The Newspaper Dichotomy

I just recently found the American Journalism Review and am obsessed with it. Lately I’ve noticed that I’m becoming more and more fascinated by the journalism side of our jobs. There are so many reasons this could be, most of it is my profession. Kevin Dugan has had a lot to do with it, too.

The article “Center Stage” really intrigued me. It’s about how four large newspapers are coping with print and online, merging the two, and keeping the whole machine running. It’s amazing. Check it out.

Really puts into perspective the journalism dichotomy of print vs. online and how we as PR pros need to understand the flip side of the coin…or the third side of our triangle, if you’d rather.

Blogger criticizes local paper typo – what a jerk

beaconjournal.JPGAlso titled: Do I have a right to be snobby?

Seriously, as a blogger, do I have any right to be snobby? Here is a local paper with serious reporters, ethical standards, and a decent website and here I am, a nobody, mocking it.

Is that right?

Probably not.

Incidentally, the print version was fine and it was fixed a few hours later so I guess I don’t have any compaints.

I was listening to FIR #184 this morning (blog page, show notes) and Shel made some great comments about headlines. Especially in this day of RSS, we really need to be descriptive and informative in our headlines if we expect people to pay attention to the messages. This goes for newspapers, bloggers, and more. As a PR professional, I scan over 140 feeds in my aggregator to attempt to stay on top of events. Many of those feeds are headline only, no lead paragraph. I may be missing information, though I try not to. Think about that when crafting headlines for your blog, your website, or your client. RSS is changing not only the way we get information, but how we get information out.

Cleveland PR/Journo Thoughts

As I posted last week, I attended a BusinessWire breakfast in Cleveland last week. Cleveland’s kind of a hike for me, especially at 8am, but I persevered and made it. I also managed to forget my camera so I don’t have any cool photos to prove I was there. Except this badge they gave me I took a picture of when I got home.

I had been especially interested in the panel of speakers as well as the topic. Panelists were John Kroll, Deputy Business Editor of The Plain Dealer, and author of the retirement blog Not Fade Away; Thomas Mulready, founder of CoolCleveland; and Chris Thompson of the Transparency Works blog and Vice President of Edward Howard & Co. Moderator was Denise Polverine, Editor-in-Chief, Cleveland.com.

I took away some valuable statements that really made me think about some things. I wanted to share those with you in no particular order.

  • Kroll mentioned that the communication that we’re having today is different, that it used to be two companies communicating. Even though it was it was reporter to PR pro, it was really the two companies talking. Now it’s people talking, bloggers blogging, conversations raging. The Cluetrain is apparent in Kroll’s comments. “Bloggers are not a species,” Kroll said, “bloggers are people.” This comment reminds me so much of Shel‘s common phrase that it’s not that we don’t trust blogs, it that we’re skeptical of anyone until we learn to trust them. In person, in print, or online, it doesn’t matter.
  • Thompson pointed out that new analytics in the online world are making it easier to measure almost everything. He said we’ve “gotten rich by not measuring anything and telling the client it’s all fine.” Times are changing. Are we ready? My view is that some of us are ready, but most aren’t. I’m hedging on this one my self. As an industry, I think PR is not ready. As an industry I think news media is not ready. But we are moving forward, just behind the tide.
  • As I huge fan of RSS (I recently gave a talk to a PRSSA chapter on RSS), I was shocked to think of a negative side to it. Thompson made a great point that perhaps RSS makes things too segregated. We’re narrowing ourselves into ignorance. This is something I struggle with everyday. Personally, I avoid this by subscribing to RSS feeds that I don’t have any personal interest in and then scanning the headlines just to keep rounded. But he’s right. The narrowcasting approach has made it very easy to target certain people, but infinitely more difficult to hit those people who reside on the fence. In any given opinion-swaying campaign, be it political or consumer, B2B or otherwise, the only people you really target are those who are decidedly undecided. You’re never going to change the minds of the top percent of supporters for both sides. But with this incredibly narrow focus, how do we attempt to reach the minds of the undecided? Demographics (and psychographics, etc) for television and print change daily, I’m guessing, as new technologies are adopted by more and more people. Advertising and PR is getting more and more difficult, while getting seemingly easier. Not to mention Thompson’s point about narrowing ourselves to ignorance. I thought we, as Americans, were ignorant enough. Hold me, I’m frightened.
  • Kroll made a great point about newpapers going online. He said, “we’re still a traditional media,” referring to the Plain Dealer, “[companies] still talk to us as little as they ever used to.” I laughed about that. Isn’t it funny? PR people are always pitching stories, but journalists are looking for real news. It’s laughable to see how often we miss each other. Kroll’s point demonstrates that things are surely slow to change. There’s some comfort in that(?)
  • Kroll also noted that the great thing about the new media tools is that the news media and PR are finally up to where education was decades ago. It’s sad to think that PR and News take so long to adopt change and new technologies. However, I’m not sure education is on top of it either… I mean, I just got my Masters and one of our undergrad professors was still using her doctoral notes from 20 years prior to teach us PR. Maybe it was my school, but there is NOTHING comforting about that. I mean, a colleague of mine even told her, “that’s kind of sad, don’t you think something’s changed in twenty years?” The prof hasn’t budged.

