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

Thursday, September 11

Digging Holes For Bloggers: Naked Boy


Sometimes, the best rule of thumb for bloggers is to think before taking action. Take J. Son, who produces Naked Boy News, for example. He almost jeopardized the entire jury selection process in the ongoing O.J. Simpson trial.

He jeopardized the trial by contacting two jurors and allegedly claiming to be with CNN. However, in this trial, like many trials, the court had previously ordered restraint by members of media to ensure an unbiased jury. In fact, media attempting to contact jurors would be in violation of a court order and charged with contempt of court and/or have their their press credentials confiscated.

Upon learning the contact came from a blogger, District Judge Jackie Glass said she could control media representatives, but couldn’t stop the public from trying to speak to prospective jurors. Other than hoping to tell him to knock it off, the judge has taken the position that there is nothing she can do.

”The folks on the street — I cannot control them,” District Judge Jackie Glass told the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

I disagree. While I tend to be an advocate for the relatively few bloggers who hope to cross over into civil journalism, I also believe J. Son should be held in contempt of court just as any other publisher would.

If he is not held accountable, his actions will hurt bloggers over the long term by pressuring the courts and others to define what is a 'legitimate' journalist. Doing so would not only be bad for bloggers, but for everyone.

It’s simple really. Bloggers acting as or claiming to be journalists need to accept the responsibilities of journalists or else they risk a future where journalists will become licensed by the state and the First Amendment a mere privilege. With freedom comes responsibility.

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Tuesday, June 10

Stopping The PR Spam: Jason Falls

”In my opinion, the way the public relations industry responds to the problem of PR spam over the course of the next six to 12 months could make or break our profession for the next decade. Why are our professional organizations not prioritizing this?” — Jason Falls

I love this punchy prediction tucked inside the post on Social Media Explorer because it challenges an industry that never considers their own work spam. It’s always those other guys and gals who are bringing the industry down.

Sure, not everyone in public relations is a spammer, but it often seems that more of them play the numbers game than anyone will ever admit. At minimum, more play the number than those who will spend several hours searching for news inside their clients’ companies.

Falls says Jeremy Pepper is right. The industry needs education, but it’s not just up to professors to teach it. (Considering how many public relations professionals studied this profession in school, I tend to agree. Not to mention, for every instructor who advises against spamming, there is one or more who liken pitch calls and press releases to the return on a slot machine.)

Falls says a lot of it has to do with developing relationships over lists. In truth, he is part right. But what the novice public relations professional never seems to be taught is how to develop those relationships in the first place. So rather than recap his well-thought post in entirety, I’ll cut to the chase.

It’s easy to develop relationships. While I am oversimplifying, there are three ways to establish connections with bloggers and journalists.

1. Go to work for a company, agency, or organization that the bloggers and journalists are already interested in. It seems tongue in cheek, but it’s true. If you work for Apple or Microsoft or the district attorney’s office, they’ll contact you fifteen minutes after you introduce yourself as the new go-to person.

2. Become engaged in events, activities, networks, and organizations that bloggers and journalists care about, er, assuming you have a common interest. Much like business, many relationships develop outside the bubble.

3. Skip the blast emailing people about the company’s next balloon popping and find some real news. Once you find it, invest some time into writing a great release and sending it to only those bloggers and journalists who might be interested. When the blogger or journalist follows up, you then have an opportunity to deepen the relationship based on your ability to help them.

The third point is where people get mixed up because many of them struggle with determining what is news and what is not. Personally, I think it takes some time to develop an appreciation for what might make the news. I tossed up ten items that help determine news last year.

But sometimes the answer is even simpler. Start by asking yourself if you would want to write about the topic you are sending to the blogger or journalist. Based on the effort put into some releases, I would guess that many public relations professionals would say no. So if that is your answer, there you go!

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Tuesday, April 29

Stirring Media Revolutions: Citizen Journalism

Citizen Journalism
"You furnish the pictures and I'll furnish the war." — William Randolph Hearst

With the financial support of his mother, William Randolph Hearst bought the failing New York Journal in 1885. And, within a few short years, his name, along with that of Joseph Pulitzer, who purchased his way into the publishing business (he originally bought the Post for $3,000 and other papers before the New York World), became forever associated with yellow journalism.

Hearst, in particular, was ridiculed and criticized by Upton Sinclair for having newspaper employees who were "willing by deliberate and shameful lies, made out of whole cloth, to stir nations to enmity and drive them to murderous war."

The assertion is linked to the idea that if it had not been for the publishings of Hearst and Pulitzer, there may have never been popular support for U.S. military adventurism in Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines in 1898. But neither Hearst nor Pulitzer were alone in their endeavors to shape the news.

Earlier in American history, it was Alexander Hamilton (1801) who pooled together $10,000 from investors to start the New York Evening Post, specifically to take aim at Thomas Jefferson and the rise in popularity of the Democratic-Republican Party. And, before that, it was newspapers that helped spur on the American Revolution by taking creative license when publishing images such as the famed Boston Massacre. The image, of course, did not represent the facts. The British soldiers were later acquitted for acting in self-defense.

