Tag Archive: BART


The words, “Public Relations Pros” and “Journalists” would be labeled by many in the Fourth Estate as either an oxymoron or an obscene contradiction of terms.

Emerging from Journalism school back in the desultory late-1970s, the author of Almost DailyBrett would have surely agreed. Walter Cronkite never flacked for anyone. Woodward and Bernstein might be interested in selling books, but they would never stoop to representing a mere politician or corporation. Analytical Thomas Friedman would never risk his reputation for impartiality by serving as anyone’s advocate.

woodwardbernstein

Yes, the perception is that journalists are reporters, editors, correspondents, columnists, anchors, news directors and managing editors. This thinking is oh-so-analog.

Let’s pose this question: Are digital bloggers for TechCrunch, Gizmodo, The Huffington Post, Politico and many other influential weblogs, journalists? Don’t think so?

Think of it this way: They have an obligation to get their facts right. They may not always write, complying with AP Style or using the inverted pyramid – heck many of their posts are feature “thumb suckers” – but they still must have a sense of what is newsworthy and what is not. Why? Because a blog is the most discretionary of all reads. No one requires you to read her or his blog.

Bloggers need to include in their posts the essential facts or the five W’s and the one H… What, When, Who, Where, Why and How…and one more: Who the hell cares? If these questions are not answered quickly, the reader will turn elsewhere. Isn’t that what a traditional analog journalist does?

Is Jon Stewart, a journalist?

Heck no you say? He is a comedian. Right? Or Left? Yes, he is…but in many respects he is a journalist.

stewartcramer

His 21-minute public undressing of CNBC’s Jim Cramer was masterful, and it went viral (more than 83,000 page-views). Harvard-trained “Mad Money” Cramer is a virtual encyclopedia of all things, Wall Street. If you are skeptical, just check out his evening “Lightning Round” or read his latest tome, “Get Rich Carefully.”

And yet Stewart nailed him with his careful research, facts and figures to skillfully argue that CNBC was essentially in bed with institutional Wall Street, and was not doing enough to protect the average retail investor, who relies on the market to grow nest eggs for future dreams through IRAs and 401k’s.

Another question immediately comes to mind.

Is the above-average Jane or Jack with a cell-phone camera and an internet connection, a journalist?

Your immediate reaction would be to the negative…and in most instances you’re right…but not in all cases.

Train Station Shooting

A cell phone camera turned BART’s world (Bay Area Rapid Transit) literally upside down when the fatal 2009 early New Year’s morning shooting of Oscar Grant at the Fruitvale station went viral. A passenger taking photos through a subway car window “covered” the story, providing many of the five W’s and the one H, prompting the mainstream Bay Area media to follow and putting the BART public relations operation into damage control. The “Who Cares” question was already answered.

Just as the binary code of ones-and-zeroes has forever changed the business models of analog media types (e.g., those still using a later generation of 1439 Gutenberg’s printing press), the definition of who is and who is not a journalist is changing as well.

Rarely does Almost DailyBrett speak ex-cathedra, but it will in this case: The public relations industry grasped digital communication – blogging, microsites, digital handhelds – much faster than the majority of conventional journalists, some of which are still kicking and screaming.

Naturally, traditional journalists and the newly minted digital journalists (e.g., bloggers) are skeptical of public relations pros. Why? Flacks are advocates. They have a point of view. They present the truth and tell the story in the best interest of their respective clients.

This advocacy position puts them in a synergistic relationship with the reporter-editor-analyst crowd, and in many cases these recipients of PR industry information are antagonistic to the provider. In the final analysis and there is no denying this point: They need each other. Reporters need public relations pros because they provide information. In turn, public relations pros need access to their target audiences.

And what about this information? It has to be researched. It has to be accurate. It should always be presented professionally (e.g., AP Style). It has to be newsworthy (or a credible newsworthiness argument has to be advanced). It has to include all the salient facts, including those five W’s and one H. And it must conclusively respond to the skeptical, bordering on cynical, who cares question.