So the event was excellent. Denise and Thomas also said some great things, but I only jotted down so much and it’s taken me ages to post even this. I also had the privalege to meet Cleveland’s own civic voice, George Nemeth from Brewed Fresh Daily who left me this thoughtful comment on another post.  Thanks, George, hope to see more bloggers in NE Ohio soon.

Advertorial – acceptable or devil’s penmanship?

Is it pay-for-play, unethical, okay, or acceptable only under certain circumstances? I took a poll through the Bulldog Reporter this week and took a snap of the results. Sixty-eight percent of those who responded (no mention of how many people had weighed in) think pay-for-play marketing should never happen. I note that it includes ethical issues for both journalism and PR. Nice touch. Twenty percent indicated it would be done under certain circumstances. But who has the definition of pay-for-play? Lots of wiggle room, I’d imagine. I mean, c’mon Clinton taught us we can legally stretch the definition of any word.

But advertorials? Who would argue that advertorials are unethical? I’m a big fan of advertorials used in certain circumstances. They’re tools of communication just like blogs or brochures. In some situations, it’s the best way to get the message out. Didn’t Johnson & Johnson put out advertorials during their mid-80s poison crisis? It was a way for them to get their story out in the days before the web.

But this NYT article from Maria Aspan indicates the blurry line some people are walking. The article details how the writer of an advertorial was paid for it, but also listed as a contributing editor in the publication. Not to mention the “this is a paid advertisement” was barely visible to the naked eye.

Kelly McBride, ethics group leader at the Poynter Institute, a journalism organization [said] “As a member of the audience, how do I know where his loyalties are when I see his byline on something else?”

Purposefully deceptive? How does this compare to ghost writing? It doesn’t, if you ask me. But when you’re a contributing writer of a rag and are also paid to write ads for the same – that does sound a bit odd. As PR pros we’re bound to run into pesky predicaments every once in a while. Part of our jobs is to write.

I mean, right there in the PRSA Code of Ethics it clearly states:

A member shall:
• Be honest and accurate in all communications.
• Act promptly to correct erroneous communications for which the
member is responsible.
• Investigate the truthfulness and accuracy of information released
on behalf of those represented.
• Reveal the sponsors for causes and interests represented.
• Disclose financial interest (such as stock ownership) in a client’s
organization.
• Avoid deceptive practices.

I mean, I’m just telling you what it says. But so very few of the people who engage in PR practices are members of PRSA, IABC, or CIPR. So, there’s a loop hole.

To me, this whole thing goes back to definitions. PR is so inaccurately defined so often. PR is practiced by people who don’t understand it fully. PR is not solely publicity, but I’d wager most of the self-proclaimed PR pros out there do only that. PR is not just getting coverage for clients at any cost. Because there is a cost. And people are watching. Would there be a PR Watch organization if we stuck to a code of ethics?

Update: Robert French has a nice little discussion about online pay for play here.

PR dissed by journalism – again

This is old news to many (April), but it just re-read it again on the Bulldog Reporter this week. It touched a nerve. Bob Zelnick, a former ABC news correspondent and head of BU's journalism department stepped down from his post because he recognizes his inadequacies as an administrator. Good on ya, man. It's good to recognize one's strengths and weaknesses. He will instead become a professor of national and international affairs. I admire that. What I found surprising is what he said when he left.

For example, the headline from the Bulldog: Boston University’s Outgoing Journalism Program Chairman Snubs Communications Dept.—Says PR/Advertising and Journalism Should Be “Adversaries,” Not Interdepartmental “Cousins” like, ouch, man.

Headline from the Boston Globe article: Debate roils BU department (By Sarah Schweitzer and Marcella Bombardieri) Well, at least you can tell which article came from a PR source 😉 The part of this article that I like best is the quote from Bob.

"Zelnick said the journalism program has become increasingly competitive with the best in the country, but 'we will never get a Grade A, first-rate, nationally recognized journalist to lead this department as long as it's linked' to mass communication."

It's funny he should say that. As a recent graduate, I've been thinking for years that communication studies have been held back by the placement of the departments in colleges or schools such as Journalism, Fine and Applied Arts, or Stuff No One Cares About in universities across the nation.

I just read Everett M. Rogers' book "History of Communication Study" and I at least now have an understanding of why things are that way in colleges today (you should read it if you like dry, lengthy historical books. Good info, though). But I agree with Zelnik, the departments could be separated, but I think for completely different reasons. Communication study has developed immensely in the last 40 years and deserves a home of its own. Students and communication fields would benefit greatly, especially PR. I applaud those universities and colleges across the world with stellar PR departments, but often students end up at schools they can afford or geographically get to – not often the best schools for all that learnin'.

Any thoughts or is this a tired subject?