Posts Tagged ‘media’

Trials, tribulations, and the impact of social media on the media industry

March 26, 2013

This blog post is courtesy of Joy Scott of fellow PRBI member firm Scott Public Relations:

From Vocus’ 2013 State of the Media Report

Looking for media coverage? Ignore social media at your own peril. About 80 percent of journalists use Twitter and Facebook for research. If you are not there, your story may be overlooked.

The 4th annual State of the Media Report from Vocus examines how social media impacts the digital media revolution, and how journalists and news organizations use Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and others as tools to gather, promote and disseminate information.

Some of the key findings in this report surprised us (more than 100 newspapers folded in 2012), while others (media professionals still prefer to receive pitches through email) were expected.

Highlights from the report include:

Social media has empowered newspapers with the ability to “break in” and report the news immediately. David Coates, managing editor of newspaper content at Vocus Media Research Group, says, “It (social media) is very effective if journalists are providing a service, like breaking news or interesting and funny observations. It helps build their personal brands with readers”. These social media mechanisms help journalists draw traffic and maximize page views by building loyal followers.

Social media is now also used to supplement coverage. Some professionals give blow-by-blows of events, trials and television broadcasts now regularly include feedback found from monitoring social media sites. According to Julie Holley, managing editor of television content at Vocus Media Research Group, “Social media has been a gold mine for TV because it is cheap to use, easy to implement technologically speaking (short and easy set-up time), and viewers want to be part of the conversation.”

Engagement has become a main reason that many journalists choose to use/follow social media on a regular basis because it connects viewers/readers on a more personal level with the journalist covering their community.

Magazines have social media presence today – the direct interaction opportunity is too big to ignore.

In 2012, 165 magazines debuted, with 97 print and 68 online launches.

In 2012, 152 newspapers folded; 91 were weekly papers and 34 were online. The Orange County Register defied trends in 2012. Since Aaron Kushner has taken over, the paper has been on an editorial hiring and expansion spree.

PR professionals need to make sure they supply journalists with the materials they require to pursue a lead. Julie Holley advises PR professionals to “Control the message. Interact with the journalists. Follow them, comment on their stories and suggest story ideas. As always, know your audience and that of the journalist.”

Findings from the Vocus survey of media:

*all graphs are from Vocus’ State of the Media Report 2013

 

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Preparing Your Startup for Media Interviews: the Do’s and Don’ts

March 22, 2013

Successful entrepreneurs are known for being risk-takers, putting both their money and reputation on the line to launch a new product or service, often in a competitive or nascent market. Some psychologists suggest that entrepreneurs’ brains are hard-wired to take risks—they live for the dopamine high associated with standing on the edge of a tall cliff (or business deal).

It’s not surprising then that many entrepreneurs get an emotional charge when they are put in the spotlight to talk about their businesses with media. While risk-taking may pay off in certain situations, a media interview is not one of them.  Without careful planning, an interview can result in a wasted opportunity for good exposure, or worse, it can make your company the butt of “funny headline” jokes on the Tonight Show. Here is a list of do’s and don’ts to help you make the best of your interview opportunities:

Do’s:

  • Research the Reporter: Before every interview, you or your PR advisor should research the reporter to determine what he or she has already written about and what the tone of their reporting is like (e.g. investigative, light-hearted, opinionated, etc.)
  • Develop Talking Points:  Always solicit a list of potential questions from the reporter prior to the interview. With few exceptions, reporters will usually share some initial questions, because it makes their job easier when the interviewee is already prepared with important information. These questions should be used to develop talking points to help you steer the conversation in the right direction. The talking points should also include additional questions that could come up, especially the sticky ones.
  • Practice: If this is the first time you have been interviewed on a particular topic, or if there have been significant changes to your messaging since the last interview, squeeze in a little rehearsal time. This is particularly important when interviewing with reporters that have a reputation for being critical or when the format of the interview is broadcast, where a bad 10-second sound bite can spoil an otherwise spotless performance. If you have a PR advisor, make sure they provide you with media training.
  • Follow Up: There are times when you may do all the right things to prepare for an interview, only to find that a story is not produced or that the interview is edited out of the story. Sometimes this is unavoidable, such as when the story has to be trimmed to meet a specific word count or when the reporter quashes the story to make space for another pressing news item.  But other times it can be prevented with proper follow up. When following up, reiterate any points you want to make clear to the reporter and ask if he or she has follow up questions. Also consider sending them references to additional sources, including other potential interviewees, that could support the development of the story.

