Showing posts with label journalist. Show all posts
Showing posts with label journalist. Show all posts

Wednesday, August 5

Are There Too Few Analysts In The Field Of Journalism?

There is one place broadcast news continues to beat out print journalism online and it's about time print-to-digital migrants took notice. People aren't looking for news outlets anymore. They are looking for informed experts — analysts, informants, and influencers — who add commentary and consult to their observations of world events and breaking news.

For many journalists, especially those hanging on to the last thread of objective journalism, the concept sends shivers up their spines. It's something different being a columnist or critic than a hard news journalist — writers who prefer to be seen not for their style but for the masthead they make home.

But that's not what people want. They don't want to find the same news in every paper. They don't want truth in media if that means vanilla reporting. And they certainly don't want forgettable bits of top-down information that can be spun out by anyone no matter how hard print tries to maintain it.

Print-to-digital migrants need people that the public can identify.

Sooner or later, print-to-digital migrants have to realize that their decision (some of them, anyway) to cut costs by letting all their veteran journalists go in favor of young, cheap, and desperate writers was a mistake. They needed to double down and transform those old school journalists into quasi-celebrities, a status once reserved for columnists, investigative reporters, and Gonzo journalists alone.

Except, unlike some of their more biased brethren, they need to usher in an era of impassioned objectivists — journalists who aren't afraid to look at the world the way it is (rather than the way they want it to be) and still turn a phrase that causes you to turn your head or wreck you gut or shake you awake. They need to write so well, in fact, that we want to know them by name and trust them to shape our brains.

By shape, I don't mean the advocacy and affirmation news that broadcast serves up on daily basis. What I mean is striving for stories that leave people so deeply informed about a topic that they can form their own opinions. What I mean is writing articles that aren't afraid to dig deeper into topics so we may transcend the tit-for-tat tactics of sourcing two opposing viewpoints who only talk around the surface of the subject. And what I mean is raising the bar rather than insulting the public's intelligence.

How to make print media relevant again with modern reporting.

Just as news publishers are learning in Pakistan, news organizations are learning all over the world: The "power of the press" shrinks exponentially when the public can buy digital ink by the barrel too. In other words, reach ceases to be a value proposition when companies and campaigns frequently beat out the circulation of most major news organizations. So maybe it's time to change it all together.

• Develop more specialists. Whereas news reporters used to be generalists, the public craves to get their information from specialists. This is one of the reasons some research firms have thrived in recent years — they publish content by passionate analysts who are informed, visible, and objective.

Journalists can easily take a page from their playbook or any number of 'new media' publishers that began delivering better content in some verticals than the dailies did, starting almost a decade ago. These people didn't just report the news and other people's views, they provided real analysis.

• Market semi-public reporters. Of course, content wasn't the only place new media started to crush some dailies. Almost every new media publisher and content provider won on personality too. Instead of providing authoritative reporting from under a masthead, the public was treated to a snapshot of the people behind the words.

Much like broadcast has known for years, the messenger can be just as important to the public as the message. In fact, most of the public will even forgive openly biased reporting as long as they feel like they know the person behind it. Ergo, the reporter IS part of the value proposition nowadays.

• Content needs to be intuitive. Ask most people about the ideal length of web content and most of them will skew short. It isn't really true, but plenty of people make a great case for short. Most folks only want a few graphs that sum up everything, they say.

What they really want is tiered content — short introductions that allow them to discern whether or not it's a topic that interests them enough to dig deeper. In fact, I've met more and more people who tell me they use media outlets like Newsy to scan the content and then turn to The New York Times or The Washington Post for in-depth coverage in an attempt to create a DIY hybrid of content agility.

• Multimedia wins the Internet. Sometimes people want to stream clips and other times they want to scan headlines with pics, but they want so much more from anything they decide to dig into deeper. Just as it is having an impact on content marketing it is true for journalism too.

Different people learn differently so they want their content to be visual (see), auditory (told), kinesthetic (touch), or language based (read/write) as it suits them. So knowing this, it only makes sense that digital journalism needs to be multimodal whenever it makes sense — reinforcing whatever story that happens to interest them with maps, infographics, interactive displays, video clips, animation, or anything that make sense.

Maybe all we need are authentic journalists with dazzling content.

While most newspapers have been busy chasing eyeballs to make themselves look more viable than they are, they should have be reinventing their value proposition instead. Consider the obvious.

What if more print-to-digital migrants hired authentic reporters that people could trust to deliver passionate stories that could help us better understand the world? And, what if they did it in such a way that we could preview the content before immersing ourselves in interactive multimodal content?

While no one can be certain, odds are that this kind of publication wouldn't have to worry too much about circulation. In fact, when you look at how people cobble multiple sites together to get the same effect, they wouldn't have to worry about revenue either. Journalism would become relevant again.

Wednesday, March 18

There Is Little Room For Truth With The Future Of Media.

When you reconcile the state of communication today, its condition is critical. Journalism is giving up ground to public relations, which continues to be swept aside by content marketing. It will continue to do so at least until technology rewrites the definition of social media as we know it, with a rapidly evolving future as documented in a conversation that continues with Danny Brown today.

Follow that path to its logical conclusion and you'll discover that we really are witnessing the steady decline journalism in favor of special interest advocacy that masquerades as valuable content while being fueled by any number of organizational agendas. We now live in a world where even science becomes a public relations battleground to win over public opinion — a throwback to the era of a yellow press when news was less important than eye-catching headlines much like today.

New media has been reformatted for a new master. So now what?

Unless you live in a vacuum, you already know that the changeover from old media to new media is a pejorative concept. The media had been consolidated for some time, mostly among six media giants that once controlled about 90 percent of the media. Want to know who owned what? Look here.

This suggests that the transition from corporate-owned media to corporate (or special interest) generated media is largely lateral. Except, it's not. Even when corporations owned the media, they mostly left management alone, which left the reporters alone in turn. That isn't the case now.

When corporations and special interests decided to stop funding somewhat objective news outlets in favor of more advocacy eyeballs and carefully controlled content marketing, they created a fiscal rift that made owning a news organization an investment liability (unless that outlet earned eyeballs too).

That in and of itself accelerated a growing problem. For about 100 years, reporters only had to tell the truth or shame the devil to be successful. But with the advent of click counts and page views, the journalist started facing a very different job description. Each story has to stand on its own eyeball count and each journalist became responsible for developing his or her own niche following, which (sadly) continues to be defined by eyeball counts over professional prowess.

Under these conditions, telling the truth (or shaming the devil) really isn't enough. You have to tell the truth people want to hear and shame the devils that the public doesn't like. And you have to do it for a fraction of the cost because journalism hasn't kept up with scalable salaries.

Nowadays, only news commentary consultants and talk show hosts command real income-earning potential as they deliver the goods that people either love or hate. Call it biased infotainment — news adorned in a "what to think" packaging — sound bites that sum up most of it.

On the other side of the fence, brand journalists are attempting to do the same. The modern special interest gatekeepers — professionals who once catered to the journalists — are increasingly interested in spinning their own never vetted musings of content marketing as news, which maintains an objective that is the polar opposite of journalism. The new job is to add perspective and praise the internal angels, with budgets that eclipse what journalism once spent tenfold.

