Dole drops lawsuit against filmmaker–more signs of the coming food wars

Food wars. I’ve suggested that anyone in agriculture, food production and distribution including those who regulate them should gird up their loins for a protracted battle over food safety. I’ll be following this for some time. Those who have been reading Crisisblogger know of my personal connection to this issue through the film Food, Inc.–now almost certain to garner an Academy nomination and one of the top grossing feature documentaries of all time.

My observation to those engaged in this (and I have some current clients so engaged) is to understand the new rules of transparency. Food production has been hidden by a cloud and even the production of Food Inc showed that the way Monsanto and the major chicken producers hid and intimidated those who were planning on participating in the production. This will not help their cause. The values of consumers are changing and food producers need to understand that they either need to produce food in concert with those values or change how they do it. If they are producing in a way that is acceptable, then be open and honest. If not, change and then be open and honest.

Dole seems to be learning this lesson the hard way. They just dropped a lawsuit against a Swedish filmmaker over the film “Bananas” which Dole said contained all kinds of inaccuracies. So they sued for defamation. Wrong. Defamation is incredibly hard to prove and any attempt to sue on this basis, unless the accusations are so egregious as to win over the saveables, will be seen as nothing more than bullying in order to protect the silence.

What are food companies to do? 1) Evaluate your practices against the rapidly changing consumer values. 2) If they can’t withstand criticism in the open light of day, change them. 3) Communicate or be prepared to communicate what you are doing and why.

Personally, I think the world is incredibly blessed by the enormous productivity of our farmers and food producers. To steal a line from Churchill, at no time in the history of eating have so many owed so much to so few. If these organizations were to change to meet the extreme views of a very vocal minority, millions would starve to death and food would consume a much higher percentage of all our budgets. But for goodness sake food people, defend yourselves. Tell the wonderful story of the good work you do to feed the world. Stop hiding.

Andy Bailey (who I just had the pleasure of meeting at a conference I was speaking at, provided a quotation I hadn’t heard before but is very appropriate for this discussion:

Eric Hoffer:

“In times of change, learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.”

I hope for the sake of the hungry masses and my children’s food budgets that the food industry will wake up and start learning.

A remarkable speech about the future of media

Thanks to Twitter and Breaking News On, I was alerted to this speech in Melbourne, Australia by ABC boss Mark Scott (that is ABC in Australian Broadcasting Corporation) about the future of media. While this might be seen as a bit of a catfight between Australian media barons in the way that Scott takes on global media baron Rupert Murdoch, the more important point is the insight Mr. Scott provides about the future of media.

A few highlights that I took from it for those who may not want to read it all:

– the fall of the media is likened to the decline and fall of Rome–with allusions to Gibbons’ recounting of it vs. Auden’s.

– the empire is gone for good and will never come back–despite the maybe desperate hopes of the old emperors such as Murdoch

– the media empires such as Washington Post who invested outside of traditional media have done well while those focused on traditional print media have been hurt such as New York Times

-He summarized the dilemma of the heavily invested mainstream media well: Everywhere now, the scramble is on. To win in online, to give the audiences what they want and when they want it. But it is hard when there is still so much left to lose. When you’ve spent so much getting to where you are: those presses and those trucks; the cost of your TV licence and your broadcast systems. When newspaper advertising still brings in ten times what advertising online does. When audiences watching your catchup services are far less valuable than those watching when you broadcast on television.

His suggestions for survival:

1) Know that the rules have changed.
2) Stay on top of technology change (ABC embraced Twitter even while uncertain if it is a fad waiting to fade)
3) Empower audiences to contribute–facilitator rather than content provider
4) Protect assets through diversification–accept that the money in providing content may simply not be there
5) Understand that an organization’s culture may be the biggest obstacle to change

An excellent analysis by someone in the media who is thinking clearly and realistically.

Public view of news accuracy hits lowest levels in two decades. Why?

