Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Do Blogs Have to be Accurate? Some bloggers say it's better to be fast than accurate

A lot of blogs, because they don't have the time, resources, or inclination to do otherwise, publish rumors -- and fast, to get a jump on competing blogs and on mainstream media.

In an article that points out that problem (published by the New York Times, the pinnacle of MSM), Damon Darlin wrote an illuminating article, "Get the Tech Scuttlebutt! (It Might Even Be True.)"

Darlin cites the rumored acquisition talks between Apple and Twitter, which several blogs ran despite a sense that the talks were not taking place. As TechCrunch's Michael Arrington said, "It was interesting, and it didn't hurt anyone to write it."

That casual attitude towards accuracy, Darlin notes, was a component of early 20th century newspapers, known as "yellow journalism" and typified in "Citizen Kane," "The Front Page" and dozens of early movies whose settings included the newspaper. But newspapers eventually realized they needed to be accurate.

Not the case with blogs.

As Arrington told the Times, "Getting it right is expensive. Getting it first is cheap."

Or, as Brian Lam, who built Gizmodo, said, "The only way to compete with a news organiztion with more resources is to fit between the cracks...If we don't do have rumors, what do we have as journalists?" His answer: "You have press releases," which is how he justifies what they do. "So maybe there is some honor in printing rumors," he told Darlin.

For PR functions, this article and quotes are instructive. These are sites that don't honor embargoes (check out Can PR Embargoes Survive in a Web 2.0 World?) and have already said they prefer to post stories quickly rather than fact check them. I understand that, and it makes sense for them. It just means PR people need to be careful when approaching these blogs.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Are Blogs Dead? Some Reasons They're Still Alive

In Dec. 2008, I wrote a post, Are Blogs Dead?, in response to Jason Calcanis' now-famous proclamation that blogging is dead.

I answered that blogs aren't dead, certainly not to be replaced by email, as Calcanis suggsted. And I still believe that's the case.

Brandon Mendelson's Soap Box Included presents "10 Reasons Blogs Are Not Dead" basically providing reasons why blogs will continue and will not be fully replaced by social media.

  • The blog serves as the cornerstone for your campaigns.
  • Your existence on a social network is based entirely on the whim of that network.
  • Your posts on social networks will not be indexed by a search engine or archived years after you have moved on to a new network.
These and the other points are pretty good, and worth discussing. Especially for PR functions who are wondering whether to launch or to continue their blogs.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

10 Signs Your Governor is Having an Affair with a Woman from Argentina

I don't usually do this, but it seemed irresistible. With all due apologies to David Letterman:

10. New cabinet position: Secretary of the Tango.
9. The Governor ends all tough press conferences by singing, "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina."
8. Asks the legislature to repeal law forbidding the Lambada. (Sorry, that's how to tell your governor is having an affair with a Brazilian woman.)
7. Has renamed weekly radio address, "Stand Back, Argentina."
6. Makes fun of governors whose girlfriends come from less exotic places, like New Jersey. (I'm talkin' to you, Spitzer.)
5. New state holiday: May 19, Eva Peron's birthday.
4. Refuses to answer questions about affairs of state.
3. Spends lots of time "hiking on the Appalachian Trial."
2. New official state song: "The Girl from Ipanema."
1. Offered up the rights to his story if Andrew Lloyd Webber would write "Evita 2."

Friday, June 26, 2009

Is Twitter Right for Your Brand?

MediaPost's MarketingDaily has an interesting post, "Is My Brand Right For Twitter?"

There are some good questions along with some brief case studies of organizations doing a good job.

Some key questions include:

  • What's your position, your brand's history? Can you sum it up simply?
  • Who maintains the brand's voice? Does a brand ambassador exist?
  • How well do you know your brand's age demographic?
Worth reading and discussing.

Do you have additional questions to help organizations determine if they should get on Twitter?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

How Many 10 Commandments of Social Media Do You Need?

Recently Carrie Yatman, a PR specialist in San Francisco, asked an interesting question on LinkedIn:

"Would any of these be in your own 10 Commandments of Social Media...or Top 10 Tips List?"

