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Wales: Ingrate or Innovator?

It's disappointing that Fast Company has fallen under the spell of Jimmy Wales ("Why Is This Man Smiling?" April) without so much as a passing reference to the man's many critics. You say Wales is the founder of Wikipedia; but according to Wikipedia itself, Wales and Larry Sanger were cofounders. From January 2001 up until 2004, Wales never had a problem rightly naming Sanger as a cofounder. Now he would rather depreciate Sanger's role. This is the guy we'll trust to make Internet search more transparent?

Gregory Kohs
West Chester, Pennsylvania

To look at Jimbo--or any innovator--as a moral role model is probably not the most efficient way of evaluating his products. For most Fast Company readers, it's the products we're interested in and how innovations may change the landscape.

Maryam Motamedi
North Hollywood, California

Paper Chase

I believe that Anya Kamenetz has really missed the boat on why newspapers are struggling these days ("Public Interest," April). It's not because they're losing out to the Internet's speed in the delivery of news. People buy the newspaper for many different reasons, only one of which is to get the latest headlines. They buy them for the ads, the comics, the sports section, and local topics of interest--happenings around town, etc.

I would suggest that journalism as social enterprise, Kamenetz's proposed solution to newspapers' woes, is exactly the reason behind declining readership. Newspapers, broadly speaking, have become so focused on peddling their political ideology and propagandizing the populace to their point of view that they have forgotten that their job is to sell newspapers, thereby maximizing ad and circulation revenue for their owners.

Kevin D. Kearney
Carlisle, Pennsylvania

Anya Kamenetz has an interesting idea about saving newspapers. The only trouble is, it's against the law. That goes back to an old-fashioned Yellow Dog Democratic congressman named Wright Patman who hated the Houston Chronicle, which at that time was owned by a foundation, the Houston Endowment. He managed to pass a law, the Tax Reform Act of 1969, that forbade a nonprofit foundation from owning more than 20% of a profit-making business. The law resulted in the sale of the Chronicle to Hearst. As a former columnist for the Chronicle, I can tell you things at that newspaper have never been the same. True, the Poynter Institute owns the St. Petersburg, Florida, paper. But Poynter is an educational institution and exempt from that law.

Jim Barlow
Houston, Texas

Anya Kamenetz responds:
Barlow is right about the Tax Reform Act of 1969, but there are two ways to get around it. As he notes, the for-profit entity can be owned by an educational institution, such as the Poynter Institute's ownership of the
St. Petersburg Times, or the Anniston Star transferring ownership to the University of Alabama.

Or, you can creatively redefine the revenues of the for-profit entity. This is the approach I advocated for transforming The New York Times. In the case of NPR, which is an interesting parallel, affiliates ask for voluntary membership contributions from listeners (instead of subscription fees) and from corporate sponsors (instead of advertising). The only restriction in how it does business is that in NPR's on-air sponsorship announcements, it can't use "qualitative language," meaning it can describe what Toyota sells but not how great the company is.

Leadership Notes

Your notes from the conversation between Bill George and Wendy Kopp ("Open Debate," April) are probably the best piece on leadership I've read in the past 15 years. Research into leadership back in the 1960s has not been updated, although the past 10 years have seen books and articles speculating about it as if it were just some kind of business buzzword. In any case, they both have it right. Leadership is about teaching and serving others and "achieving ambitious ends in an important pursuit."

Paul T. Jackson
Enumclaw, Washington

Sticking It

In a world of political correctness and offend-no-one mentality, it was refreshing to read the Made to Stick column ("Polarize Me," April), which outlined the risks associated with this middle-of-the-road attitude. When a person reads a company or product name or a tagline, his or her subconscious makes an initial interpretation. If we can make the user hesitate and evaluate the meaning behind it, you have a chance of furthering your message.

Jim Jones
Lincoln, Nebraska

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