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Associated Press Win over Meltwater is the Internet’s Loss

March 26, 2013 Leave a comment

Whenever a business gets too large, it ceases innovating and begins looking for ways to put a boot in the face of anyone who wishes to climb past them up the mountain.

Unfortunately the Associated Press enlisted the help of [tech-illiterate] US District Court Judge Denise Cote and put a boot in the face of content aggregators and successfully sued Meltwater (a San Francisco-based digital clipping service that notifies clients when news references keywords relevant to them).

Here’s just an example of the ripple effect of problems this ruling creates just in Judge Cote’s world:

  • The US District Court for the Southern District of New York publishes a “News and Events” section on its website (with an RSS feed).  Some of the content in that feed violates this ruling.
  • The New York Bar Association (of which, presumably, Judge Cote is a member) also publishes news on a variety of its blogs and other presences which could be in violation of the precedent set by this ruling as they contain “relevant” excerpts of stories by publishers with links.
  • Judge Cote’s alma mater, Columbia University, routinely violates the standard set in the ruling.

…and on and on.

Hilariously, one of the sticking points in the lawsuit is that Meltwater caches news content going back to 2007 that is no longer available online and offers it to customers.  The AP literally doesn’t offer a competing product and wants to someone else for making the information available when they won’t.  It’s the equivalent of a record company suing me for giving a friend a pirated copy of an album that is no longer in print.

It’s the same thing the music industry did over a decade ago when it sued into bankruptcy the file-sharing platforms (and even attempted to sue the manufacturers of MP3 players) that allowed music enthusiasts to trade MP3s – which the industry was not willing to offer despite the overwhelming demand.

This should be instructive for the AP.  After its decade-plus crusade – the music industry won itself widespread hatred, lost its oligopoly, and was entirely unsuccessful at stopping file-sharing.  Even now they’re still in the trenches trying to hold back innovation by attacking their customers and technology companies (see: “six strikes”) and losing billions of revenue in the process.

The Associated Press already sued “Moreover,” “All Headline News,” and even Google before taking on Meltwater.  So far they’ve been satisfied with licensing fees (likely much-needed income as the quality and breadth of their output declines along with the rest of the dinosaurs of traditional media), but what will be next?

For more – I recommend reading the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s response to the ruling:

AP v. Meltwater: Disappointing Ruling for News Search
MARCH 21, 2013 | BY CORYNNE MCSHERRY AND KURT OPSAHL | Electronic Frontier Foundation

Thanks but no Thanks – Five Rebuttals for “Backseat Marketers”

July 29, 2012 2 comments
Avoid the Herd Mentality in Marketing

Avoid the Herd Mentality in Marketing (w/ love to Seth Godin)

For some reason, people seem very comfortable assuming they know as much as anyone trained in marketing, advertising or public relations.  Whereas few people would feel comfortable second-guessing  a  physician’s assistant physician assistant,  or telling an engineer how to do their job – they are more than willing to micro-manage communications professionals.

To them, I say “thanks but no thanks.”  If you’ve not in the field, and you’ve ever offered up any of the following advice to a colleague in the field, please check yourself.

1. You think we should advertise somewhere because you consume that media.

In all liklihood *you* are not the demographic being targeted.  *I* am not the demographic being targeted either.

This happens all the time – I guess it has to do with some desire we have to feel as though we understand the average person’s mindset and that we represent the common opinion on the street.  The problem is – it’s increasingly hard to identify “the average person” anymore.

Not only that, but whomever he/she is, none of us is likely representative of them (particularly where I work where most of the employees have advanced degrees – relegating them to a tiny ten percent of the US population, not at all representative of the median).

Instead of going with your gut – trust the data instead.  Save your gut for the creative portions of the campaign where it will be needed.

2. You think we should advertise somewhere because it’s a “special” promotion targeted right at our industry.

I hate to break it to you, but every two-bit media entity worth its salt has created bogus “special interest” offerings as a marketing ploy to appeal to advertisers.  There are “special editions” for everything now – and they even come out more than once a year.

To make matters worse, there are even entire organizations created solely for the purpose of selling worthless advertising to rubes who think they’re reaching someone.

A great example of this is the “Who’s Who” listings or “Internet Directories” for special topics.  When was the last time you looked anyone up in a “Who’s Who” book?  Carter was probably president.  The same goes for special “directories” online; as the power and accuracy of search has improved, it has rendered the need for curated directories obsolete.  You’re far better off taking all of that time and money and putting it into writing a blog to push up your rank in Google.