Homer Simpson

Don’ts:

  • Go Off the Record: The words “off the record” go against the grain of journalistic integrity, and, perhaps more importantly, the basic interest of the reporter in publishing a compelling story. Always assume anything you say is fair game.
  • Respond with “No Comment”: Reporters usually interpret this as stonewalling, and readers will likely think it means you have something to hide. There are situations when it is in your best interest to stay mum, such as when being questioned about sensitive financial or legal information or information that could reveal too much to your competition. In these situations, provide as much information as you feel is safe, and simply explain that you can’t go into any additional details at that time. This is also a good opportunity to bridge the conversation to a different, but relevant, topic that you really want to talk about.
  • Use Jargon: Reporters strive to make their stories as accessible as possible for their audiences. With the exception of trade or special interest media, where highly technical information may be required, you should stay away from industry jargon and try to simplify complex ideas into comprehensible points. Sometimes using metaphors can be a good way to explain an intricate point, but when a metaphor won’t do, you should have a succinct and lucid description at the ready.
  • Talk About a Competitor: This is another one where there are exceptions, but in general, you should let your competitors do their own talking. The two big risks here are that you may unintentionally build awareness for the wrong team, and perhaps more importantly, if you get your facts wrong, you may find your company getting slapped with a lawsuit.

Jacob Seal

Change Your Expectations For Top-Tier Media Coverage

March 19, 2013

The rise of inbound marketing is tied inexorably to the decline of both advertising and the traditional media.

By now most of you who read the Bridgebuzz blog have heard my rants about the death of the mainstream media.  The Pew Research Center, a non-profit research organization, recently reported that for every dollar newspapers are earning from online advertising, they are losing $10 in print ad revenue. Print ad revenues now are less than half what they were in 2006. It’s no wonder that  the newspaper industry alone – not including any magazines, TV or radio, all of which have also had massive layoffs – cut 39,000 jobs between the beginning of 2008 and the end of 2012, according to the website Papercuts, which tracks newspaper layoffs.

The number of (employed) journalists in the U.S. continues to shrink, according to the Pew Research Center’s newest annual report, “The State of the News Media 2013.”The Pew report concludes that a continued erosion of news reporting resources has taken place at the same time that capabilities have improved for bypassing the media altogether and going directly to the public. This is the crucial message that I want the readers of this blog to understand.  Clients and prospective clients, hear this: you can no longer depend on the media to get your messages out to your target audiences.  No matter what your PR firm is telling you about their stellar media relations capabilities, you need to know that:

RIP Newsweek

  • There are now 30% fewer U.S. journalists employed than in 2000.
  • The number of stories produced by CNN has been cut in half since 2007. (You must have known this – how many times can they repeat the same stories over and over again in one evening!)
  • The number of live events produced by the three U.S. cable news channels has decreased by about 30% in the past five years, while interview stories, which require much less resources to produce, are up by about the same amount.
  • Newsweek bit the dust last year and now the only remaining weekly news magazine is Time, which made another cut in its editorial staff just recently.
  • According to the Pew Report, an increasing number of media are using a new automated technology that produces editorial content without the need for any human reporting at all, believe it or not. Forbes is one of the publications using this technology (ostensibly to supplement what its reporters are doing, since it’s inconceivable that a computer algorithm could totally replace the editorial staff – yet, at least.
  • People are noticing that the media they used to rely on for news is a shadow of its former self.  The Pew survey shows that 31% have stopped reading or listening to a news outlet because it no longer provides the news it used to provide.

PR agencies know this has been happening and understand what it means for the work they do: it’s much, much harder to obtain media coverage for our clients than even a few years ago, because the media are producing dramatically less news and information. But companies that hire PR agencies don’t seem to grasp this. Every potential client we speak to is looking for top-tier media coverage, yet getting into that level of media just doesn’t happen as frequently as it used to. As I said, no matter what PR firms are telling you about their ability to do this for you, beware, because there’s very little chance they’ll be able to deliver, no matter how good they.