Some have suggested that public relations should be taught in business schools rather than journalism schools. The reason is that the majority of agency and all corporate public relations professionals are working on behalf of business. That’s true.

Here’s where Almost DailyBrett disagrees. Public relations is telling the story on behalf of a newsworthy client. Even though PR pros are advocating, they still must research the story and get it right. They must present this information professionally (e.g., inverted pyramid, AP Style) and it must be newsworthy for news disseminators in order to reach target audiences. That requires the journalism taught in J-Schools.

invertedpyramid

Even if public relations pros are bypassing or not exclusively using conventional and digital media outlets, and strictly utilizing self-publishing instead, they still need to practice solid journalism and ensure the story is told accurately.

And what did Joseph Pulitzer write on the walls of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch? “Accuracy, Accuracy, Accuracy”?

This sage advice applies to public relations practitioners as well, particularly in our fast-moving digital age.

http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/thu-march-12-2009/jim-cramer-pt–1

http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/thu-march-12-2009/jim-cramer-pt–2

http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Blame-in-Oscar-Grant-BART-death-may-shift-4713100.php

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johannes_Gutenberg

http://www.apstylebook.com/

http://www.onlineconcepts.com/pulitzer/endow.htm

“What happens in Vegas…will probably end up on YouTube.”

Since the onset of truly interactive computer-mediated communication more than a decade ago (Web 2.0), pundit questions mainly revolved around whether digital social media could ever be effectively monetized.

Wall Street finally responded last May 19 with enthusiastic institutional and retail investor response to the initial public offering (IPO) of LinkedIn.com. Securities for the business networking oriented social media outlet were offered on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE: LNKD) and the results that day constituted the biggest IPO since search engine Google Inc. debuted in 2004. LinkedIn was initially priced at $45, but opened at $83 up 84%. The stock eventually peaked at $122.70 before closing at $94.25, a 109% gain for the day, representing $8.9 billion in market capitalization.

linkedin_logo_11

Despite the impressive results for the initial offering of publicly traded securities for LinkedIn and the fact that there are no longer questions about whether social media has authentic monetary value, the IPO was widely seen by financial and market analysts as preliminary at best.

LinkedIn capitalized on being the “first mover” among social media companies, prompting many to ask what will happen when Twitter, Groupon and most of all, Facebook with its 600 million subscribers, (any or all) decide to take their respective shares to the public marketplace. Will they trigger a second Internet bubble?

Underneath all of the euphoria (irrational exuberance?) about digital interactive media, the use of ones-and-zeroes, transmitted in packets across switches and routers or wirelessly via the satellite, are troubling questions about this relatively new means of communication.

There are publicly traded and privately held companies with products to sell, non-profits with missions to fulfill, governments with essential services to provide, and politicians with electoral messages to deliver. Most are using digital publishing in an attempt to reach their target audiences, but at the same time (and maybe truly for the first time) these very same audiences, some with competing agendas, have unprecedented capability to target the messengers. Instead of “vertical” one-communicating-to-many, it is increasingly “horizontal” with the “audience” participating in the conversation. The game has changed and the rules are still being developed.

Today, we can look back upon a growing litany of examples of how ease-of-use interactive publishing and related conversations are upsetting the best-laid public relations and marketing plans of those charged with reputations to protect and brands to manage.

Consider that one blogger ultimately prompted the recall of Intel’s vaunted Pentium processor; bloggers repudiated a “60 Minutes” story extremely critical of former President George W. Bush, leading to the “resignation” of Dan Rather; a BART passenger video-taped and posted footage of the 2009 New Year’s evening shooting of Oscar Grant, leading to a conviction of the officer in question and setting off civil disturbances in Oakland; undercover cameras and super-sensitive microphones discredited ACORN and NPR;  Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-New York) was pressured into resigning in the wake of his Tweeting of his “junk” to selected females across the fruited plain. Train Station Shooting

What, where, when and who will be next to experience the loss of reputation and branding control to interactive media? Has the digital playing field been leveled to an unprecedented effect? Is this an unintended consequence of Web 2.0?