The Pew Research Center for People & the Press reported on September 13 that now only 29% of Americans think the press gets it right. 63% say that news stories are often inaccurate. That compares to just twenty five years ago when 55% said the press got it right. The chart on this report shows the startling decline in public trust in the press.

More findings: 60% say news organizations are politically biased.

What’s going on here? There are many possible theories–here are a few:

– news media news staffs are shrinking fast and so don’t have time to make sure things are accurate

– competition for audiences is all based on immediacy and so editorial caution is thrown to the wind in order to beat the competition (note Sept 11, 2009 “terrorist attack” reported by CNN)

– news organizations are relying more and more on citizen journalists, such as I-Report and these non-professionals don’t get it right (note CNN’s airing of a false I-Report stating Steve Jobs died)

– news has become “infotainment” where facts don’t matter but entertaining audiences does

– most cable news is based on political pundits spouting off in a semi-news environment leading people to conclude it is all opinion (and mostly vacuous at that)

– Fox News has destroyed America (many will probably vote for this one)

– Fox News has demonstrated what many conservatives knew and the mainstream always denied that there is wide-spread political bias in most major news organizations

– the news media has been so busy bashing our business and government institutions for so long they didn’t notice that the “collateral damage” would include them as big, powerful organizations and therefore also not to be trusted

I think all of these play a role in this huge decline in trust and credibility. But I think there is another far more important reason and in that I have hope–because the loss of a fourth estate in which we as the public can place our trust is potentially devastating for our society.

I think the key is in what Eric Newton, vice president of the journalism program at the Knight Foundation, said in the current issue of PR Tactics: “The public’s ability to spot errors is at an all-time high.”

We live in a post-media world, or at least a rapidly increasing post-media world. We don’t get our information from the media exclusively or even primarily. We get it online, and probably more importantly, from those who are very well connected online. We don’t have to be online to benefit from the speed and accuracy of online communication–all we need to be is within cellphone range or earshot of those who are.

Wait a minute, some of you are saying. Did he say the “accuracy” of online communication. Yes, because I think one of the great myths of our time is what you get on the internet isn’t true. True, a lot of what you read and see or hear is not true or accurate. But in the mish mash of multiple people being involved, the truth almost invariably comes out. One of the most stunning examples of this was related in a white paper by Jeanette Sutton of the University of Colorado. Following Virginia Tech shooting, students from U of Colorado when to Virginia Tech to study use of Facebook in that horrible event. They discovered that the Facebook community was able to identify all 32 shooting victims by name well before the authorities could officially release those names. Even more remarkably, they did it without error. Surprised? Then you may also be surprised to hear that Wikipedia is at least as accurate as the Encyclopedia Britannica.

With many millions providing input into critical stories, the some total is something closer to truth than we have ever had through the most rigorous editorial policies. It remains true that effective editing and true objectivity will win the day over almost any blog or Facebook page, and so should be a shorter path to the facts or truth. But increasingly it is becoming clear that the accumulation of information and knowledge available through social networking is demonstrating that far too much of what is provided via traditional media is neither true nor unbiased.

So, has the media been declining in reporting and editing so that the decline in trust is justified? No, I don’t think so. While there are notable exceptions, we are still benefiting from most of the editorial rigor we always had. But we are just now starting to find out that the rigor did not mean there were no errors or no subjective opinions entering in. Anyone who has been interviewed or the subject of a story will tell you that: “I was misquoted” is the common complaint. But the very people who were misquoted believed the stories about everyone else because in a vacuum of competitive information, how would anyone know? Now the competition is bigger, broader and more comprehensive than we could have ever imagined. And the result is the trust we had 25 years ago was misplaced.

Let the debate with Peter Shankman continue

I want to thank Peter for responding to my comments about his presentation in Houston. The complete response is in the comment after my post which was critical of him. In the interest of clarification and debate, I’m posting those comments here along with my additional comments, corrections, disagreements and apologies. (Peter’s comments are in italic, mine are not)

A few points:

I’ll definitely speak slower in the future – It would seem that at the speed I’m speaking, you’re missing several points I tried to make. Gonna go through them really fast. (Actually, I suppose I’ll go through them really slow – to make sure you get them.)

