Showing posts with label Spocko. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Spocko. Show all posts

Saturday, January 13

Missing The Mark: KSFO

If someone ever writes a white paper about why modern media needs strategic communication help from the same “handlers” they used to loathe as the gatekeepers to corporations and public figures, KSFO will certainly be a mention in the lead paragraph. Its message on a 3-hour special broadcast was weak, probably because it didn’t have one.

While I did not listen to the show because it conflicted with a client meeting, I did spend some time reading the various commentaries about it, looking for the relatively few grays in a sea of blacks and whites. Among the best lines anywhere came from Joe Garofoli, staff writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, who called it right when he summed: “The controversy, fueled by liberal bloggers, showed the increasing power of new media to affect traditional outlets by going after their advertisers.”

Indeed, the landscape has changed and, for better or worse, traditional media has been the slowest to respond. You see, it used to be that the media (both objective reporting and op ed writers/broadcasters) was charged with the responsibility of “setting the agenda” for local, state, regional, and national discussions. Their underlying ethical guidelines were simple (much simpler than public relations professionals) because it was their job to “find the truth and shame the devil.”

Certainly, most good reporters follow ethical guidelines that include objective reporting and not accepting bribes, etc. But good reporters, the best of them, also perceive all ethical guidelines as secondary to "getting at the truth" whereas the worst of them, KSFO included, spend too much time trying to “shame the devil,” a label they seem to apply to basically anyone who does not agree with them. (My apologies to good reporters who might take exception to seeing radio talk show hosts lumped in with them.)

As I said, the landscape has changed and Julian Seery over at Exceler8ion presents some good points for newspapers to consider. More to the point: in today’s world, there seems to be an underlying movement by bloggers to take over the media’s job of “setting the agenda,” with the net result being that any biased reporting and reckless shaming the devil will be ever more scrutinized by a public that has much more power to communicate than a letter to the editor or calling into a talk show.

It seems the old adage “never pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel and paper by the pound” is dead or dying. Today’s social media is only limited by the time it takes to post anything it wants: objective, biased, or completely polarized. With increasing fervor, every day, traditional media is finding that it is being subjected to the same scrutiny it is used to subjecting upon its topics of interest. Given KSFO’s performance on Friday, as well as many other examples out there, it seems to me that the media is not prepared for the job.

From a communication perspective, KSFO chose the wrong messages to make its case. The idea that a critic could not campaign against it was na├»ve, especially because it has campaigned against other people. The argument that its rival is anonymous was ludicrous, given that the media has long protected anonymity when it serves its purpose. And the concept that it can choose “not to address the subject again” is hypocritical, given the media shames people into talking about things they don’t want to talk about every day.

KSFO would have been better served to craft a message that was much more powerful and readily at its disposal.

First and foremost, its people needed to apologize for the threat of the lawsuit, recognizing that their rival does have a right to campaign against their show, although perhaps mentioning it was an attempt to teach someone a lesson between the difference of being a critic and attempting to censor critics (which is what Melanie Morgan herself learned a few years ago).

Second, they could have mentioned that their critic is equally guilty of colorful and hateful language, pointing out that he is sometimes a hypocrite in his argument (it seems as if they never read his blog ).

Third, admit that they have, at times, been radically harsh in their criticism but that must not overshadow Charles Bradlaugh’s warning that it is “Better a thousand abuses of free speech than the denial of free speech. The abuse dies in a day, but the denial stays in the life of people.”

Last, but not least, that despite what people say during passionate discussions about their beliefs, we can all agree to disagree on these overly polarized issues. As Australian-born Robert Hughes once wrote years ago: “If they (Americans) are fraying now, it is because politics has, for the last twenty years, weakened and in some areas broken the traditional American genius for consensus, for getting along by making practical compromises to meet real social needs.”

The one line remains as haunting to me as the first time I quoted it in 1994. It haunts me because none of the players in this debate has ever heard it. How could they? They are too busy yelling at each other. And that is something for all members of the media to keep in mind as they make a choice: do you want to get back into the business of “geeting at the truth” or do you want to join the ranks of millions who enjoy yelling about their polarized issues on blogs, vlogs, and broadcasts?

