Category Archives: Mainstream Media

Is it possible we are getting more critical of the media?

One of my main reasons for blogging, and a major focus the presentations I do at conferences, is about the media landscape and why it can be so damaging. It is a core part of my mission to try to get people to be more critical of media coverage by understanding the business dynamics behind media’s imperative to build audiences. And to help them understand that simply accepting what is reported as reflective of the way things really can have serious consequences.

I must say I haven’t seen a lot of progress in increasing scrutiny of and criticism of the media and how they are, in my opinion, continuing to devolve as a result of the vicious competition with new media. Today, there were two articles in Bulldog reporter that caught my eye and give me a little reason to hope.

One, is the response of cable viewers to CNNs attempt to create a tempest in a teapot over race and gender in the Democratic presidential race. Here is the article that talks about the backlash of viewers.

The other tells about Howell Raines, fired from his job as editor at New York Times following the Jayson Blair scandal, and his new role as media critic. Funny to read about how his former colleagues responded to his criticism of them after he left. Of course, they may be right that he was a terrible boss, but the  interesting thing to me is having someone who once was a true insider at the highest levels now looking at the business of news coverage from a critical (and I hope viewer) perspective. I will look for his comments with interest.

Sam Zell is the New Sheriff at the Tribune Co–can a non-media type save mainstream?

Sam Zell, a real estate gazillionaire has taken over one of the premiere mainstream media enterprises in the nation–the Tribune Company. Of course, he got a steal because of the crisis facing most traditional media in the light of the massive switch to the internet as the primary news source.

I find his approach refreshing and optimistic–he says all the focus has been on cost cutting and now the emphasis needs to be on revenue enhancement. In our own small market, the daily has changed hands three times in the past few years and the new publisher clearly has an entrepreneurial bent starting at least three glossy magazines serving the local community. I’m not certain but I’m presuming ad revenue is likely up–particularly since one company bought up all the local radio stations and with huge rate increases across the board made radio a less attractive advertising option locally.

What will be interesting to watch is how Zell approaches the challenge of enhancing revenue and paying off a $13 b debt. I’m guessing it will be combinations of leveraging off existing brands in traditional media and some innovative ideas in new media. I’m just hoping–and here is the tenuous connection to crisis management–that he steers away from the way the main stream media has fought the current battle and that is turning more and more to infotainment strategies in covering the news. Infotainment is bad news for those concerned about reputations because the slightest issue–real, imagined, or accused, becomes fodder for building ratings with screaming headlines and simplistic reporting. We’ve seen far too much of that in the past few years. Publishers and producers should take note–extreme infotainment has not stopped the slide. Zell–it’s time for something else and I hope you find another way.

Arnold Schwarzenneger for Spokesperson of the Year

Here’s why I nominate the Gubernator: the California Wildfires and his aggressive response when the media tried to go down the tired and untrue path of finding fault with the response to the wildfires.

It was absolutely expected. Here was a major disaster with people being hurt, property damage huge and many different agencies responsible for responding. The media fully expected that the story line that played out so effectively for them in Katrina about incompetent government would be the main story again. Arnold would hear nothing of it. He was prepared. He had his facts. And when the first hint of this as an emerging story line evolved, he jumped right on it. He said, in effect, anyone who complains about the response is just complaining and they don’t know what they are talking about. As to the criticism about not enough airplanes, he said we have 90 of them, but they don’t fly in 60 mile per hour winds for safety reasons. His tone was aggressive and impatient. He anticipated their nonsense and called them on it. I half expected him to say, “Any of you who go off and write stories other than that we are doing the best possible job is just a girlyman.” Of course, he didn’t, but it was almost there.

Compare that to the run to the caves response of the Department of Homeland Defense and FEMA following the press conference. The more I learn about that (from a very reliable source) the more I see this as a story that is farther and farther from the truth and more in the line of journalistic abuse. Did the agency leaders challenge them on their name calling of a “fake news conference?” No, they ran for the hills throwing anyone they could under the bus.

