Posts Tagged ‘Journalism’

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.

Seeking Advice From Journalists who Made the Leap to “Brand Journalism”

December 21, 2011 Leave a comment

The Public Relations Society of America asked me to write a little piece on Brand Journalism for a series they’re doing on trends for 2012 (“#PRin2012: 12 Trends That Will Change Public Relations“).

As a follow-up, I’d love to hear from journalists who recently made the jump to public relations who perform a similar journalistic role for their company/organization – reporting on its “news.”

If you’re a news professional who now reports on a company/organization’s news in a PR role and you’re interested in sharing your insights, please visit this form (I will gladly keep your personal information confidential and attribute your comments anonymously if you request).

AllThis Seeks to Test the Adage “Any Press is Good Press” With Dick Move

December 21, 2011 Leave a comment

Internet startup AllThis drew fire recently after it was discovered (by writers like Rob Beschizza at Boing Boing) that the site scraped content (including profile photos) from the social media profiles of prominent tech pros and created profiles for them in its service.

The service seeks to sell ten-minute chunks of “time” with individuals that are bid on in an auction by other users.  The implication is that the time of these experts is available for sale to the highest bidder (though they would have to claim their profiles in order for the transaction to actually take place).  It’s tantamount to defamation for any tech writer considered to be a journalist who needs to appear to be impartial because it implies their attention (read: coverage) can be bought (David Pogue of the New York Times was disciplined for a similar practice – offering PR pros a chance to learn how to pitch him at a seminar).

Another implication nurtured by the way the company handled its launch is that these tech figures endorse the service … which is similarly problematic.

It’s pretty hard to imagine that AllThis didn’t intend for either of those implications to manifest, or that the structure of their service wouldn’t nurture them.

For its part, AllThis claims that it didn’t intend for either of those things to be the case and that the profiles were created when other users expressed interest in the time of the figures (who include some of my favorite tech figures like Tom Merritt and Leo Laporte).  That isn’t necessarily problematic in and of itself – but the execution is where the problem lies.

As Joel Housman extensively documents on his blog – AllThis scraped his profile details and images (which is copyrighted content) and used that to sell its service.  It’s the equivalent of me cutting-and-pasting content from someone else’s blog and hosting it on my site, siphoning away some of the traffic from their site to raise awareness of my own – only removing it when they object.

Dick move.

It will be interesting to watch this story to see if the adage “any press is good press” holds true for AllThis.

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


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?


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

Jack O’Dwyer is Less Woodward & Bernstein, More Statler & Waldorf

November 2, 2011 Leave a comment
Jack O'Dwyer is Statler & Waldorf, not Woodard & Bernstein

Jack O'Dwyer is Statler & Waldorf, not Woodard & Bernstein

If Jack O’Dwyer’s journalistic credentials were ever in question before, let all doubt be removed with his recent flurry of scandal-mongering.

Responding to PRSA’s thorough documentation of O’Dwyer’s unethical behavior and rationale for his lack of press credentials at the latest PRSA International Conference, O’Dwyer has ramped up his campaign against the organization and is now incorporating students in the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA).

Unlike Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein who have taken an objective approach to covering the US Government in their careers, Jack O’Dwyer is much more like Statler and Waldorf – the comical gadflies on the Muppets who criticize the performers no matter what they do.

It’$ All About the Benjamin$

The economic backbone of O’Dwyer’s operation is, like much of the traditional media, based on “eyeballs” (ie subscribers, traffic to his website, etc).  In order for it to be financially-viable, O’Dwyer needs to be perceived as being an important figure in the public relations industry where his trade is plied, and to have attention-grabbing material to write about. Read more…

A Case Study in the Declining Editorial Filter of the Mainstream Media

October 3, 2011 Leave a comment

People fond of a more traditional, fundamentalist definition of journalism are frequently critical of the idea of citizen journalism.  The criticism usually centers on the lack of editorial oversight in the content that is produced.  The “news,” they argue, is better and we should all bemoan the rise of citizen journalism and citizen reporting because there’s “no oversight” and that means more misinformation and a more poorly-informed public.

I’m an advocate for citizen journalism.  I think it can be every bit as good as traditional journalism if the right conditions are present.  I would also argue that the public can retroactively apply an editorial filter of its own to proof and vet content.  It’s just a matter of flipping the timing of the model. Read more…

Former O’Dwyer Columnist Glosses Over Hacking and Libel in Forbes Column on PRSA Dust-up

August 31, 2011 3 comments

Today, Aaron Perlut penned a piece for Forbes magazine titled “The Case of Jack O’Dwyer vs. PRSA” that explores the titular conflict.  Unfortunately it’s woefully incomplete and devolves into an exercise in false equivalency.