If you’re one of the many communications and marketing professionals demanding what you have always been able to get in the past from your PR agency, top-tier media coverage and lots of it, please open your mind to new communications techniques.  After all, it’s the end that counts – reaching your audience with the information and messages you want to convey, rather than the means, isn’t it? As the Pew Center Report pointed out, technologies have been improving all the time for totally bypassing the traditional media and going directly to your target audience. The most savvy PR people have already acknowledged the need to do this and have become “PR journalists,” producing their own high-quality materials (articles, videos, podcasts, white papers, etc.) that they distribute online in a variety of ways, including use of social media and other online platforms. You’ll hear this called content marketing, inbound marketing and permission marketing. The same content can be used and repurposed in many ways, a method an NPR executive once called “COPE,” “Create Once, Publish Everywhere.”

In order for this type of communications to be successful in meeting your goals, it must be of very high-quality. It can’t be promotional, it can’t be self-serving, and you must provide value from the point of view of the audience – not the point of view of your boss or your company’s CEO. Luckily, there are some really good PR journalists available these days (some were trained as journalists before they went down the PR agency path). Don’t try to find them at ad agencies or digital marketing firms – look for them where you’ve always looked for help in communicating with the media: agencies that provide public relations and corporate communications services.  They will understand what you’re trying to accomplish and have the skills to be able to help.

Some of you who are reading this are thinking, “But my boss [or the CEO, or the CMO, or the company’s board, or all of the above) wants top tier media coverage, and that’s what I need our PR agency to get if I want to keep my job.” I’ll put the ball in your court. It’s up to you to educate that internal audience about the changing reality in the media today.

I’m sure as hell not saying that PR firms can’t get top tier media coverage anymore. Obviously, we do. But we don’t get it as frequently as we used to or as you’d like us to. There, I’ve put my neck on the line. You can believe me and start thinking hard about inbound marketing and content marketing as a way to inform and persuade your target audience, or not. If you’re curious to know more about how it works, read our new e-book about inbound marketing.

 

Lucy Siegel

The Catholic Church & Social Media

March 15, 2013

PontifexWhite smoke was first seen rising from the Sistine Chapel chimney on Wednesday at 1:06pm EDT. Just hours later, at 3:33pm, the Vatican tweeted “HABEMUS PAPAM FRANCISCUM,” which translates to “We have Pope Francis.” The tweet was retweeted 25,000 times in under 10 minutes.

Pope Benedict XVI made headlines back in December when he became the first pope to start tweeting via the Vatican’s official Twitter handle, @Pontifex. This wasn’t the church’s first foray into social media. Back in 2010, the Pope asked priests take to the web to help spread the gospel. That the Catholic Church has warmed to social media so quickly may come as a surprise. After all, this is the same institution that took over 300 years to apologize for persecuting Galileo in the 1600’s for believing that the earth moved around the Sun. However, if we look at the very tenets of the religion, moving onto social networks was but a logical next step.

Evangelism is a key aspect of many Christian religions, and Christians have successfully used other types of media for this purpose. (Remember the televangelists of the 70’s and 80’s?) Furthermore, the need to gain more followers has never been stronger. The Pew Forum recently reported that “the percentage of U.S. Catholics who consider themselves ‘strong’ members of the Roman Catholic Church has never been lower than it was in 2012.”

Despite having almost two million Twitter followers already, Pope Francis still has a huge, common hurdle to overcome. Religious belief is a very personal thing, and it’s one of the most taboo topics to talk about. Given the very public nature of social media, many believers are hesitant to associate with religious figures and institutions on the web.

Opening a Twitter account was clearly a PR move- a good one, but it was only a start. Pope Benedict XVI’s 36 tweets since December have mostly been one-way broadcasts. Though he invited people to start conversations with him with the hashtag #askpontifex, it quickly became a joke on Twitter and very little was achieved. Pope Francis is starting with a clean Twitter slate, and we hope he makes more of an effort to engage with followers than his predecessor.  To start, he should probably look over our latest eBook on social media.

