Journalists chastise public relations professionals for their lack of professionalism. It’s not unwarranted; there are a lot of infantile, lazy, selfish, two-faced, disrespectful PR people running around. Believe me, I know.
That lack of professionalism is a two-way street, though, and if it’s illegitimate for PR flaks to hide behind the demands of their clients – it’s also illegitimate for journalists to hide behind the demands of their editors or ad sales departments. If we have to own all the crappy PR people – you have to own all of the crappy journalists. Fair’s fair.
Case in point: a few weeks ago, CNN ambushed Craigslist founder Craig Newmark and tried to make him answer for the fact that sex traffickers/sex workers use the service to advertise their services.
It’s the equivalent of me sticking a camera in James Earl “This is CNN” Jones’ face to make him answer for the firing of Octavia Nasr.
There’s a tendency to cower before editors/journalists even when they’re in the wrong because they hold sway over the media (the old “never pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel” adage). That dynamic is increasingly less true because “ink” is now free for everyone.
Both Craig Newmark and Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmeister did a great job taking CNN to the woodshed, knowing that a well-written rejoinder would get the attention of newswatchers on the web (and in the era of social media – any corporate blog has potentially just as broad a reach as CNN.com):
“You knew Craig was not in management or a company spokesperson, but setting CNN’s ethical code aside, you sidestepped company channels in favor of ambushing our semi-retired founder, complete with a misleading “set up” for your surprise questions. Now that CNN has aired your highly misleading piece dozens of times, mischaracterizing your stunt as a serious interview on this subject, and you’ve updated your “bio” to showcase this rare jewel of investigative journalism, you’re ready to try actually interviewing the company itself on this subject.” (More)
CNN could have taken this story any number of ways that would have given it merit: they could have used it to launch a discussion about the insatiable appetite of the US (and other developed nations) for prostitution, or to have a discussion about the merits of legalizing prostitution in eliminating the brutal exploitation of women, but those directions are boring. It’s far more satisfying to serve up a villain on a platter to face the self-righteous indignation of the mob.
As viewership of the traditional newsmedia continues to fragment, expect more desperation to retain eyeballs. If recent history is any guide, that unfortunately means newsmedia will compete with more sensationalism instead of more quality.
The C-suite shouldn’t be afraid to use social media to fire back when fired upon; especially if an organization is already cultivating relationships with customers/stakeholders online. Odds are you’ll have a direct link to more of your customers than any given news outlet (no matter how mainstream), and the credibility of the news media lately leaves much to be desired.
Sidebar I: One wonders if CNN is going to do a similar ambush of Luke Wilson; after all he’s the figurehead spokesperson for AT&T – and their wireless service was just as integral to facilitating the sample prostitution classified ad Lyon placed on Craigslist (and likely providing the wireless service to Lyon’s Nokia mobile phone that she used to take calls from prospective Johns).
Sidebar II: Also transparently feeble are the deliberate shots showing reporter Amber Lyon using her iPad to pull up Craiglist postings (read: we have iPads so we’re hip and tech-savvy! Watch us, key demo of 18-34 year olds – we’re off the chain in this m-fer, yo!). But I’m not the first person to have my lulz over CNN’s overreliance on tech…