• Fast Company 10 Commandments: http://www.fastcompany.com/blog/lon-safko/ten-commandments-social-media/ten-commandments-social-media/

• Maccabee Group 10 Commandments: http://www.maccabeegroup.com/images/CommandmentsSocialMedia.jpg

• Wordymouth.com Blog: http://wordymouth.com/2009/05/13/the-ten-commandments-of-social-media-engagement/

• Kyle Lacy's Blog: http://kylelacy.com/the-10-commandments-to-understanding-social-media/

Check 'em out. Actually, each of those 10 Commandments offer some valuable guidelines.

40 Commandments seems like a lot, yet they don't cover everything.

Which is a key point: that social media isn't a commodity the way a press release can be. One organization's social media experience will probably be different from the next, due to different needs, different set of audiences, different brand values, etc.

A decade ago, a press release was the standard tool. But because social media is new and evolving quickly and because we don't have a standard set of benchmarks across clients, each organization will need to explore social media, determine what works for them, and then continue to gain experience.

What's also interesting is, as with the real 10 Commandments, organizations have to make a leap of faith to social media before it pays off.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Is PR Evolving? Can it? Thoughts on one key challenge

After I wrote yesterday's post on whether PR is evolving, I came across an article, "PR in Transition" on Caster Blog, which lists 7 points.

The most interesting points, I think, are the ones in which the author, Joe Paone, says we're moving to a project-based model and will need to focus on outcomes, not outputs.

I know some of us have already seen more project work, in part because of budget issues. Yet I know we've also continue to win retainer projects this year, too.

But if this is the new normal, I do think we'll see demand for project work.

And because of scarce budgets and increased pressure on our clients, there is increased pressure on PR to perform, and to go beyond traditional PR goals that include generating leads. So there is absolutely more concern about measurement and outcomes.

The problem though is with social media. Outcomes in a social media world are more difficult to measure than outputs.

For example, I originally posted a slightly different version of this post as a comment to the Caster Blog article. Just as I posted posted comments to other people's blogs this week, so I can easily define my output.

But it's much more difficult pointing to the outcomes. I can't easily measure whether who will click on comments on those other blogs and decide to follow me to this blog after reading my post there or to click on my website after clicking on this blog.

I do have ways to measure click-throughs and comments on Twitter. But a lot of this it output first, and can take as much if not more time to determine outcomes.

That will be an issue we will have to solve.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Is PR Evolving? Can it? What Will it Look Like?

The media landscape is clearing changing. Print newspapers, some in existence more than 150 years, are either closing or shedding their print operations and shifting to online-only.

There are significant implications for journalists and J-schools.

But also for PR agencies and communications functions. We still need to work with print outlets.

But is PR evolving to address the new media reality? I suspect many are not fully embracing the future, based anecdotal evidence (potential clients are all interested in social media, but view it as a nice-to-do, not a must-do).

The question we ask over here is: what does PR look like in three years, and what steps must we take to ensure we're moving ourselves and our clients in the right direction. (We got some validation recently when a client, who had rejected our recommendation two years ago to embrace social media, finally did so, and thanked us for pushing them in that direction.)

What happens to digital agencies that have claimed bloggers and social media but have not worked with traditional soon-to-be online-only media? What happens to traditional agencies that have not focused much on social media? And what happens to internal PR functions and how they allocate resources?

A colleague heard a client say that PR is a dead field. I disagree, though I do think there will be a lot of agencies who can't make the transition from silent flicks to the talkies, to use an analogy current about 80 years ago.

I don't believe that social media is only a customer service channel, and therefore you no longer need PR.

To succeed, functions and agencies alike will need to think about how they can facilitate communications and generate meaningful results and benchmarks.