Three Reasons Online Images Drive Web Traffic

February 26, 2013

ImageryYou can’t skim a video.  I would much rather take 10 seconds to skim an article to see if it’s worth reading than to stop what I’m doing, look for my earbuds, plug them in and sit in front of a video that might take a couple of precious minutes of my time. Yet study after study shows that online video is extremely popular, as is the sharing of photography online. The news media understand this, and even newspapers and magazines with roots in print are depending more and more on video and photos. Here are five reasons why:

1. Imagery Makes an Immediate Emotional Impact

When I flipped through The Atlantic’s 2012: The Year in Photos, the answer was clear about why online images (both still and video) are so prevalent and well-liked. The Atlantic’s collection of photos offers visual evidence of 2012’s Sturm and Drang. Some of these photos have the power to elicit strong emotions about the numerous and horrible natural tragedies that occurred last year.  Others make the news about game-changing political upheaval around the world come alive. Yet others document the triumphs of mankind, from scientific achievements to the performances of Olympian athletes. These photos are hard to forget.

2. Images Make the News Real

When I read about the Free Syrian Army clashing with Syrian troops, I can absorb the “who, what, when, where, why and how” of the event. But when I see a photo of a Syrian man crying while cradling his dead son in his arms, one of 34 people killed by a suicide bomber, the emotional pain inflicted by the violence in Syria becomes much more real. This is certainly nothing new: a 41-year-old image of a naked Vietnamese child, running with other children away from the scene of an aerial napalm attack, was credited with helping to end the Vietnam War. It brought the horrors of the war to life better than any words could.  The difference between then and now is a matter of speed and degree: the buzz about the 1972 photo was spread by print and television media over a period of days and weeks. Today, it would take only minutes for the photo to go viral and be seen within hours by many millions around the world.

3. Images Motivate People to Act, Creating More News

Online image-sharing technology itself has played a role in empowering people to stand together and take action. No need to carry a camera anymore. A photo or a video can be taken with a cell phone and uploaded to Flickr or YouTube instantly, where it can be seen instantly and globally. The emotional impact of images has motivated people around the world to participate in political protest for the first time. It has moved average citizens to donate money to help disaster victims because of the way it brings crises closer to home for many people. Online images motivate people to take action, and that in turn creates more web traffic to see the images.

Just as these visual social media tools have helped people around the world to connect and share ideas and emotions, they have also helped communications professionals to deliver their companies’ or clients’ messages with greater impact. However, the overwhelming quantity of media images makes it harder to stand out and gain attention, so this is a double-edged sword.

It’s inevitable that I – and others who grew up without computers – will eventually gravitate more to online video.  But I’ll also be happy when someone invents a way to skim a video the way we can skim an article to find out whether or not it’s worth the time to watch.

Lucy Siegel

Ask Not What the Media Can Do for You, Ask What You Can Do for the Media

February 13, 2013

Unfortunately, most emerging companies have approached public relations as little more than an extension of their sales promotion efforts, narrowly focusing their messaging on attributes of their products or services with the expectation that reporters will spread the word to the masses. At best, this approach usually yields a limited number of media placements originating around a product launch. At worst, reporters will view the announcements as editorialized sales pitches and discard them. Then comes the inevitable question from the corporate brass: “What value are we getting from that PR budget?”

kennedy

This scenario often could be averted if the question were turned around: “What value can the media get from our company?” Marketing professionals should appreciate this question—they are accustomed to defining value for potential customers, but reporters are not potential customers. Their needs are completely different.

To effectively engage reporters, it is important to understand how they evaluate information. Their raison d’être is to uncover what’s “newsworthy” to their specific audiences and to report this information in an easy-to-understand format. Thus, for a company’s message to resonate with a reporter it must be perceived to have a certain quality of newsworthiness.

Newsworthiness is a very abstract concept. It differs from company to company. A management change at a large conglomerate, for example, would be considered more newsworthy than a similar change at a startup. It also differs from reporter to reporter. Trade reporters, for instance, view newsworthiness through a narrow lens focused on a specific industry, while reporters with general business and consumer media often (not always) view newsworthiness through a broader lens focused on major social, economic or technological trends.

We’re at a time when major brands seem to wield more and more media influence, and reporters are becoming more and more immune to unsolicited story pitches. So how can a startup company demonstrate newsworthiness in such a tough climate?

The key is to start developing a PR plan early. It’s not uncommon for startups to focus their early-stage efforts on building out core business functions, such as sales channels, product development, logistics and other back office functions, putting off PR until the product launch approaches. This is understandable—resources are always an issue, and expenditures and staff time have to be prioritized. We also understand the competitive reasons for some companies to operate in “stealth mode” until they’re ready to launch sales. However, postponing PR planning until a month or two before going to market can seriously limit the company’s opportunities to drive greater visibility and lead to pitfalls that could have been avoided with proper planning.

