Beyond the obvious political obstacles with that kind of heavy-handed regulation, Bloomberg missed a bigger story. Forty-six states and the District of Columbia have now agreed to begin implementing what’s called “Common Core” curriculum standards — partly because of being pushed to do so by President Obama’s Race to the Top education grant program. In a country with 13,000 turf-conscious local school districts, this common-sense approach to setting strong national standards to meet the challenge of global competition is revolutionary. It also promises a potential revolution in the textbook industry, both print and digital. A textbook that becomes a favorite of education officials charged with implementing the Common Core standards could achieve unheard-of scale and sales volumes. The same is true for high-tech teaching products, which is why venture capitalists are starting to warm to an industry they once shunned because sales had to be made one by one to states or even school districts in a highly politicized process.
The emergence of digital publishing combined with the adoption of the Common Core is going to upend a big, important industry. The right story would take us inside the jockeying among traditional publishers and startup entrepreneurs to get in on the potential Common Core gold rush. Which bureaucrats are making the Common Core decisions about which learning products to adopt? What kind of lobbying and political pressure has been unleashed at what levels to influence these choices? Apple stories have glitzy appeal, but what’s going on behind closed doors to determine how and what our kids will learn when the revolutionary Common Core is implemented is the real story.
4. Businessweek’s revival:
Although I wasn’t keen on that Bloomberg View essay in the Feb. 6 issue of Businessweek, I was stunned in reading this issue, as I have been repeatedly in reading other recent issues, at how terrific the magazine has become under its new Bloomberg owners and editor Josh Tyrangiel. I second Jack Shafer’s December appraisal: It has become, for my money, the best business magazine published today and one of the two or three best magazines, period. If anything, its fault is that, because it’s a weekly, there’s so much good stuff in each issue that it leaves the reader feeling guilty he didn’t get to it all (though there are smart bottom-line summaries at the end of each piece to help deal with that).
The cover story of that Feb. 6 issue was an exquisite blow-by-blow account of how hard it is to merge two giant airlines (Continental and United) because there are thousands of surprisingly complicated decisions to be made—such as whose coffee and uniforms to keep or figuring out how to cut over to common reservations and flight-information systems while still operating 24/7 around the world. Reporter Drake Bennett made the important but mundane come to life in a way that reminded me of the quote attributed to McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc celebrating “the kind of mind that can see beauty in a hamburger bun.”
Inside the same issue there were at least a dozen other stories I wanted to read, from the “wild battle to overpay for the bankrupt Los Angeles Dodgers” to “So Long, Wal-Mart Greeter.”
This kind of transformation doesn’t just happen. Someone needs to do as thorough and as page-turning a piece on the magazine’s resurgence as Businessweek itself would do. There is a lot more to remaking a magazine than investing in talent. It takes attitude, discipline and a constant visualization of the reader—a relentless focus on whom you’re writing for and what you’re trying to deliver.
How did Tyrangiel put all that together in an age when print is supposed to be dying? And is his reborn product making money? Are advertisers ponying up? Are circulation revenues on the rise? How is the magazine keeping itself from being victimized by the Web—or is it? How does its progress compare with a parallel effort to beef up Bloomberg’s long-suffering cable-TV network? What’s the difference? And how does all of this fit into the larger strategy of the Bloomberg company?