On Payola: By the way – if the “special promotion” includes freebies to the people buying the advertising (say, event tickets) – if you take those, it’s unethical and potentially grounds for firing at many institutions.  It constitutes a conflict of interest for you to spend money that isn’t yours in order to get something free.  You may even want to check with your Purchasing department because you may be legally-obligated to notify them or turn over that item.

3. You think we should advertise somewhere because they have special pricing available only for a limited time.

The amount of exclamation points that usually accompany the emails for these sorts of requests could fuel a mid-sized city.  Understand that these offers are invariably overvalued.  The reason they’re discounting the air time/ad space is because NO ONE ELSE WANTS IT (and there’s a reason no one else wants it).

The reason these “opportunities” are “special” is because no one else will advertise on them because they don’t reach enough people (or they’re not effective at converting eyeballs into sales).  They’re the advertising equivalent of the bargain DVD bin at Wal-mart – no one wants to own Battlefield Earth which is why it languishes even with a $2.99 price tag.  You’re literally throwing your money away – money that could be better spent with 30 seconds and a credit card on Facebook.

4. You think we should advertise somewhere because our competitors are doing it.

To be sure, there is absolutely value in benchmarking what one’s competitors are doing.  However, following the herd can be problematic for a variety of reasons.

  • First, if the herd is already there – it’s a diluted marketplace for ideas.  You’ll be trying to make noise while everyone else is trying to make noise – no one is going to hear it.  The Law of Diminishing Returns absolutely applies to advertising.
  • Second, the herd doesn’t know anything you don’t already know.  They’re not privy to some mystical insight – particularly the more members of the herd are engaging in this communal behavior the more likely it is to be outmoded because the soft middle has arrived.
  • Third,

5.  You think we should advertise somewhere whether or not we can track the response.

Media Consumption Trends 2001-2010Measurement is just as critical as Communication in a marketing/pr plan.  If you’re not worried about how we’re going to gauge the response to our efforts – I’M worried about your fitness for your job.

If you can’t find a way to verify whether or not something worked – why would you do it?  Would you have a surgery if you had no way of telling whether or not it was successful?  Would you enter a competition that didn’t track how you placed?

It’s not fun and it’s not sexy, but it is an imperative that we develop some way of measuring how many people are converted by our efforts.  Given how wildly media consumption habits are shifting right now – it’s even MORE important than any time in the past half-decade.

Moreover, ENTIRELY NEW forms of advertising are emerging all the time.  What worked this year may not work at all next year – and it’s important to track that progress.

In Summary

So “Backseat Marketers,” please – we need your input but keep it constructive and focused on the content that you are experts on.  Recycle the faxes you get with radio discounts on them instead of forwarding them to us.  Defer questions from ad sales reps to us and let us handle them (instead of allowing them to create confusion, conflict and division within our organization just because they work on commission).

Are Bloggers Journalists? Are Journalists Bloggers?

February 29, 2012 1 comment

Blogger vs Journalist Flowchart

Are bloggers journalists?

This debate continues to simmer as the traditional news-gathering industry undergoes a painful period of rapid evolution.

The answer to the question “are bloggers journalists?” can be answered by flipping the question on its head:

In an era where journalists increasingly write for digital versions of their newspapers (many of which have cut delivery to a handful of days per week or eliminated it completely)- publishing news DIRECTLY to the web without editorial oversight on every single story: are journalists bloggers?

Yes.  And vice versa.

Journalism is an activity, an ethic, a philosophy.  Historically it’s been bound by certain physical trappings: the masthead of a newspaper with a large circulation, rumpled oxfordcloth shirts, and thin spiral-bound notebooks.  No longer.

Even the structural and social components that used to define journalism have changed:

If you’re a blogger that subscribes to a code of ethics and strives for honesty and integrity – you’re a journalist.

If you’re a journalist that publishes your content electronically to a content management system – you’re a blogger.

The Survival of Newspapers Depends on Embracing Social Media – Pew Study Shows This Isn’t Happening

November 16, 2011 2 comments

The MSM 9000 - Turning Twitter Into a Glorified RSS Feed

The Pew Center Project for Excellence in Journalism recently published a study (“How Mainstream Media Outlets Use Twitter; Content Analysis Shows an Evolving Relationship“) showing that, despite its myriad applications, most newspapers just use Twitter as a way of regurgitating the content they’re already publishing on pulp or on their websites.  Megan Garber at the Nieman Journalism Lab rightly points out that this turns Twitter into “a glorified RSS feed.”