As you begin crafting your PR plan, a key component is to identify story angles that will interest the media. This involves brainstorming with your management team and PR advisors to collect pertinent information about your company and its founders that is often scattered across many minds, and identifying the facets that could be used to create compelling story angles. Significant product news creates potential angles, as well as any anticipated milestones (e.g., acquisition of new management, new external partnerships, new funding, etc.). These events may offer good opportunities for exposure in some media outlets, with the highest potential usually being in trade and business media.

But there is no reason to limit the company’s story angles to these business events. PR planning is a creative process that requires you and your PR advisors to look beyond the obvious characteristics of your business to discover other aspects that could distinguish you from the flock. A great example of a company that has succeeded at this is Ben & Jerry’s. The company has been able to command media interest at will. Its products, however, are rarely what grab the headlines. Rather, much of the media coverage has focused on the company’s eccentricities: its unconventional founding (it was originally conceived as a bagel shop), its offbeat management practices (e.g. its erstwhile salary ratio policy) and its reputation as a champion of social issues.

Admittedly, the comparison between the media strategy of an emerging IT or biotech company with that of Ben & Jerry’s is tenuous, but there are opportunities for most companies to seize the limelight in unconventional ways if they try. Before they became iconic brands, companies like Microsoft, Facebook, Groupon and Flickr were successful at this, getting attention for quirks in their corporate cultures,  business models, operational development or founders’ stories.

The bottom line is, in order for your company to derive value from its media strategy, it has to first prove its value (i.e. newsworthiness) to the media. The art of PR is storytelling: mining the various facets of your business to uncover what sets it apart—its newsworthiness—and packaging that information into compelling story angles to engage the media.

Jacob Seal

9 Things Journalists Do & Do NOT Find Newsworthy

November 15, 2012

One of the most difficult parts of my job is to explain to a client why the announcement the company’s CEO wants us to make isn’t news and is unlikely to be covered by the media.

Here are a few examples of what journalists don’t find worth covering but companies frequently want them to cover:

  1. News that has already been announced and reported in the media is no longer news and will not capture journalists’ attention.
  2. The activities of a small privately-held company are usually not considered newsworthy to the national business media. We are often successful in getting start-up company clients covered by the media despite this, but the way we do it is to de-emphasize the company and pitch its activities as part of a new trend, or to demonstrate that it is developing earthshaking new technologies, or to position it as a threat to large and well-established companies, or to offer the CEO as an expert who has the credentials to comment on something currently in the news.
  3. Just because something is an important issue does not mean it is newsworthy, as Brad Phillips points out on his blog, Mr. Media Training.  For example, the growing number of parents who choose not to vaccinate their children is an alarming trend and an important issue. But it’s been written about from various angles for a number of years, and isn’t newsworthy.  An outbreak of a devastating disease like polio in the U.S. resulting from this trend, previously believed to have been eliminated from this country, would be newsworthy.
  4. The visit of a company CEO from abroad is not newsworthy unless the company has major business interests in the U.S., or has an announcement to make that will affect Americans. This is a situation we sometimes face. We are asked to set up a round of business media interviews for the visiting head of an overseas client company. Even if the company is fairly sizable and well-known in its own market, without a real presence in the U.S., journalists won’t have much interest. However, if the company president gives reporters news (that hasn’t already been announced) about a new plan to build a plant in the U.S., for example, or a new partnership with an American company, they’ll be very interested.

What’s Newsworthy, What’s Not

  1. Conflict is newsworthy, especially when it first appears. Peace and harmony are not, except for the exact time when they bring an end to conflict.
  1. Scandal is newsworthy. The juicier the better from the media’s perspective. Awards for good behavior are not.
  1. Surprises are newsworthy. Expected outcomes are not. The media give more time and space to a company that misses or greatly surpasses earnings projections than to a company that meets earnings projections.
  1. Lies are newsworthy (or rather, catching well-known or high-up people in lies is newsworthy)
  1. Announcements that have local impact are newsworthy for local media outlets. In many cases the definition of local is very narrow. Recently we approached news outlets in various Connecticut towns about the debut of a national company in the Connecticut market. Most of the media we spoke to at the small town news organizations told us they would only cover news related specifically to their own towns.