Think of it this way, reputations and brands are now traded commodities in the marketplace of public opinion. And just like securities, reputations and brand equities can rise with “shareholder” approval or they can crash under pressure from this same audience.

The question is not whether there are unintended loss-of-control consequences of Web 2.0, but instead what are the strategies to safeguard reputations and brands, and how they should be implemented? The birth of micro-blogging/content sharing sites: LinkedIn in 2003, MySpace in 2003, Facebook in 2004, Flickr in 2004, YouTube in 2005 and the 140-character-per-message Twitter in 2006, rapidly accelerated the growth to a staggering number of Web 2.0 subscribers.

The power of each of these social media sites and the ones that will inevitably follow (e.g. Google+) is magnified by the number of friends, connections, contacts that can be reached with a short message and a few key strokes. Will publicly traded and privately held companies, non-profits, governmental entities, appointed and elected officials ever regain hegemony over their cherished reputations and hard-fought brands or must they learn to live with a permanent loss of total control?

The answer is undoubtedly the latter. If this is indeed the case, then what are reasonable techniques and strategies that can be employed in this Web 2.0 era of digital self publishing with ease-of-use software tools? Here are five reputation-and-brand protection strategic recommendations for consideration by public relations practitioners, marketing/brand management professionals and social media evangelists.

1.)   Quality Products; Credible Messaging

The keys to success will be the specific relevance of the message, and the effectiveness of the delivery of the message or program in the time and space where the potential customers want to receive it, not where the marketers want to shout it out,” Irene Dickey and William F. Lewis. 

The point being made by academics Dickey and Lewis is the best way to defend a reputation or a brand is to deliver credible messages in a timely and effective way to customers. Doing the right thing at the right time deserves to be rewarded regardless of the unprecedented speed of global communications. Is a good offense the best defense?

Take Zappos.com as an example. The $1 billion online shoe seller has a distinct philosophy of under-promising and over-performing for its customer base. The company’s leadership is constantly exploring way to sustaining the high quality experience it is known for – to deliver “wow” to its customers, suppliers and partners. The targeted result: Positive and consistent word-of-mouth advertising. Said Alfred Lin, Zappos chairman, CFO and COO: “…Word of mouth works a lot faster on the Internet than it does person-to-person because you can just e-mail out a bunch of your friends and say ‘hey I just had this amazing experience.’ That was one of the reasons that we wanted to keep upgrading shipping.”

lin Erik Qualman in his Socialnomics cited a study by the Strategic Planning Institute that 96 percent dissatisfied customers don’t bother to complain, and 63 percent of these silent dissatisfied customers will never buy from the vendor again. Through networked customer feedback, it is much easier for a company to respond and make things right. Douglas Rushkoff offered very simple advice: “Marketers need to learn that the easiest way to sell stuff in the digital age is make good stuff.” 

2.)   Treating Reputations and Brands As Tradable Equities 

“More young people will learn about IBM from Wikipedia in coming years than from IBM itself,” New York Times Columnist Thomas L. Friedman 

Qualman was just as direct as Friedman when he stated that if you maintain a large, well-known brand you can rest assured (or not rest assured) that there are online conversations, pages and applications being constantly developed around a brand. He cited an August 2008 Facebook search for lawn-care equipment provider, “John Deere,” and discovered 500 groups dedicated to John Deere; more than 10,000 users total in the top-10 groups. Chief competitor, Caterpillar, also maintained a page in John Deere’s top-10 listings and one simply called “John Deere Sucks!!!” also made the top-10 list on the social media site. Along with the ascent of interactive social media has been a corresponding decline of consumer trust in brands.

According to advertising agency, Y&R, consumer trust in brands dropped from 52 percent in 1997 (generally agreed upon birth year of Web 2.0) to only 22 percent in 2008. It should also be noted that the worldwide recession began in 2008, but that does not alone explain the 30 percent drop in brand trust.