The budgets don't only make the output potentially more infectious but also make these new brand journalist/content marketing positions slightly more fun, significantly more visible, and reward with substantially better salary caps — at least enough to lure away the very people who used to be considered the fourth estate. All that is required in return is that the one-time-journalist see the world thorough the lens of the organizational perspective first. That isn't so bad. Or is it?

Earned media has become an archaic term. It's all pay, up front and often. 

There is no question some of it will be useful, even if the next generation will likely be lost in a world with no truth tellers. They'll be left in a place where everything is an opinion. Moral facts will all be optional — except when they are decided en masse by a simple majority that changes with the tides.

On the surface, content marketers seem relatively happy with a growing share of the communication landscape (over public relations, which is over journalism). But over the long term, no one should be too happy about it. Whereas journalists had a loyalty to citizens and public relations practitioners had a loyalty to both the organization and the public, content marketers serve organizational interests.

And when only the readily available content comes from an organizational perspective, then we've lost something as a thinking society. The content we will believe will largely be owned by whichever organization has the dollars to convince us as all of the others are drowned out by multi-channel repetition, with the only real irony being that most people will prefer it over time.

What do you think? Will there ever be a miracle resurgence in people being willing to pay for valuable, truthful, and objective news? Or will organizations simply fill the void with advocacy news, well-funded stories and slants that serve up "value" as long as it produces other outcomes too?

Wednesday, November 5

Yes Virgina, There Are Impassioned Objectivists

Anytime I mention "objective journalism," someone contests the concept. They consider it an idealistic pipe dream. They claim that all journalists are biased. And they say it lacks the passion of advocacy journalism. But more than all that, they say objective journalism is dead. Get over it.

Sure, there is some truth to the statement that objective journalism is dead, but we mustn't mistake its current condition as evidence that the idea is boorish, flawed, or impossible. As defined, objective is an individual or individual judgment that is not influenced by personal feelings or opinions in considering and representing facts. And it's a quality that communicators ought not run from.

Objectivity comes with honesty and maturity. Grow up already.

The real problem it seems is that objective journalism allowed itself to be saddled with ideas that have nothing to do with objectivity — traits like fairness, indifference, and perfectness. Specifically, people expect that journalists (especially those who strive to be objective) must listen to both sides, transcend human frailty in hearing them, and then deadpan the facts for the public. But that's not it.

A working definition of objective journalism is more akin to how Iowa State journalism professor Michael Bugeja defined it: “Objectivity is seeing the world as it is, not how you wish it were.” The idea is that the communicator is willing to commit to the pursuit of truth, not what they hope is true.

People strive to be objective every day. A manager might like one employee better than another but promote the one with stronger skill sets. A coach might play the more talented player over their own child for the good of the team. A scientist might prove his theory wrong after reviewing empirical evidence. A judge might make a ruling that is right but weighs heavily on his or her heart.

So why would journalists somehow be incapable of striving to be objective (unless they don't want to be) where others have demonstrated the ability to succeed? It seems to me that all it would take is someone becoming impassioned to find the truth rather than promoting their own agenda or whatever agenda they have subscribed to believe. And it's in this passion for truth, rather than propping up fragile brands or frail ideologies, that deserves our respected admiration.

Forget balanced. A journalist might glean insight from different perspectives but truth doesn't take sides. Forget deadpan deliveries. Objectivity doesn't require anyone to feign disinterest in the face of outrage. Forget unconscious bias. The goal was never to transcend being human but merely to develop a consistent method of testing information, considering the evidence, and being self-aware of any personal and cultural bias. And all of these ideas were born out of a need for objectivity.

As as much as I have a fondness for Hunter S. Thompson, who had plenty to say about the objective journalism of his day, the lack of it enslaves us as the only "truth" that prevails is the one uttered with more frequency, more volume, and a more passionate will. And eventually, when the truth is no longer valued in favor of that "truth," it seems to me that we will finally find affirmation media to be an insult to our intellect and own sense of evidence.

Objective communication isn't limited to journalism. Stop saying yes. 

The Pew Research Journalism Project identified nine core principles of journalism, but I've always been partial to the idea that objectivity adheres to empirical standards, coherence standards, and rational debate. Empirical standards consider the evidence. Coherence standards consider how it fits within the greater context. Rational debate includes a diversity of views, but only gives merit to those views capable of meeting empirical and coherence standards.

In much the same way objective journalists strive to look out for the public interest, professional communications — marketers and public relations practitioners — better serve organizations (and the public) by applying objectivity to their situational analysis and measurements of outcomes. The stronger communicator is always the one who is objective as opposed to those who only aim to validate their actions or affirm a client/executive/decision maker's perceptions by saying yes.

Can we ever be certain? The answer is mostly no. While we can tear apart a baby's rattle and see what makes noise inside, we cannot see into the hearts of men and women to guess at their intent before there is any evidence of action. The best we can hope for is that those who have no intention of being objective wear the proclamation on their sleeves while others are given the benefit of the doubt until they prove otherwise. Let the truth lead for a while and see what happens.

Wednesday, October 29

The PR Call To 'Be The Media' Is A Misnomer

There's no question that social media has become an important part of the media/public relations landscape. Given that the media have completely integrated social media into journalism, it makes sense. And social, after all, has been integrated into every facet of communication and beyond.

It has become such a big part of public relations that there is even some ground swell over the notion that public relations could eventually "be the media" with equal footing. And why not?

Some firms even say that it's essential if businesses want to "reassume direct control over their reputations and news flow." Others say that it's a surefire solution "to become a producer as opposed to a facilitator" and earn a larger piece of the MarComm budget. And yet others think that in doing so, they can "skip the media middle man all together." It might even be vital to do so in some cases.

Being the media is not an evolutionary step for public relations. 

You don't have to subscribe to the notion of content shock to see a real problem with companies attempting to circumvent the media. The real problem is that it moves public relations away from its core tenet to strengthen the relationships between the organization and various publics in favor of a top-down communication — the same one that social was once purported to solve once and for all.

It also changes the perspectives, objectives, and outcomes of the communication. As quasi media, companies are incentivized to measure the reach, engagement, and conversion outcomes over programs designed to ensure mutually beneficial and measurable outcomes for the organization and its publics. And while it's true both efforts can work in tandem, the thinking is light years apart.

Reputable public relations teams would never view the media as a 'middle man' but rather as one of its very important publics — a reasonably objective (hopefully) voice that assists in bringing clarity to important issues, even those that are relatively niche. They also also understand that the increasingly diminished role of the media leaves an organization front and center as a direct source that must compete for attention against anyone who is looking for link clicks.

In other words, skipping the so-called media middle man further fragments communication, with each organization vying for its share of spotlight. It also opens up cause for corporations to supplant independent news, justified by the mistaken belief that the concept of objective journalism is a myth.

It seems nowadays that many public relations professsionals (and journalists) fail to understand that objective journalism works because the method is objective, not necessarily the journalist. And when objective journalism is allowed to work, it serves organizations and the public by vetting any claims, setting the agenda, and supporting the truth when the facts are paramount to the public good.

The evolutionary next step of public relations is collaboration.

Don't misunderstand the message here. Content marketing, social media, and corporate journalism have become vital components for any communication plan. But all of these tactics work best when they are employed in tandem with media relations, public relations, and other collaborations — something that even marketers see as having tangible value across multiple media venues.

Sure, I've always been an advocate for integrated communication, direct-to-public public relations, and teaching public relations professionals to think like a journalist. And at the same time, when it comes to public relations specifically, I also remind students that the simplest definition of the field is to transform "us and them" into "we," which would include a shrinking pool of pure journalists.

