Tag Archives: Mainstream Media

Washington Post–how much is access to a journalist worth?

What if you could get inside access to one of the nation’s most influential journalists? Lots of clients pay big PR agents and firms lots of money, lots and lots of money, for the purpose of getting greater access to top-level journalists. But what if newspapers or news outlets in their business crisis decided to just skip the whole PR agency thing and charge for access?

I’m not saying that is what is going on at the Washington Post, but the “salon” event at the home of the publisher is starting to walk, talk and quack like a duck.

This is interesting from several perspectives. For one thing, it is a major–I mean major–reputation crisis for the Washington Post. And since most reputation crises involve how to deal with media reporting around the crisis, it is also doubly fascinating to watch news organization manage media crises. The apologies are streaming forthwith, as are the “that’s not what we meant at all” and “someone inside really screwed up.” Fine. I’ll accept that. A marketing person did what was expected of them and sold the event based on benefits to those who would pay $250,000 to participate in this very special meeting. Since journalists from the Washington Post would be there, would it be too much to say that this would give those attending some kind of inside access? I think not. But whoa, what  does that mean? Now you have to buy a good story? And what it does it mean for the readers?

Reminds me of a good size public crisis I was involved in a number of years ago regarding a forestry project on the southern tip of South America, in Tierra del Fuego. Environmental activists were getting up in arms about the potential large scale forestry project. A very negative and very incorrect article appeared in the newspaper in Ushuaia. The employees from the company I was working with were in Ushuaia and met with the newspaper. They offered a substantial sum of money to buy advertising in the paper to get their story out. The editor or publisher asked them if they would like their story in advertising form or in news form. They asked me what they should take and I said news form, of course.

But if you can buy the news, what does it mean for the readers? Are we getting to this level of journalistic integrity. The no, no, no’s we hear from the publisher certainly suggest the concern she has that people might interpret it that way. She is very right to be concerned about public perception around this.

I think it is a very good thing this little problem has erupted. It will make everyone a lot more sensitive to the very real temptation to allow journalism to be tainted with corruption in the business crisis they are in. Maybe it will help protect the integrity for just a bit longer.

Great post about Twitter as legitimate news

Frankly, I find the “debate” bout whether Twitter can be considered news or not a little funny. If someone tells you something you don’t know, is that news? Is it only news if it turns out to be accurate? Or have we defined news as something that comes from “recognized” ala “mainstream” news sources. Do you have to be a professional journalist before your information can be considered news?

Brendan Hodgson, a PR pro out of Calgary I believe, deals with this question in a thoughtful manner on his blog.

One other point I want to make which I intended to address in my presentation at the Risk and Crisis Communication conference, but ran out of time. I call it the “Democratization of Truth.” The idea is simply this: an individual post, or blog, or tweet, or wiki submission may be horribly wrong. A whole lot of them around a specific event or topic may be wrong. But if enough people from a variety of vantage points, perspectives and points of view contribute, the truth will likely emerge. Sort of like on a bell curve.

And that is how blogging overall can be considered even more trustworthy in some respects than the mainstream media. The filter is not a professional editing team nor a commitment to credibility. The filter is the mass who will not stand for misinformation. Hence, wikipedia can be more accurate than the Encyclopedia Britannica–the power of the volunteer masses.

Learning from clients

Last week I spent a few days meeting with clients in the LA area. Again, I feel so fortunate to be able to work with top level communicators of major agencies and organizations. Once in awhile I feel like I contribute a little to their thinking about their communication challenges, but mostly I just learn so much from them. I see a big part of my job in my work with PIER and on this blog to share these learnings so they can be of benefit to all.

I am seeing a steadily growing awareness of the instant news world and the impact of social media on the work that public affairs and media management professionals have to do. But I am also seeing a continuing and perhaps growing gap between the communicators who are trying to adapt their policies and plans to meet the demands for instant and direct communication and their bosses who tend more to operate in the old world of mainstream media domination, slow news cycles, and little to no interaction with key audiences.

One comment from a client was telling–“I’m having a problem with how fast we are able to get info out.” Despite appropriate approvals for distribution, the very quick distribution of vital information was catching some in the organization by surprise. And some of these people don’t like to be surprised.

It is critically important–and something I have come to emphasize a lot in my presentations recently–is that communicators who do “get it” need to continuously work with their superiors to help them understand the new instant news and social media realities. The organization’s leaders will make the ultimate and most important decisions about communication and they can only make informed decisions if they are, well, informed. Don’t expect them to read this or sit in on teleseminars about the changing world of information–that is up to you.

Secondly, while you need to keep the approval process as simple and streamlined as possible, you also need to be aware of the need in some cases to stage information so that you don’t catch important internal audiences by surprise. At least if you can avoid it. Even a ten minute heads up may be much appreciate and help them understand in advance what you are doing. It may even give them a chance–if there is sufficient reason–to yell hold the press!

Another observation. I’ve had some interesting discussions with communicators about the fact that in this day “you are the channel.” It is something I talked about at length in Now Is Too Late, but in this post-media world, audiences go where they will for information and often choose to go direct to the sources of information rather than through intermediary channels such as the media. That means your website plus the push communication you do becomes the direct channel to those who are often the most interested and most impacted by what is going on. That is a tremendous advantage. Tell your story directly. Don’t put it in the hands of those whose primary agenda is to build an audience–often at your expense. You are the channel. It is great to see progress in thinking at some very high levels.