It’s natural to feel that the activities of the company you work for are important and to lose perspective on whether they’re of interest to the rest of the world. One of the advantages of working with a public relations firm is the more objective perspective that the agency PR team can bring to a company.

We’re paid to advise clients and develop workable strategies for their public relations efforts. It’s always a better use of our services and a client’s budget to ask us how to reach a particular goal rather than tell us what tactics to take to achieve that goal. Our collective years of PR, journalism and marketing communications experience will save a lot of money by preventing wasted efforts to build visibility!

Lucy Siegel

Media Pay for Play: a Bad, Old Practice Lives On

April 2, 2012

Today I stumbled across an online discussion in a LinkedIn marketing group about what we in the PR industry call “pay for play,” or the requirement that a company pay for an ad or sponsorship in order to be included in editorial coverage. The discussion was started by an associate publisher at a trade magazine company (read here “ad sales executive”).

He wrote, “Over the last few years PR firms have become increasingly aggressive in pushing editorial ‘collaborations’ for their clients, many of whom are nowhere to be seen from a publication advertising support perspective!”  His message:  companies that don’t advertise in a particular publication shouldn’t expect to be covered unless what they’re offering is groundbreaking news. Implied in his statement was that advertisers do deserve the  right to be covered, whether or not they have anything newsworthy or of interest to say.

As a PR firm owner and practitioner with many years of experience, preceded by journalism experience (both newspaper and trade media), I maintain that journalists  have no obligation to cover anyone – advertisers or non-advertisers. The only obligation they have is to inform their readers/viewers in an honest and timely way. If this means they end up not covering an advertiser because the company has nothing worthwhile to communicate, then so be it. If the advertiser doesn’t like this, there are always other media to advertise in.

Non-advertisers deserve the same balanced editorial coverage as advertisers.

It’s our policy as an agency to decline pay for play offers.  Sometimes a media outlet will approach a client directly and offer the opportunity to be included in a special issue of a magazine, or to be interviewed by a news broadcaster, or take part in a film, if the client would just pay a certain amount to “cover expenses.” On a few occasions clients have been tempted by these offers.  Generally, a little research on the publication or TV production company has demonstrated that the offer isn’t the great opportunity it was cracked up to be.

A couple of years ago, one of our clients received a call offering an interview on national TV, “Inside Business,” with Fred Thompson, the Republican politician, columnist and radio host. Our client was told there would be a fee of about $20,000 to cover the production company’s costs, but still thought this would bring some valuable visibility. We did some looking around online and found websites with discussions from other businesses that had taken the bait and were bitterly disappointed and angry at the outcome. Their biggest complaint was usually about the distribution of the video that was produced. Their interviews were aired at some ungodly hour when nobody would be watching TV – say, 5 a.m. on a Sunday morning. When we showed our client these discussions, he thanked us for stopping him from wasting his company’s money.

Years ago when I was a journalist I fought with publishers who constantly pushed the editorial staff to cover advertisers. The battle between advertising and editorial has only intensified over the years as both ad revenue and readership have declined, bringing tough financial times for many media companies.  However, good, balanced journalism is what attracts readers and builds circulation, not pandering to advertisers or demanding quid pro quo for media coverage.

It’s the job of the PR professional to understand and counsel clients about what’s news and what’s not. If a company hires a PR agency to “get ink” and yet has nothing special to offer the media, it’s the agency’s responsibility to manage the client’s expectations while seeking news nuggets and finding innovative ways to create news, if necessary. Let’s be clear: pay for play is not media coverage, it’s advertising.

Lucy Siegel

Get my book at Amazon!  “Public Relations Around the Globe: A Window on International Business Culture”


Will a New Buzz-Predictor Tool Change Journalism?

February 10, 2012

It had to happen. Computer scientists have just come up with a way to predict before publication whether or not a news story has the potential to create buzz.

MIT bloggers wrote on a “Physics arXiv Blog” post this week that computer scientists at HP’s lab in Palo Alto, Calif. did research that showed they could test news articles to see whether or not they would spread widely on Twitter. Since Twitter buzz about news stories has been shown to be a predictor of general interest beyond Twitter,  the ability to

test an article in advance could have major implications for journalism, and, of course, for public relations as well.
The HP scientists used an automatic online news aggregator to collect news stories for a week. Then they scored each story on four different criteria: what news organization published the story it, what category the story fit into, how subjective the language used in the story was, and what people or things were included in the story.  They tracked these stories on Twitter to see how far and how fast they were spread. They were able to use the data to identify what levels of scores in each of the four criteria were correlated with the popularity of a news story on Twitter. Then they used these criteria and their scoring formulas to predict in advance how popular a story would be on Twitter.

