daily discussions centered only on analytics, webinars, content management systems, paywalls and listservs. It was impressive and remains so today.

But SIPA stands for so much more—good writing for one. The lead story in the July newsletter comes from Valerie Helmbreck of Progressive Business Publications and deals with what it takes to write well in this industry. (And it has little to do with age.) Writes Helmbreck, a former newspaper reporter who has won numerous awards in her career: “[Good writing] takes passion, curiosity and the god-given urge to tell people things they don’t already know.”

Interestingly, Jane Scott flashed all those attributes as well. She also adapted with the times, instead of pining for the past. “I think rock has to keep changing,” she was quoted in an obituary on the American Journalism Review website. “Do you want the same thing all the time?” You can easily substitute “information transfer” for “rock” in the SIPA world.

Later in that article, John Soeder, 34, the Plain Dealer’s current pop music critic, shared a story about the time he and Scott interviewed Billy Joel after he had declared his intention to abandon pop music for classical. “I sat there with my notebook and asked a bunch of fussy questions,” Soeder recalls. “At some point, Jane leaned in on the conversation, and the first thing she said was, ‘How’s your daughter doing? What’s her name?’ He went from being the rock star to the proud father talking about his kid.”

The young learning from the old, the old learning from the young. It’s all good. And it’s all throughout SIPA. I encourage you to take part. Look what it did for Collin.


For anyone in the Washington, D.C., area, you can
take part in something right away. Tomorrow night
there is a D.C. Chapter Publishers Dinner
in Rockville, Maryland at 7:30 p.m.

Join local publishers for an evening of networking.
This “Dutch Treat” event has been very popular
in the D.C. area for the past few years. We have a great
crowd signed up, but there are a few spaces left, so
there’s still time to RSVP. We will email you the name
and address of the restaurant.
Don’t miss out!

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