Wednesday, January 9

Reporting Responsibly: The Psychology Of Rights

Sometime in the 1990s, I signed on to pen a few articles for the most aggressive First Amendment advocacy magazine I've ever read. The content was rough enough that I still sometimes question my decision to participate. I have and had mixed feelings for a couple of the columns I wrote, although they were nothing compared to some of material submitted by others. But that is why I wrote them.

I was challenging my own convictions. I was contributing to a publication Stephen King supported, which was how I discovered it. I had also just recently participated in a win the ACLU had over the old America Online's TOS, which included an aggressive censorship policy against its members.

After a couple of issues, I dropped any future assignments, but it wasn't the limits of the First Amendment that shook me off. The editor/publisher and I had a falling out despite our developing friendship. The argument that did it was over the Second Amendment. I couldn't fathom that a publisher might hold one inalienable right up high but dismiss another outright.

The lack of responsibility and hypocrisy of the Journal News. 

This previous experience was one of the first things that came to mind when I read about the Journal News publishing a map that included the names and addresses of almost 34,000 gun owners. The story, which began two weeks ago, has since escalated. In a case of tit-for-tat, someone decided to publish the names and addresses of the reporters and editors who work there.

Some of the editors are now unhappy and even frightened for themselves and their families. The newspaper has even reported that someone sent bags of white power to their offices, reminiscent of the terrorist scares several years ago. The paper's publisher, Janet Hasson, has hired armed guards for the offices.

Assuming the white powder reports are true, that is unquestionably over the line. But the rest of it, the publishing of names and addresses of reporters and editors, was fair. The paper's own blatant disregard for the responsibility that comes with the freedom of the press wasn't well thought out. The fear they feel isn't much different than the fear they instilled in gun owners and non-gun owners alike.

Perhaps one of my colleagues said it best, pointing out that at least some of those people on the list might be stalker victims or domestic violence victims, only purchasing a gun out of personal necessity. Or maybe there is even more to consider. Publishing the names of gun owners also gives criminals a potential list of gun-owning targets (or non-gun owning targets), gives neighbors a reason to be suspicious, frightens concerned seniors, gives prisoners the names and addresses of corrections officers and police officers, and invites everybody into everybody's personal affairs.

Incidentally, the map isn't even accurate. Many people listed have since moved or are deceased, making the map nothing more than an attempt to justify some notion that neighbors have a right to know who owns a gun or guns — an argument that suggests the public has a right to know which neighbors are journalists, people inclined to transform private lives into public affairs. It's all sad and silly.

The psychology of rights and press ethics.

Personally, it seems to me that there is a maturity in appreciating that the Bill Of Rights was included in the U.S. Constitution not because these rights were convenient or safe or popular. The Bill Of Rights are inalienable rights, meaning that they supersede the government's ability to grant them. They came about because it was the other way around. The citizens who made this government said they wouldn't give these rights up to the government.

Moreover, as inalienable rights, the expressed concept is that such freedoms are not granted by a majority at their privilege to a minority but rather owned and preserved equally by majorities and minorities alike, even when that minority consists of a single individual. In other words, we don't get to pick and choose which inalienable rights we want without the consequence of losing all of them.

That said, the Journal News might have been well within its rights to publish the map, but it doesn't excuse a blatant disregard for responsible news reporting. The same can be said for those who published the names and addresses of reporters and editors in an era where publishing is cheap and relatively easy, but I can't blame them. Equal opportunity sometimes breeds equal jeopardy.

What I do wish is that both publishers would have heard one of my former media professors challenge the ethical vs. free vs. responsibility perceptive of a free press in my media law class. He didn't speak about guns. Instead, he talked about the unwillingness of most newspapers and media outlets to publish the names of rape victims under the age of 18.

He proved his point by escalating the news value of the story, painting the progression that an editor might not publish the name of a 14-year-old victim, but would have a harder time not publishing her name if she was the daughter of a mayor, or if the mayor was responsible, or if other publications do. As he progressed, the hands of those who would not publish the name fell away with shattered convictions.

No, what the the Journal News did is not an exercise of two rights rubbing up against each other, creating the illusion that we have to make a choice. It is something much simpler. It is having the common sense to know that just because you can publish something, doesn't mean you have to publish it (or create laws to censor it). And maybe that is what the discussion ought to be about.

Friday, May 11

Changing Media: PR Pros Need To Follow

While more public relations pros (those that aren't too niche) know the scope of their work exceeds media relations, it's still important to keep up with some of the changes journalists are making every day. Recently, Ragan's PR Daily highlighted one change. Phone interviews are becoming past tense.

Ragan Daily cites a number of reasons that this is becoming true, including the relative ease of finding sources on social networks. But even more than that, most people (reporters and sources) agree that email interviews can sometimes be more efficient.

Every question is laid out. Every question is answered. The margin of error in misquoting someone is almost eliminated. And there are no wasted minutes trying to navigate the chain of command to sync something as a schedule to make the call.

The trend can easily be debated. There are plenty of reasons reporters would want to conduct a phone interview or possibly conduct one in person (especially if they want to sniff out a better story). There are also plenty of reasons a client might want one too (it creates a better opportunity to establish a rapport).

Journalists are evolving beyond email interviews too; public relations pros take note. 

When Bruce Spotleson, publisher of Greenspun Media, spoke to my Writing For Public Relations class a few months ago, he was very clear about changes that are occurring in journalism. And much of it doesn't sound like journalism as most public relations pros were introduced to it.

Nowadays, journalists are asked to consider the tone of a story for the web as well as print. All of them take cameras wherever they go. Most of them are armed with video cameras (or smart phones too).

Understanding social media is an absolute must. Not only do they use social networks for sources, but they listen intently — looking for potential stories, trends, and the occasional dust up. The idea that journalism is somehow separate from the Internet anymore just doesn't ring true.

Along with a more visible presence online, many are being asked to be more presentable offline. I'm not talking about suits and ties like journalists wore before becoming an acknowledged profession. But I am talking about being presentable enough to appear on camera or, on occasion, bring eyewitness testimony to bear on specific events. Even if the paper never runs the video, all of it makes for great archives.

All in all, the future journalist is going to be much more malleable with the times, virtually fusing the distinctions that people used to see between print reporters and television news teams. In the very near future, they will be one and the same with some emphasis on web trends.

Right, newspapers are tracking web trends with IT departments making suggestions based on which stories are read, how long they are read, and how much they are shared. While this doesn't necessarily mean reporters won't use old-school strategies for investigative pieces, it does impact the general fodder that is published every day — and might even impact which sources are chosen long term.

Where public relations professionals ought to take note if they haven't already. 

Ten years ago, it was relatively easy to distinguish strategic communicators (e.g., corporate communications) with public relations. Strategic communicators were most commonly generalists in their practice. Public relations professionals were generally specific, with an emphasis on external communication to specific publics (of which the media were one).

Anymore, it's not so easy to tell the difference. Public relations professionals and corporate communication professionals pass tasks back and forth all the time. And who is responsible for what is more dependent on the employer than the field.

Still, I don't think corporate communicators will be the driver to change public relations. I am starting to believe media will be the driver. If journalists become multifaceted professionals who are social media/social network savvy, video proficient, and occasionally offer on-air commentary, then it stands to reason public relations professionals will have to match those skill sets and then some.