For a look at how science journalism and PR is evolving, check out this article on the blog, Flack's Revenge.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Dow Jones' Policiies for Twitter

The Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) reported on Dow Jones' corporate policy for Twitter usage, "WSJ Rules For Twittering and Other Online Activities…"

What's interesting is that while its reporters certainly understand Twitter, have been regularly reporting on its business ("Twitter Trips on Its Rapid Growth; Micro-Blogging Site Has 32 Million Users but Hasn't Built Revenue Model or Management"), the cultural implications ("Digits: Oprah Tries Twitter, Crowns Ashton King of It"), as well as Twitter best practices ("Decoder: Who Owns Your Name on Twitter?" & "Laid Off and Looking: Using Twitter for the Job Search") and even featured Twitter founders Biz Stone and Evan Williams at its recent All Things Digital conference, the folks at Dow Jones, the corporate parent of the Wall St. Journal seems to have ignored the content and the lessons about Twitter.

Dow Jones' corporate Twitter policy could be referred to as Dow Jones' corporate Anti-Twitter Policy. Here's how the Columbia Journalism Review summarized what Dow Jones reporters could do:
Twittering about your adorable children is, it seems, out. Ditto opinions. And rudeness. So basically, everything that (all that?) other Twittering reporters do, WSJ folks can not. (Oh, except for promoting/linking to their own stories — as long as they don’t get into how the pieces were “reported, written or edited.”)
I've seen what reporters at other outlets tweet about. I've seen quasi-political posts that would never make it into the print or online versions of the outlets they write for as well as personal (well, not too personal) information about non-work-related trips and thoughts, and that's the point of Twitter.

I certainly understand the need to protect an entity's brand, and think that some Twitter guidelines are appropriate and helpful. But even if you're the Wall St. Journal, limiting tweets to promoting your articles is going to be limiting.

Contrast that mindset with the New York Times, who recently hired Jennifer Preston to serve as the paper's “Social Media Editor.” Here's how an internal memo, cited by CJR and originally posted by The Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University:

She (Preston) will help us get comfortable with the techniques, share best practices and guide us on how to more effectively engage a larger share of the audience on sites like Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, Flickr, Digg, and beyond…

[S]he will work with Craig Whitney and others to ask and answer the many tricky questions that arise in this context: What is the proper balance between personal and professional?

Let's see what kind of impact Preston will have on the Gray Lady's social media presence. As it is, the Times memo notes: "Did you know that The New York Times is No. 2 on the Twitterholic.com Top 100 Twitterholics based on Followers? (Behind Ashton Kutcher but ahead of Ellen DeGeneres.) Don’t care? OK, but the point is that an awful lot of people are finding our work not by coming to our homepage or looking at our newspaper but through alerts and recommendations from their friends and colleagues. So we ought to learn how to reach those people effectively and serve them well."

Interesting point. Back to you, Journal.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

What's More Important: The Quality of Your Posts or Being Social?

Content may be king, and the quality of that content may be important.

But there's a growing sense that quality isn't enough.

That a key is to be out there, online, commenting on other people's blog as much as posting original content to your own blog.

On Twitter, I see a lot of people whose content does not interest me. Many of their posts consist of replies to other people I don't know about people or situations I either don't know or don't care about. Yet some of these people have thousands of followers.

If accumulating huge numbers of followers is your primary goal, the lesson is clear: a lot of the people I'm referring to have huge numbers of followers because they respond to comments the others make, they make it their goal to interact much more with their followers to the point that I wonder how they have time for other parts of their lives (work and personal).

Mack Collier, a social media consultant, trainer and speaker, makes the point about blogs in a recent post on his blog, Viral Garden, The idea that 'content is king' in blogging is total bullshit.

Social media is not just about thought leadership. It's about engaging. You've got to commit to doing both parts of it to succeed. And, as with other aspects of social media, it does take time to build up credibility and traction.

I can see the difference between Twitter and my blog in this regard. I do engage more on Twitter with others -- replying to their tweets, retweeting, etc. -- than I do with my blog. The result: more response, more click-throughs via Twitter.

Mack also says it helped that he found his blogger voice. I think I may have found a voice, but it's a bit more formal than I am in person, and less personal -- another difference compared to my Twitter voice. (Does sound a bit like I have multiple personalities, but apparently I do online.)

I've started commenting more on other people's blogs, too, and I know first-hand that you can spend a lot of time and not necessarily have much in the way of results to point to (as opposed to if I spent the time developing more content for my blog or doing other kinds of outreach on behalf of clients).

