Category Archives: newspaper

a look at the state of the newspaper industry

Huge Shift in PR Speed, Responsibility & Accountability

In the previous post, I outlined our strategy for the president’s announcement about possible changes on campus.

Shortly after our announcement, a faculty member friend expressed concern about announcing the news on social media, feeling that the news was detrimental to the university.  She appreciated the administration’s transparency but felt we should be more cautious in what we “share with the outside world.”

Her concern is  legitimate.  In the mad rush of last minute rewrites to hit a 10 a.m. deadline we inadvertently posted the president’s letter to the campus community on our News site  instead of  the news release.  But the release exactly reflected the letter.  The information was the same.  But there was, to some,  the perception of sharing inside information.

I told my colleague  that in today’s  social media driven world, as soon as someone says something, whether it’s true or false,  it becomes public. People share and comment on it, spreading it whether it’s true or false.

As a PR department, we do have a need to be truthful, accountable and swift.

So it’s crucial to get the the institutional announcement out as quickly as possible.  In doing this, we own the news on this matter; we are the originators.

This was reinforced  when a reporter with a local daily tweeted our news with a link to our announcement.   The reporter had to do no work at all.  This is an ongoing, major  shift in journalism.

Gone is the the buffer of “according to PR spokesperson. . . .”  The reporter simply links our story — the source.

We are no longer PR Departments .  We are multimedia production agencies, creating news stories and distributing them to the understaffed journalism profession quickly and truthfully.

This is a huge responsibility.

More on this in the next post.

If you missed my previous post, check it out to see how we successfully minimized the sting of our announcement about possible campus changes.

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Penn State, PR, Media & Chaos

I’ve been following the Penn State story with the same sorts of feelings nearly every other human being has had. But from a professional’s point of view I’ve concluded that both the public relations and news professions have failed miserably.
I have known the Penn State university relations VP for decades. He is the consummate PR professional, as are his staff members. So I have to assume that the PR staff was told to sit on the sidelines during unfolding debacle.
Why do I think that? Because no PR professional would have let his or her college president meet the media and support, by name, two employees who would surrender to police the next day.

I’ve been in crisis PR situations on a much smaller scale. In every crisis situation, the prevailing force is chaos. The president relies on the PR staff for guidance and knowledge of how the media works. It is a time when cool heads, logic, and especially truth as far as it is known, is needed.

I doubt if a PR person would have waited until the last minute to cancel Paterno’s weekly press conference. By now there were reporters on hand from around the world. A university spokesperson should have stepped in and held the conference because when there is a void, someone will fill it. And when someone else fills the void, it’s probably with content you’d rather not see.

The story would not have turned out any differently, but PR professionals would have helped set a tone of civility and helped the media as much as possible to smooth out chaos’ rough edges.

The media were allowed to run wild, and the media today are, in good part, a batch of barbarians sniffing for blood and egging each other and the public into an unholy frenzy when the bleeder is found.

Granted this is the perfect storm of scandals with:

– an alleged crime so heinous most of us cannot imagine it;

-an American icon;

-football, which is as much about self-identification and emotion as it is about tactical ways to move a ball to and fro.

Sit enough monkeys down with computers and they’ll eventually get a good take on Shakespeare. Our monkeys are thousands of bloggers with opinions, some sincere, some just hit mongers. We have news analysts screaming empty-headed opinions and unchecked “facts” because they have to fill time and race in the ratings.

We have news sites like Huffington Post coloring our view before we even read the story with headline words like “Legendary Football Coach FIRED Among Horrific Scandal!” and “HORROR: Ex-Assistant Rumored to have “Pimped Out” Young Boys.” They’re spinning stories out of rumors.

Facts were allowed to be muddled. Chaos reigns. The victims, for God’s sake, have been smothered in the dust of the stampede for the Next Big Thing.

I know there’s a lot more going on behind the scenes that we’ll probably ever know. But I also know that there was no visible PR staff to act as a conduit between university and media.

And the media, for the most part, have acted like undisciplined, irresponsible, screaming children.

Facebook Whining Gets Prof Grounded

A post with three  observations.

Gloria Gadsden, a sociology professor at East Stroudsburg University decided to vent her frustrations with some students on her Facebook.  At one point she asked:  “Does anyone know where to find a very discreet hitman? Yes, it’s been that kind of day …” Another post:  “had a good day today, DIDN’T want to kill even one student. Now Friday was a different story.” (Full article)

Most of us know there is no privacy on the Web.  Whispers  amplify into roars.  Secrets evaporate upon “send” contact.   A closed circle leaks like a broken dam.

Of course the statements got back to the kids targeted.   ESU investigated and put Gadsden on paid administrative leave.   The story  made the rounds on the Web and wound up in the national media, including USA Today.