The formalization of objective journalism is a relatively new idea.

These are just some of the historic footnotes I consider every time I hear the term “citizen journalists,” which is generally defined as citizens playing an active role in the process of collecting, reporting, analyzing and disseminating news and information. Most notably, the moniker seems to be assigned to bloggers to suggest that they are somehow they are less than journalists (assuming they even want to be journalists).

Yet, with relative ease it seems, all of those mentioned above — Pulitzer and Hearst and Hamilton and Jefferson — and many others not named — Sam Adams and Benjamin Franklin among them — certainly fit the definition as very actively engaged citizens, without rules, who pursued printing the news as they felt fit.

In fact, Reese Cleghorn, former president of AJR and former dean of the College of Journalism of the University of Maryland, helped put some of this in perspective in 1995. In his article, he leads with how Walter Lippmann commented on "the new objective journalism" and what it might mean for journalism schools in 1931. An excerpt:

"I do not know much about the schools of journalism," Lippman said, "and I cannot say, therefore, whether they are vocational courses designed to teach the unteachable art of the old romantic journalism or professional schools aiming somehow to prepare men for the new objective journalism.

"I suspect, therefore, that schools of journalism in the professional sense will not exist generally until journalism has been practiced for some time as a profession. It has never yet been a profession. It has been at times a dignified calling, at others a romantic adventure, and then again a servile trade.

"But a profession it could not begin to be until modern objective journalism was successfully created, and with it the need of men who consider themselves devoted, as all the professions ideally are, to the service of truth alone."


Think of it for a moment. According to Cleghorn, professional, objective journalism was a mere 64 years old when he wrote his article. And, even then, he was not sure journalism was a profession.

Journalism has always been the art of participating citizens to report.

So it is often with this understanding, I am amused by debates between Michael Tomansky, Guardian America, who suggests that “Journalists relinquish rights frequently in the course of doing their work responsibly, as you well know.” and Jeff Jarvis, BuzzMachine, who counters that “We journalists have long traded in the currencies of access and exclusivity with the powerful. But the price we pay is complicity in a system of secrecy.”

Gentleman, please pause a moment to consider that you are debating a concept that has yet to survive a complete century against another that is less than five years old. So-called professional journalists, those who evolved out of objective journalism, were never meant to be bound by rules, except one, also penned by Lippman.

“There is no higher law in journalism than to tell the truth and shame the devil.”

As one of my journalism professors, Jake Highton, reiterated again in 1978: “Although it has codes of ethics and credos, journalism really has no laws. Yet what Lippman said in the 1920s remains true today: Telling the truth is the highest law of journalism.”

So as unfortunate as it sounds, Jarvis stands correct on those grounds. For a journalist to adhere to a promise of omission for the privilege of inclusion ... well, that strikes me as a promise to not tell the truth.

The division of citizen from journalist ought to be struck from our tongues.

Throughout history, journalists were simply citizens who hoped to make change, with the concept of reporting the truth a secondary consideration in the early 1900s. The only criteria for admission into the field was the cost of a printing press or the ability to knit prose with enough efficiency to be paid by someone who could afford it.

Certainly, social media has lowered the entrance fee considerably, but I propose it has not lowered the bar by any other measure. You see, there have always been journalists who have adhered to and/or relinquished their sense of ethics. But never has there been a code that has withstood the test of time or shackled the profession beyond individual reputation.

Let's face it. Even today, the largest publishers in the world remain tabloids that are willing to publish unsubstantiated fact and fiction at their leisure, sometimes with startling accuracy and other times without a sliver of truth. Should we impose more rules on bloggers than we would the largest publishers in the world? I think not.

And to that end I guess, as important as the conversation might be, what right would any group have to propose such unspoken governance over anyone? Truly, if there are any laws that bloggers might consider, I believe those laws might already be on the books with no other rules necessary.

As professionals continue to discuss the merits of somehow distinguishing the citizen journalist from the professional journalist, I suggest we not tread so heavily to put self-imposed etiquette over free expression. As wiser folks remind us…

“Better a thousandfold abuse of free speech than denial of free speech. The abuse dies in a day, but the denial slays the life of the people, and entombs the hope of the race." — Charles Bradlaugh

Friday, March 14

Proving Practically: 20 PR Students See The Light


Sometimes practical experience is the best teacher. So for 15 minutes last night, practical experience served as the guide in my last class this session.

Students in my Writing for Public Relations class were asked to walk 15 minutes in the shoes of a starting journalist. It only took two before their feet were sore and some eyes glazed over.

They were given seven real news releases and asked to convert them into three 1-paragraph news briefs. (Ideally, I like to provide 10 releases and ask them to write four briefs in 20 minutes, but I wanted to shave some time.)

Within a few seconds, the room filled with the sounds of a newsroom, fingers pounding keyboards. And then ten minutes in I tossed in an interruption.

”Ring, ring. Hi, I’m a PR guy. Do you want to hear about my news?”

No answer.

“Nobody wants to talk to me? How rude. I have some real good news.”