I know there are people who will disagree with the concept that quality is less important than being social. One friend has a blog and does not do much engaging at all, and yet still draws lots of readers.

Let me know what you think.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Why Don't Corporate Priorities Reflect the Shift in the Media Landscape?

There are several challenges, namely:

1. Many organizations do not have anyone focused on social media.

2. People within an organization may be using social media but in an unofficial way off the side of their desk, meaning there's no corporate-wide strategy or voice. If that person answers questions on whichever social network but is gone on vacation for a week, there's a gap in response and a loss of momentum.

3. Companies not currently budgeting for social media don't know how much to allocate in terms of employee(s)' time. Asking an employee to spend 2 hrs per week may be a big increase relative to what the firm had been doing, but that's a drop in the ocean. The result: few tangible results over the course of 2 hrs per week, and the organization drops the initiative after a month.

4. The need to establish and meet short-term goals. It's difficult to generate a following or traction quickly on social media. It takes time and patience -- which is a tough sell these days. Whereas placing an ad can be quick and offers understandable metrics.

5. The people in charge of budgets and priorities may not be familiar or comfortable with social media. Most of the quizzes on Facebook seem to be time-wasters so why should an organization get online to find out what TV shows your friends like?

That said, every new client we talk to now asks us about social media, our experience, and the experience of other clients. But many still relegate social networking as a nice to-do, not a must-be done.

Marc Hausman posted an interesting blog on the topic, "Corporate Budgets Must Reflect the Shift in Influence," with some good statistics. I agree with him, but feel that the above items means that PR agencies and internal PR functions will need to make the case for embracing social more compelling.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Why Should Organizations Engage via Social Media? Because that's where the people are

Willie Sutton said he robbed banks because that's where the money is.

For organizations wondering why to get involved in social media, the reason to do so is that that's where the people are.

Fewer of them are watching broadcast TV...certainly on a television set. There are people watching programs via their computer but that seems to be a one-to-one experience as opposed to watching TV sets, where it's more likely that other people will be there, too.

Far fewer of them are reading print newspapers and magazines.

They're listening to radio primarily during drive-time. And in a few years, they won't even be doing that. (The current generation of kids don't listen to the radio. Some estimate that radio's audience will fade away in five years. I don't necessarily agree, but I do see that my own kids never listen to the radio at home -- in fact, we only have two radios at home, and one's in my office, so it's not really convenient for them -- and they don't listen often in the car. It's just not going to develop into habit for them.)

Instead, more people are online, reading newspapers and magazines (mostly for free), listening to music, watching television shows...and interacting with other people via social media.

According to a recent BrandWeek article, "MySpace Suffers as Time on Facebook, Twitter Rises," "Social networking as a whole has been on a roll, according to Nielsen figures. Total time spent on social networking sites increased 81 percent compared to a year earlier."

That's significant.

If you're not part of it, you're missing out.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Is Fear of Failing Keeping Some Organizations From Getting Involved with Social Media?

I think fear of failing is why some organizations and some marketing executives have been hesitant to engage on social media. We've been providing Twitter Lab Training for clients, and have heard a number of times that a senior manager doesn't want the organization to get involved with social media.

Those executives raise reasonable objections -- like the need for ROI, the need to impact the bottom-line, etc.

But at the same time, they don't deny what's happening to traditional media, and that companies need to find new channels to connect to their customers, employees and other stakeholders.

I think some of their concern is that they will fail in the social media world, and that they don't realize that's how they -- and everyone -- is learning what works.

Check out Mack Collier's blog, Viral Garden, "You will fail at social media," which inspired my response. Mack included a video from Sir Ken Robinson speaking at the TED conference, which, as the father of three young children, I thought was quite interesting.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Forbes' Celebrity 100 -- Seems Like 72

The current issue of Forbes features its annual Celebrity 100, billed as "the World's Most Powerful Celebrities."

I didn't see the explanation for the basis of the list in the print edition, but online, in small print, Forbes notes, "Rankings are generated by combining earnings with other metrics: Web mentions on Google press clips compiled by LexisNexis; TV/radio mentions by Factiva; and number of times a celebrity's face appeared on the cover of 25 major consumer magazines."

