I have a love-hate relationship with Penelope Trunk.
On one hand, she does sometimes have a far-sighted vision for where the concept of “work” is going and how to deal with the realities of the new workplace. Sometimes, she gives good advice.
On the other hand, some of her advice is not only bad — it’s borderline crazy. You should really not take a vacation day without telling your boss, show up late for work, use company time/resources to start your own business, lay down on the floor of your workplace’s bathroom, or accept sexual harassment. (all things she has actually suggested as career advice) If the ethics of the “new American workplace” degrade to this level, we’d better get ready to polish our chopsticks as China eats our lunch.
I’ve never met Penelope Trunk face to face, so I have no idea what’s she’s really like. (although I only missed her once at a meeting in Nashville by a few hours) But her online personality seems abrasive, condescending, and she’s way too transparent with her personal life.
Last week, she (the career sage) got fired from her job as a career columnist for Yahoo! Finance which is a bit surreal.
She cites the reason that she was canned was that financial content gets a higher CPM than career content and her high traffic (that she cites from *ahem* Wikipedia) was bringing down the CPM of the whole finance package. Aside from the use of Wikipedia as a source for traffic figures, that makes no sense.
I don’t know if she was one of the top traffic draws for Yahoo!. She was a polarizing personality that drew lots of positive/negative commenters. Even now, she’s still getting lots of both mean/rude and positive/supporting comments on both her blog and final Yahoo! Finance post. But even if she was a huge draw, Yahoo! was right to get rid of her. If you’re driving traffic, ratings, etc that stem from shock value, you’re hurting your long term brand. Look at the brand equity of “The View” before/after Rosie.
I think the real reason that she was fired was because of a new problem that we are going to have to deal with as a result of the new world of web publishing — the self-made expert.
While I’m always preaching that ANYONE now has the power of worldwide publishing, there’s the problem that ANYONE now has the power of worldwide publishing. That means the fringe voices that were previously kept at a whisper because of their vulgar, obscene, hate-filled, or nonsense ideas now have a platform. There’s no/low barrier to entry. And while the web is a great equalizer, if you get picked up by a platform like Yahoo!, it enables you to shout a little louder than others.
Anyone can market themselves as an expert on the web. It’s like the old cartoon — on the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog. How many experts have the credentials or the ideas to back it up? It’s a world of buyer beware. When you find an “expert” on the web, you’d better make sure you’ve gotten the real thing.
So while the vitriol behind some of the comments toward Trunk are pure hatred, I think some of it is akin to the townspeople riding the snake-oil salesman out on rail after his sham has been exposed.