Pew Newspaper Twitter Use Study - Tweets During a Week

The results of the study are a good insight into why the newspaper industry has suffered such a decline in recent years; they still haven’t embraced social media in a meaningful way.  The particularly telling statistic was that during the one-week period when the Twitter accounts were observed, 93 percent of the tweets linked back to a story on the news organization’s website.

In fairness to the newspapers observed, most of them likely have a strategy that divides up the content and engagement among various different Twitter accounts.  For example, the Arizona Republic notes that @azcentral is the site they use for news and opinion (they reserve @arizonarepublic for interactions with the newsroom) and fortunately the Pew study methodology noted this.  The Pew study took this into account to an extent by measuring what was published by reporters that work for each paper.

One measure of an organization’s level of social media engagement (though admittedly it’s riddled with problems and much-derided by many social media experts) is Klout.  For what it’s worth, here are the Klout scores of the 13 news organizations measured (as of November 15, 2011).  By comparison, I’m not terribly influential and my Klout score is 54 – the highest Klout score currently is Justin Bieber (@justinbieber) at 100:

  • The Huffington Post (@huffingtonpost): 86
  • The New York Times (@nytimes): 86
  • ABC News (@abc): 83
  • The Wall Street Journal (@wsj): 83
  • The Washington Post (@washingtonpost): 82
  • Fox News (@foxnews): 82
  • CNN (@cnn): 81
  • MSNBC (@msnbc): 77
  • USA Today (@usatoday): 77
  • NPR (@nprnews): 76
  • The Arizona Republic (@azcentral): 63
  • The Daily Caller (@dailycaller): 61
  • The Toledo Blade (@toledonews): 46

Replicability?

I was curious to see if some of the non-traditional major newspapers also succumbed to this non-engaging practice of using Twitter so I took a look at the accounts of the St. Petersburg Times (run by the Poynter Institute) and a few of thedaily papers operated by the McClatchy Company, as well as the Grand Rapids Press.  My hypothesis was that they would have embraced social media (in this case Twitter) in a more meaningful way than the traditional for-profit newspapers which would show up in a higher volume of tweets and more engagement with individual Twitter users.

During the one-week period between November 8-14, 2011, these were the results:

Tweets Links to Own Stories / Others / Pct Klout Score
The St. Petersburg Times (@tampabaycom) 51 48 / 0 (100%) 47
McClatchy – Anchorage Daily News (@adndotcom) 100 65 / 15 (81%) 10
McClatchy – The Kansas City Star (@kcstar) 213 169 / 20 (89%) 58
Grand Rapids Press (@grpress) 50 49 / 1 (98%) 49
 Total 331 / 36 (90%)

As you can see, they were pretty much the same as the rest of the newspapers observed in the Pew Study; an average of 90 percent of the links provided were back to their own content.

What was interesting was that the period of time observed for the Anchorage Daily News was during a massive storm which dramatically changed the way the paper used Twitter. It was far more likely to retweet breaking news from other Twitter users, as well as link to other sites (such as the National Oceanographic and Aeronautic Administration – NOAA). This change begs the question; if it’s important to martial all information regardless of source during an emergency, why isn’t that the case during the regular news day?

Recommendations

Here’s some advice for the newspapers (for what it’s worth):

1. Acknowledge and Engage Followers:

While it’s certainly reasonable for any given news organization to tweet links back to its content, that shouldn’t make up the bulk of the tweets.  Twitter offers a unique opportunity to interact one-on-one with readers in a very timely fashion.  The organizations that use Twitter well participate in the online community and acknowledge their customers/constituents – speaking personally to them and sharing what they publish(by re-tweeting “RT-ing” them).

2. Embrace Social Media Conventions:

There’s an interesting phenomenon going on right now where news organizations are worried about re-tweeting content from other users because they fear it is perceived as an “endorsement” of the person (some go so far as to expressly mention in their Twitter descriptions that RTs are not an endorsement).  Be not afraid, journos!  RTs are only sometimes an endorsement, and if some of your readers are too stupid to note the difference – you probably don’t need them anyway.

Pew Newspaper Twitter Use Study - Use of Hashtags

What was particularly shameful was the lack of use of hashtags in tweets.  NPR didn’t use a single hashtag during the entire period they were observed.  That’s shameful.  Hashtags are signposts that allow people (and algorithms) to identify relevant content, and they facilitate discussion around a topic.  They should be a priority for any Twitter user to include whenever the 140 character limit permits.