I hope you pick the former, because if the media (print and broadcast) continues to simply join in the shouting matches or host them, then who will be left to find the truth? Obviously, no one in the case of Spocko vs. KSFO.

Thursday, January 11

Protecting Free Speech: ABC/Disney

Believe it or not, the public relations arms of KSFO, ABC, and Disney can learn a lot from Jason Goldberg.

Sure, everyone knows that I tossed in my fair share of communication flack about how Jobster handled its crisis communication situation (not enough, it seems, to warrant a hit), but I also believe in giving credit where credit is due. Although Goldberg seemed to create his own “blogswarm,” largely spurred by his own posts, he didn’t hide from it. He talked about it.

KSFO, ABC, and Disney aren't talking. When Online Media Daily asked, Julie Hoover, a spokeswoman for ABC Radio, declined to comment. Brian Sussman, the KSFO radio talk host under fire, told CBS 5 by e-mail that he is not doing any interviews about the broadcasts. As much as I have searched, none of the stations and companies under fire has really said anything.

Public Relations 101 says “no comment” is an admission of guilt, unless you clarify. There are several instances when it is permissible not to comment, the most obvious that could have been used in this instance: legal counsel has advised against communicating on that subject while the matter is before the courts or pending court action. Unfortunately, they missed it, along with the most basic truth that their misguided nemesis preaches censorship above all else.

If you take the time to read his pained posts, you’ll see a consistent story: this guy has tried everything, including government intervention through the FCC, to shut down one talk show host after the next. Failing to impact the higher-rated hosts, he finally found some wiggle room at KSFO.

As much as I think it was wrong for Internet provider 1&1 to cancel his account for reasons already mentioned, it is equally wrong to think that this “offended” blogger represents the spirit of the First Amendment. I suggest he hit the books and study up, starting with Ray Bradbury:

“… minorities, each ripping a page or paragraph from a book, until one day the books were empty and the minds were shut and libraries were closed.” — Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

While I might not be an attorney, I do know a few things about the First Amendment and have been directly and indirectly involved in several productive free speech cases over the years, including the amicus brief taken up by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in 1996, which was one of the first real landmark actions in preserving a poster’s intellectual property rights from Internet providers by defining them as passive carriers as opposed to publishers. It also prompted America Online to provide a free speech area, monitored by the ACLU, that was not subject to the company’s terms of service.

Back then, a few years before the term “blog” first graced the pages of the Internet, I spent ample free time attempting to educate people on merits of free speech, frequently citing one of the best quotes on the subject by Charles Bradlaugh, who warned us: “Better a thousand abuses of free speech than the denial of free speech. The abuse dies in a day, but the denial stays in the life of people.”

How true is that. And how sad it is that KSFO, ABC, and Disney have yet to make the case that maybe, just maybe, despite their ill-advised legal letter (note: the threat of legal action and actual legal action are light years apart) from a public relations perspective, KSFO needs some First Amendment protection. How interesting would it be to see the Electronic Frontier Foundation and ACLU face off on the issue? I’m all for that as long as the risk doesn’t wack away another piece of "fair use."

Of course, if KSFO, ABC, and Disney are not inclined to wrap themselves up in the Bill of Rights, then they should drop any legal action all together. Sure, some folks will toast to being triumphant for a day, but will quickly become irrelevant without the lawsuit. Or maybe, you can take a page from the AOL case and host a blog for bashing Sussman. (Once AOL folks had a free speech area, few, if any, posted.)

I suspect this guy is the same. Sure, he has a right to complain about this and that with speech that I find no less hateful than his so-called “right wing prosecutors,” but his agenda is hardly pure with today’s post entitled “Their time is over,” meaning people with a contrary view to his own. Likewise, his personal quote — which once read “I just want a piece of the action,” er, until he noticed that being a public figure for 15 minutes isn’t as easy as being an anonymous blogger — revealed. It was deleted this morning. Go figure.

So is the glass half full or half empty? I suggested ice.

Wednesday, January 10

Learning From Social Media: Spocko

Much has already been written about Spocko vs. ABC/Disney so I almost passed by this page in social media history. But then I scanned the various posts and saw something missing from most of them. With all the backlash aimed at ABC/Disney, the missing link seems to be 1&1, an Internet provider.

