Archive for the ‘newspapers’ Category

Why PR Needs Newspapers

Sunday, January 18th, 2015

newspapersFor nearly 30 years, the Detroit market has served as something of a laboratory for the media business. Because of a joint operating agreement (JOA) that survived a challenge that went all of the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, the two Detroit-based daily newspapers have survived a labor strike, multiple regional and national recessions and profound global changes in customer information consumption habits, while sharing business operations and maintaining editorial operations. Even with shrinking staffs and plunging revenues, the two “papers” (as they’re still called even though their primary focus has tilted toward their online products), still, for the most part, set the agenda for daily news coverage.

A new report by Crain’s Detroit Business reporter Bill Shea provides a potential reality check into the business of the JOA, suggesting that looming ownership changes at both the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News and an opt-out close that could take effect later this year could create more uncertainty about the papers’ futures.

We, in PR, despite the constant consolidation of the past decade, have benefitted greatly from having two daily, regional newspapers with statewide impact in print and often national impact online. As challenging as it is to get stories told in the mainstream media now, it is even tougher in markets with just one “daily” in a current form. Overall, two newspapers leads to better and deeper relationships for professionals who have the ability to develop them.

Other than paying for subscriptions and regularly providing compelling content, I’m not sure what else we can do. But, for all of us in PR in the Detroit area it’s in our best interest that these two outlets to survive and, if it’s possible, thrive for as long as possible. Elsewhere around the country, PR should have the same interest in viable newspapers, along with strong online-only news outlets, TV stations legitimately committed to news and radio stations that will do more than just read headlines.

But it’s about a lot more than just coverage for our clients. The fear of “bad press” can be a motivator for those in power, whether it be in politics, business, education or anywhere else where a case could be made that public trust matters. Sometimes, that fear is what ultimately compels those who would otherwise ignore a situation, or worse, to do the right thing. Without a fraction of that factor or, shudder to think, all of it, having fewer “news holes” would be the least of our challenges on this side of The Business.

“Je Suis Charlie” Fights Terrorism With Words

Sunday, January 11th, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-01-12 at 9.10.58 AMThis week’s terrorist acts in Paris, centered around the French satirical weekly newspaper Charlie Hedbo, have once again underscored how misguided and outrageous acts perpetuated by proponents of radical Islam just really are. While bringing temporary fear, in the end they once again accomplished the very opposite of what they intended – serving instead to unite the world against them and their heinous acts.

Just consider the fallout for Charlie Hedbo.  Nothing can ever bring back those staffers so callously murdered.  Yet, once struggling with a typical circulation of 60,000 issues per run, the January 14th issue of the paper will see a million copies printed and distributed (and no doubt purchased and read worldwide) – thanks in no small part to donations of between $1-$2 million from the likes of the French government and Google’s press innovation fund. This money will also serve to assist with underwriting ongoing operations for the once fledgling media outlet.

Moreover, T-shirts, banners and signs showcasing the message: “Je Suis Charlie” (French for: “I am Charlie”) have gone viral across the globe, with celebrities, including NBA stars, publicly wearing t-shirts to communicate solidarity and support of freedom of speech, religion and thought.

The Charlie Hedbo incident is tragic but far from isolated. In 2005, the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten sparked worldwide controversy and protests when it published 12 editorial cartoons depicting Muhammad.  A plot to firebomb the paper was even uncovered and foiled, yet, several hundred people still lost their lives in demonstrations and other acts of violence across the world. And, more famously, Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses, published back in 1988, instantly saw a bounty placed on the author’s head by the supreme leader of Iran.

Perhaps most importantly, in the wake of such terrorist actions, true Muslims and followers of Islam are speaking out publicly against those who would compromise their religion.  On Time.com this week, NBA Hall of Fame legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar put it well: “I and other Muslims long for…the day when these terrorists praising Mohammad or Allah’s name as they debase their actual teachings are instantly recognized as thugs disguising themselves as Muslims.”  Powerful words and further proof that through it all, the pen and virtue are truly the mightiest of weapons.

Media Maintains Focus on Malaysia Flight Mystery

Sunday, March 16th, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-03-16 at 11.53.44 AMAs investigators move through day nine in the search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, media coverage and speculation contained therein also continues at a feverish pace.  Is it too much? Is it at all inappropriate? Or, is it an important exercise in the quest for the truth and the fate of the 239 passengers on board? I would argue it is all of the above.

CNN and Fox News, in particular have been focusing the majority of their coverage on the mystery virtually around the clock – and it has often been riveting.  With a story that is baffling the aviation and national security agencies, let alone the world, it is difficult for many of us to look away. The theories are numerous and new information is trickling in almost continuously. Like the O.J. trial and 9-11, no one has seen anything like it.  We want to know more; we want to try to understand and solve the for now unsolvable.

