September 16, 2019

Jonah Lehrer Shops a Book on the Power of Love

In a 65-page book proposal obtained by The New York Times, Mr. Lehrer described the day last summer — a “muggy Sunday morning in St. Louis” — when his journalistic fraud was discovered.

“I feel the shiver of a voice mail message,” he wrote in the proposal, “A Book About Love.” “I listen to the message. I have been found out. I puke into a recycling bin. And then I start to cry. Why was I crying? I had been caught in a lie, a desperate attempt to conceal my mistakes. And now it was clear that, within 24 hours, my fall would begin. I would lose my job and my reputation. My private shame would become public.”

Mr. Lehrer, then a 31-year-old wunderkind of the journalism and publishing worlds, had fabricated quotes from Bob Dylan and recycled his own work from one publication to another, and he subsequently lost his prestigious position at The New Yorker. His publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, quickly removed print copies of his best-selling book “Imagine: How Creativity Works” from bookshelves and from online retailers.

Since then, Mr. Lehrer has remained mostly quiet, appearing onstage in February at a seminar sponsored by the Knight Foundation. (The foundation, whose stated mission includes supporting “quality journalism,” later apologized for paying him an eye-popping $20,000 speaker’s fee.)

Liberally quoting from Jane Austen, Philip Larkin, Shakespeare, Erasmus, Darwin and Sartre (“Hell is other people”), Mr. Lehrer outlines a book with a style that resembles the pop-science titles that helped make him famous: “Imagine,” “How We Decide” and “Proust Was a Neuroscientist.”

“Careers fall apart; homes fall down; we give away what we don’t want and sell what we can’t afford,” he wrote. “And yet, if we are lucky, such losses reveal what remains. When we are stripped of what we wanted, we see what we will always need: those people who love us, even after the fall.”

On the cover page of the heavily footnoted proposal, the book is described as 80,000 words long. The manuscript will be delivered in November 2014, the proposal says.

“This book is about what has lasted in my own life,” he wrote. “I wanted to write it down so that I would not forget; so that, one day, I might tell my young daughter what I’ve learned.”

“If I’ve learned anything from writing these words, it’s that love matters,” he wrote in the proposal’s coda. “It matters more than I ever thought possible.”

The proposal was sent to publishers by the Wylie Agency, Mr. Lehrer’s literary representatives. When reached for comment, Andrew Wylie said, “I will talk to you if you tell me where you got the proposal.” Told that The Times does not discuss sourcing, he declined to comment further.

The journalist Michael Moynihan discovered Mr. Lehrer’s fabrications of Dylan quotes in an article published in Tablet magazine last year. After initially denying any wrongdoing, Mr. Lehrer eventually released a statement of apology through his publisher.

“The lies are over now,” he said in the statement. “I understand the gravity of my position. I want to apologize to everyone I have let down, especially my editors and readers.”

He added, “I will do my best to correct the record and ensure that my misquotations and mistakes are fixed. I have resigned my position as staff writer at The New Yorker.”

Browbeat, Slate’s culture blog, reported on Tuesday that Mr. Lehrer was circulating a book.

In the proposal’s introduction, Mr. Lehrer describes leaving St. Louis, his “suit and shirt stained with sweat and vomit,” and returning home.

“I open the front door and take off my dirty shirt and weep on the shoulder of my wife,” he wrote. “My wife is caring but confused: How the hell could I be so reckless? I have no good answers.”

Lori Glazer, a spokeswoman for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, said the publisher had not received the proposal. Asked if her company would consider publishing Mr. Lehrer again, she said: “There is a higher bar to clear because of everything we found in the previous two books, but we would never prejudge.”

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/07/business/media/after-his-fall-jonah-lehrer-shops-a-book-on-the-power-of-love.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Common Sense: Netflix Chief Looks Back on Its Near-Death Spiral

It was the thousands of e-mails that poured in from angry and disappointed customers.

“I realized, if our business is about making people happy, which it is, then I had made a mistake,” Mr. Hastings told me this week, in a rare public comment on an episode that could have destroyed the company. “The hardest part was my own sense of guilt. I love the company. I worked really hard to make it successful, and I screwed up. The public shame didn’t bother me. It was the private shame of having made a big mistake and hurt people’s real love for Netflix that felt awful.”

This week, Netflix announced that it gained three million subscribers globally in the first quarter and that revenue for the quarter exceeded $1 billion, a record for the company. On Tuesday, the stock jumped 22 percent, the first time it has traded over $200 since the Qwikster episode, and it is up 135 percent so far this year, making Netflix the best-performing company in the Standard Poor’s 500-stock index. The company is basking in the critical glow of its original series, “House of Cards,” and this month narrowly surpassed HBO in total subscribers.

In the annals of corporate missteps, there are few parallels to such a rebound from what once looked like a death spiral, especially in the momentum-driven world of technology. Zynga, the online game maker, and Groupon, the Internet coupon company, are struggling with brutal competition. In an old-economy industry like retail, J. C. Penney was in the midst of a similarly bold attempt to reposition the company when it fired its chief executive, and is now fighting to survive.

How did Netflix simultaneously manage both a fundamental transformation of the company and a public relations disaster?

Mr. Hastings said he realized that the company’s attempt to both raise prices and separate into two companies, one the legacy DVD-by-mail business and the other the up-and-coming broadband streaming business, was trying to do too much too fast. Angry subscribers abandoned the company in droves (800,000 in the fourth quarter of 2011 alone), revenue missed estimates and the stock plunged.

“I messed up,” Mr. Hastings wrote in an unusually forthright September 2011 blog post. Citing the precedents of AOL and Borders Books, which struggled or failed to make the digital transition, “my greatest fear at Netflix has been that we wouldn’t make the leap from success in DVDs to success in streaming.” But in the rush to accelerate the transition, he wrote, “In hindsight, I slid into arrogance based upon past success.” He also made a video apology.

Mr. Hastings said he didn’t expect the apology alone to “turn it around,” adding, “I wasn’t naïve enough to think most customers care if the C.E.O. apologizes, but I thought it was honest and appropriate.”

The mea culpa resonated, though, with some important constituencies, including some Wall Street analysts, who were punishing the company’s stock. Richard Greenfield, an influential media analyst at BTIG, said that he was impressed that Mr. Hastings “realized his mistakes and openly admitted them.”

“He dusted himself off, stood back up and started running,” Mr. Greenfield said. “Very few people can do that.”

Still, Mr. Hastings said, “The situation made me nervous and very focused.

“I couldn’t say with confidence that we’d recover. We were in a place that was quite risky. We didn’t have the reserves to make a second stumble.”

On the other hand, he didn’t panic, and he didn’t lose confidence. Although he made some big changes, like scrapping Qwikster, he never questioned his original vision for the company, which he helped found in 1997. Nor did he lunge at supposedly transformative opportunities that were pressed upon him — a lesson he learned from a four-year war with Blockbuster that began in 2004, when Blockbuster, then the dominant and much larger DVD distributor, tried and failed to crush its upstart competitor.

“There were elements of panic in my reaction back then,” Mr. Hastings said. “We got desperate and we did some dumb things.” (He cited online advertising on the Web site; starting Red Envelope, an independent film producer and distributor, since shut down; and buying DVDs out of the Sundance Film Festival.) “After we eventually won the Blockbuster battle, I looked back and realized all those things distracted us. They didn’t help, and they marginally hurt. The reason we won is because we improved our everyday service of shipping and delivering. That experience grounded us. Executing better on the core mission is the way to win.”

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/27/business/netflix-looks-back-on-its-near-death-spiral.html?partner=rss&emc=rss