McGuire on Media

"Russell Wiley is Out to Lunch" is a must read for newspaper refugees and corporate survivors

My first reaction to Russell Wiley is Out to Lunch would have been an outline that looked like this:.

A Great first forty pages on the troubles plaguing newspapers

B Angst

C More angst

D An abrupt literary climax

E A denouement featuring social media solutions

The more I chewed on the book the more I decided I needed to revise that outline to look something like this:

A Great first forty pages on the troubles plaguing newspapers

B Angst

C Some brilliant satire on corporate America that amuses while it scores a direct hit

D. A little more angst

E An abrupt literary climax

F An exceptionally funny denouement featuring social media solutions with a dose of good management lessons to boot.

I loved Russell Wiley is Out to Lunch as a newspaper novel.  Without playing the spoiler, and without pretending to be a literary critic, I found the angst stuff overdone, cliched and predictable. Even with that, buy this book!

If you have ever been in a newspaper, no matter the capacity, or if you’ve been in corporate America, you want to read about Russell! I felt so strongly about author Richard Hine’s newspaper analysis that I’m using an excerpt in my Business and Future of Journalism class here at ASU’s Walter Cronkite School.

Russell’s litany of problems facing his Chronicle and the newspaper industry are spot on. They include: “can’t find enough  readers to replace those who are dying,” “bad company structure that puts print sales in direct competition with the online division,” and “online sales folk are celebrated for stealing customers from the print product.” We also get a chance to ruminate with Russell about his rejection of a Google job offer only to realize that the light at the end of the newspaper tunnel was a big ol’ train.

Middle managers really get creamed by Hine. And, too many of the terms and behaviors ring very true. I would not want to take a test on how many of the goofy corporate things Russell talked about that are in my past. The term  BHAGS (big hairy audacious goals) has certainly crossed my lips. On the other hand, I used Russell’s admonition that “you can’t cut your way to growth,” until I was blue in the face.

Wiley and/or Hine talk easily about the “consultant trap” and mock a manager for telling people “not to get too granular.” That is code for “don’t bother me, I have no clue about the details of anything!”  

On practically every page not devoted to Russell’s personal trials there is sharp newspaper analysis, pointed satire of the corporate world and more than enough sass to keep us engaged.

With the aid of a mysterious business magazine columnist named Christopher Finchley, Hine, Wiley et al skewer corporate America and it’s pretension. A responsible reader will get the not-too-subtle satirical message that corporate politics is doing serious damage to innovation and problem-solving.  At The Chronicle, big break-through ideas are, in reality,  often rehashed old ideas dressed up with a new consultant’s fancy description.

The climax snuck up on me and seemed entirely too neat.  I don’t want to give anything away, but the resolution is incredibly forgiving in a book that stressed how unforgiving the workplace is.  However, the unwinding of that resolution is a highlight of the book and social media really gets its due.

This book is an up-to-date-hilarious snapshot of the problems facing mainstream media. It’s got an insider’s touch and despite its sharp fangs there’s love for the newspaper business throughout the novel.  If you have ever been in the media business I think you’ll treasure Russell Wiley is Out to Lunch.

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