The Ballad of Justine Saco

Editor’s Note: This is a blog about magazines and the future of the magazine circulation industry. However, I do from time to time stray into other waters that seem relevant to the industry. Often they may be my own personal experiences and observations that relate to professional and personal development. Hopefully, you will enjoy this diversion from the shallow single copy seas.

My own personal Twitter world is busy, but not extensive. There’s a reason for that.  It’s called time. There are only so many hours in the day and only so much time that I want to devote to “work” things that only impact “work” indirectly. Social media is a wonderful invention. It has aided me in developing my “brand identity” and brought me a few clients. For my clients it should directly impact the sales of magazines in any format: digital, print or web. That the impact is limited right now says a lot about how new social media still is. We have a long way to go in figuring out how to make it work to our advantage.

Consequently, my time on Twitter each day is measured in minutes, not hours. The people and organizations I follow and pay attention to are related to magazine and book publishing, bricks and mortar retailers and digital retailers.  Because I find the landscape utterly fascinating, I watch what our cousins are doing in the same businesses overseas. The UK and Australia continue to interest me.

Justine Saco and her infamous tweet showed up in a news feed late in the day just before we left for the holidays so it wasn’t until much later that I got to read about what happened and how she got into trouble.

You can find a good recap of how it all developed in these links.

The irony that most reporters of the incident honed in on is the fact that Ms. Saco was in charge of public relations for a major media company (IAC). Theoretically, she should have known better. But as we saw in this year of jaw dropping social media gaffes, the people who should know better are sometimes as clueless as a teenager on his first outing on Facebook.

There were a few things that I found fascinating about this whole story:

The first was how easy it was to interpret and misinterpret her tweet.

Ummm, really?
Ummm, really?

The initial reaction to her tweet, once it got out into the wild, was that she was a horrible racist. It would certainly appear that way, wouldn’t it? Based on that tweet, and a few other lead bottomed tweets she made, it would seem like she was an overly privileged socially foolish person who was bigoted, and most likely a racist.

But Forbes writer Jeff Bercovi, who’s article I cite above felt that it was more of a “self deprecating joke about white guilt and Western privilege…”

Is he right?

The second thing to notice was how quickly the digital world reacted to her tweet. The social organization “Aid for Africa” picked up her name as a URL and then redirected traffic to their own page. The hashtag #HasJustineLandedYet became a trending topic.

Could this have been avoided had the former IAC PR director been on a flight with WiFi? Possibly. The WiFi supplier for airlines, GoGo, certainly got in on the act on their Twitter feed.

Consider this: That same evening, comedian Steve Martin made a rather poorly timed and rather offensive tweet. When he was called out on it, he immediately apologized, removed the tweet, and the world went on. While Ms. Saco may have been reasonably well known within her own circle, Steve Martin is an international “A” list celebrity. Which gaffe did you hear about?

This final thought occurred to me.

Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of traveling extensively throughout the lower forty eight states. I’ve been to forty seven of them. There are remarkably nice people in all of these states with the people showing wide degrees of niceness, education, social standing and personal warmth. Sometimes these very nice and friendly people hold viewpoints that are, now that we’re in the second decade of the twenty-first century, dated and offensive.

What would have happened if Ms. Saco made her “joke” at the IAC office party? Maybe one of the following outcomes:

In the first, best option: Some of the people around her would have chuckled. If she was within earshot of a superior, he or she would hopefully have taken her aside and said something like, “That was really offensive, Justine, you should think about how you said that and if you meant it. Especially since you’re about to leave for Africa.” Ideally she would have thought about it, apologized for her tone deafness, and maybe even visited and volunteered at an AIDS clinic while she was in Cape Town.

Hey, I’m an idealist. But you already knew that.

In the second most likely option: Some of the people around her would have chuckled. Others would have gaped and thought, “WTF?” The party would have ended, Justine would have cabbed to the airport and gone on her trip.

In the third equally likely option: Many of the people around her, including her superiors would have chuckled. Others would have remained silent. The party would have ended, Justine would have cabbed to the airport and gone on her trip.

Even if we take Mr. Bercovi at face value, what became a firing offense for Ms. Saco was that she publicly attached herself to her employer’s brand via her personal Twitter account. She should have known better. It’s not that we can no longer say rude and offensive things in this day and age (I’m looking at you Phil Robertson and Sarah Palin), it’s that there are often consequences for making such dumbfounding statements. Especially when you’re out there in the public.

Social media is a great way to communicate. I think it could be a great way to sell magazines. It’s also an interesting educational tool.

In the space below, if you want to chime in with your experiences, please do so.

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