Could a Boeing 777 be landed in a remote place?  What could a rapid descent or ascent portend? CNN continues to take us into a flight simulator to give us a glimpse and a sense. Former pilots, ambassadors, security analysts and aviation experts and reporters are all being trotted out to give their take, the New York Times largely among them.  It can make your head spin yet, as one talking head opined: In a case like this sometimes you need to throw a lot of possibilities out there as something is bound to eventually stick.

Yet, in theorizing what’s what, I feel greater caution should be exercised when it comes to pointing a finger at the flight crew, despite the fact that communications systems appear to have been deliberately turned off and evasive action taken. For now, none of us knows for sure what happened and, importantly, whether those initiatives were undertaken under duress.  The apparently liberal modus operandi of one of the crew members when it came to guests in the cockpit and the home flight simulator of another should not be fodder for indictment.

Yet, overall and as always in such a story of international importance and human interest, the national news media is at its finest.  In this case, holding a country to task for not being forthcoming, transparent or expedient in its efforts while continuing to report on what might have happened in order to figure out what ultimately did.

Traditional Media Still Draws A Crowd

Monday, February 10th, 2014

DRC Media Panel

Let’s play Jeopardy. I’ll take Media Myths for $200, Alex.

“Traditional media is dead. Old platforms are irrelevant.”

What are “things a self-proclaimed ‘social media guru’ would say?

Correct.

An event convened by the Detroit Regional Chamber today, which I had the privilege to moderate, proved that what we now call “traditional media” is alive and can still draw a crowd. The advice session on how to effectively get businesses into news stories sold out. WJBK-TV Planning Editor Al Johnson, Detroit Free Press Business Editor Christopher Kirkpatrick and Huffington Post Associate Editor Kate Abbey-Lambertz gave the packed room of businesspeople and communicators practical advice on how their news could turn into actual news.

The crowd is proof that despite profound economic and technological changes, we still trust journalism to provide us with information and we, as businesspeople, still see great value in having journalists tell our stories in credible news outlets. To do that, the panel offered candid advice on what is effective in the current environment. Here are some fundamental takeaways:

-The journalists all said that email is their primary means of evaluating story pitches and they must be “hooked” by the subject line and first line or two of the body of the email.

-An editor often isn’t the best person to approach about a story. Get to know the outlet and who covers what before pitching.

-Package the story in the context of the news – How does it make news? How is it part of a trend?

-”Fluff” in press releases might make bosses happy but it makes the job tougher for reporters and editors, who have to wade through it. Avoid unnecessary adjectives. Stick to the who, what, when, where, why and how of the story.

-Understand the medium – TV stories must be visual, business stories must be about business, web stories must invite clicks.

These media decision-makers understand that PR pitches can lead to compelling, newsworthy content. But everyone must do their jobs for that to happen. And, in PR, part of doing our job is understanding that these outlets still have audiences.

Personal Loss Sheds Light On A Media Loss

Monday, September 9th, 2013

obit_avA week ago, one of my favorite people and great characters and mentors in my life passed away. Rob was my second cousin, although, to make things easier I just referred to him as “my cousin in D.C.” and he referred to me as “my nephew.” Not even his larger-than-life persona could outdo leukemia. While I already miss him terribly, I can go online and look at this – an obituary written by his friend, the legendary writer John Feinstein, in The Washington Post. It is a perfect encapsulation of the man and allowed his story to be widely known in death, even though he never sought publicity in life.

But the only reason why my family can savor and share that public tribute is because my cousin’s story features prominence. I have realized in recent days that while death is a part of life and death is most certainly a part of news, very few individuals have their life stories told via the reach and relative permanence of traditional media anymore.

Across the country, papers and their websites still publish the funeral listings (which represent a revenue stream), but resource cuts at newspapers and the disappearance of many community news outlets mean many fewer obituaries that detail a person’s life and impact. While celebrity deaths gets more trending topics than just about anything on social media, the lives and deaths of people known only in our communities get less attention than ever.

What’s the way to fill this void? One example comes from a funeral home near us, The Ira Kaufman Chapel (full disclosure: the Chapel is a client of ours), installed a fixed camera to capture services and now offers families the opportunity to live stream and post videos of services, to help share their stories to those unable to attend funerals. They expect the idea to catch on for funerals of many faiths in the coming years.

Another opportunity to embrace new media in new ways to, as we often advise clients in the face of traditional media cutbacks, is tell your own stories. One way to honor a loved one’s life and share stories and memories with family, friends and the public, much as a newspaper obituary would have, is to post online video with photos and stories.