What about the nonsense of Speaker Pelosi coming to San Francisco to criticize the Coast Guard for a poor response and the CG commander losing his job because of the criticism. The only reason anyone had to complain was that in the very earliest reports, the amount of the spill was under estimated. Where was Arnold to stand up and say “if you girlymen are any better at estimating a spill amount in the first little bit after a spill, maybe you better take that job. You want the best information we can give you absolutely as soon as we can get, then when we give it you with all kinds of caveats about it may be wrong, you turn around and crucify us with it. To make things worse, girlymen, you play into an obvious attempt to embarrass the administration and politicize something where politics don’t belong. Why don’t you pay attention to the competent dedicated work of those who are dealing with this mess instead of somebody who is trying to make political hay out of an accident?”

Until spokespeople start understanding the methods and approaches of today’s media which is increasingly desperate to build audiences and start calling them on their games, the trust situation in this country is going to get an awful lot worse. I hope that when Arnold leaves office (assuming no constitutional change is on the horizon) that he goes into the media training business. Because his style of media engagement is something desperately needed.

How the media contributes to a "state of fear" following a national tragedy

Here’s an interesting blog post from Dennis McDonald, reporting on a study of social attitudes following the Virginia Tech tragedy. The vodcast with Dr. Jim Breckinridge highlights how the media–both MSM and new media–contribute to fear and anxiety.

I haven’t viewed the vodcast yet, but what I find interesting is the comment about how the fears resulting from this spill over to other agencies such as the US Coast Guard.

It also raises the question I am most intrigued with which is social responsibility of those influencing others whether MSM or new media. When the goal is attracting an audience to sell ads via broadcast or google ads, how much does social responsibility come into play in making decisions as to how events like this are covered. My suggestion is very little. But the alternative of legislating moral or social responsibility is repugnant to me. How do we get people to care when they have the power to build audiences?

What transparency really means, and why it can hurt

This really is the age of transparency as I and others have trumpeted for some time. But the transition is painful for many. A glass house will reveal a lot of ugly things.

This blogpost from 37signals (a technology company we admire a lot around here) provides some great examples of transparency and the pain associated with it. Interestingly, this focuses on transparency in mainstream media–a place where “coverup” is fed upon like mosquitos on a bald head, which demands transparency from government and everyone else it covers, and which has a hard time providing the level of transparency it demands from others.

It is encouraging to see this kind of transparency happening in the MSM. It needs to continue, go further and deeper, but it also needs to spread to government agencies and private organizations. Surely, no everything need to dragged out to the public view. But this age expects an unusually high level of honesty and openness. Those used to a different view of the world will find themselves the focus of intense questions about what they are hiding.

The Digital Media vs Mainstream war takes another victim: Life

Life magazine is no more. Once again. The venerable brand that had been resurrected by Time for the third time in 2004 to serve as a newspaper supplement, is dead. The victim of declining newspaper advertising.

But, there is much more to this story. This is but one visible reminder of the tremendous upheaval underway in how we get news and information. As I blogged about earlier this year, this year is when digital or Internet media overtakes all media as the prime deliverer of news and information.

The impact of this on ad pages, stock prices, and the business climate for mainstream media is effectively told in this story from Dow Jones’ MarketWatch. 

But, my experience is that most of us in the media business are largely ignoring these signs of tremendous change. We don’t really understand them. The whole digital and Internet world is wild, confusing, too technical, out of control and too dominated by young males who have far too much time on their hands and should go back to playing video games, or better yet, go get a job. That’s at least how many of us perceive it. The reality is more and more that everyone, young and old, male and female, rich and poor, is changing how they get news, get insight and understanding of events and people and organizations that interest them, and how they interact with each other and network together.

What I have encountered in just the last few months has been stunning to me. Discovering, for example, in discussion with the CIO of a large university that email doesn’t work to reach students anymore.  Discovering yesterday, in conversation with Sally Falkow of that your press release distribution mechanism had better include a built in method of listing on a whole bunch of social media sites. And that there are a lot more than newsvine and digg it.

Sometimes it feels wearying. But the reality is, it doesn’t matter how old you are or how much or how little experience you have in this business, if you are not constantly learning what is going on in the public information environment, you are going to get left behind. And the cost of getting left behind will be high.