“I will if your news is better than some of these releases,” one student laughed.

“Oh, okay,” I said. “I’m having a press conference tomorrow.”

“What’s it about?”

“We’re going to pop a balloon,” I said, a reference to Bruce Spotleson, group publisher for Greespun Media, who used balloon popping as an example of what press conferences are starting to become — sales events about nothing.

“I’d hang up,” someone else offered.

“Why? Do you have something against balloons? I thought journalists loved pitches. What am I going to tell my client?”

“We’re on a deadline,” another offered.

“Wow, you sound just like those grumpy journalists,” I mused. “Okay, you have three minutes to wrap up.”

No one could believe how quickly the time whizzed by. And no one was really finished or satisfied with the releases. Their assessment of news releases suddenly wasn’t far off from my own: it would be nice if the releases contained news, had hard facts in the first paragraph, adhered to Associated Press Style rules, minimized typos (including company names), didn’t make them feel like they had to call to fact check everything, and didn’t come over in 6-point type (as one did) in order to conform to some silly “one page” rule.

None of them wanted to do to someone else what I did to them — make their job harder under the pressure of a deadline. Sure, it’s not exactly like real life, but it is close enough to make a memorable point. Newspaper staff is shrinking and well-written releases with news sometimes help fill the gaps. Well, hopefully not that much.

”Hmmm… I wonder if social media releases will make it easier?"

While some have high hopes that IABC can create real “standards," I had mixed feelings when I read the announcement from IABC that said they will take the lead (even though I am an active member).

On one hand, it may help speed along the adoption rate — now, two years and counting — of a worthwhile communication tool. On the other, one wonders if it is really appropriate to step in after two years and proclaim a leadership role. I also hope, no matter what they do, they’ll put it to the end-user test like I did with news releases in class — ensuring journalists and others have the option to follow up, but don’t always have to follow up.

Even more importantly, I wonder if most SMRs will really help journalists, bloggers, and stakeholders? Or will they become cool looking marketing sales sheets, written by the same folks who still haven't mastered the news release?

I also wonder what needs to be done. Did they see this, which Geoff Livingston pointed to last year (it's good, despite some marketing heavy copy)? Or this, which I pointed to a few months before that? I hope so. It might dramatically shorten the development cycle.

Rest assured though, one day I’ll probably pass out 10 social media releases to a class and ask them to walk in the shoes of someone else. Something tells me they will still get sore feet, regardless.

Digg!

Friday, January 18

Needling Romney: The Associated Press

The exchange between Mitt Romney and Associated Press reporter Glen Johnson yesterday provides an interesting glimpse into everyday media relations. It’s being covered from several angles, but not so much from a communication perspective, where my interest resides.

Here is a quick link to the video of the exchange from CBS News’ Scott Conroy.

At a press conference inside Staples in Columbia, South Carolina, Romney was delivering a point that his campaign team has identified as one of several contrasts between himself and other candidates. It’s one of the most challenging points to successfully deliver in any campaign, primarily because all candidates speak with lobbyists at one time or another.

“I don’t have lobbyists running my campaign,” Romney said. “I don’t have lobbyists that are tied to my … ”

“That’s not true, governor!” Johnson interjected. “That is not true. Ron Kaufman is a lobbyist.”

Kaufman, chairman of Washington-based Dutko Worldwide, is a well-known lobbyist, and former advisor to President George H.W. Bush. He has been frequently seen on the road with Romney during the campaign, purportedly as an unpaid advisor who is not privy to senior strategy meetings for the campaign.

"Did you hear what I said? Did you hear what I said, Glen?” Romney continued. “I said I don't have lobbyists running my campaign, and he's not running my campaign."

"So Ron's just there, window dressing; he's a potted plant," said Johnson.

The comment is a form of an aggressive reporting style, identifiable as needling. Needling is the patented rejection of whatever the speaker says (eg. “Oh, come on now, you don’t really believe that, do you?”) In this case, despite Romney delivering a not great, but fair answer to draw a distinction, Johnson continued to push his own definition of having lobbyists tied to the campaign.

I’ve never been a big fan of needling, but it exists. So rather than bemoan the interview tactic, it’s better to prepare clients for the eventuality that it will happen because it will happen sooner or later.

Romney would have been better off restating the distinction to the audience (as opposed to engaging Johnson direct) and then defusing the situation by offering to show Johnson his campaign’s organization chart (which he did anyway, but by then it was too late). While it might not have changed Johnson’s argument, it could have minimized what’s become a heavily discussed story.

Even more striking to me, despite receiving a little less attention, was the second, quieter exchange between Johnson and Eric Fehrnstrom, press secretary for Romney’s campaign. Fehrnstrom seems to push the limit in telling Johnson he was argumentative with the candidate and it was out of line.

“Save your opinions and act professional,” Fehrnstrom said.

Public relations practitioners are often put in a position where they might need to be firm, but it’s generally not a good idea to question a reporter’s professionalism. Why? Because even after the campaign attempted to mend fences with Johnson by showing him their organization chart, he published his evidence that lobbyists are an important part of the campaign.