Canadian author Malcolm Gladwell wrote that Facebook and other social media sites are extremely effective at building networks, which he said “are the opposite, in structure and character, of hierarchies. Unlike hierarchies, with their rules and procedures, networks aren’t controlled by a single central authority. Decisions are made through consensus.”

3.)    24/7/365 Monitoring and Response

“The digital bazaar is a many-to-many conversation among people acting in one or more of their many cultural roles. It is too turbulent to be directed or dominated,” Author and columnist Douglas Rushkoff. 

What is the direct effect of Rushkoff’s assertion about the turbulent seas of social media with its many-to-many discussants in the conversation? For those charged with protecting a reputation and safeguarding a brand, it means that the most carefully laid marketing and public relations plans can be shattered in record time.

It means that just as global equities are traded virtually every day of the year as the sun moves over the Nikkei in Japan, the Hang Sang in Hong Kong, the DAX in Germany to the FTSE in London to then to the NYSE and NASDAQ in New York, the same is true for brands. The sun never sets on global markets and brands; in fact brands are being traded on a 24/7/365 basis in the digital interactive marketplace of public opinion.

Consider the infamous sucker punch by Oregon running back LeGarrette Blount against Boise State’s Bryon Hout immediately following their game in 2009, and captured in all of its intensity by ESPN’s cameras. Today, there are 17,400 search engine optimization (SEO) results on Google for the keystrokes, “LeGarrette Blount sucker punch.”

blountpunch

For the University of Oregon Athletic Department and its carefully crafted image, the damage from Blount’s actions was swiftly demonstrated in cyberspace with an immediate YouTube video, Wikipedia post and literally thousands of comments on Twitter and Facebook. A reputation and brand can come under pressure at any time of day or night, requiring constant vigilance and assigning individuals specifically charged and authorized to respond on behalf of a company, governmental entity, appointed or elected official or an educational institution.

4.)   Fiduciary and Corporate Social Responsibility

“Can companies do well by doing good? Yes – sometimes.” Aneel Karnani.

Publicly traded and privately held companies and by extension the public relations and business development firms that counsel them must worship at the altar of fiduciary responsibility. Karnani in his 2010 Wall Street Journal piece stated the global movement for better corporate governance dictates that executives must seek the best return possible for their investors. He said that managers who sacrifice profit for the common good also are in effect imposing a tax on their shareholders and arbitrarily deciding how that money should be spent. If push comes to shove between fiduciary responsibility and corporate social responsibility, the former will usually prevail…but still there are benefits for society.

Wrote Karnani: “Consider the market for healthier food. Fast-food outlets have profited by expanding their offerings to include salads and other options designed to appeal to health-conscious consumers. Other companies have found new sources of revenue in low-fat, whole-grain and other types of foods that have grown in popularity. Social welfare is improved. Everyone wins.”

Should companies spread this fiduciary responsibility (and by extension improving society) message via social media tools? The risk is being accused of “green washing” or something worse by detractors of the brand. Companies do not have a choice about participating in this on-line discussion. The question is how well they do it.

In particular, publicly traded companies have a fiduciary responsibility to generate the best return for their investors – in many cases their own employees – and why shouldn’t they triumph their activities on behalf of shareholder value? If communities, workers and the environment benefit from healthier foods, less-power hungry devices, more fuel-efficient cars, while at the same time related companies are producing returns for investors, then let there be a race to use social media tools for the gratification of the companies as well as their detractors. Truth should be the defense against “greenwashing” charges. Let the conversation commence.

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5.)   Honesty, Openness and Transparency

Companies don’t have a choice on whether they do social media; they have a choice in how well they do it,” Erik Qualman, Socialnomics, 2009

In the case of social media, someone is always watching YouTube videos, posting JPEGs on Flickr, sending Tweets via Twitter, inviting connections on LinkedIn or friending or unfriending on Facebook. There are frankly millions of netizens and they are always on, around the clock and around the world. And the rate of innovation is accelerating at a pace never seen before in human history. It took 38 years for radio to reach 50 million users;  television 13 years; the Internet, four years; iPod, three years; Facebook added its first 100 million subscribers in just nine months.

