When less really is more

Image of Tyler Brûlé

Regulars to this patch of the paper will know that most of the time Mr Eyres, my neighbour on the page, and I are likely to be in agreement about most things regarding this out-of-whack but oh-so-lovely world we live in.

The signposts might say “Slow” and “Fast” but the truth is we’re probably in first gear and that suits us (and most of you) just fine. You’ll note that both of us are quite modern with our jazzy email addresses and, from what I can determine, we’re very good at getting back to most readers with polite, prompt responses.

For sure, this page could be more responsive and adopt those tools used by other columnists for keeping in touch and building “networks”, but I don’t think you really want to hear from me every few hours in a short burst of abbreviated text and, with all due respect, I don’t really want to hear from you in a blast of characters, either.

At the start of the week I sat down with a talented journalist and friend who explained she’d started using a media channel that allows her to let the world know what she’s been up to and where her stories were appearing.

While I digested this bit of information, the concept struck me as rather odd. Why would she want to do that? Wasn’t the point of being a journalist in the employment of a large-ish news organisation to let the editors, PR team and marketing department do the grandstanding for you? If your story’s good enough, doesn’t it sell itself? And shouldn’t you be getting on with the next story, rather than coddling the one you just filed?

As these thoughts went racing through my head, another came to mind and I couldn’t keep it in. “What happened to being a bit exclusive and mysterious?” I asked. As I gauged her reaction to the question, I couldn’t help but add: “Why, just because a channel is available, do we have to come across as being constantly available and always selling ourselves?”

As she explained it was important to let people know what she was doing (as she was a freelancer), and I watched the world caving in around us, as I felt it important she remain slightly untouchable and removed, I started to ponder the merits of being responsive and polite versus the cheapness that comes with always being available – without so much as a price tag.

Twenty-four hours later, a hotelier friend stopped by for a visit and we started talking about new projects, PR and opportunities from Bangkok to Tokyo to Toronto. As we discussed various concepts and neighbourhoods that are regenerating themselves, we stopped on the recent launch of a new communal space in London run by a major athletic footwear company. I told him I didn’t like the fact they were pushing everyone to one media channel (the same one my journalist friend started using) to engage with their audience.

“What the hell happened to choice in this world?” I asked. “There are so many ways to get your message out, yet somehow the lazy are pushing and being herded to a couple of sources. So depressing. It’s like having one choice of car to drive, one airline to fly, one dairy to choose from.”

As we discussed the rather complicated and dopey state of media at the moment and the lack of value in most of it (I repeat: what’s so exciting about free media channels when they’ve yet to prove they have a truly loyal audience or a credible revenue stream?), we settled on the wider issues of intrigue, subtlety and allure.

“Is it not more exciting to be wonderfully surprised and bowled over, rather than knowing everything before you cross the threshold?” I ventured.

“I think this is going to come full circle,” my friend responded. “Those that are staying out of all of this are defining themselves in a very different way.”

Hopefully they’re defining themselves by getting on with it and doing what they’re supposed to be doing to the best of their abilities in their respective sector, I thought. More importantly, I hope they’re keeping a little extra in reserve to bring about pleasant surprises and moments of sheer wonder.

Later that day, I was supposed to interview some people for some posts in our research department and someone offered to “check them out in advance” via various media channels. I felt a sudden jolt of depression for those being interviewed – there it was, out in the open, and it was completely normal. Was it prudent to take my colleague up on the offer? Or should I just interview based on the facts laid before me?

Then again, it turned out that all of the candidates felt compelled to post details of their lives for all to see, with precious little digging required. How crass. How self-important. How sad. I didn’t want to hear about their Saturday night. And, mysteriously, they won’t be hearing from me.

Tyler Brûlé is editor-in-chief of Monocle magazine

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