:) Peter, I think you’d be doing yourself and your audience a favor by speaking a little slower. You have some excellent points to make and your audience will benefit by hearing them more clearly. It really won’t make you less entertaining. And yes, I got the dig at me, but that’s OK, I understand I ticked you off a bit.

I never said “tweet a thousand times,” (I said the opposite, to make sure you tweet interesting and valuable-to-your-audience information)

Actually, you asked the audience who was tweeting and when about two or three to my right and your left raised your hand you said quite clearly that obviously the rest of us didn’t give a damn (I think you said that) about our brand. That’s what I was referring to.

nor did I say “you have to have 15,000 friends,”

You are right, you didn’t say that. but you made quite a point out of having 15,000 fans on your Facebook and strongly advised that we follow your lead in contacting those personally and regularly, in your case through about 30-40 personal birthday greetings a day. I think it is quite admirable and is similar to what the first George Bush did and it helped get him in the White House. It’s just not everyone has the same goals and there are useful things you can do with social media other than this.

(I said the opposite, be relevant to your audience, no matter what the size)

Your point about relevance is one of the most important you make and I emphasized that in both my presentations after yours. Like I said in my post, I agree with a lot of things you say. But this point about relevance is not the opposite of the point you were making about using social media to build your brand or make all the connections you recommend.

nor did I suggest that I believe Governor Sanford did the right thing (I said the opposite, he had several opportunities to STOP talking and didn’t take any of them) nor did I say that if you don’t do what I do you have no clue as to what social media is about (I chose to tell you how I created a million dollar business using certain tools and how I chose to use them.) In fact, you seem to take everything I said, and post exactly the opposite of the point I was trying to make.

I was on my way out to the bathroom when I heard your comment about Gov. Sanford and it was right after you said that David Letterman would benefit from this because, and I’m trying to be as close to what you said as possible, no one in New York would care one bit about his affairs with his office staff, nor do people expect any different than people like David or the Governor would have affairs and be unfaithful. So, if you said he did the wrong thing in talking about it, I missed that part completely and apologize for any misimpression I may have left about that. However, what I was referring to was your view that no one really cares about the promiscuity, broken promises, and lack of trustworthiness exhibited by these gentlemen–not to mention the likely scenario of sexual harassment. While David’s ratings have soared, I’ve also seen quite a number of comments on the NYT’s articles about this that indicate that there is at least a significant minority like me who found his, and Gov. Sanford’s behavior “creepy” and our interest and respect for these men cannot help but be affected by this.

My favorite part is how you feel the need to confirm that you’re not bitter. (The lady doth protests too much?)

It was my attempt to be lighthearted, Peter. Actually, I don’t envy you one bit. I have to travel way too much as it is and the last thing I would want is to spend the kind of time you do on an airplane and navigating around all these different cities. But then, we’re in different spaces, aren’t we. I love my time at home with my wife of 36 years and want to spend as much precious time as I can with my grown kids, their spouses and our seven beautiful grandkids.

I said that if you post interesting comments when you hear them from a speaker, perhaps your audience will think them interesting as well, and choose to pay attention to you.

I also suggested that we have a network, the majority of which that we, for whatever reason, almost always choose to ignore. I choose to pay attention to them by wishing them a happy birthday on their special day, or emailing them when I find interesting bits of information, or something else relevant to them. Quite frankly, I believe that concept to be beneficial to them, as opposed to your belief of what, simply ignoring them? Perhaps you’re not a “world-class connector” for that very reason? (Additionally, I don’t recall calling myself that – the term was “world-wide” connector. Means I have colleagues in lots of places on the planet.)