Publicly traded and privately held companies, non-profits, governmental entities, educational institutions and appointed and elected representatives live in a fish-bowl world. The rules of the game have changed, and yet there are still rules of engagement. Ghostwriting of executive blogs should to be publicly disclosed. Companies need to focus on quality products, under-promise and over-deliver.

Statements need to be credible and respectful or as John Madden once said: “I will never say in private what I wouldn’t say in public.” The Web 2.0 digital world is demanding accountability, honesty and transparency. If these simple rules are followed the consequences associated with the loss of control should be benign. However, if the conduct is not becoming of a reputation that has been hard-earned and brand equity that has been built, both of these can come tumbling down in just a matter of mouse clicks.

Johannes Gutenberg got into a fight with Gordon Moore … and lost.

Considering that the lifetimes of these two innovators, visionaries, inventors are separated by more than five centuries, Gutenberg’s loss is obviously figurative — but a defeat nonetheless.

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As anyone even remotely familiar with the history of Journalism knows, Gutenberg is regarded as the first European to use moveable type in 1439 and is credited with the invention of the printing press. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johannes_Gutenberg

Conversely, Moore, one of the founders of Intel Corporation (NASDAQ: INTC), is universally hailed in the technology world for “Moore’s Law.” In its simplest form, Moore’s Law states that the number of transistors that can be placed a piece of silicon real estate doubles every 18 months. This “law” has been 100 percent accurate since its inception in 1965 and in some respects has been even conservative. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gordon_Moore

Why are these two luminaries from completely different backgrounds and eras joined at the hip when it comes to a discussion of Journalism? The answer is that Gutenberg represents Journalism’s past and Moore, the industry’s future.

Gutenberg’s printing press led to dawn of modern Journalism and even the anachronistic labeling of the profession, known simply (and most likely, always) as “The Press.” Over time, printing presses enveloped the world, morning and evening papers were produced, delivered to doorsteps by an army of news carriers in dilapidated cars, Sting Ray bicycles or sold at downtown newsstands.

This high-cost (in many cases monopolistic) business model worked for decades and led to the development of some of the most famous mastheads on the planet. Even the Gray Lady each day offers, “All the News That’s Fit to Print.”

What happens when the day inevitably arrives that all the news (or at least the lion’s share) is no longer printed? That’s where Moore’s Law enters the equation.

moore

Moore’s Law essentially says that complexity and functionality increases every year-and-one-half. The tyranny and the serendipity of his theory is that each succeeding generation of devices — let alone breakthrough applications — are better, faster, smaller and consume less power.

As a result, the mainframe computer spelled the end to the IBM Selectric with its novel correcting tape. Mini-computers retired the mainframe. PCs and servers vanquished mini-computers. And the PCs started talking to each via millions of miles of fibre-optic networks or even wirelessly. And now Internet content (e.g. news, information, voice, data, video) is being delivered to tablets, cell phones and digital readers. What is the next Killer App? It’s out there.

Clay Shirky, 46, who teaches New Media at NYU, in his Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable takes issue with the kickers and screamers, trying desperately to cling onto a traditional newspaper business model that no-longer works. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clay_Shirky

“Round and round this goes, with the people committed to saving newspapers demanding to know, ‘If the old model is broken, what will work its place?’ To which the answer is: Nothing. Nothing will work. There is no general model for newspapers to replace the one the Internet just broke.”

Essentially Shirky is saying that those who are refusing to confront the digital facts of life are, “demanding to be lied to. There are fewer and fewer people who can convincingly tell such a lie.”