I can understand the top portion of the list, filled with people with one-name brands like Anginlina, Oprah, Madonna, Beyonce, & Tiger.

That still doesn't explain how a number of people got on the chart, like:

  • Michael Jordan, #18. He's great, I agree. But why is he ahead of LeBron James, #19, when King James is everywhere?
  • Jerry Seinfield, #37. Of course I'm a fan, and I'm impressed he made $8M last year, but not sure he had much "media power" in 2008.
  • Ryan Seacrest, #44. Of course, I'm not fan. I guess I can understand his high ranking because he's everywhere, but that doesn't mean I understand why he's been successful.
  • AC/DC, #47. Really? I know that, given the economy, the wars, etc., it seems like we're on a highway to Hell right now, but why did AC/DC get on the list?
  • Jim Carey, #56. Ok, my boys have reached an age where they probably would appreciate Carey's humor (if I let them watch Ace Ventura), but I haven't seen evidence that he's got media power this year.
  • Wolfgang Puck, #95. Paging the '90s.
  • Penn & Teller, #96. Ok, they made an impressive $73M last year. But I bet whoever was ranked at 101 must be kicking themselves.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Editor & Publisher Asks, "Will Most Newspapers Drop Print Within 10 Years?"

Unfortunately, I think the E&P question, "Will Most Newspapers Drop Print Within 10 Years?" is optimistic in regards to print.

I love print journalism, but I think the shift will happen well ahead of 10 years. The shift has already moved faster this year than I would have predicted last year, and that's not going to slow down.

First: auto industry shock waves have not yet had their full impact. GM & Chrysler are now scaling back their advertising; followed by the thousands of local car dealers that will soon close.

Second: even when the recovery occurs, and things get better, advertising levels for print media will not return to pre-recession levels. This is the new normal.

Unfortunately, that means, I think, a shift taking less time than 10 years.

That said, I agree with some of the other people leaving comments: Some print media will remain because of production values (those that rely on photography), because of brand recognition (Wall St. Journal), etc. I also think online-only newspapers will continue to publish Sunday hardcopy editions as well as special editions to note significant and historic events.

Of course, one problem for online-only media is that it's still an unproven business model for full-scale local market coverage. It has worked for Slate. Worked for local city coverage in New Haven and elsewhere. But the latter examples do not attempt to cover the wide range of news and features that print newspapers currently cover.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Why Can't Even Online Outlets Make Money Online?

The common wisdom is that newspapers need to shed their print operations (printing presses, delivery networks, etc.) because they cost too much at a time when people access news for free on newspapers' websites.

The answer to print media's problems is not necessarily an online-only business model. By shifting to an online-only model, newspapers give up subscription fees and print advertising revenue.

Also, most online-only media are available without paid subscription or other user-generated fees. The prolific New York Times reporter, Brian Stelter, wrote an interesting article last month, "Payoff Over a Web Sensation Is Elusive."

In it, Stelter cites estimates that Susan Boyle and Britain's Got Talent lost about $1.75 million based on 75 million streams of the various clips of Boyle's performances.

The key question for all media is how to generate revenue streams. After all, free is not a sustainable business model, as New York Times media columnist David Carr, has noted.

Claire Cain Miller at the Times has written several articles recently about web advertising: "A Case for Non-Ad Revenue on the Web," "GigaOM Seeks Non-Ad Revenue" & "Ad Revenue on the Web? No Sure Bet."

My bet: in the future, we will start having to pay subscriptions and access fees for a lot of the content we get for free.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Can United's New Hemisphere's Magazine Redesign Take Off?

At a time when publishers are considering/preparing for an inevitable shift to an onlne-only business model, business travel columnist Joe Sharkey at the New York Times reported on changes to United Airline's Hemispheres, its print monthly.

"An In-Flight Magazine Is Given an Upgrade" provides a look at the plight of in-flight magazines, explains why what Hemispheres is doing is interesting, and provides some insight into how the magazine is assembled.

Even as WiFi becomes available on increasing numbers of flights, print can still exist at takeoff and landings, when you're not allowed to use electronic devices.