Besides, candidates, public relations professionals, and members of the media all have varied definitions of what professionalism means anyway. These differences are about as plain as what they are all wearing and where they are speaking from in the video. No comparisons are needed.

Net sum: While there is enough difference between offering advice to a campaign and being a paid member of the campaign team to conclude that Romney wasn’t attempting to lie as some suggest, the net outcome is still a communication loss for Romney.

Case in point: In delivering what was meant to be a contrast point between Romney and Senator John McCain, most members of the media reported the opposite, writing stories that deepen Romney’s ties to lobbyists as opposed to diminishing them. By any measure, that’s a tough luck outcome for what didn’t even add up to three minutes of tape.

Digg!

Monday, December 3

Approaching Journalism: Tips For Bloggers


While listening to a panel discussion called “Being Opinionated in America” from the University of Berkeley that featured Maureen Dowd and Thomas L. Friedman (available for free download at iTunes), I noted that Friedman was particularly transparent in his approach to writing foreign affairs columns for The New York Times.

Five Points Gleaned From Thomas L. Friedman

• Writes fact-based commentaries that are reasonably objective
• Does not write to make friends and not doing so has no impact
• Consults with a brain trust of five people; reasonably transparent
• Fact checks for accuracy; seeks outside sources; no oversight
• Does not discriminate between the level of expertise and value of the insight

In drawing comparisons between his approach and that of bloggers, there seem to be some relatively minor distinctions, with most depending on the specific blogger.

Five Common Distinctions With Bloggers

• Some bloggers do write fact-based commentary, but most advocate specific ideas and share or debate points around their area of interest.
• Most bloggers do write to make friends, because nurturing these relationships can potentially increase their presence, reach, and perception of expertise.
• Some bloggers are influenced by select influencers, and the level of transparency is as varied as columnists. Some bloggers are also influenced by others who they never mention.
• Most bloggers do not fact check for accuracy or seek additional sources beyond what they can find available on the Web.
• Many bloggers do discriminate between the level of expertise and value of insights, often giving more weight to those who have a perceived expertise.

From me, these distinctions are especially important when considering the continuous debate whether bloggers can be journalists. I generally feel it truly depends on the blogger, always noting that some journalists are bloggers too (blogging is activity, not usually a professional designation). And, of course, many bloggers have no interest in becoming journalistic, which is fine too.

However, I do believe that bloggers can strengthen their content by adopting some journalistic approaches as outlined by Friedman.

• Never be afraid to seek offline sources to enhance the quality of the content; it’s often refreshing to read blogs that bring in ideas from non-bloggers.
• Never underestimate the value of any insight, regardless of the perceived level of expertise. Experts have an equal opportunity to be wrong.
• Authenticity is more important than transparency; meaning that disclosure is most warranted when it is relevant or directly influences the piece.
• And always be careful in pursuing online friendships for popularity so that these relationships do not hinder your ability to be honest with yourself and your readers.

The last point is often the most difficult for bloggers. For example, I generally encourage disagreement and debate while discouraging the shouting down of opposing viewpoints or diatribe, as sometimes happens when people support popularity over purpose.

I appreciate it sometimes sizes me up as someone who doesn’t much care what people think. At least that is what one of my friends told me last week. But that isn’t exactly so. I care wholeheartedly what people think; I just don’t always care a whole lot about what they might think of me for a certain point of view or working to remain objective.

There’s a big difference. In fact, it provides columnists like Dowd and Friedman the voice they need to make people think through issues without polarizing them along party platforms. Sometimes, this comes at the expense of their own popularity, if not, likeability. And personally, it’s something I hope to see more of in new media.

After all, the true test of any relationship is never when we agree, but when we disagree. Yes, we need some more of that in social media.

Digg!

Wednesday, October 3

Playing It Again: From Freelance To Journalist


There is an unwritten rule for people who “also” work in public relations. When you’re talking to a journalist about your client, it’s bad form to bring up that, you too, have worked as a writer, journalist, or publisher. Many journalists are rightfully turned off by the statement (a topic for another time).

I’m going to bend this rule again for the benefit of bloggers and novice freelancers who might be interested in breaking into traditional print by sharing the story about my first paid assignment some 15 years ago. It happened a little bit by accident, but the insight might serve some as a starting point.

After leaving a full-time position with an advertising agency (they became my first client so it wasn’t that bad), I was pretty nervous in thinking that my debut in Las Vegas could quickly come to an end. So I called the few contacts in Reno and asked for some advice.

The first person I called was Warren Lerude, professor at the Reynolds School of Journalism in Reno and Pulitzer Prize winner (among other things), who offered to find me a spot at a daily if I was wiling to relocate. The reasons are not important now, but I wasn’t ready to leave. (Lerude also said if I ran into trouble to call again; the school invests time in the employment of its grads.)

As this was the case, he suggested the next call to be Bob Alessandrelli, who was my mentor at Sierra Pacific Resources, first as an intern and then a consultant. Alessandrelli gave me the name of a public relations professional who worked at one of the top five advertising and public relations firms in Las Vegas. While the public relations professional didn’t have any work, he did invite me to a press event at the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino. It would be good experience, he said, if nothing else.