Wednesday, December 22

Amplifying: Social Media Is Not For Timid Executives

Shel Holtz, principal of Holtz Communication + Technology, recently wrote a thoughtful commentary about why he believes communication consultants (public relations professionals with blogs, for instance) ought to think twice before piling on companies that make mistakes. He alludes to the idea that it turns otherwise savvy professionals into PR ambulance chasers.

There is some truth to this idea. He says there are companies that have been frightened away from social media because of the put-downs and jibes they receive from a growing world of "experts." On that point, Holtz is very right. And yet, I have mixed feelings about the conclusion.

Intent is a powerful ally in the art and science of communication.

Holtz is right in that it is rather unbecoming to create a persona of someone sitting behind a computer screen salivating for companies to get into trouble and then piling on them with links to half a dozen equally verbose colleagues, all hoping to build a mountain of evidence out of cheap shots or colorful prose or campy satire. Do it too much, and it will hurt your business.

Writing about crisis communication to serve up a collection of lessons for students takes much more than a series of fleeting sentences. Even then, there is some risk.

"Did you ever wonder..." asked one of my students at lunch. "...if what you sometimes write about scares away people who might otherwise hire your company?"

I chuckled, telling her that I used to think about it every day. However, despite having the company brand on the banner above, I had to make a decision whether this blog was about attracting business or educating students and discussing concepts and constructs with colleagues. I chose the latter, even if this blog has helped win and lose a few clients (who I never write up).

But not everyone has the same educational intent. I think that is what Holtz is alluding to. If you're thinking about a communication blog, consider the intent. Even then, never leave your readers with a story that ends on some double negative snarky beat down — you have to be thoughtful and do your homework. At some point, you have to provide solutions to the problems. A little bit of empathy doesn't hurt either.

Social media is no place for a company with unmanageable blemishes.

So, why do I have mixed feelings about Holtz's post? Simply stated, I don't have much sympathy for companies that are "afraid" to enter social media. Executives who think every glimmer will be celebrated and every blemish overlooked have unrealistic expectations not only in social media, but life in general.

I had this conversation almost four years ago. And as I roughly wrote then, if companies seek "attention" then the executives and team leaders have to appreciate that they do not get to choose what others find newsworthy or interesting. And, once you invite bloggers and members of the media to take an interest in the company, you cannot "uninvite" them.

It's one of the lessons a group publisher tells my public relations classes every year. If you invite reporters to give their opinions on "X," they might not agree with you. Equally possible, they might decide to write about "Y," especially if "Y" seems more interesting.

It's the one thing that social media has in common with traditional media. Both communication channels have an equal propensity to amplify organizational vices and virtues. It has always been this way, and always will be this way. If you want your company to be something, you have to accept the risks. Or, if you prefer someone much wiser than me, consider what Aristotle (384 BC – 322 BC) said more than two thousand years ago.

“Criticism is something we can avoid easily by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.” — Aristotle

Wednesday, September 8

Keeping House: How Good Housekeeping Connects

Good Housekeeping, the iconic women's service monthly originally founded in 1885, is looking for the next step in creating connections with consumers. According to Mediaweek, the magazine is transforming a 2,000- square-foot space at the Mall of America into an American home.

The home won't be static. It will include activities that include cooking demos, DYI projects, and design consultations by celebrity chefs, local personalities and experts from the Research Institute. With more than 100,000 people visiting Mall of America every day (on average), the concept could pay off, assuming Good Housekeeping can keep consumers it touches at the mall.

Touching Customers Beyond The Printed Page.

If there is an evolution for publications, especially niche publications like Good Housekeeping, it could very well be high touch. In order to relate to consumers and build connections, the magazine needs to redefine what makes it a relevant connection between brands and customers. Using its Research Institute as the reason, Good Housekeeping hopes to provide expert advice to build loyalty.

In recent years, social media has provided a platform that convinced many consumers to move away from publications, preferring advice from friends or people they like online. When not seeking advice from each other, it's easy enough to connect direct to companies for incentives and insights from inside sources. Publications helped pushed them away by insisting on an elitist position. The economic climate didn't help either. Subscriptions and monthly costs are often the first to be cut from budgets.

However, if Good Housekeeping can introduce itself by coordinating offline activities and then keep consumers engaged via social media, then there is a potential for success. Specifically, Good Housekeeping could transform itself into a destination.

What's Missing From The Marketing Mix?

The Mall of America is a good first step. However, Good Housekeeping only has a marginal social media presence (it doesn't even list its social media assets on its front page). Most of the communication consists of plugging articles, even those that are framed as questions. They are not questions as much as as cutlines. The dialogue between the publication and followers is limited.

Despite this, some of its online connections are readily engaged. On Facebook, most plugs average about six responses. It's a good start from the 6,500 or so people who follow along.

With the addition of the physical presence, Good Housekeeping has an opportunity to use the instructional workshops and celebrity visits as an introduction to its online platforms. Once people connect, it can engage them over the long term, even if the intent of the American home is to become mobile. There are plenty of other crossover media opportunities too, including the potential to film and share onsite demonstrations.

Much like Citizen Gulf or publishers and bookstores hosting author signings, the real future of communication points to online marketing that drives consumers to proximity-based events, demonstrations, and high touch opportunities that can be later shared as fresh content.

It's not all that dissimilar to what social media speakers already do. Speaking drives traffic, which can then be converted into sales (books, services, etc.). At the same time, the increased following then makes the speaker more attractive to the next host.

It's not rocket science. It's strategic. And if this is the direction Good Housekeeping goes, then it should be no surprise why Hearst Magazines has successfully adapted to changes in the marketplace with Good Housekeeping for almost 100 years. About the only thing it hasn't done is become more cross-gender friendly. However, looking at online followers, maybe it has.

Tuesday, August 3

Going Social: Goodbye Citizen Journalist, Hello Journalist Citizen

Forbes isn't the first to flip the switch, but it is one of the most interesting and sure to get attention. Starting today, according to the Business Insider, every reporter will now be required to have his or her own blog. They won't be alone either.

"Moving forward, when I look at an operation like Forbes, I look at a mixture of a full-time staff base and hundreds and hundreds, if not thousands, of freelance contributors," Lewis D'Vorkin had previously said. "It's a blend."

It makes sense, sort of. For the last several years we've seen the resurrection of the citizen journalist. And for the next couple of years, we might see the rise of the journalist citizen.

What Will The Journalist Citizen Be?

In April, Ike Pigott explored the possibly of organizationally embedded journalists. But journalist citizens might be decidedly different. They won't be embedded in organizations. They'll be embedded in our social networks and, perhaps, actively participating, promoting, sharing, and investigating story leads.

They already are, you know. Early last year, we worked on a brief for several major publishers to do exactly that. It was the first phase of what might later become the journalist citizen. Specifically, they wanted to know how to tap into stories that people in social media find interesting and then give those stories a spin, upgrading those ideas with access to better, harder-to-reach sources.

The next phase is closer to what Forbes is proposing to do (but they were not one of the publishers who received the brief). Journalists will actively participate and promote the stories they create (or each other's stories maybe). They'll have to.

Although most emigrating print publishers are standing firm that reporters will be subjected to eyeball quotas (a standard practice among broadcasters), one wonders if there will be a certain amount of pressure upon the participating press to build their own "tribes" around the subjects they cover. Or perhaps, they'll discover, there are no "tribes."