I didn’t mean to suggest that you used that term–it was my term for you, you are a world-champion connector and I admire that, and I most certainly am not. Nor do I want to be. And you are right, your connecting them is beneficial to them so please don’t stop. You were also brilliant in applying your passion for connecting people into a system, HARO, that allows you to do that with even much greater power.

Next: I’m not sure where you got the premise that I supported Governor Sanford: In fact, the comments I made said this: “Governor Sanford was incredibly stupid not to be quiet – he was given an opportunity to get the heat taken off him by the death of a celebrity musician, yet he still chose to talk. In his situation, he needed to shut up, he chose not to and it hurt him.” If you got that I supported him out of that, there’s definitely a disconnect there.

Re: David Letterman: I said that through honesty and transparency, the audience and advertisers will forgive him: And I was right:

No doubt there was a surge in ratings and it may even stay that way. But I do think that I am not the only one who looks at him a little differently, as I look at Gov. Sanford a little differently. Do you disagree that the Governor’s behavior, and not just his way of talking about, has likely eliminated him from presidential contention? These things have an impact on reputations–but the impact is based more on the values of the audience. And your debate here provides such a great example of that. I’ve been trying to convince people in my audiences that to build trust you have to do two things: you have to take the right actions (and right is defined by others who evaluate you, not you) and you have to communicate well. David’s situation provides a great example of what I talk about. He communicated very very well. And to some, such as yourself, there was absolutely nothing wrong, creepy or unexpected about his actions or behavior. To me, and many others I have talked to like me, what he did was wrong, probably illegal, and creepy. As a result my perception of him has changed.

My analysis of social media and where I think it’s going was 99% of my entire talk – So it would seem that the parts with which you disagree revolve around my examples of how we’re getting there – essentially, you’re saying that you don’t find me funny. And hey, that’s totally cool – not everyone does. Fortunately, more than enough people do so as to continue inviting me to keynote their conferences, and countless people followed-up with me after my Houston presentation saying that my talk was spot-on.

Actually I find you quite entertaining. Perhaps your content is 99% analysis of social media, but I must tell you that to me and a number of others I talked to after your presentation, it is hard to escape the sense that you view social media primarily as a personal dating device. So many of your examples from your life, from social media, and from the extended interaction with the two young women in the audience communicates a message–inadvertent perhaps–that your primary interest in life and in social media is in finding your next conquest. It plays well I am certain with some audiences. But what troubles me is the many valuable things you have to say tend to get lost in that overarching message that keeps coming through. Be honest with yourself about this. If you dare, ask some other people that care about you and who listen to your presentations and see if at least part of what I am saying isn’t true. I just don’t really like the idea of all those impressionable young PR professionals sitting in the audience getting the idea that the primary use and value of social media as taught by one its rockstars is to be found in this direction. Just my input, take for it what it’s worth to you.

Perhaps we simply have to make sure you get to give your presentation before my keynote next time, huh?

Actually, I’m quite content with the current arrangement Peter. Looking forward to seeing you at an upcoming conference.

All the best, Gerald,


And all the best to you and everyone at HARO, Peter.

Comments on Peter Shankman's Comments

Peter Shankman is a “rockstar” in the social media world. By that I mean he is one of the few celebrity speakers to emerge (and I’m tweaking him because he begged not to be called a rockstar anymore). I’m in Houston speaking at the PRSA Houston conference and this is the second time in a year my presentation has immediately followed Mr. Shankman’s. The first was in Las Vegas last March at the Ragan/PRSA Social Media conference.

First, I want to say that he was a keynoter on both of these and I was a lowly breakout speaker–so I don’t want anyone to interpret my comments as bitterness, not one little bit, well, maybe. Fact is, Peter is a very entertaining, highly energetic speaker with some serious social media pioneering chops (one of first to work for AOL for example) and he says some important and intriguing things about social media and where things are going.

(By the way, I’m a fan of HARO and think he did a brilliant and good thing for reporters and PR people alike.)