It was much more than that. While attending the press event, I struck up a conversation with the one attendee at my table who seemed least interested in mingling with the other reporters and journalists. His name was Jim.

He asked all sorts of questions, starting with who I was and why I was there (since he had never met me before and said he knew everybody). Then he asked what I thought about the new slot machines being unveiled. They featured a second monitor that could play sporting events, old movies like CasaBlanca, live keno, and special event promotion (a predecessor to some of the entertainment-infused games we have today).

“I think it might forever change the way we think about gaming,” I said.

“Really,” he said. “That’s an interesting perspective; I wasn’t thinking that at all.”

“Sooner or later, reels are not going to be enough to capture the interest of gamblers,” I offered. “This moves gaming toward entertainment.”

“Do you think you could write about that?” he said.

“Sure,” I said. “Why not?”

“Let me reintroduce myself, I’m James McGlasson, editor and general manager of Showbiz Weekly. We’re the largest entertainment weekly in Las Vegas,” Jim said. “Give me 500-700 words on spec by next week and if I like it, I’ll pay you $75 and run it. What do you think?”

I took the job. It was published. I was paid. And McGlasson gave me my next assignment with Showbiz Weekly, which turned into an out-of-house staff position. It also provided me an opportunity to pitch another story with the Las Vegas Business Press and another with its sister publication.

These articles became the basis for pitching stories to larger publishers like Career Woman and Prentice Hall, which then led to other more stories and publishers calling me from time to time, like the Los Angeles Times and Fodor’s Travel Guide. It also served as my training ground before serving as an editor of three different publications a few years later (all while building this company).

Keep in mind that much of the early work took place when the Internet was still in its infancy. Stories were delivered on paper and then 3.5 diskettes (not e-mail). And for this reason, I suppose, I tend to think that if a blogger or freelancer was so inclined, it might be a bit easier to break in today.

If a blogger was so inclined (and not all of them are; there is much more freedom in writing a blog), they could build a portfolio by adding the occasional journalistic post to their blogs. In turn, those stories and clips, along with a well-crafted pitch letter, could open an opportunity to land assignments with smaller publications, online and off.

It’s more demanding work (maybe): finding story leads, conducting multiple interviews, digging up online and offline research, and tying it all together (and for very little pay). However, if it’s your dream, it’s good to know many old hurdles have been removed. One reason: when publishers assign stories, they often base their decision on samples and not necessarily which publication.

This piece was inspired by a spirited conversation by BlogStraightTalk members.

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Sunday, September 30

Talking Free Speech: The Gylon Jackson Show


"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." — First Amendment, the Bill of Rights

On September 25, 1789, the First Congress of the United States ratified 10 amendments of the Constitution.

Tonight at 7 p.m. (CST), I have been invited to make my second guest appearance on The Gylon Jackson Show, this time to discuss the First Amendment and how it might pertain to bloggers. If you have not heard of Jackson before, visit his blog Don’t Bark Bite. Jackson covers a diverse array of topics and you’ll always be surprised by what you find there.

The first time I was a guest on his show was late last Thursday as part of the Bloggers Unite campaign. We discussed the campaign and various forms of abuse, ranging from domestic abuse to the abuse of free speech (if there is such a thing).

If you missed the show on Thursday, you can still catch it by visiting The Gylon Jackson Show archive. Tonight’s show, in fact, developed out of the show that discussed abuse.

So why give up part of a Sunday night to listen to an online radio show? I dunno. That is up to you. But what I can do is give you three reasons I’m giving up some of my Sunday for the First Amendment.

• As someone who has and occasionally still works as a journalist, the First Amendment is near and dear to my heart. While my confidence in it is often tested, it is one of the more profound, important, and neglected additions to the Constitution of the United States.
• Jackson is an amazing host, courageous individual, and it’s hard to believe that last Thursday was his first foray into online radio.
• “Libdrone,” who writes The Thin Red Line recently reminded me that Sept. 29 to Oct. 6 is Banned Book Week. You can learn more about it at the American Library Association.

If you cannot make the show, please come back on Tuesday for a recap, archive link, and some more information about banned book week (tomorrow I will be recapping our top posts of the third quarter). You never know. These discussions, on this blog or on the show, might open your eyes as to why civility on the Web is appreciated, but should never supercede our most basic and fundamental rights. Good night and good luck.

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Friday, August 10

Targeting Jobs: Daniel Lyons

Originally, I was going to pass on The New York Times outing Daniel Lyons, a senior editor at Forbes magazine, as the infamous fake Steve Jobs blogger. It was already covered ad nauseum and, with John Mackey still in focus, I wondered how many anonymous blogger stories might be too many.

But then, The Buzz Bin highlighted Todd Vanhooser’s comments that cut right to the chase. They clip some of the very best quotes from Lyons during an interview with Sam Whitmore, circa 2005. Back then, Lyons had all but admitted to a bit of a jealousy over bloggers.