3. Give Your Social Media Presence a Face:

By this I mean an actual face.  Of a person.  Not a logo, but a person.  Everyone knows that there’s a person behind every social media presence, yet most organizations conduct themselves on social media as though a giant machine is adding copy and triggering the “send” button.  Of the Twitter accounts measured, only five readily identified who was tweeting on behalf of the organization (The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Arizona Republic, The Daily Caller, and the Toledo Blade).

4. Learn From Your Reporters:

In my experience, I’ve found journalists are frequently adept at using social media – Twitter in particular.  They’re personal, timely, and engaging.  They get social media conventions, and they’re not afraid to participate (even using Twitter to gather news and find interview subjects).  That’s one of the reasons why #JournChat (a weekly dialog involving reporters and public relations pros) is my favorite Tweet Chat

Journalists Make the Best Public Relations People? I Didn’t get that Memo.

March 30, 2011 3 comments

Press to PR

I’m going to respectfully disagree with Jim Crawford’s post over at PR Breakfast club (4 Reasons Why Journalists Still Make the Best PR People) that journalists make superior public relations people (compared to…?).

It’s a great example of the distorted picture of public relations that the mainstream culture has of the profession because it myopically focuses on only a handful of public relations duties (or assumed duties): writing, media relations, client relations, and advertising.

To be sure, journalists are skilled communicators who bring a lot to the table when they become PR pros – but the vast majority of the duties associated with PR aren’t ones that journalists would typically get hands-on experience with in the course of their work.

Specifically, there are some aspects of Crawford’s analysis I’m not compelled by:

  • Sorry to disappoint, but there’s no shortage of PR people that fit the picture he paints of himself; brash, willing to tell the king he’s wearing no clothes, and possessing an inclination to cut to the point.  Conversely, there are journalists who are obedient, sycophantic, and prone to digressions and loquaciousness.
  • In point of fact, the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) Code of Ethics demands that PR professionals “act in the best interests of the client or employer, even subordinating the member’s personal interests” (which means telling them when their proposed course of action is unwise even if it means losing the contract).
  • Journalists have a low BS threshhold?  I wasn’t aware of that.  Neither is the American public; their trust in the news media is at record low levels according to Pew research.  Moreover, journalists are the 9th most mistrusted category of professionals according to a recent Gallup Poll.
  • “Non-News” is a staple of news coverage; particularly in television (as the Daily Show routinely demonstrates).  Moreover, the majority of the public is rarely compelled by hard data when it comes to selling a point of view.  “Non-news” like personal anecdotes and testimonials (regardless of their statistical significance) routinely shows up as more persuasive.

More generally, some of the areas that journalists may not be as versed in:

Advocacy:  One need only glance at the studies done on public opinion in the U.S. to see that the news media are being gamed pretty hard by (unethical) PR people who exploit the conventions of journalism to create false equivalencies.  Case in point: interests funded by the fossil fuel industry who have managed to convince an increasingly large segment of the U.S. public that the scientific jury is out on the human contributions to global climate change.  Communicating effectively on behalf of someone is an important skill that is different from trying to give equal time to two or more sides of an issue.

Flexibility:  Like a defense attorney, being a public relations pro sometimes means working for the best interests of a client you may not agree with (particularly in an agency setting).  It’s a different skill than trying to ensure the facts are presented and that all sides are fairly represented.

Transparency:  Journalists by and large are required to conceal as much as possible about their opinions, and to abstain from public activities that might lend the appearance of bias to their work.  From campaign donations to voting.  Though I’ll readily concede they’re not always followed – the ethical codes that govern public relations demand transparency.

The “E” in “R.A.C.E.”/”R.O.P.E.”:  Evaluation.  What happens after a story is published?  Are journalists analyzing its impact/ROI to see if public opinion has moved?  In most cases, no – they’re on to the next story.  If anything, they’re unfortunately assessed on how much revenue their ownership is able to bring in based on viewership which isn’t exactly a barometer that produces the highest quality news gathering (see “Fox News”).

Journalists can make fantastic PR pros, but the idea that they’re de facto better PR people (than even those schooled/trained in PR) is bunk.

