Saturday, December 16, 2006

No gut, no glory

With the traditional media facing unprecedented change, many increasingly desperate practitioners are seeking the magic that will enable them to reclaim the economic and cultural dominance they previously took for granted.

Instead of attending more conferences, conducting more studies, running more surveys and writing more reports, they ought to take a cue from two major media forces who made the news this week: Ahmet Ertegun and Judith Regan.

Though they came from different eras and different backgrounds, the two share a common characteristic: Not just guts, but Golden Guts.

They used their gifted innards in very different ways. But their confidence and intestinal fortitude should be an inspiration to dithering media executives everywhere.

Mr. Ertegun, the founder of Atlantic Records who died last week, vastly enriched our culture and, in no small way, helped advance the cause of racial equality in the United States.

The well-to-do son of a Turkish ambassador the United States, Mr. Ertegun turned his love for jazz and the blues into the foremost record label bringing “black” music to white audiences. The music made him a lot of money and helped erode the racial barriers that had divided the nation since its founding.

Ms. Regan, who was unceremoniously dumped by News Corp. as the chief of her eponymous publishing imprint, was the person who produced the book and TV show on how O.J. Simpson would have killed his wife if he had done so. The public was spared this obscenity at the last possible moment when an increasingly embarrassed News Corp. pulled the plug.

With a pedigree including editorial positions at the National Enquirer and the Geraldo show, Ms. Regan is attracted to controversy like a moth to flame. One successful book she published was entitled “How to Make Love Like a Porn Star.”

Her gift, as Michael Wolff wrote in New York Magazine, is “the natural ability” to project her character as the character of her audience. “To be able to make that leap distinguishes you,” he continues. “What I feel, others feel. What I do, others do or want to do. No doubts, no shame here.”

Although Ms. Regan and Mr. Ertegun would not seem at first to have a lot in common, their careers both reflect a deep confidence that their insights and sensibilities would be shared by a sufficient number of other people to ensure significant commercial acceptance of their work.

In short, they had the guts to trust their guts. That’s the lesson for other media professionals.