Online participants are very much as free as ever. Long before anyone called them tribes, we called them nomads, whom marketers and media hope to capture as they wander their way to watering holes for individual conversations, family gossip, fun, and games.

Perhaps more disturbing than journalists splitting their time between investigative work, objective journalism, social networking, story promoting, and defending whatever it is they lend to a topic, will be the increasing loss of objectivity as they serve to cater to what some might call temporary tribes (even if there aren't tribes).

I cannot stress temporary enough. You see, unlike real tribes, they move on if you write about the same thing too much or too many different things. It makes sense that marketers would attempt this balancing act. They wear the agenda on their sleeves, and its name is sales no matter how many relationships or niceties they offer up. There is nothing wrong with that.

But the media? If the agenda isn't to tell us what we need to know whether we want to hear it or not, then what is it?

Don't get me wrong. I think the move by Forbes is the direction that communication is moving. But what strikes me is that if newspapers and magazines have finally surrendered to social media, what valued proposition will they bring to the table, especially if they support a platform that allows hundreds and hundreds of freelancers to submit stories that compete with their staff? And, equally interesting, what will the value proposition be for them?

After all, there is always reality. Reality suggests that if newspapers and magazines recognized that being relevant online was more difficult because it forced them to compete with television and radio news in the same space, imagine what it might mean if they have have to compete on a daily basis with blogs too.

It seems to me that things will be getting messy. Imagine consumers being asked to choose from the people in the field who have blogs (experts), journalists who have blogs (professionals), citizens who have blogs (casual observers with sometimes very good ideas), and, well, public relations pros with blogs. Huh. I'm okay with that. It's stranger than fiction. How about you?

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Thursday, July 29

Trapping With Inaccuracy: Plagiarism Days Are Marked

The invention of the Internet
Ever since Bob Conrad, author of The Good, The Bad, and The Spin, shared the Wired story about Las Vegas-based Righthaven, we've been wondering about the future of a few "experts."

According to the article, Righthaven has filed "at least 80 federal lawsuits against website operators and individual bloggers who’ve re-posted articles" originally written by their first client. If the infringements are settled, they are worth between $1,500 and $3,000 apiece. If they go to litigation, they could be worth $150,000 or more.

Trapping plagiarists with inaccuracies.

While reposting complete articles is obvious, reframing ideas are not always so obvious, as Ike Pigott illustrated last March with his post Attribution is the Sincerest Form of Flattery. And again, comparing this story with this story. Are there similarities?

It might be more crystal clear if the screen scrapes were even more blatant. And one way to make that happen might be to borrow a page of out The Trivia Encyclopedia by Fred L. Worth. Worth lost his $300 million lawsuit even after inventors of Trivial Pursuit acknowledged that Worth's books were among their sources*, but recently a Wall Street Journal writer wasn't so lucky.

The Wall Street Journal recently reported on one of its contributors. It seems two "Agenda" columns by Bill Jamieson, executive editor of the Scotsman, sourced information without crediting the source. (Hat tip: Regret The Error). The reason it was obvious was because Jamieson had apparently scraped up errors from those sources.

*Interestingly enough, the only reason Worth lost his lawsuit is because the judge had ruled that facts cannot be copyrighted. However, while I'm not an attorney, I wonder if a better counter argument could have been that embedded errors aren't fact at all.

Avoiding the accidental pickup.

I like to give people the benefit of the doubt. So let's assume most people want to write something remotely original, but also want to use the openness of the Web to color their stories with other ideas, thoughts, and opinions. The easiest way to do that is by following some simple guidelines.

• Some facts don't have to attributed. In the States, we'd all be hard pressed to attribute who first told us that the United States declared independence on July 4, 1776.
• Other facts, however, deserve to be attributed anyway. And since we have the ability to link back to the source, readers might benefit from the source.
• Opinions and original thoughts are always attributed. Sure, there are times when two people stumble upon similar topics, but certain phrasing, analogy, and novelty might reveal a different conclusion.
• Full story screen scrapes, even with link backs, are a very, very bad idea. It neglects the rights of the publisher, which is why more firms like Righthaven are very likely to become the publishing industry's new friend.
• Attribution is the sincerest form of flattery, just as Pigott said. It's in your best interest to credit original thought because those credited are much more likely to promote the content.

For some of us, it all seems pretty basic. For others, it seems much more challenging, but not for long. If firms like Righthaven become a profession that publishers and even bloggers embrace, it seems very likely that a few popular names in social media and communication might come crashing down at $1,500 to $3,000 per infraction (or more).

You see, there has been another trend noticed among communication blogs that started about two years ago. As some became more popular, their propensity to attribute has shrunk. Author Geoff Livingston mentioned it last year. And since I built out my reader to the size he sported then, I've seen more "coincidences" than I care to share.

Thursday, May 20

Producing Better Writers: Public Relations Or Advertising?

When Andrew Fowler followed my integrated communication post by asking whether advertising could replace public relations, it opened a related sub discussion worth some attention.

Does Advertising Or Public Relations Have Better Storytelling Skills?

Fowler set the stage by offering up that he thought "people in advertising are better at telling interesting stories." Ike Pigott was the first to question the idea, offering "[people in advertising] don’t have better storytelling skills, and are often much poorer writers. Often." And then David Meerman Scott added "brand journalism is a much better way to do what PR used to do so well."

There are plenty of other great comments too, folks like Jeremy Toeman, Brian Cross, Jerry Ketel, and others. I especially appreciated the comment by Bob Geller that tends to be closest to my view, which is that both are important but different.

When it comes to writing, or even creativity, we might as well be asking ourselves whether fiction writers are better than non-fiction writers or whether poets are better than journalists. They are difficult to compare because they tend to be different.

Some writers are good at one thing. Some writers are good at other things. And only a handful can dance in any medium.

However, with the exception of the handful, there are noticeable differences in education, experience, and skill sets. And so, as an instructor who also works within all disciplines, let's take an admittedly generalized look at some writers within the communication field.

Advertising. Copywriters (and some designers who think they can write) are generally creative in a divergent sort of way, well-skilled in short-format conversational writing, storytelling, and alliteration.

When the copy and content is good, these writers accomplish the impossible by convincing people to become aware of or even purchase a product even though those people know that is precisely what the writer is trying to do. How cool is that? Sometimes their work is even adopted into pop culture.

Of course, not many have heard of the Associated Press Stylebook. They're often certain they'll come up with something more interesting than any client might provide in an interview. And they tend to tune out long-format assignments.

Public Relations. Public relations writers, specifically those with a journalism background, are especially good at making the most boring content sound interesting. The best of them subscribe to the notion that there are no boring stories, just boring storytellers.

When they write someone else's story, they become as a passionate as the people they write about while writing within the tightest constraints, usually sacrificing their own style in favor of a publication, corporate voice, or audience. They can also find enough facts to bend almost anything in their direction.

Of course, ask most of them to write advertising collateral and they'll struggle with the space limitations. Many offer up cornball cliches and pages and pages of dribble so dry that it will lull you to sleep before you can get past the first paragraph. In some cases, you don't have to read further than that anyway. And, of course, public relations tends to be a safe haven for many who cannot write at all.

Social Media. Social media writers, if we call them that, stand out on their own. They can have conversations with anybody about anything and have done better than self-teach themselves in the art of delivering exactly what people want to hear.

