As I finally start making headway on my own novel (most writers’ lifelong dream!) I am making a concerted effort to steer clear of other non-fiction styles, but as an avid reader I still need nightly material. I haven’t read a specific industry book since I left full-time education so a scour of my internet sources led me to these two books and I read “Trust Me I’m Lying” (TMIL) by Ryan Holiday first.
This is a bestselling book by Holiday who brands himself (or is branded by others) as a marketer, Public Relations director, and media strategist. Prior to penning the book, Ryan was already well-known in the industry Stateside - as Director of Marketing for clothing retailer American Apparel, he had created controversial campaigns that gained widespread publicity. Thankfully he outlines a lot of the strategy and results for these in the book.
So is the book worth a read? In short, yes.
The first part of the book, in fairness, is the most interesting to people who only digest digital media and news in general. It’s all about how the news is manipulated, created and spread by “behind-the-scenes” people like Holiday. Like us. Of course, here in little old Northern Ireland, I would be surprised to find anything as scandalous as some of the things that happen across the pond, but the basic premise of how we can strategize for digital media is similar, if not smaller in scale.
“Our dominant cultural medium — the web — is hopelessly broken.”
The second part of the book looks more at morality and ethics, why we shouldn’t do exactly what Holiday and others did as outlined in Part One. Ryan doesn’t give us a simple solution to the problem he unearths, but then that’s probably because a simple solution doesn’t exist. Certainly not one that an individual could create alone.
I can see why some media outlets were outraged when this book was released. They aren’t all painted in the most flattering of lights. But to those of us working in the field, it isn’t new. What is new is the fact that someone would admit to being involved and explain the finer details of stunts or scandals, from start to finish.
And despite his modesty, Holiday is clearly not just a stunt man. I found the way he handled the CNN crisis in particular, very skilful under such pressure and I can’t imagine even with his knowledge that I would have been able to craft the outcome so well. He may call it a fluke of sorts, but I think he undersells himself.
As someone who works with and around media, I am often torn between my admiration for great journalism and an innate cynicism that renders me unable to read/watch anything in total faith, without criticising or outright non-believing. It makes me feel like some kind of crazy conspiracy-theorist.
What Holiday did was entertain me, enlighten me, sweep me along in well-written content, and comfort me in my craziness. My dad will love this book for that very reason!
I am not alone. And I am by no means unfounded in my concerns. Holiday’s critique of the modern media industry exposes the risks of opening a journalistic world to people without the tools and ethical code of said world. What should have become a place of “citizen journalism” and “the truth” has only evolved into even muddier waters.
Whether you read the news or you create the news, an evening or two spent with this book will leave you feeling something and therefore, is not time wasted.
Ryan Holiday now blogs for the Huffington Post and you can follow his articles here.