The fundamental things he talks about (I think, since he talks so fast that a lot of older people like me have a hard time following even though in this case I was only a few feet away from him) I agree with when it comes to analysis of social media and where it is going. But on almost everything else of importance I disagree.

For example, social media is not mostly about getting dates, nor is life mostly about searching for your next girlfriend. It’s hard not to come to the conclusion listening to him (and I’ve heard him twice now give essentially the same presentation) that his life revolves around sitting on airplanes (320,000 air miles this year? Yikes, I agree with your then girlfriend Peter who said get a life!) and finding his next conquest. And its hard not to conclude that for him that’s where social media is largely focused–the examples he provided whether defining advertising vs, public relations or how the emerging “one network” idea all lend credence to this focus.

I also fundamentally and strongly disagree with him that if you are not tweeting a thousand times during his presentation you obviously don’t give a crap about building your brand, or if you don’t have 15,000 fans on your facebook page and you’re not spending the early hours of every morning sending happy birthday messages to everyone you know, you have no clue what social media is all about. Peter, not everyone is a worldclass connector like you are, not everyone has time for this kind of activity and some of us treasure quality time with a few longtime friends rather than trying to build connections with strangers all over the planet.

And I most clearly disagree with him about David Letterman and Governor Sanford. His view, and he professes to speak for all of New York on this, is that no one will think ill of Mr. Letterman’s or Mr. Sanford’s behavior and since Letterman did such an admirable job of honestly and transparently dealing with his creepiness (Letterman’s words, not mine) that the world will rush to forgive him. Also that the entire public relations community should look at this as a wonderful example of crisis communication.

I blogged on this on and I couldn’t disagree more. There are some like Peter whose moral values include the view that it is not only not wrong to sleep with anyone who consents, that there is something honorable about it. And that includes those who have made promises to their spouses in an ancient and clearly outdated institution called marriage. As I recall, the wedding vows still state that faithfulness and commitment are a pretty normal part of this arrangement. It also appears in New York or in Shankman’s view of it, that it perfectly appropriate for a superior in an organization to use that position to influence the “consent.” Even if you take a different view of morality than me, it is hard in this age where sexual harassment is illegal and broadly defined, that Mr. Letterman is going to escape some very reasonable accusations here. But to Shankman, all this is normal, reasonable, expected and I sense even honorable.

I asked the group I presented to right after Mr. Shankman finished what they thought of his presentation. They were enthralled–such is his attraction as a presenter (and why he gets the keynote invitations). But when I mentioned that I didn’t see eye to eye with him on the issues I just raised and mentioned that I have been gratefully married to the same beautiful woman for 36 years and hope to continue on the rest of my life, I received warm applause.

So I suspect there are more than a few fuddy duddies like me who think that Letterman is a very funny and talented creep. And that social media has more to offer society than the fast hookup.

Note–after posting this I noted the pingback on my earlier blog about Letterman’s future. I agree and wish I could have said it so creatively.

Three more examples of social media policies–Kodak, Intel, IBM

Social media policies are a big issue today. They are fraught with danger. One, because the culture of the internet demands transparency and openness to incredible degrees, but the culture also seems to celebrate anger, rudeness, crudeness, vulgarity and general disrespect. I blogged earlier here about Walmart’s Twitter policy. From Mashable, here are three examples of other major organizations with social media policies around transparency, moderation of comments, and the value of social media.

E.coli, Polanksi, Letterman, Lewis and more

Too many interesting things going on to focus on one.