It doesn't matter much whether they have a preference for video, social networks, or blogs. All that seems to matter is that they bring a passion to the table that sometimes eclipses the craft, attracting thousands of people for no other reason than to wonder what happens next. Clearly there is an advantage in sharing some things that traditional media have known forever as if it never existed before they arrived online.

If there is a downside, it might very well be the speed in which the content is delivered with typos and grammatical mistakes that must make their high school teachers and any college professors blush. One wonders what might happen if they didn't rely on tricks and tactics so much.

Journalists. Given journalists tend to become authors more than any other discipline, it's hard to refute their abilities as writers. Even those who turn in their press passes and migrate into public relations have better skill sets and an understanding that those editorial deadlines are very real to reporters.

One of the unique aspects of better journalists is their uncanny ability to find the right story, research it objectively, and keep it fresh enough for people to feel compelled to add it to their daily doses of elective reading. Sure, there are those who point out that 80 percent of the publications are filled with refreshed news releases, but most of us only read the remaining 20 percent anyway. You know which ones are written by solid journalists because the lead line took as long to write as the article.

Now, if only more would take the time to engage their audiences beyond serving up content. Sure, there is more engagement than a few years ago, but most still prefer to work in relative isolation, stopping just long enough to gather some facts. Otherwise, the entire process, especially those who practice it for years, can slowly kill off any creativity.

Integrated Communication Promises To Challenge All Of Them.

There seems to be little doubt that integrated communication has arrived. And with it, those writers mentioned above, along with several dozen others who specialize in niche disciplines or a specific medium, are challenged two-fold.

First, they have to admit that their brand of writing might not always be the best fit, especially when we conclude that the Internet is home to every medium not just "their" medium. Second, all of them need to make a better effort to understand writing skills beyond their core skill sets.

The bottom line? It seems simple enough to me. Most aren't nearly as good as they think they are. Even fewer will ever concede the point. And from my perspective, the best of the best tend to be those who don't think much of what they write because within a week, they're certain they could have written it better.

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Wednesday, April 7

Interviewing Techniques: Nodders, Translators, Talkers, Conversationalists

After ten years of teaching, you can't help but to notice a few things in the classroom. One of them, unless you're a lecturer as opposed to an adaptive instructor, is that every class is different. It only makes sense because the students are different.

This year, my class seemed especially quiet compared to the year prior. At first, I thought it might be because of the smaller class size, but I was convinced it was something else by the third lesson. Seriously. They were so quiet, I almost thought adding keynote presentations during a portion of the class was a mistake.

I might have even skipped keynotes all together had three guest speakers drawn the same quiet, nodding heads. There was that, and I read an article in Communication World by Steve Crescenzo, owner of Crescenzo Communications.

He said there were two types of communicators: nodders and translators. Translators, Crescenzo wrote, know that if they walk out of the interview without understanding the topic, there is no way they can write an article that anyone else will understand. Nodders, on the other hand, hold back on asking questions because they don't want to look stupid.

The article struck home at first. My class was stacked with nodders. But was it really that simple? Looking back on past interviews and classes, I knew it couldn't be that easy. Maybe there are four types.

Nodders, Talkers, Translators, Conversationalists.

• Nodders. While Crescenzo attributes the nodder to being afraid to look stupid or ask dumb questions, I don't believe all nodders are created equal. Sure, some try to fake their way through without looking ignorant, but some are like sponges, analysts who sit back and consider every word spoken with the intent to research anything they don't understand afterward. There is nothing wrong with that, but sometimes they leave the speaker or interviewee guessing. Do you get that?

• Talkers. This is one of two styles we might add onto Crescenzo's thinking. Talkers command the floor. They don't ask questions as much as they make statements. Inexplicably, they don't always allow the speaker or interviewee to complete a thought before they lead them with a question that opens up dialogue for their stories and statements. They already know the answers so questions aren't really part of the equation. They already know what you need to do.

• Translators. As Crescenzo notes, translators know they not only have to understand a topic, but convince the speaker or interviewee to communicate in ways that the average person might understand it. They have many tricks and tactics in order to accomplish this task. Sometimes, they will ask the same question several ways. Other times, they will ask for examples. And yet other times, they will direct the speaker or interviewee to assume the readers/listeners don't know anything.

• Conversationalists. As the second add on, these folks are fascinating people who frequently drift away from the topic or spend ample time asking questions about the speaker and interviewee. Sometimes they are even forced to scramble during the last ten minutes of a meeting to cover questions they know they need to ask and tend to be surprised when the interviewee announces they have to leave for the next meeting. While the dialogue is always engaging, the social chatter sometimes overshadows the topic.

Crescenzo suggests that the translator has the advantage. While I would normally tend to agree because this style seems to complement the other styles, it seems to me the best interviewers need a more adaptive approach.

Nodders tend to win over talkers and translators help conversationalists stay on track. Conversely, talkers can draw out nodders and conversationalists welcome varied duplicate questions posed by translators. The best interviewers quickly assess and adapt their style to what seems like the best match. Sometimes, saying nothing works. And other times, interviewers have to fill the silence or else the entire session will go bust.

More importantly, never assume any style conveys anything about the other person. The nodder might be afraid to look stupid. Or, they could be analyzing your every word because you haven't stopped talking. Case in point: the interview that unraveled Richard Nixon consisted of a single question. When no other questions were asked, the talker filled the silence.

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Tuesday, February 16

Kneading Accuracy: When You Slip, Eat It

I'm writing today's post poolside in Las Vegas. And Las Vegas, in case you don't know, is only a few miles from the West Virginia border. The weather here is a balmy 100 degrees and the water is a cool 72, just cold enough to preserve the crispness of my locally brewed Fosters Lager.

You know, it's the kind of day that makes you wonder why Susan Boyle would have ever left her Las Vegas hometown to become a famous singer in the United Kingdom. We all miss her so much. My parents used to eat cactus cobbler pie with her on their front porch, mostly to get a better view of the kangaroos that roam wild here.


Susan Boyle is not from Las Vegas, you say? Las Vegas is nowhere close to West Virginia? Kangaroos are not native to Nevada?

Well, never mind all that because this post was going to be about unemployment so the rest of the content is relative. To someone in China, Nevada might as well border West Virginia, Boyle ought to play Las Vegas, and kangaroos are close enough to burros for me to claim creative license. Besides, it would be a shame that any critics would correct me, detracting from the central and most important issue. You think?

How A Lesson In Accuracy Amounts To A Lesson In Criticism.

No, this isn't another post to pile on Susan Arbetter, a reporter for WCNY, who claimed accuracy was relative after Bill Sledzik, associate professor in the School of Journalism & Mass Communication at Kent State University, corrected a few errors in a post meant to promote her radio show on gas drilling and the budget deficit.

After being called out, Arbetter offered up a slew of excuses and justifications on Sledzik's blog as well as her own. It's especially interesting to me because I had planned to underscore the importance of accuracy to my class the very next day.

Specifically, I said to them, accuracy matters above all else. It is wisdom passed on to me by professor Jake Highton at the University of Nevada, Reno, almost 20 years ago.

Still, while it's so very important, I think accuracy has been addressed well enough in the comments on Tough Sledding by Sledzik. Instead, I keep thinking about the other lesson to be learned. And I think, for journalists and anyone who writes direct-to-public content, it's an important one.