"[Bloggers] have a lot of power, and a lot of companies ... live in fear of these guys." Why? Because there are no rules of engagement like there are in the MSM, Vanhooser summed the Lyons interview.

Rules of engagement for mainstream media? If Lyons felt stifled as a reporter, he might have tried a different publication or professional designation (op-ed writers and columnists have more fun). But then again, his plight hints at where mainstream media sometimes goes off the beaten path and leaves the public looking for online content.

You know, originally, there were only supposed to be two rules of engagement for journalists: tell the truth and shame the devil.

Everything else is a much more recent invention, including the need for two sources on every occasion (even when hard evidence is in hand). In fact, most of the new rules — full disclosure, source verification, not really “off the record” solicitations, etc. — were largely overreactions to the few who damaged the reputation of the many, and the overzealous ridiculing of public figures who demanded that journalists abide by the same rules they prescribe.

Fortunately for Lyons, the media is in an anonymous poster joking mood. Hee hee. Ha ha. Mackey, Lyons, Jessica Carter (the anonymous Capitol Hill sex blogger). Aren’t they all cards?

Look, I don’t think Lyons had an agenda against Jobs (like some anonymous bloggers seem to have against their targets). It doesn’t appear he had any malicious intent. And it probably didn’t hurt Jobs or Apple at all. It’s not even really fair to draw a comparison between him and Mackey or Carter.

However, he raises an interesting question. When you can no longer trust the people who were once charged with protecting public interest by telling the truth (as opposed to two sides of the story), who can the public trust?

Digg!

Wednesday, May 16

Shifting For Social Media: PR Newswire

One of the most significant changes in news reporting and public relations was somewhat missed by the general public. PR Newswire, the global leader in news and information distribution services for professional communicators, did what most public relations professionals seemed unwilling to do just a few months ago: embrace social media.

Releases sent over this popular wire service have been employing social media elements inspired by SHIFT Communications (just a bit more streamlined), include RSS feeds, Technorati and Digg links. The benefit is this news distribution model makes it even easier for social media to select stories that interest them, just as mainstream media outlets have done for years.

There is still some room for improvement — the "blogs discussing this news release" is linked to a headline search instead of combined keywords — but these are minor issues that will eventually be modified. The change is admirable and a badly needed first step that levels the playing field (even if it is somewhat responsive to some bloggers suggesting they can create online public relations distribution platforms too).

There also seem to be a few side effects that are becoming more noticeable and pervasive: the quality of the news releases from a journalistic perspective are being buried with colorful leads, non-news, and increased puffery. It's the kind of stuff some bloggers might grab up because they don't have to rewrite it.

But for a journalist, it can be a bit maddening at times to look for buried news while trying to beat the deadline and field calls from public relations specialists asking if the release they sent was received. Here are a few random leads from releases distributed by PR Newswire today:

"Hiring an ad agency can be a scary thought. I mean who wants to deal with those egos? Or even scarier, who wants to see that agency invoice?"

"To a room filled with close to 200 advertisers and media, the 2007 GolTV Upfront got off to a great start."

"Canada, the world's second largest country and number one "foreign" destination for Americans, is tired of hearing that it's too nice, too pretty, too pristine and too safe, let alone too similar to the U.S.A."

I'm not saying any of these leads are "good" or "bad" as much as I'm saying this is what is — new releases are trending to be much more editorialized and I'm not so sure that's a good thing. Worse, in some cases, companies might even be tempted to release padded news, knowing that citizen journalists (some mainstream journalists too) are a bit lax on fact checking.

Personally, I think a crisp news release is still the better communication tool. It's more credible and can be picked up just as easily by members of the social or mainstream media. It also makes me wonder what the future might look like if more and more companies turn toward editorial releases instead of solid news. Hmmm... the word wacky comes to mind.

Digg!

Thursday, December 14

Blurring Blog News

Someone was bound to get it wrong sooner or later and unfortunately for Michael Arrington at TechCrunch, it was him. Maybe.

Arrington is the editor of TechCrunch US, a weblog which is dedicated to "obsessively" profiling and reviewing new Internet products and companies. Founded in 2005, the weblog reviews those that are making an impact (commercial and/or cultural) on the new Web space. In addition to TechCrunch US, Arrington oversees TechCrunch UK, which was edited and published by Sam Sethi.

As the story goes, Sethi did his job. He wrote two honest, but critical reviews of this week's social media conference Le Web that mirrored the feedback that most delegates and attendees shared, with Loic Le Meur receiving the brunt. According to most reports, Sethi's critical review of Le Web drove a wedge between him and Le Meur, which escalated to Le Meur writing on Sethi's blog: "You are just an asshole."

The next day, Sethi was fired. The offending posts were removed. All comments were removed. And Arrington announced that TechCrunch UK was being put on hold. According to blogger Drew B, more posts were deleted beyond TechCrunch, including an EirePreneur post titled "Arrington falls out with Sam Sethi, surprise victim of Le Web3."