The MIT bloggers speculated that it probably wouldn’t be long before someone would use this type of data to develop a “popularity checker” tool, similar to the grammar and spelling checkers that are built into word processing programs. They commented that it might be detrimental to journalism to have such a tool, since journalists would surely be pushed by their employers to write for the tool.

But think of what a boon to PR a popularity checker would be!

PR industry newbies would be able to test their news sense to get objective feedback on their news releases and media pitches. PR team leaders could use the checker to demonstrate tactfully to their employers or clients that promotional language really does not work in a news release, or to point out the lack of newsworthiness of an announcement proposed by senior management without having to argue about it.

If anyone hears that such a tool is under development, please let me know so I can sign up as a pre-release beta tester and invest in whatever company is behind it!

Lucy Siegel

Read my e-book: “Public Relations Around the Globe: A Window on International Business Culture”

Media Cutbacks Hurting Local News Coverage

June 22, 2011

I’ve written before on this blog about the danger to our society from the huge payroll cuts at news gathering operations, due to the current transition of traditional media to online “new” media.  The cuts in staffing have affected the amount of news that can be covered at the very least, if not the quality of the reporting.  With papers such as the Washington Post eliminating their local bureaus (the Post shut down all of its U.S. bureaus and now covers the whole country from its headquarters in Washington, D.C.), readers only get second-hand reporting of news outside the region in which the media outlet is located. Newspapers and broadcast news operations nationwide are depending on re-reporting news from local media.

However, according to a lengthy new report released by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the amount of news coverage at the local level has fallen off sharply, also, due to drastic cutbacks by local broadcasters and newspapers. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, speaking on June 10th at Columbia School of Journalism about this report, commented that the biggest challenge to journalism in theU.S. is “the disruptive impact the Internet and economic pressures have had on local news gathering.”  He noted that newspapers have cut back on staff, some have even shut down, and many local broadcasters also have cut back on news budgets.  He said, “…Many stations have no news at all…This matters, because if citizens don’t get local news and information, the health of our democracy suffers.  Journalism provides a vital check against corruption by those with power. The less quality local reporting we have, the less likely we are to learn about government misdeeds, schools that fail children, hospitals that mistreat patients or factories that pollute the water.”

I’ve seen discussions online among journalists about the big hole left in their coverage of the news and their fear that it will be filled with news releases supplied by public relations people.  You’d think that as a public relations professional this would make me happy, but it doesn’t. It isn’t a healthy way for the media to operate, and it will ultimately result in a further weakening of traditional media.

Some people feel that so-called “citizen journalists” will take the place of reporters who have been laid off, and that they’ll do just as good a job, if not better.  But self-proclaimed “citizen journalists” can’t replace trained professionals. For starters, readers can’t assess the accuracy of their reports. At least journalists working for media outlets have been interviewed and chosen by seasoned professionals, and their work is scrutinized on a daily basis by those who hired them!

Last weekend on an NPR segment about the new FCC report, I heard an interesting observation about the effect that Google search algorithms are having on the news people consume online. It turns out that Google’s software works in a similar way to Amazon’s and other retail sites’ search engines.  When you buy something – or even search for something – on Amazon, the site’s software makes assumptions that you’re interested in that product, and the next time you log into Amazon, you’re presented with suggestions for similar items to buy. Google’s search engine remembers your searches and the clicks you make on search results to select websites. If you search for or visit Fox News, the next time you’re looking for news, the search engine will push Fox News as well as other conservative news sources to the top of your search results. Similarly, if you visit the New York Times or the Huffington Post, you’ll be directed towards other liberal-leaning news sources. Therefore, Google’s search mechanism in effect reinforces people’s opinions and biases.  When I do a search on Google, the results I get can be drastically different from what someone else gets, even if the search is done at the same moment in time.

This built-in news bias, when added to the dearth of reporting at the local level, is very worrisome. No wonder politics in theU.S.has become so polarized, with the distance between red and blue, left and right, growing bigger all the time.

Lucy Siegel


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