We all make mistakes. And while some of us are not inclined to make them purposely as Arbetter seems to have done, it does demonstrate that how we handle our mistakes is often more telling than the mistakes. Sometimes, it pays to listen when someone points them out. Often, it pays to pause before flying off the handle. And almost always, it pays to lighten up.

The better response from Arbetter would have been to thank Sledzik. She could have simply said "Gee, Bill, thanks so much." And then went on to explain how we all construct memories that may be one or two steps shy of the truth. Or perhaps, given the Rolling Rock error, that sometimes busy reporters add in color from erred online sources, and then accidentally reinforce those myths. Or maybe, she could have provided some semblance of whatever the truth might have been.

The issue would have died right there as a win for everyone. It might have even read like a professional courtesy. Instead, the whole affair has led some people to wonder why Arbetter doth protest too much. Perhaps there is more prose filled in fiction to be found. I dunno. I didn't look.

I've written before on how to manage criticism. And recently, Amber Nuslund offered her advice on when to take conversations private. And after reading this flare-up over accuracy, I might add one more to the five points in my old post.

6. Thank any critics who point out red devil’s food cake on your chin.

It gives you an opportunity to wipe it away before it stains your shirt. After all, the reality of the situation is this: it wasn't Sledzik who did Arbetter a disservice as she claims. It was all those readers who may have cared about those errors, just not enough about Arbetter to let her know. Nope. Those folks just moved on, leaving the red devil’s food cake to spread and stain.

*Just so there is no confusion, most of what I wrote in the opening paragraphs is not true. Heck, I don't even know if red devil’s food cake can stain a shirt. But what I do know, thanks to Bill, is not to put the owners of Eat ‘n Park on the spot for a beer."

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Wednesday, December 9

Changing Journalism: Reynolds School of Journalism

If anyone is still wondering, and a few people still are, the changes taking place in journalism today are as permanent as any that preceded it. The changes are not only taking place with publishers at a snail's pace, but also in higher education at an increasingly hastened pace.

Funded by an $8 million grant from the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation, the Reynolds School of Journalism and Center for Advanced Media Studies at the University of Nevada, Reno, is specifically designed to help students "navigate the revolution in journalism." Most of the grant will be used to rewire and re-cable the journalism building, which includes a robust server system that will replace analog TV and radio facilities and create a new multimedia newsroom.

"This is a transformational gift," Milton D. Glick, president of the university, said. "It means our students will be even more prepared to communicate on every platform--print, broadcast, the Internet, social media and whatever comes next."

To help maintain the new infrastructure, the school is also launching a campaign to raise a restricted fund of $1.6 million. The changes are not restricted to infrastructure, but critical thinking and skill sets. Students who enrolled in the school this year were asked to purchase their own video camcorders.

The blended approach is well suited for the school, which offers the only accredited journalism program in the state. Even when I attended as a student several years ago, it helped shape the foundation for an integrated approach to communication.

While the core of the program is journalism, various electives provide students an opportunity to place an emphasis in other communication fields, including broadcast, public relations, and advertising. While the requirements remain the same, several new core requirements are being introduced, including multimedia reporting and production.

We see these additions to be critical for students entering journalism and communication today as they will likely serve them much longer in a field that continues to evolve, with significant crossover between public relations, news media, social media, and advertising. And even if some students do not see why every core class is important to their area of interest (as someone who had an advertising emphasis, I didn't appreciate reporting until years later), all of them will become vital requirements in the next decade.

It's equally vital for current advertising, public relations professionals, and even journalists to consider this emergent structure. As students from school, as well as several other progressive universities, many of these graduates won't have the same restrictive thinking that many practicing professionals seem to be hindered by today.

They won't ask questions like "which silo ought to be in charge of social media?" Or "Should I emphasize writing over video production?" Or "How do I distinguish professional journalist and a blogger?" In an integrated, interactive, portable multimedia-driven world, those questions will become as obsolete as "How do I pitch a non-news story."

Wednesday, September 23

Catering To Labels: PR Executives

Most public relations executives, especially those looking for a position, would be happy being featured as the lead in an interview for a Forbes article. Not Judith Lederman.

The 50-year-old divorcee who lives in Scarsdale, N.Y. who has yet to replace her former $120,000 salary as a publicity manager at Lord & Taylor took exception to the way the article portrayed her. Calling the reporter out on her blog, she wrote "Instead of painting me as someone seeking an appropriate salary so she could support herself, it portrays me as someone who is torn between the prospect of being employed and being eligible for tax breaks, college scholarships and other incentives."

Except, as Steven Spenser, principal of Praxis Communication in Seattle, commented in response to her post: "I must have read a different article, because I didn't find any text that indicated you want entitlements or handouts." Spenser is right. The perception Lederman had about the story is not the perception that most people will draw from the story. And that's too bad.

Given her uncomfortable position, I don't want to berate Lederman. Rather, I want to focus on the lesson to be learned for new public relations practitioners, especially those who are entering an era where publicly responding to the media is all too easy to do. And based on the lead in to the post, Lederman knew it too.

"I'm going to go out on a limb here - because I know that in the business of public relations, which is my business - and has been for many years - calling a journalist on the carpet for misrepresenting your point of view, can cost a PR person valuable contacts," she began before sharing an e-mail to the reporter to express her post-interview, pre-article sentiments.

What Went Wrong?

The e-mail she wrote (and posted) to the reporter seems to provide a glimpse. Lederman finished the interview and concluded that she was pretty far off from her personal message in a story — one that questions a tax structure which provides incentive for underperformance and disincentives for working harder — she would have preferred not to be featured. It happens. At one point, she even says that she told the reporter to find another person to profile.

It doesn't work that way. While reporters sometimes consider post-interview jitters correspondence, especially in feature pieces, there is considerable risk in writing them out of desperation. In this case, if anything, Janet Novack seems to have listened to Lederman's pleas and restructured the story so that it sticks to the facts. And the facts are the facts.

Regardless of how Lederman feels about the conclusions being drawn, Novack is right. Not finding a job or taking a job for half the salary might be the better bet for Lederman and her daughter. That doesn't mean Lederman, who is inclined to work harder for less of everything in order to feel self-sufficient, wants handouts. It only means that the country's current direction caps success because once someone reaches a certain financial step, they may make less than they did at the step before and, sometimes, two or three steps before.

So, unfortunately, in the Forbes piece, Lederman is a champion against a flawed system. In her post, she presents the very image she wanted to avoid. She comes across as a victim.

Perception Is Powerful.

PRNewser framed up the conversation asking whether Lederman made the prudent move to correct the reporter, if her protest will raise doubts about her abilities, and whether she should have accepted the interview given the context. Lederman addresses some of these questions in the comments that follow, but the initial questions seemed like the wrong ones.

Ergo, while there is nothing wrong with correcting a reporter who misrepresents facts, there is something wrong with being overly concerned about how journalists "present" us beyond the facts, especially when the concern seems to be confined to labels. Most people don't read labels — hard-working professionals looking for comparable work even if it means sacrificing benefits for her daughter's education vs. a whiney 50-year-old single mom looking to cheat the system (as Lederman framed it up) — as much as they saw Lederman, or in this case, a metaphor for dozens of middle-class families.

Sure, there were some commenters who scoffed at her former salary, but most of those could be dismissed for ignorance. When you consider the cost of living is significantly higher in New York compared to other areas, $120,000 suddenly becomes a low-to-mid middle income with a position that probably meant long hours and family sacrifice. Besides, she doesn't make that now and her home is a risk so what does it matter?

