Nieman Foundation at Harvard
What’s with the rise of “fact-based journalism”?
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June 7, 2010, noon

Quick, name three biz-side staffers at your news org

Really great piece by Tony Hsieh, CEO of online retailer Zappos, about why he sold the company to Amazon last year. But one paragraph stood out to me, both in its Orwellian creepiness and potential usefulness. He’s talking about the challenge of being a rapidly growing company adding lots of new employees:

I’ve noticed that at company happy hours, you don’t see as many employees from different departments hanging out with one another.

To address that, we’ve begun tracking employee relationships. When employees log in to their computers, we ask them to look at a picture of a random employee and then ask them how well they know that person — the options include “say hi in the halls,” “hang out outside of work,” and “we’re going to be longtime friends.” We’re starting to keep track of the number and strength of cross-departmental relationships — and we’re planning a class on the topic. My hope is that we can have more employees who plan to be close friends.

Kinda creepy, right? Why does Tony Hsieh care who I’m drinking beer with after work? Feels like an externally enforced Facebook for the workplace, except you can’t click “Ignore” on the awkward requests.

But that said, purely from a data-gathering perspective, wouldn’t it be great to have this kind of information about news organizations? To be able to see how much the reporters and the ad-sellers even know each other’s names? Or how much the marketing department knows the news staff whose work they’re tasked with marketing? Or heck, how much the arts critics and the sports guys hang out together? So many of the relationships between the parts of a traditional news organization are wrapped up in ancient doctrines that may have outlived their usefulness; it would be fascinating to see how those relationships stand today and how they’ve evolved.

Joshua Benton is the senior writer and former director of Nieman Lab. You can reach him via email ( or Twitter DM (@jbenton).
POSTED     June 7, 2010, noon
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