The strength of print was the theme of another Times article, "Hearst’s Contrarian Strategy Pays Off" by blog favorite Richard Perez-Pena. Hearst's magazines actually don't post all its articles on the web. To get them, you actually have to subscribe or purchase them. They've been successful at that, even being able to raise newsstand costs during a recession without lossing readership.

Monday, June 8, 2009

To ReTweet or Not ReTweet: Interesting debate

I spoke to a group of clients last week about social media. Even though the parent company had urged them to embrace social media, this group was reluctant.

Their question to me: Why should they spend time on social media? How have other clients benefited from being on Twitter?

These are actually reasonable questions. For organizations with small marketing budgets, social media can be effective because there are no fees (currently) to use Twitter for corporate uses. But it does take a lot of time, which can be difficult to justify.

There's an interesting blog post about marketing can do to increase its impact on Twitter. Check out "ReTweets: The next marketing playground" by Steven Hodson.

On the other hand, as Boston Globe's Scott Kirsner has pointed out, Ashton Kutcher, who now has 2 million followers, has a larger group of followers than CNN and other media organizations. What's that mean in terms of impact? How many of those 2 million followers are actively following Kutcher? How can you place a value on that?

Those are questions PR functions have to address.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Once Competitors, Local TV Stations Are Sharing Resources

In the classic screwball movie, "His Girl Friday" or in the more serious versions, "The Front Page," the media was very competitive, willing to break laws to get a scoop over the competition.

These days, the media is joining forces, even as they compete.

Two-newspaper markets often had joint operating agreements (JOAs) that shared back-office expenses.

That mindset is now shifting to local broadcast news. In Boston, the news organizations of WBZ-TV (CBS) and WFXT-TV (Fox) are now pooling resources, including helicopter and news footage. Such sharing of resources already takes place in Philadelphia, Dallas, and Chicago.


Already, WHDH-TV (NBC) and WBZ-TV produce news programs at 10pm for CW & Ch. 38, respectively, using the same news teams, news studio and talent.

The reason: news programs can be expensive to produce, and throughout TV's history, have been produced as a public service, and to appeal to FCC and legislators. Profits were secondary.

Stations can't afford public service without profits.

For more, check out this Boston Globe article, "TV stations share the air in bid to weather economy."

Just don't expect stations to stop sharing resources when the recovery occurs. Because advertising is unlikely to return to pre-recession levels.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

GM's Bankruptcy is Bad News for Media

Detroit's continuing problems, along with government involvement, is going to continue to hurt the media business.

The auto companies are huge advertisers. GM spent $2 billion last year alone, according to TMS Media Intelligence (as cited by the Wall St. Journal).

But it won't reach that level this year.

GM sold Hummer to an obscure China truck manufacturer, and may close or sell other brands, and is shutting down dealerships -- all that will have an impact on national and local media.

Same is true for Chrsyler, which will scale back its ad buy this year.

According to the Wall St. Journal, "GM's Bankruptcy Adds to Pressure on Prices in TV-Ad Bazaar," which put the most interesting aspect of the story -- at least for media junkies -- at the end of the article, the cutbacks in ad buys will result in national networks having to "cut staff and budgets for new and existing TV series. Local stations, which rely heavily on auto ads, have slashed spending on syndicated series, cut staff and, in some cases, filed for bankruptcy.

"Local media, TV stations and newspapers will likely continue to take the brunt of GM's cuts, say people familiar with the matter. But national media will also be hit. Ad executives close to the company say more dollars will be put into digital ads to move unsold inventory, and fewer into big-ticket TV spots for big branding efforts."

This is something we've been telling clients since news of the dealership closings hit.

What this article does not say, but what we've told clients, is that even when the recovery occurs, you can't expect ad spending to return to pre-recession levels. This is the new normal; get used to it. Marketers will spend less on advertising, and try new ways to reach a more fragmented audience.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

New Media Trend: Laid-off Reporters Start Free Online News Site

It's tough out there for reporters. Especially reporters who worked at large local papers that have downsized dramatically. If you like the city -- Denver, Seattle, Newark (yes, Newark) -- you don't have much in the way of options for finding another local paper to work on. (Sure, there's the Denver Post, the Seattle Times, but Newark?)