Aside from the mistaken follow-ups with the reporter, the real miss here wasn't the story as much as it was a post-story opportunity. Lederman could be grateful for being included because it might had led to job offers. She could have pointed to the article, which sums her resume up nicely enough. And, she could have expounded on her personal views about this subject in a positive manner, picking up on any details that she felt were important but left out. All of this could have been done for a net gain.

Instead, the lessons to be learned here are threefold: manage the message or the message will manage you; measure the facts and not necessarily mistaken inferences made by anonymous commenters; never place too much emphasis on labels, especially those that no one will remember.

Had she left it alone or expounded with the positive, all anyone would remember is that she was featured in Forbes. Instead, all they will remember is ... well ... ho hum.

Wednesday, January 7

Surfing For Survival: The Fourth Estate

"But what if the old media dies much more quickly? What if a hurricane comes along and obliterates the dunes entirely? Specifically, what if The New York Times goes out of business—like, this May?" — Michael Hirschorn, The Atlantic

When The New York Times released an October earnings report that revealed drastic measures must be taken or the paper would be forced to default on $400 million debt, some people, including journalists like Hirschorn, woke up wondering what if what once seemed like a slow a painful death for print might be hastened before they could develop a viable online business migration model. And what would that mean for journalism? And what would that mean for public relations?

The New York Times is not alone. Any time I spoke about social media last year, I carried some disappointing circulation statistics with me — most papers were down double digits: Boston Globe, down 10.1 percent; Philadelphia Inquirer, down 11.0 percent; the Miami Herald, down 11.8 percent; the Detroit News, down 10 percent; the Houston Chronicle, down 11.6 percent. And that says nothing about the Tribune Co. bankruptcy.

A few weeks ago, Thomas Mitchell, editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, noted "Information wants to be free, reporters want to be paid" in a column that reminds readers that newspapers survive to provide substance. He's right. Anyone can offer up opinion. Anyone can cater to the masses for link love and pats on the back. But not everyone will "sit through the council meeting and sift through the volumes of bureaucratic paperwork" or be able to disassemble and reassemble it in order to objectively educate the public as to what it means to them.

True enough, as that was the same point Paul Mulshine, opinion columnist for the Newark Star-Ledger, made in the The Wall Street Journal. And I heard similar comments while sitting on a panel with Bruce Spotleson, group publisher at Greenspun Media; Jon Ralston, columnist and commentator on state politics, and Flo Rogers, general manager of Southern Nevada's KNPR. Increasingly, the public seems more interested in news that supports their worldview than the last remnants of objective journalism.

Sure, the old model must change. But what newspapers need to remember is they can't wait for someone else to invent it. Most models will be different. Some might shrink print content while driving more readers online for additional content. Some might create online communities for the strongest sections. Some might place a greater emphasis on another medium like video. Some will attempt to give up the one-way new stream and encourage journalists to engage the public, something BusinessWeek seems to be experimenting with, but with mixed reception. And some, well, some will surely just lay down and die. But what if they all did?

Ethics & The Fourth Estate

It's a question I ask myself every year while I prepare to teach public relations skill sets that seem a little less valued today than they were last year or the year before that. Do they even know that the burden of business ethics might fall all the more on their shoulders? That's one question Bill Sledzik, associate professor in the School of Journalism & Mass Communication at Kent State University, has on his mind as well.

"I worry that too many PR types will place client interest ahead of public interest, expediency ahead of ethics," he writes. "They have in the past, and social media makes it that much easier today."

He might be right to worry. Even where there aren't ethical lapses, the slips seem more frequent (even among those who profess transparency). There are a few who already seem all too comfortable walking right up to the ethical line (if not crossing it) or redefining it to fit their needs. Even more don't really understand ethics all that well. When I share ethical challenges in a class, for example, the informal fail rate has been as high as 90 percent.

It may get worse before it gets better. A survey recently conducted by the Society of Corporate Compliance and Ethics (SCCE) and the Health Care Compliance Association (HCCA) reveals that the declining economy might increase the risk of legal and ethics violations in business. In fact, more than 85 percent of 600 compliance and business ethics professionals felt that the current economy greatly or somewhat increases the risk of compliance and ethics failures with only one percent offering a contrarian opinion. (The complete survey results can be downloaded here).

"There's good and bad news here," observed Roy Snell, the CEO of SCCE and HCCA. "We're finding that companies are increasingly seeing compliance and ethics as an integral part of their business and not a luxury to be discarded during an economic downturn. But, at the same time, we're seeing stagnant budgets or potential declines in resources at a time of increased risk for failures. That's creating a gap that could prove to be a dangerous chasm for business to cross."

And what if they do cross it? Without a viable Fourth Estate, there may be less risk and consequence. Yesterday, it used to be a suitable ethical review sum up to end with a single quip — unless you would be proud to see what you say or do on the front page of The Wall Street Journal or New York Times, then don't say or do it. Today, you can buy space on the front page instead. And tomorrow, there might not be one to care.

Wednesday, October 29

Shifting Concepts: Newspapers Need To Look At TV

And so it begins. The Christian Science Monitor has become the first national newspaper to abandon print and move its daily content online. While the publication will print a weekend magazine, the move represents a shift that many other national dailies will eventually follow.

“Everybody’s talking about new models,” John Yemma, editor of The Monitor said. “This is a new model.”

According to The New York Times, smaller papers have already made the transition, including The Capital Times in Madison, Wis. and The Daily Telegram in Superior, Wis., which will only publish a print edition two days a week.

The downside, as most newspapers know, is that such moves cannot replace the revenue gap between print and online ads. It will not, at least not as long as newspapers continue to look at the new space like print. Instead, they might consider entirely new constructs.

One of the better examples some newspapers might follow is Hulu, which offers free, ad-supported videos of TV shows and movies from NBC, FOX, and other networks. The joint project has been successful enough to beat YouTube hands down.

Within a few months, Hulu has grown to 142 million streams with 6.3 million unique viewers, according to Nielsen Online. It is now the sixth-most-popular online video brand in the United States, surpassing ESPN, CNN, MTV, and Disney.

Part of the success is related to its advertising approach. Fewer advertisements means fewer program interruptions for viewers and less competition for advertisers. It's a win-win, with some additional twists that include viewer rated commercials, ad selection, and interactive games.

“The notion that less is more is absolutely playing out on Hulu,” Jason Kilar, the chief executive of Hulu, told The New York Times. “This is benefiting advertisers as much as it is benefiting users.”

It only makes sense that broadcast would weather convergence a little easier than print, which is why it might be time for print to give up traditional modeling all together. It needs to think more like broadcast and I don't just mean arming journalists with video cameras.

What I mean is: newspapers that are migrating more content online need to quickly develop better advertising vehicles than banner ads to stay viable. The only alternative is to continually cut staff to match shrinking circulations, which no one can really afford to do anymore. Why?

Journalists are already overtaxed on time. The result is that many newspapers have given up on digging deeper and vetting facts in favor of "he said, she said" reporting. "He said, she said" reporting only resembles objective reporting in that it leaves readers to sort out which "he" or "she" might be right or telling the truth. Unless newspapers hold a higher standard and provide trusted content, it seems to me they will risk losing even more readers in a space where content is still king.


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