Example of the “Agenda-Setting Media” at Work

August 24, 2010 1 comment

The news media, like any other collective, has hierarchies.  Scholars refer to the phenomenon as the “Agenda-Setting Media” (ASM).  Described by Linguist/Political Activist/MIT Professor Noam Chomsky:

“There is another sector of the media, the elite media, sometimes called the agenda-setting media because they are the ones with the big resources, they set the framework in which everyone else operates. The New York Times and CBS, that kind of thing. Their audience is mostly privileged people. The people who read the New York Times—people who are wealthy or part of what is sometimes called the political class—they are actually involved in the political system in an ongoing fashion. They are basically managers of one sort or another. They can be political managers, business managers (like corporate executives or that sort of thing), doctoral managers (like university professors), or other journalists who are involved in organizing the way people think and look at things.

The elite media set a framework within which others operate. If you are watching the Associated Press, who grind out a constant flow of news, in the mid-afternoon it breaks and there is something that comes along every day that says “Notice to Editors: Tomorrow’s New York Times is going to have the following stories on the front page.” The point of that is, if you’re an editor of a newspaper in Dayton, Ohio and you don’t have the resources to figure out what the news is, or you don’t want to think about it anyway, this tells you what the news is. These are the stories for the quarter page that you are going to devote to something other than local affairs or diverting your audience.” (Chomsky, N. “What Makes Mainstream Media Mainstream,” Z Magazine, October, 1997)

There was a great example of the hierarchy at work this weekend with Rob Bliss’ “World’s Largest Water Slide.”  Here’s how it went:

  1. Local media covered the water slide.
  2. This elevated the story to the attention of the ASM in the form of the New York Times.
  3. Now endorsed by the New York Times (a member of the ASM), the story was then picked up by the Denver Post, National Public Radio and even the Sydney Morning Herald.
  4. The fact that the story was picked up by the ASM became newsworthy to the Grand Rapids Press, which reported on it (Catch that? A news outlet reported on the fact that a story was reported on by another news outlet).

Understanding the ecology of the media environment is, predictably, critical to practicing public relations.

In the past few decades, however, the ASM has experienced a rather steep slide in credibility.  The Pew Center for the People and the Press and Gallup Polls have done an excellent job documenting this decline:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I think we may be witnessing the death of the ASM – or at the very least, a decline in the traditional ASM (which will create a vacuum to be filled by a new ASM).  That would be the logical conclusion to draw as the circulation numbers of the ASM continue to decline.  Look at the New York Times circulation numbers for example (via the Political Calculations blog which put together this graph from the NYT’s annual reports):

NYT-Sunday-Circulation-1993-2007

…and that graph stops at 2007; the decline has continued (or even accelerated) for most of the members of the ASM.

What next?  To be effective at communicating, PR pros need to continually be on the lookout for the influencers who will replace the ASM.  It’s likely that they’re not going to be nearly as consolidated as the traditional ASM; they’ll likely be splintered into many different topic-focused news outlets.

Social Media Makes Sure the “Customer is Right” by Reaching the Right Customers

May 18, 2010 1 comment

Burritoville - We're Mexillent

“The Customer is Always Right” goes the age-old retail mantra, usually muttered through gritted teeth.  It’s a farce, of course.  Plenty of customers are wrong.  Case in point is this voicemail received by my department at Grand Rapids Community College:

“Hi _____, your number was listed on ______ that I received in the mail and I find it quite offensive in that, in uh, we don’t even print our magazines in English anymore. If the Mexicans, would like…I meant – I know there’s a lot of Mexican people here but if they don’t want to speak English then they should go back to their country. The Germans, the Italians – when they came over they spoke English – we didn’t write things in German and Italian for them and turn our whole country into that. Um, I find it very offensive and, uh, it’s gonna be one of the downfalls of the United States because we’re gonna be one big Mexico! Thank you.”

The best part is, this publication was printed in Spanish on one side and in English on the other – so this woman must not have thought to flip it over.  GRCC would not do well to cater to this customer’s whims;  in addition to the fact that what she’s saying is demonstrably false, GRCC is one of the primary providers of English as a Second Language (ESL) courses in West Michigan – so if we stop out outreach efforts to the Spanish-speaking community, fewer people end up speaking English.

That said, this interaction didn’t have to happen – it’s a consequence of the traditional media.  In order to do direct mail campaigns economically, the unfortunate reality is that some messages reach audiences they aren’t intended for (and who didn’t solicit them).  In this situation, it wasn’t merely ineffective – it also produced a contentious response.

With social media, one opts in so the dynamics are different.  It’s much easier to send this individual a message that won’t make them angry.  Everyone sees a billboard, whereas you determine precisely who sees a Facebook ad.  That’s the paradox of the web; it’s easy to ensconce oneself in the information one wants to see – however that makes it a challenge to broaden one’s horizons with contrasting views.

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