Arrington, by his own hand, will be the next victim on a much grander scale as the Web media is chastising him and calling his ethics into question since he fired someone for, in essence, doing their job. He should have expected as much, given that his blog is defined as "obsessively profiling and reviewing new Internet products and companies." The definition alludes to the idea that he was creating a non-biased technology-focused Web news organization.

Now it seems that this is not the case as Le Meur obviously held more weight over Arrington than his UK counterpart. Unfortunately for TechCrunch, two years of hard work is about to go up in smoke after a few minutes of poor judgement. Sure, TechCrunch is a commercial entity. All media outlets are.

What Arrington did not consider however, is that honest reviewers do not buckle from outside corporate pressure, no matter how big and influential they seem or if advertising dollars are at stake. (This is the stuff you learn working for print publications, and I've worked at and managed several). Even if he disagreed with Sethi, it should not have resulted in termination, especially since it was painfully obvious Sethi had sided with the vast majority of delegates that attended. Simply put, it seems if he would have written a pro Le Web commentary, it would have been a lie.

The ethical dilemma of whether or not to cater to corporations is not new for print or electronic media. It happens every day. Both views are right with respective consequences.

As publisher and top editor, Arrington certainly has the final say about the stance his blog will take on any subject. There are plenty of publishers out there willing to cater to certain corporate interests. The consequence is credibility. It will be hard for his readership to consider his opinion unbiased anymore. Of course, being little more than ''public relations'' publications can mean big bucks.

However, if he really wanted to do what he set out to do — write honest reviews and allow his partners to do likewise — well then, reporting the truth is the ultimate ethical guideline. And, even if he disagreed, he would have stood by Sethi every step of way. Certainly it might have meant being blacklisted by Le Meur, but better Le Meur than the entire world.

When I managed a publication a few years ago, I often found myself in a position between being a publisher who had to bring home the bacon and the editor who had to report the truth. The decision was easy for me. If I couldn't be honest, I'd rather not write about it no matter what the consequences. The result was a publication that was respected with plenty of advertisers happy to make up for any that fell by the wayside because of editorial/advertiser disputes.

But that was me as a publisher. Arrington obviously sees the world differently, given he went even further than most pay-for-print publishers and deleted a published opinion because he found it objectionable for reasons only he would know. A second commentary refuting Sethi would have been the wiser decision.

Monday, December 4

Blogging To Jail

Josh Wolf, 24, self-described freelance journalist and independent videographer, remains in “custody” at the Federal Detention Facility in Dublin, California, after being charged with contempt because he refused to provide a federal grand jury with unedited video of a 2005 G-8 protest in San Francisco. The authorities wanted the unpublished portions as part of an investigation into crimes that may have occurred during the protest.

Wolf refused, claiming he is a journalist protected under the First Amendment, which is what makes for an interesting case study in the move ta o define a "journalist" in the United States. The primary reason some find it difficult to define Wolf as a journalist is because his experience is primarily as blogger. The secondary reason is that Wolf tends to move back and forth between activism and journalism.

“If I have any reservations about whether or not he is a journalist, it is whether he went there as an independent gatherer of news and information," Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, told the Associated Press in an interview with reporter David Kravets. “We certainly hope that in the future if he goes to these events, he makes up his mind as to whether he is a journalist or a protester.”

On one hand, Wolf does have earned credentials as a journalist, including a 2006 Society of Professional Journalists award for Journalist of the Year. On the other, he has also participated as an activist and is generally seen as sympathetic to left-wing causes. Even journalists covering his incarceration, as well as those who have stepped up to help defend him, are unsure of whether or not he is best described as an activist or journalist.

Generally speaking, the question is easy enough to answer as a professional but difficult to answer as a person: am I an observer reporting the news or an active participant in making the news? And is there a point during some event when I might switch from observing into action? To save a life? To protect an officer? To prevent an abuse of power? In the strictest sense, the answer is no.

Journalists do not become active participants in the story, regardless of the circumstance, as unfortunate as this may seem. It is difficult to discern whether or not Wolf was indeed acting as a journalist, ironically, because the best evidence to determine this is precisely what he has refused to surrender.

I submit the real calamity here is not whether Wolf is a journalist or activist, publisher or blogger, but that when individuals abuse our civil liberties and rights guaranteed under the First Amendment (and I am not saying Wolf has done this), all sorts of crazy judicial opinions are rendered that could have long-term consequences such as the continuing erosion of the First Amendment. Case in point, presiding Judge Alsop offered up “This great country which has allowed you to be a journalist — sometimes your country asks for something back.'’

While his sentiment is sound, his statement is erroneous. There is only one person who ''allows'' another to be a journalist and it is not the government. A journalist is granted privilege by a publisher, even if they are one in the same. It is the publisher who is specifically guaranteed rights in this country as written: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

"The press" is not defined as a journalist in the First Amendment, but rather a publisher. Journalists are hired by publishers to execute these rights. And the only reason there is any confusion today is that the advent of blogging has made it possible for anyone to publish and reach a mass audience. In some ways, blogging has brought the press back to its roots of our forefathers, wherein anyone with enough money to afford a printing press could be a publisher.