Where Citizen Journalism and Mainstream Media are merging…Santa Rosa

Looks like one place where the new paradigm of news and the old are coming together (a collision or confluence?) is a tiny TV station in Santa Rosa, California. The Clear Channel owned station has fired its paid news staff and is turning entirely to neighbors, friends, activists, and anyone who wants to participate to cover the local news.

This is more than desperate cost cutting on the part of station management. It is a clear sign of the times as has been commented on here earlier. The competitive pressures, in part coming from the Internet and in part coming from the impossible demands of Wall Street, are putting the squeeze on news organizations. This came up in conversation with a client yesterday as we were discussing use of video.

Client: But most news organizations don’t want to use video that you provide.

Me: Well, that used to be more true than now. With the squeeze on the news organizations plus the heightened need for compelling video not just on tv news shows but now on their news websites as well, they are much more willing and interested to take whatever video they can find that will help them tell their story and attract audiences.

Client: Even B-roll?

Me: if it is compelling, relevant and helps tell their story.

The owners of MSM outlets are getting the idea that there are 60-70 million “journalists” out there willing to spend good parts of their day “reporting,” commenting, researching, reading and doing a lot of other things journalists get paid to do. Except they do it for the love of it, the recognition and in some cases, the indirect business benefits. Why not make use of this horde to do what the station owners and managers need to do: attract and audience, sell ads, make some money, keep the doors open.

"iNugget" News…and the possible antidote

This thought-provoking article by David Henderson of Siegel+Gale, suggests that pressure on main stream media is resulting in bite-sized chunking up of significant news stories. The example here is the CNN headline that summarized all the intrigue of he Scooter Libby trial into four words: Libby Convicted of Lying. (Of course they could have said: Libby Lied.)

The over simplification of complex stories has long been a favorite topic of mine, and I don’t attribute it as much to the pressures of New Media on Old Media as to the intrusion of journalism into the world of entertainment. Entertainment operates by a different set of standards–the premium being on capturing and holding attention–than traditional journalism. Now, of course, the pressures on Old Media is forcing them into ever more desperate measures to compete for audiences–so Henderson is very right about the result.

But the overall impact of the blending of New Media and Old Media may be positive in addressing this. There is no doubt that with 70 million  “citizen journalists” writing frequently on almost any and all imaginable topics, far more information and discussion occurs than before. And news readers have access to all that real info and pseudo info very easily through search engines. The result is that each story in its sum can get far, far more coverage than before. Not in the traditional way of the coverage in the hands of professionals paid for by news organizations, but we have seen the weaknesses of this. The weakness of the new breadth of coverage, is that it is not professional and frequently the “journalists” do not have much of significance in new or valued information to add. But, frequently they do.

Add up the increasingly brief news capsules offered by traditional media with all the chatter, discovery, commenting and analysis by millions of blogs and you have more depth than ever. I believe this will result in a stronger fifth estate–but the jury is definitely out on that.

Attn communicators needing to convinces bosses about importance of blogs

Just had a conversation today with a top level Public Information Officer, and the topic turned to the impact of online media, blogs and the like. He made the comment that some leaders in his organization continue to doubt that many people are impacted by online media. I pointed to the previous post on this blog with the interview with Richard Edelman that stated that this year more will get their news online than from all MSM. More proof of the importance of blogs in public information and news comes from this blog called Just on Online Minute.

The nub: Nielsen//NetRatings shows that blog pages within the top 10 online newspapers drew around 3.8 million unique visitors last month–more than triple December 2005’s 1.2 million.

Please note–these are not the 60 million citizen journalist blog sites that we are talking about. These are blog sites launched by major newspapers. They are certainly discovering where the news readers are going and joining the party.

So, for all you communicators who need to convince your bosses that something important is going on here, tell them to read crisisblogger.

Internet use surpasses newspapers

It was inevitable but nevertheless, it should be marked. About three years ago use of the Internet surpassed readership of all news magazines. Now it has passed newspapers in terms of amount of time spent. According to this article in Editor and Publisher “Americans spend an average of 4 1/2 hours a day watching TV, far more time than they spend on any other medium. Next come the radio and the Internet. Reading newspapers is fourth, passed this year by Internet use.”