Observation one:  No secrets on Web.

Observation two: Don’t believe everything you read, even in the respected traditional national media.

Why?

Because the Chronicle of Higher Education also ran a story on the incident, but it exposed a few more complications.  First, the professor is black and had written a piece for the Chronicle last year that she said proved to be controversial.  She felt this influenced the university’s action.

The USA Today piece didn’t include this information even though the Chronicle article came out before the USA Today story.  Did they intentionally leave it out?  Did they not do even the most cursory research?

Observation three:  Blog High Ed’s own Brad Ward of BlueFuego was quoted in the USA Today article.  Congratulations, Brad!

Finally,  I have a suggestion.  Every post-graduate program should create a  course that’s been needed in higher education for centuries.    It must to be a requirement so that when people earn their PhD they’ve at least been exposed to three credits worth of Common Sense.

More thoughts later.

Timeless PR Advice From Media Guru Dick Jones

Note:  Dick Jones is one of the most experienced experts in the higher ed communication world.  He’s also a friend and colleague who’s helped Mansfield University land stories and features in everything from The Chronicle of Higher Ed, The New York Times and USA Today to numerous AP stories and a couple prime spots on NPR. So when he sends a missive to his clients, I pay attention.  I also asked him if I could use his letter as a guest blog post.

Here it is.

It’s time to oversimplify; to be glib and shallow. Why, after all, should I be different from anyone else? In national media relations for colleges there are five over-simplistic formulae that guide our work. These are:

Results: good.

Process: bad.

Advice: good.

Qualitative judgments: bad.

Events: maybe, but probably not.

The news media like stories with results. A study published in a journal qualifies. So does a new book, if you discuss the substance of the book and not just the fact that there is a new book. Numbers help. Admission applications are up by X. Deposits are up by Y.

The news media usually yawn at process. The faculty is debating a new core curriculum? Wake me when it’s over. A task force has been appointed? Call me when they have a report. We’ve received an NSF grant. Remind me about it when you’ve completed the research.

The news media like advice from experts. And all faculty and staff are experts in their fields. If they aren’t, why do you allow them to teach and serve students who are paying for the privilege? Take every opportunity to make your institution advice giver to the world.

The news media aren’t interested in qualitative judgments. Your college has a better freshman year experience than your competitors? Maybe so, but your competitors claim otherwise. And the news media have neither the time nor the inclination to dig deeply enough to settle the question. Now if you are the biggest, the smallest, the oldest, the newest—something that can be quantified—that’s different. (Tip: use advice stories to advance qualitative claims. “Here are four things students and parents should look for in a good freshman experience program, says Dean of Students Joe Blow.”)

The news media are less interested in covering or publicizing events than you think. This was always true. Now that there are fewer people in newsrooms it is even truer. Getting coverage for (positive) news events is no slam dunk even if the president and the deans think otherwise. Under exceptions see “football teams—undefeated.”

Armed with these concepts you are now ready to go into any meeting with faculty and administrators and quickly make yourself persona non grata when you spout them. I’m just kidding. Sort of.

Postscript: Social media is maturing quickly and these rules apply to these media as well.

Putting The Public Back in Public Relations: Part 2

I enter part two of the review of Putting the Public Back in Public Relations reminding you that I think the book  is  valuable.

Putting the Public neatly summarizes the demise of the traditional media and the rise of the social media and PR 2.0.

It’s  ironic that the authors understand and capture  well the new media and the need to communicate ideas  in a quick, concise, clear way that’s tailored to our particular audience, and it takes them 300 pages to do it.

-A 300-page novel is not outmoded.

-A 300 page book on social media is.  With more thought and a good editor it could have been at least 50 fewer pages.

-As soon as it’s published, any references to Robert Scoble’s posts, or Chris Anderson’s blacklist is not news.  In the PR 2.0 world, this stuff is ancient history.

Granted, the  book is both a guidebook and history. But 300 pages is still too long.

The authors repeat things over and over.  I’m sure they’re doing it to drive home their points.  But I, like others, am reading this book because I already read the leading blogs,  listen to podcasts (which is where I heard an interview with them, leading me to buy the book), engage in Twitter, read AdAge and Wired and and follow Scoble.

In the larger picture, these are niggling complaints.  The authors have done a service to a profession in profound evolution, providing a pioneering work that’s  a textbook for the future of PR.

As the authors point out, we’re in the time of a huge transition.  PR is in an era of telling stories and being a part of a community that we understand and contribute to.

With each chapter I found myself grabbing a pencil to mark passages where Brian and Deirdre offer up insight, truth and a clearer way into PR’s future.

Just as importantly, I’ve subscribed to their blogs and sites to keep up with the conversation that they initiated.

Newspaper Ad Resurgence? Not Likely.