Forbes False Equivalency

Here are some of the major problems with the Perlut piece:

1. Though he discloses his connection to both sides (being a PRSA member and actually writing for O’Dwyer’s isn’t a legitimate enough equivalency to establish neutrality), Perlut goes to heroic lengths to paint the conflict as a wash with both sides sharing blame: Read more…

In Defense of WOOD TV 8 and the Handling of Suzanne Geha’s Departure

April 25, 2011 12 comments

The recent departure of longtime local TV anchor Suzanne Geha from WOOD TV 8 has generated a storm of backlash from the West Michigan audience that watched her for the last 30 years.

The reason the public is upset is that they’re justified: the station deliberately marketed its anchors as personalities and made community involvement a component of their jobs when they were away from the set. They invited the public in to see the positive aspects, and then when an uncomfortable/unpopular development happened – they shut the people out.  Or at least, they tried.

The public has flooded social media with commentary, speculation and condemnation.  I’m pretty confident the full story will come out somehow, no matter how hard the decision-makers try to obscure it with nondisclosure agreements and other old-school tools for enforcing opaqueness.

That sort of detached, clueless decision-making smacks more of a large corporate conglomerate than a local business.

The real problem is that WOOD TV, like so many media entities, is owned by a parent company: LIN Media, a publicly-traded company based in Rhode Island.  I doubt the decision to end the relationship with Suzanne Geha was made at the local level.  It was probably part of budget cuts made by some suits with MBAs in a corner office in Providence who over-value quarterly earnings reports and under-value public relations.

The story of news entities being bought up by conglomerates and subsequently starved of funding to increase profitability is a very common one in the past few decades, so I feel bad that the station’s been hammered so badly in the public sphere.

That concentration of media ownership is also a key factor in the problems traditional media have had in being able to innovate and evolve in response to the social media revolution that has eroded audiences.  Rather than investing the massive profits of the 1980s in development for the long-term future, the corporate ownership of most news entities (including print, radio and TV) pocketed the money and are now in the process of wringing the last remaining drops of revenue out of those acquisitions.

Unfortunately we may have to wait until investors lose interest in news media enterprises before they’re able to return to people who actually value news gathering and begin the difficult process of innovation.  It may be too late, though; and the next stage of evolution for the news may be usurped by the social media-driven ventures that exist outside the traditional model.

One thing is for sure regardless of which path is taken – the road will be a rocky one.

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.

#PressDebate Catalyst for Great Discussion on Journalism, Social Media and Ethics

February 21, 2011 7 comments

Recently Twitter facilitated a fascinating discussion of journalism, media, ethics, and social media in Grand Rapids after an article was published by Grand Rapids Press Reporter Rachael Recker about Grand Rapids’ flashmob empresario Rob Bliss‘ latest project that included a selection of tweets from local residents. I tried to aggregate the entirety of the original discussion that led to the tweets being included in the story here.

What seems to have happened is that dissatisfaction with how the tweets were presented morphed into a larger debate that centered on this question: What obligations (if any) do the news media have for using content from social media in their reporting? Secondarily, what balance do reporters strike between personal contact and professional contact (given that in most cases their social media presences used for work are also the same ones they use for their private lives)?

Paraphrasing the sides for this particular debate:

  • The Quotee: The tweets occurred in a context that wasn’t represented in the story that was published and our views were misrepresented as a result.
  • The Quoter: Content published via social media is fair game for reporting, and the tweeters were notified that the discussion would be part of an upcoming blog post.  The context of the entire debate wasn’t necessary for the story.

I like everyone in this particular debate and I don’t think there was any malice or wrongdoing.  On an academic level, however,  I tend to agree with the Quotee side for a couple of reasons.

First, the tweets were part of a rather lengthy (for Twitter anyway) discussion and were selected in a fashion that cast the tweeters as being opposed to something (in this case, the next Rob Bliss flash mob event), when in fact there were ultimately a lot of positive comments for the event and Rob Bliss.  There are a couple of bits of nuance that further complicate this story:

  1. The negative discussion (and certainly of some of the comments quoted – particularly those drawing a comparison between Bliss and Lady Gaga) was focused on the methods employed to promote the events (and their value to Grand Rapids, which is debatable).  I feel that the full discussion should have been included, given that it was available and that digital publishing frees reporters from the concision necessary for print newspaper.
  2. There’s a a very vocal contingent of Rob Bliss Haters who have dogged him since he started organizing events in Grand Rapids.  Unfortunately people who are not part of that contingent were forced into appearing to be part of that contingent by virtue of the comments that were selected for inclusion in the story.