Does that mean Wolf is protected? His edited video remains on his site today so there is no injustice there. So perhaps the real question is not whether he is a journalist, but whether or not he was a participant, observer, or acting member of the press. As a participant or observer, withholding the tape is an obstruction of justice. As an acting member of the press strictly covering the protest for publication (by a publisher), he is protected under the First Amendment. Case closed.

Now only if all these fine folks involved would stop working so hard to define 'journalistic rights,' perhaps they could tell the judge to review the tape and determine whether Wolf was a participant or not. If the judge determines Wolf was a participant, then it's a much easier case to decide and all of us will be free from seeing well-intentioned people continuing to muck up our First Amendment with definitions that do not belong there, including blogger, journalist, or whatever.

Friday, September 22

Suing Over Myspace

Last year, I wrote a post about the growing popularity of blogs and the pressure being created to define a 'legitimate' journalist in (Blogging To Journalism), citing that neither the First nor Fourteenth amendment defines the press or 'journalists' as people who are affiliated with big media conglomerates or whose work is distributed on paper. In short, bloggers deserve the same protections afforded to journalists.

However, in the same post, I also suggested the real question people should be asking is not whether bloggers should be protected by the First and Fourteenth amendments, but whether they should be held to the same standards as mainstream journalists in regard to accuracy and libel. Maybe it's time they were, I said, especially those that unjustly libel individuals and coworkers whenever they like.

Sixteen months later, that question is being asked as a high school assistant principal sues two students and their parents, alleging the teens set up a Web page on MySpace.com in her name and posted obscene comments and pictures.

Anna Draker, an assistant principal at Clark High School, is claiming defamation, libel, negligence and negligent supervision over the page on the popular free-access Web site. She claims two 16-year-olds, a junior and a sophomore, created the page using her name and picture and wrote it as through Draker herself had posted the information, according to Draker's attorney, Murphy Klasing.

The site falsely identified Draker as a lesbian. Klasing said Draker, who is married and has small children, was "devastated." MySpace.com removed the page when Draker told them it wasn't hers. Bexar County Assistant District Attorney Jill Mata would not release information about the case, but confirmed that juvenile charges are pending against a local high school student involving retaliation and fraudulent use of identifying information. Both are third-degree felonies.

As I said before, with freedom comes responsibility. Unfortunately, no one seems to have told these teenagers that once you publish a blog, you become a publisher, bound by the same libel laws as the rest of us. Be bold, but be honest.

Sunday, May 29

Blogging To Journalism

While it might not be new that a preliminary ruling a few months ago held that three bloggers who published leaked information about an unreleased Apple product must divulge their confidential sources, what is interesting is the growing pressure to define a journalist. Some are reporting that if the ruling holds, it will set a precedent because it will mean under the law bloggers aren't considered journalists and are not privileged to the same protections. Right. For about five seconds.

Media Law 101: 1. The First Amendment wisely guarantees, but does not define, freedom of speech or the press. 2. The Fourteenth Amendment wisely guarantees that any person within its jurisdiction shall have equal protection of the laws.

Neither amendment defines the press or 'journalists' as people who are affiliated with big media conglomerates or whose work is distributed on paper. Most dictionaries, however, do. A journalist is: 1: one whose occupation is journalism 2: one who keeps a diary or journal. And journalism is defined as: the collecting, writing, editing, and publishing of news or news articles through newspapers or magazines (and, as generally accepted, through broadcasts, which would include the Internet).

Despite this, one foolish judge seems to be sympathetic to court papers that claim that the people who run the sites targeted by the lawsuit aren't "legitimate members of the press," and therefore they should not be granted the same privileges as the press. Ahem. I hate to point it out, but none of the founding fathers of this country were "legitimate members of the press" either. Not one.

I looked it up. They were businessmen, lawyers, merchants, boaters, securities speculators, farmers, shippers, scientists, physicians, and minsters. Not one of them considered their primary occupation to be a publisher or journalist, yet they were the very people who wanted to protect the free exchange of ideas. That is what the First Amendment truly aims to protect.

The medium of publication, distribution, or circulation is irrelevant. Sure, I appreciate the angst that some journalists feel when they are cast in the same category as bloggers, but it hardly justifies treating the profession as a regulated field. Like it or not, a journalist is someone who shares their ideas or observations through publication or broadcast. This includes blogs.

Not to mention, at least one of the three named bloggers is considered a 'legitimate journalist' (whatever that means) outside of his Web log. And, in the larger blogging community, many notable bloggers have decamped from mainstream media sources or created their own blogs to write freely.

Sure, some blogs have also gained a reputation for inaccuracy, but inaccurate reporting and outlandish opinions are not exclusive to blogging. Those nasty little side effects have been around long before the printing press was invented and, based on the number of 'whoopsie' moments in the mainstream media let alone bloggers, are not likely to change in the near future.

It seems to me the real question people should be asking is not whether bloggers should be protected by the First and Fourteenth amendments, but whether they should be held to the same standards as mainstream journalists in regard to accuracy and libel. Maybe it's time they were, especially those that unjustly libel individuals and coworkers whenever they like. With freedom comes responsibility.
 

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