Lessons we can learn from my 'BFF,' Benjamin Franklin


Those who know me personally know that I tend to live in the past —  labeling myself a "closet historian.” Lately, I have been dissecting the U.S. Revolutionary period through the eyes of our Founding Fathers to gain more insight into how those imperfect men who crafted a perfect document might have foreseen and even advised us on the complex challenges our democracy is currently facing — especially as it pertains to maintaining the constitutionally-mandated free press.

If asked who my “BFF” is ("Best Founding Father"), I would respond, "Hands down, Benjamin Franklin,” for several reasons. First, he literally invented the concept of free speech and an “unfettered press,” starting as a teenage apprentice offering commentary as the middle-aged widow “Mrs. Silence Dogood.” Then he later regularly practiced these rights through his reporting as the publisher of the Pennsylvania Gazette.

I would also argue how essential his diplomatic skills were in gaining what some thought was impossible — winning over France's King Louis XVI and his government to support our revolution, which not only tapped their treasury but helped fuel their own citizenry's appetite to want to mimic our desire for liberty.

And, without Franklin, we may never have united our disjointed society because he acted as an elder statesman helping the young revolutionaries get along and understand the need to unite.

To understand the beginnings of the Revolutionary War, one must look at how it was New England's wealthy shipping magnets like John Hancock who were most impacted by the taxes that were eating into their profits. It was they who first wanted to break with England. The wealthy southern agricultural landowners were more content just growing cotton and tobacco to feed the English economy. Franklin worked diligently to win over all of Philadelphia's Continental Congress delegates into a united cause. He even resurrected and re-published a famous 1754 political cartoon we know today as "JOIN or DIE," where Franklin depicts the thirteen American Colonies as separate parts of a snake that can only be strong if united.

Yep, that was a long preamble. However alas, there is a lesson here for us as we face enormous challenges of sustaining our businesses that are necessary to the citizens we serve some 247 years later.

One of our missions at E&P is to help unite our industry, which seems to have become very disjointed today. There is no question that every news publisher wants the same thing — to survive and serve. Unfortunately, however, some of the support we seek and desperately need seems to now be in too many hands.

In the past 24 months, we have reported on over 10 separate national, non-profit associations that seek dollars from members and funders, all with good ideas but not working in concert. And within the same time period, we have reported on five separate initiatives to define what truth in journalism is and how we can help reassure our readers that they are getting only accurate and truthful information in an unbiased, even-handed, and impartial manner.

Plus, as third-party data moves in new directions with a radical change in the programmatic world, how are we poised to sell our aggregated, critical inventory at its highest value? And meanwhile, we keep losing so many battles on state and national levels when it comes to advocating for necessary legislation to help us maintain a competitive business model. So why is our industry so hard to unite while others seem to have no trouble working together to advance their common interests?

There's no solution within this message — just venting frustration about how disjointed we are at such a critical time.

We at E&P will still report every credible, worthy initiative in an unbiased manner so that you, the publisher, can make an informed decision on its merits. Plus, we will maintain our neutrality and integrity on who we take dollars from and who we answer to. On this, you have our word.

In the meantime, let's look again at possibly one of the most essential and iconic pieces of commentary ever published — a simple cartoon from my "BFF," Dr. Benjamin Franklin.

MIKE BLINDER is the Publisher of Editor & Publisher Magazine (E&P) and CEO (Chief Evangelist Officer) of its parent company, The Curated Experiences Group. E&P has served as the authoritative voice of the news publishing industry for over 140-years. He is also the author of “Survival Selling,” a popular (media-based) B2B (business-to-business) sales guide.


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