Second, using the tweets involves a very murky area of the journalist/source relationship.  The tweets were posted by the participants voluntarily, and the participation in a discussion with the reporter was voluntary.  Being a public relations flack, I will always tell any client that no conversation with a reporter is “off the record.”  As a professor and professional advisor for the Grand Valley State University Public Relations Student Society of America Chapter, I always tell job-seeking students that they need to be wary of anything they publish online  because ultimately it can be public and can be viewed by people they will come into contact with throughout their lives.  Caveat emptor, as they say.

To be fair to Rachael Recker – she did indeed post a tweet that noted she would be “addressing” the comments of the tweeters – however I don’t think that constitutes notification because there’s no implication that quotes would be used (more that she would have her own information or perspective to reply to the discussion).

What makes these areas murky is that Twitter conversations with reporters (at least for myself and the participants in this case) are both personal and professional.  Discussions frequently take place that remain confined to Twitter or Facebook.  Not everyone shares that view of the dual role, however.  GR Press reporter Meegan Holland participated in the #pressdebate discussion as well, describing her standards for using content from sources which I thought were interesting:

“I always ask permission before using reader comments made in an email. But not for tweets, FB posts, story comments. #pressdebate [… when I inquired about the difference she responded …] Because emails are one-on-one. Tweets, FB posts are public.”

She later noted:

“My Twitter relationships aren’t personal. They’re business! :)”

I noted that I thought this might surprise some of her Tweeps.  I tend to believe that the spirit of the friend/follower is one that is similar to an email.  Whether it’s right or wrong, people tend to assume that the discussions they have via social media are ‘private’ in the sense that they’re only of interest to the immediate participants and that they won’t go further than that.

Like I am inclined to do, I defer to scholars on the subject of journalistic ethics.  The most comparable historical analog for public conversations in social media is overheard conversations in (a consideration raised by @jon_dunn and @jeffhillgr).  In doing some information-gathering for this post, I ran across this excerpt from the book Online Journalism Ethics: Traditions and Transitions which draws this same comparison:

“The real issue here involves what the journalist does with the overheard (or, in this case, overseen) conversations.  Using them as leads, whether to a story idea or a source, is one thing.  But if those conversations find their way into a reporter’s story without their author’s knowledge or consent, the ethical problems have multiplied.  Both lurking and engaging other users in online conversation without letting others know that the journalist is there as a reporter – that is, intends ot use people’s comments in a story – are comparable to undercover reporting.  The lack of disclosure means the journalist is using deceptive information-gathering practices; the deception involves hiding the journalist’s presence, intent, or both.

Such deception may sometimes be justified, just as it is offline. […] The decision to lie demands a rational choice that weighs, among other things, potential good and potential harm, as well as a willingness to be publicly accountable for both the deception and the rationale for deceiving.  Building on this framework, media ethicist Edmund Lambeth says deception in pursuit of a story may be permissive as a last resort, when the problem in question is significant, pervasive, and systemic, and when it demands an urgent solution that can be achieved only through media atention.  That is a difficult bar to meet; in effect, it discourages the practice of deception unless there is a compelling public service need – and no other viable way to serve it.  The vast majority of conversations among ordinary online users will fail to meet such a test.”
(Friend, C. and Singer, J. B. (2007). “Online Journalism Ethics: Traditions and Transitions,” M.E. Sharpe., p. 87-89 [on-line] Accessed via Google Books 21, February, 2011)

Ultimately what would have been ideal is if the tweets were used to solicit comments for the story; that way everyone knows they’re going to be quoted and gives them the opportunity to frame their opinion as they see fit.

These are all fascinating issues – I hope we continue to debate them (particularly in the @journchat Twitter Chat).

Tangentially-Related Sidebar:

People laud Bliss as a social media pro, but I don’t necessarily agree.  To truly be effective with social media – it requires participation and engagement.  Bliss primarily uses his social media presences in a one-way fashion to syndicate messages promoting and organizing his events.  He didn’t, for example, weigh in on the discussion (which would be appropriate given his status as an advocate for flash mobs and his personal connection to the discussion).