1. E.coli in hamburger. I suspect food borne illness has decreased dramatically in the last 50 years. I grew up on a dairy farm where we grew and ate most of our own food, including meat from old cows. The town butcher would show up and mom would cut up and can the meat. I remember her even making head cheese. But this article in the New York Times about e.coli in hamburger is a sign of the times. Note the style–an attractive young woman shown to have her life threatened and harmed. Another innocent young girl spending nine weeks in a coma. Reference the death of four children–15 years ago. Then show how companies are cutting costs for profit. Then show how lax regulations are and our government is allowing the industry to police itself. This is classic white hat black hat reporting. I do not say this to diminish the risks of e.coli at all, nor to downplay the horrific suffering of those who have been victims of it. And I also fully support all efforts to improve our food safety. My only point is this–if you are in the food business you should be aware that we are entering a time of unprecedented focus and transparency. I’ve seen too many examples (Food, Inc. production for example) where the those producing our food think they can hide and prevent the public’s prying eyes from seeing. Those days are gone. Open up your doors and windows and if there is anything you are doing you can’t defend, then change it. I ask this for the sake of continuing the great blessing of affordable, healthy food that has enabled billions on this planet to eat well, and too many to eat way too well.

2) Hollywood shows it colors in Polanksi affair. Hmm, let me ask you something. If a prominent clergyman was convicted of having sex with a 13 year old, what would the Hollywood biggies think about it. They’d hang him from the highest tree and do it with the greatest glee (sorry about that). But what do they do when one of the high priests caught is one of their own. Forgive and honor. Not only do I find this outrageously hypocritical, it is disgusting. But part of my is glad for this because in such action you can see the true colors of those folks. I only hope for a few prominent leaders in Hollywood to call these people on it. As for the rest of us, this shows too clearly the moral compass or lack of it among those people who define so much of our culture for us and for the rest of the world.

3) Ken Lewis and $53 million retirement. Trust in business and major institutions is one of my missions and goals. I want business to earn public trust and not have the public trust business more because government is stepping in to regulate and control it. However, public trust will likely take a huge black eye with this retirement package. For those in the media and the public jumping on these things, I think there should be a continual reminder that in the height of the financial crisis, these banks were not given a choice about accepting government money. With the money came  different set of expectations and extraordinary levels of government control and public say. The kind of criticism that will come from this is both understandable and unfortunate–in part because they resisted being put in this position.

4) Social media policy at the Washington Post. If you are an organization leader with employees and you are not struggling with social media policies, you are probably Ken Lewis heading for a nice retirement .Everyone else has a big worry on their hands. Even those in the media–or maybe even more those in the media. Because when a reporter tweets, is he/she acting/thinking on his/her own or are they “reporting”? Since the tweeting of Post reporter Raju Narisetti raised such questions,the Washington Post has created some guidelines aimed at protecting the perception of objectivity. Yeah, uh huh. The one thing I like about the emergence of all this “citizen journalism” is raising the curtain on the pretense of objectivity. Nevertheless, the effort of pretense will go on–and there is benefit to that. But I still think that, like the DoD, the Washington Post or other media trying to control social media is like pushing on a balloon or nailing jello to  wall.

5) Letterman. There’s a strong cynical side of me that says since this was an inside job within CBS it is all a conspiracy to take the focus away from Jay Leno’s new show. But, I doubt the quest for ratings would be great enough for the news producer to be willing to take such a fall–unless of course CBS offered him $2m and a way out of his debts. Hmmm, maybe not so far-fetched. While I have read PR pundits proclaim that Letterman did a perfect job of dealing with this reputation crisis by publicly airing his apparently numerous affairs, and another news report pointed out that these affairs took place before his current marriage, there is still something rotten in Denmark in my mind. In an age when people can be fired, be fined and go to jail for telling off-color jokes in a way that someone can term sexual harassment, to allow one of our cultural icons this kind of latitude seems both incomprehensible and hypocritical. If a boss of a big company were to do this and it hit the news, wouldn’t the question arise as to the inherent coercion of a boss/employee relationship? Sure, supposedly consensual, but he is the boss and some at least would think that implies some form of coercion. There is another point that will be lost on some but not others. This kind of promiscuous behavior at some time in the distant past was looked upon with a certain amount of disfavor. It still is in some circles, including mine. In such circles, we will find it hard to laugh at or with someone who so cavalierly flaunts values we hold dear. Suddenly, I find myself finding Mr. Leno, happily married for decades, to be a very funny and honorable man.