An article in Ad Age says Newspaper Ad Revenue to Recover is yet another article that gave me hope from the headline.

Then I got depressed.  Then angry.
The article starts out, “Sorry, haters of traditional media: Newspapers’ slide is going to end.”
Sorry, Nat Ives, cheap lead.

I don’t hate traditional media. I began my career with the Star Gazette  back in the late 60s  when reporters had strove hard for objectivity in lean, accurate writing.

The Ad Age article looks at a Borrell Associates forecast that says ad revenues will be up 2.4% next year and up to more than 8% by 2014.  In his blog, Gordon Borrell goes into detail and hedges a bit on this forecast.

I buy the hedge.

Newspaper are desperately needed, along with magazines such as The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Wired, and others.  Listen to just a few episodes of Fresh Air, Terry Gross and Dave Davies rely heavily on reporters from The New Yorker, New York Times, Washington Post and a handful of others.
But to say that ad revenues are going to increase and people are going to start buying newspaper is wishful thinking.  Just keep clicking those ruby slippers.
Massive communication revolution = print  free fall.

Our local paper, The Star Gazette, was the first Gannett Newspaper. Today it’s a skeleton, its muscles ripped away by the corporation.
The folks at the top (print, radio, TV) saw the rise of the Internet and either ignored it, didn’t understand it, or did not find the right way to generate revenue.
They never dreamed  that people would actually choose other ways to get their news and entertainment.

Look, corporations, greater numbers of people are not  reading newspapers. Don’t tell me you’re going to have a smaller, educated audience. That continues to smack of elitism, self-aggrandizement, and, frankly delusion.
I want to say that no one under the age of 40 reads newspapers, but you know what? Fewer and fewer people under the age of 50 are reading newspapers.
Habits are formed in our first 18 years. If teens are not reading newspapers now, they are never going to.
I do see hope for well run local weeklies.  They’ve maintained a sense of community.  They’re the place where you can find wedding announcements, little league pictures and articles about local events and concerns.  Local businesses continue to advertise.

Why do I rant?  Because I’m very divided.  I grew up with newspapers and depended on them.  Now, as a PR person of 30+ years I need to know where my marketing, advertising and PR are most effective.

It’s not in print.

More in the next post.

Three Decades, Nothing Changes

During my time at Mansfield University, I’ve served under five presidents and my department has been relocated four times.  With the most recent  move  to North Hall, our campus’  “Old Main” I decided to go through all my files and collected stuff.

Nearly three decades of stuff.

The first thing I discovered is that there was a lot of things I didn’t need.  I threw out about two-thirds of my holdings.

The second, and most important discovery:  nothing changes.

I didn’t read everything, but I did go through selected memos, minutes and discussions that began for me in 1980.

The first president I served under was controversial.  She was brought in to reduce the number of faculty.  She did it in a blunt way, not consistent with the smooth, sometimes hypocritical way of higher ed or any top management.

When she got the job done, with pressure from the faculty union, she took another job.  (Read fired.)

I won’t go through all the administrations.  What struck me was memos back and forth between me and my superiors about budgets, staffing, needing more help and money to do the job they were asking me to do.

There are memos of me defending the public relations department.  There are missives from me explaining that the results of PR cannot be bean counter quantified. (No one used the term ROI in 1985).

There are battles with a supervisor looking for ways to pressure me to leave.

There are also letters thanking me for the great job our department did publicizing their event.

I did not find one note congratulating us on getting our university into the Chronicle of Higher Education, The New York Times, USA Today, the dozens of Associated Press articles.

I did find notes that said we weren’t getting enough publicity for MU.

I found letters that said we were not touting our department’s accomplishments enough.  I found about the same number that said I was a publicity hog for our department and myself.

From every decade I found memos that said we were in a budget crisis and would have to find ways to do more with less, to work more efficiently and effectively . . . . .

I found, and continue to get, memos declaring that we have to be more accountable.

I found five year presidential reports on how we’re going to move bravely into the future.  Nowhere did I find a document showing that we accomplished all that we said we were going to do, except the Middle States Report.

Here’s the bottom line:  The only thing that changed in three decades was the method of communication . Fifteen years worth of communications were done on typewriters and mimeograph machines.  The last 15 were done on computers.

The human element–the hopes, dreams, successes, failures, the occasional lies, the infighting, rare  congratulations, the bullying, stalling, the forging ahead or the  fight for status quo — indeed, the human nature that hasn’t changed since Socrates, lay before me in tired piles of dusty files.

Technology changes.

Human nature does not.

My conclusion?  Do the best you can each day.  Push for what you believe in.  You’ll win some and lose some. At the end of the day the mark you leave will be forgotten but it will have helped the institution and contributed to your own intellectual and spiritual growth.

My new perspective was, in the end, liberating.