Sure, Disney had sent a cease and desist letter to 1&1 about Spocko's Brain, but 1&1 took action, not Disney. And that's not good for anyone, with consequences that reach much further than Disney's misguided attempt to silence a critic. (It's not the first time they've failed at it.)

You see, for a long time now, most Internet providers have been extremely careful to label themselves as distributors, which, simply put, provides them a certain amount of legal protection to avoid getting caught in any content crossfires. It can be likened to the United States Postal Service, which cannot be sued for the magazine that arrives in your mailbox, or your cable company if you prefer.

Of all people, Andreas Gauger, 1&1 chairman of the board, Ralph Dommermuth (now CEO of United Internet, the public parent company of 1&1), and Achim Weiss (now CTO of 1&1) should know this, given that they handle about 5.87 million customers and 7.2 million domain names worldwide (minus 1). Or maybe they don't, given that they are a relatively new player to the United States, crossing over from Europe.

As a provider, the allure of 1&1 is relatively cheap Web hosting services and its big break into the US market by offering three years of service for free in 2004. I guess the old adage "you get what you pay for" is true. Despite a significant net worth and global presence, 1&1 barely blinked before buckling to ABC/Disney, potentially damaging every other Internet provider in the world by making them unnecessarily responsible for content.

Look, I am not saying it was prudent of ABC/Disney to send the letter to begin with, but I also appreciate that companies and public figures do it all the time. They send letters to various publishers and editors, sometimes from their lawyers, saying cease this and desist that and "oogie boogie no advertising dollars for you."

To that end, Spocko and other bloggers could learn a lot from print publishers, who are a bit more familiar with fair use and whatnot. As a blogger, always be prepared to face the reality of blogging: you're a publisher with much less overhead, but not necessarily much less risk.

Any time you critique people, someone is going to try to shut you down. In fact, when you get down to it, that is what Spocko was trying to do in the first place: shut down KSFO's morning talk show because he didn't like what they were saying. In some ways, ABC/Disney just followed suit by shutting Spocko down, temporarily, sort of, not really.

I suppose I might clarify that I'm talking about "what is" and my personal take on the situation is a bit different, but not much. You see, I believe very strongly in the First Amendment and have been an activist on that front more times than I care to talk about.

But as a First Amendment advocate, I think of this mess a bit differently. First and foremost, I don't particularly care for what I heard listening to clips from these so-called "right-wing" talk radio hosts, but then again, I don't begrudge anyone their right to act like idiots as these drive-time hosts obviously do. It's a shame that listeners support the show by driving up the numbers, but I don't pick what people play on their radios.

I also believe very strongly that Spocko had every right to critique the show in the court of public opinion, even by using clips to illustrate the point. And given what Spocko wrote, I think that advertisers had a right to buy or pull their ads based on that, because frankly, most just buy the numbers until someone tells them what they are buying. I don't agree with forcing people to be "PC" — and that is a personal choice.

Anyway, given Spocko was targeting advertisers in an attempt to censor KSFO, I suppose ABC/Disney had every right to try to take action too, even as ill-advised as that action was (because it led to suicide by public relations in what is being labeled "David vs. Goliath" as opposed to "Will the real censor please stand up...").

So that leaves us with 1&1. If 1&1 wants to continue to increase its presence in the United States, it needs to learn not to knuckle under the pressure of a legal letter.

While I am not an attorney and appreciate this is still being sorted out in some sectors, I believe Internet providers in this country owe it to themselves and their customers to be carriers, with each blogger solely responsible for his or her content. Shame on 1&1 for not sticking by what seems to me to be the single most important definition of Internet content in the last decade.

Likewise, kudos for "The Daily Kos," along with YouTube, Blogintegrity, Firedoglake, and others for trying to teach Mr. Gauger that he is not a publisher. His customers are publishers. Let's keep it that way.

As for ABC/Disney, I'm tracking this as a living case study to see how it handles the fallout. That's more telling than a legal letter that worked, temporarily, sort of, maybe.

Then again, at the end of the day, I think ABC/Disney would have been better off limiting any legal letters to only Spocko so Spocko could have it framed and then blogged about it. Better yet, the radio hosts that went crying to their bosses might have used the airwaves to talk about Spocko's plight to make the world PC. Had that happened, this might have remained a regional story instead of potentially impacting us all.

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