If you apply Shirky’s commentary to those still clinging to the tried-and-true print journalism business model, you would say they are have already passed denial and are situated somewhere between anger and bargaining with depression and acceptance still to come. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elisabeth_K%C3%BCbler-Ross

Some of the bargainers will even point to Rupert Murdoch’s $5 billion purchase of the Wall Street Journal and Dow Jones news service in 2007 as an example that validates that the old business model lives on. Looking more closely, even this acquisition confirms that digital ones and zeroes are changing Journalism forever. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rupert_Murdoch

murdoch

Murdoch bought the globe’s largest newspaper, the industry’s most valued brand and with it, a record 1-million-plus paid Internet subscribers. He also acquired the publication most closely connected with the 95 million Americans constituting the “Investor Class” (and millions more international investors). The impressive growth in day traders and retail investors largely resulted from the invention of the Internet, the availability of online digital investing tools and the dot.com euphoria. Murdoch bought a brand. He bought an Internet savvy audience. And he tapped into the Investor class. He did not buy a printing press and an antiquated business model.

“Society doesn’t need newspapers,” Shirky concluded. “What we need is Journalism…When we shift our attention from ‘save newspapers’ to ‘save society,’ the imperative changes from ‘preserve the current institutions’ to ‘do whatever works.” And what works today isn’t the same as what used to work.”

So what works today? If you look at Journalism through a supply-and-demand prism, you can safely conclude that the demand for fair, complete and objective information is there and quite possibly has never been greater. The question comes down on one of supply; exactly how will this supply be provided to the public?

One answer comes in the form of 24-7-365 news networks, such as CNN, Fox News, BBC and others that can instantaneously cover any flash point in the world.  There is no such thing as the first edition “going to bed at 11 pm.” Another related response comes in the form of specialized around-the-clock broadcast networks, such as CNBC for global financial news, ESPN for sports, E for the Entertainment business, VH1 for music and the list is almost endless.

Some contended that the golden age of radio ended with the proliferation of television in the 1950s and 1960s. Whatever happened to these social critics? Radio is enjoying a renaissance, particularly when you consider that sociological impact of longer commute patterns and the almost kinship between motorists/public transportation riders and their “drive-time” companions.

The Internet has served as the backdrop for a growing array of bloggers, some of them written by very serious journalists weighing-in conclusively on politics, government, business, sports, entertainment and the environment. Their names are famous within their appointed disciplines such as the Drudge Report, Huffington Post, Daily Kos, RedState, The TMZ, Gizmodo, RealClearPolitics, TechCrunch and the Silicon Valley Watcher.

Social media is still in its infancy as LinkedIn debuted in 2003, Facebook, 2004 and Twitter, 2006. Imitators or pioneers with brand new approaches and business plans will inevitably follow. The net result is that the average citizen has an unprecedented ability to self publish. If you don’t believe this contention, then just ask Dan Rather who “retired” as a result of bloggers and the 2004 Rathergate controversy.

The future of Journalism does not just rely on machines that are either plugged into a wall or are battery-powered handheld devices, albeit the trend toward receiving our content electronically – radio, television, PC, hand-held – grows with every passing day.

Satisfying the insatiable and growing public demand for news and information lies with professionals who in the words of another NYU Professor, Jay Rosen, have the authority to say, “I’m there, you’re not, let me tell you about it.”

The “I’m there” reporter can be stationed next to the flood-lit portico at the White House, against the backdrop of St. Basil’s Cathedral in Red Square, on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, at centre court at Wimbledon or an average citizen holding a video camera as a BART officer is shooting Oscar Grant on New Year’s night at the Fruitvale Station in Oakland, California.Train Station Shooting

As a result of the effects of Moore’s Law, and not Gutenberg’s printing press, we can all be there. Potentially we can all tell the story. Knowledge is power, and we need this power to go about our daily lives and to be better informed and more productive citizens.

Regardless of the business model, the principles outlined by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel in “Elements of Journalism” still apply. The public needs and expects reports that are dependable, verifiable, measurable and transparent. “Journalism is story telling with a purpose.”

Whether that purposeful story is told via an outdated printing press or via social media is really irrelevant, except to those desperately clinging to the old way of doing business. What is more important is fulfilling the public’s need for accurate information, being there and transmitting the news…most likely by means of 21st Century innovation and a new business model.

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