There's a growing trend of former employees of defunct or downsized papers who gather together and start publishing their own free newspapers online. For example, former Rocky Mountain News reporters have established their own site. A friend in Hyde Park, NY, started a new online site after the paper for which he wrote a regular column ceased publication.

The latest example, courtesy of the New York Times: "Cast Out, but Still Reporting" about former Newark Star-Ledger reporters.

There are a couple of interesting elements about this trend:
  • These are established, experienced reporters -- and they are working for free.
  • They realize that the interest in local news did not go away -- even as business problems plagued their newspapers. In other words, there are structural problems with the old model -- perhaps too much debt taken on, as with the Tribune Co. or GateHouse Media.
  • That said, there are structural problems with these new online sites. Namely no advertising revenue (yet), no subscription fees, and no payroll. Hardly sustainable.
  • These new sites will put pressure on other papers in their markets (Denver Post, Seattle Times), making it less likely those newly single-paper markets will flourish as much as their publishers proclaimed.
The question is: how long can these new efforts last when no one's getting paid.

Meanwhile, as for PR functions, it it important to consider these new outlets, though I don't know how many are offering up business sections vs. local municipal news.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Can You Outsource Local Journalism?

The New Haven Advocate tried, as reported in the New York Times, "Made in India, but Published in New Haven" by Peter Applebome.

The Indian freelancers were paid the same rates that writers of the Advocate, an alternative weekly, get. According to Applebome, the Advocate wasn't the first to experiment this way:
"an online publication in Pasadena, Calif., fired its seven staff members and replaced them with workers from India using Webcams and e-mail at $7.50 per thousand words."

This says something right there about the state of freelance writing as a business in the U.S.

The verdict on the Advocate's experiment? According to Applebome, "Most of it (the writing) was pretty good. Sure there were some clunky sentences and things lost in translation — and it works a lot better for, say, features on music than looking for municipal corruption."

The article concludes with an interesting point: According to Paul Bass, editor of an online nonprofit competitor, New Haven Independent, the outsourcing experiment reminded him "that so much of American journalism these days actually can be done from a desk in Mumbai, and that the threat facing most American newspapers isn’t necessarily outsourcing or even the new frontier of the Internet. It’s dull, stodgy products that have been downsized and bled dry by corporate owners. If what you do can be done, however imperfectly, from Mumbai, he said, then maybe you need to go back to Square One."

Monday, June 1, 2009

Can a New Wamer, Fuzzier Logo Help Business?

I should have recognized the trend. I mean, I noticed that Wal-Mart had changed its logo. But I didn't notice Stop & Shop's new logo -- although, to be fair, I don't know that the signage at my local Stop & Shop has changed. (The Wal-Mart nearest me has not changed its sign yet to reflect its new logo, but I have noticed the change in its ads.)

According to the New York Times, Warmer, Fuzzier: The Refreshed Logo, more than eight national brands have changed their logos lately, and seem to be following the same rules in order to convey a new, down-economy impression: "non-threatening, reassuring, playful, even child-like. Not emblems of distant behemoths, but faces of friends."

Those changes include:
  • Toned-down type
  • Friendly flourishes
  • Happier colors
Check out the article for more details and insights into the changes.

Changing corporate identity is not something to be be done capriciously. New logos often accompany a new corporate name -- we've been involved in several corporate rebranding campaigns that involved new names in addition to the new logo. What's interesting is that only one of the eight companies profiled in the Times article also changed its name (Blackwater to Xe). The rest -- including Walmart (the logo removes the hyphen), Kraft, Cheer, and Stop & Shop -- are decidedly keeping their names.

In addition to the design and production fees, it costs a lot to change a logo: companies need new business cards, letterhead, collateral, signage on and in buildings, redesigned websites and uniforms, etc.

Will changing the logo t solve these companies' issues? Not if the changes the logos represent end with the new design. These companies need to make sure they reflect the "wamer, fuzzier" changes in their customer-facing culture.