Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Journalists need to examine their own fears

Am I alone in thinking journalists have taken more shots at PR people lately? This NY Times article on PR in the age of social media set off an explosion in the PR, journalist and blogger echo chamber. Looking back at that firestorm and the comments left on various blog posts, you get the distinct feeling that most people hate PR professionals, certainly the media and bloggers do.

One reporter arrogantly applied for a PR job while confessing that he was overqualified for the job, proving he lacked one of the chief traits a PR person must have: a sense of tact.

Then there is the Huffington Post blogger Schuyler Brown's post that this is the golden age of public relations. Most PR people I know think this an exciting time to be in PR but golden age implies riches, and anyone who has looked at PR budgets lately knows we are far from the heady days of the dot.com era.

What the dot.com era and today's social media era have in common is that they both ushered in a way for businesses to bypass the media and communicate directly with potential customers. Ten years ago, businesses did this by creating Web sites, which reduced the need to advertise in traditional media outlets. We know now that the reduced ad revenues gutted the print industry, shutting some papers and shrinking the readership at the rest, leaving them standing but bloody, waiting for the referee to count them out on a TKO, sort of like how mixed martial arts sucker punched the boxing industry.

Today's social media has taken a deeper bite out of the print media as peer reviews have replaced professional reviews. Many people still rely on CNET for advice on electronics and Consumer Reports for reviews on cars and household goods, but if you want to buy a book, Amazon's peer reviews are a better judge of whether or not you will like a book than a NY Times review. Peer sourcing is the way to go.

Journalists are scared. They should be. They are on the Titanic, a once proud and unsinkable ship that's hit an unseen iceberg. All hands may not be lost at sea, but the causalities are high.

Unfortunately for journalists, blogs have given PR people an organ to fight back. And PR people have done so, which is why what once was a lecture has become a dialogue. Just at the wrong time, journalists have found that PR blogs have given the PR industry claws to fight back, leaving both sides bloody, a car wreck both fascinating and horrible to watch.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The politics of ignorance or why newspapers matter

Last week, I worked an event for the pro golf Tour’s Boston stop where most of my co-workers were gentlemen who were at least 50 years-old, what used to be a huge demographic of newspaper readers. Four guys told me they cancelled their subscriptions in the past year. And, almost unanimously, each of the guys said they don't read the paper online because they say it’s not the same.

Television has taken the place of reading, and we all know that’s not a positive input for intelligent discourse. Where I am going with this? Two places.

1) On the political scene, we are becoming more like Russia. The Russia political machine owns the television stations and only kill the print reporters when they create too much of a negative following. Here in the U.S., we haven't physically killed the print reporters but they are becoming irrelevant.

2) We are moving to a political scene that cares only for short, digestible slogans that don't have to be true. They only have to be repeated often enough to be believed. Hence the large number of Americans who believe that Al-Qaeda was in Iraq BEFORE we invaded, a charge that has been proven false many times, but a belief maintained by those who still want to justify invading Iraq.

This isn’t a surprise. In Daniel Gilbert’s excellent book Stumbling on Happiness, Gilbert notes that humans are exceptionally and subtly clever at disregarding information that doesn’t jibe with their belief system. Sort of like how Fox News ignored Obama’s health care speech this morning.

Just saying.

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