I don’t have time to read many books anymore, so one of my August projects this year is to read some.
Most of the books I’m reading are business-related (lots still to learn!). But I’m sneaking in an adventure or two, too.
One of the adventures I’ve just read is the Spirit of St. Louis, Charles Lindbergh’s account of his miraculous and inspiring flight from New York to Paris in May, 1927 in a single engine plane. It turns out that that story, too, is an amazing business story — or at least an amazing entrepreneurial story — but I’ll save the business part for later.
Today, I’ll just share a short section that made me smile.
For the past decade, as digital media startups have captured an ever-increasing percentage of media readership and influence, incumbent media companies have lobbed all sorts of insults at them.
One of the these was that you couldn’t trust what digital-media companies said because they were sometimes wrong.
Another was that digital-media companies cared too much about “traffic” (a.k.a., being read).
Well, in the past few years, as digital-media newsrooms have gotten more experienced, it has generally seemed that it’s the traditional media companies that make most of the whopper mistakes these days. And it has always seemed an odd criticism to suggest that it’s bad for companies that produce work for readers to care about whether those readers actually want to read it.
Anyway, it was amusing to be reminded in the Spirit of St. Louis that complaints about these and other media problems did not start with digital media.
They did not even start with television.
They started with… newspapers.
Here’s Mr. Lindbergh on that topic during the days after he had flown the Spirit of St. Louis to New York and was waiting for his equipment to be ready and the weather over the Atlantic to clear:
FLYIN’ FOOL HOPS TODAY
A big front-page picture of myself is below the tabloid headlines. I’m the “flyin’ fool,” and I’m supposed to be ready to take off for Paris at any moment! Didn’t I tell the reporters that I wouldn’t leave until the weather was right and my compasses were swung? All they had to do was look in through the door of the hangar if they didn’t believe me. Well, I suppose they think this makes a better story…
Depending on which paper I pick up, I find that I was born in Minnesota, that I was born in Michigan, that I was Nebraska; that I learned to fly at Omaha, that I learned to fly at Lincoln, that I learned to fly in San Antonio, in Texas. I’m told that my nickname is “Lucky,” that I land and take off by looking through periscopes, that without them I can only see downward from my cockpit, that I carry “devices” on my plane that will enable me to “snatch a snooze” while steering a “beeline” for Paris.
After reading the press about the dangers of the flight (which, in fairness to the media, probably weren’t grossly exaggerated), Lindbergh’s mother decided to take a train from Minnesota to New York to spend a day with her son. This set off another frenzy.
They didn’t care how much they hurt her feelings or frightened her about my flight, as long as they got their pictures and stories…. They demanded we embrace for their cameras and say good-bye. When we refused, one paper had two other people go through the motions and substituted photographs of our heads for theirs…
Then there was the unnecessary incident with the press on the field. I’d taken [my mechanics] up to check my engine in flight, and on the last landing I had broken my tail skid, simply because some photographers got in the way again. The most annoying thing was that, instead of having a penalty to pay for violating the field regulations, the cameramen got a more valuable picture — and the reporters a “better story…” The fact that I had damaged my plane to avoid hitting someone didn’t bother them a bit. Most reporters omitted that from their accounts. “So terrific was his speed that in landing he slightly damaged the machine’s tail skid. Undismayed by this accident, which he considered ‘trivial,’ Lindbergh hopped out wearing a broad smile. ‘Boys, she’s ready and rarin’ to go!’ he said.”
Ah, the good old days.
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