But you don’t have to wait until death to tell the stories of those important to you. Just ask many of my colleagues and friends over the years, who have heard of the the wisdom and wit of “my cousin in D.C.” while I shared anecdotes. For them as well as for me, the memories will continue.

Media Relations: The Waiting Is The Hardest Part

Thursday, March 28th, 2013

pinwheelOf all of the lines about the media business I have ripped off over the years, the one that I seem to use the most consistently is “The ‘T’ in TV stands for ‘Today.’” In TV news, for as long as I can remember, if a story doesn’t have a “today” hook and a sense of “now,” it’s probably not going to get covered. “Evergreen” stories are nearly impossible to get covered. Now, it isn’t just TV where that applies.

The significant reduction of traditional media resources and space has caused a wave of changes in the PR business. But one of them is a a change in mindset. We have had to learn how to get used to waiting for even “good stories” to get done and then usually wait some more for them to appear.

A few weeks ago, we got a call from a reporter who had been assigned a business trend story by her editor. She thought one of the organizations we work with could be helpful. We provided information and access right away and she had what she needed relatively quickly, considering it was an enterprise story. Yet, the story took 13 days to appear online and in print.

Three weeks ago today, a TV station interviewed one of our Tanner Friedman clients for a planned “promotable” story. It has yet to go on the air because a glut of “day of” news has gotten in the way. 22 days ago, a business reporter got back to us with some follow-up questions about a possible story. That reporter hasn’t been able to get back to it since.

It’s important to remember when bringing potential news to journalists that “the news of the day” is always going to win. Everything else, even if reporters and editors like the story, is going to have to wait. That can be frustrating, but it is important to remember that it’s the new reality and something you need to condition your clients to expect.

The best way to get coverage now is either to have something that can’t wait, like an announcement that meets news criteria, or to offer an angle to a story that the media is already covering. Otherwise, it is going to require patience for you and your client. That is something we didn’t need as much in this job just a few years ago. Now, it’s an imperative quality.

When A Media Outlet Needs PR

Tuesday, January 8th, 2013

Analyzing PR strategies has long been something of a parlor game inside newsrooms. Reporters and editors often do have keen insight into what’s working and what isn’t. But, when their bosses have to enter an adversity communications management situation, they often struggle.

The latest evidence of this is seen now with the Journal News in suburban Westchester County, New York – the newspaper that ignited a national controversy by publishing the names of registered gun owners in its circulation area. While the information was previously public, controversy reigns about its newsworthiness of it, along with privacy concerns and charges of gun demonization, putting the paper at the top of the list of other news outlets politicians, interest groups and ill-intentioned citizens.

In recent days, we have seen reports that journalists have received suspicious packages containing white power and the newspaper itself, along with the homes of both its publisher and its editor, are being protected with armed security. Personal information has been posted online about where journalists live, some have reportedly received threats and bloggers have reportedly encouraged readers to steal journalists’ credit card information.

From a PR perspective, the paper is reiterating its message, which stands by its story. The reporter who wrote the story that accompanied the map told the New York Times, “The people have as much of a right to know who owns guns in their communities as gun owners have to own weapons.” But, I haven’t found anything else that the paper is doing, like convening discussion about the issues or trying to take control of the dialogue in the community it serves.

There is more to PR than media relations and media outlets need to understand this. I once helped a daily newspaper convene twice-monthly community roundtables, for two years after a divisive strike. That type of tactic would help here, especially with the newspaper business in such peril. Newspapers can’t afford to be passive during a time when business preservation is paramount.

Other forms of media often have trouble when the PR is their own. Years ago, a TV station that grabbed ratings by skewering companies that wouldn’t go on camera with them after ambushes had a news reporter accused of using homophobic and racist slurs to a man on a street while out on a story, leading to a criminal charge. When asked by a print reporter about the incident, the station’s general manager ironically responded, “We have no comment, and it’s a company policy not to comment until the investigation is complete.”

Like any other business, the media business can have PR needs. Top management, like that in any other industry, should seek counsel or, at the very least, stop by the newsroom for advice.

Here’s Who Wins When Newspapers Slash Jobs

Wednesday, June 13th, 2012

This week, we’re seeing new reports of newspapers decimating their ranks of journalists, somehow thinking that that will help with their chances of survival. Newspapers in New Orleans and Alabama laid off half their staffs – hundreds of journalists – this week. At the same time, reports say the already skin-and-bones Detroit Free Press will cut even more. It’s very similar to what we have seen in radio, where big corporate owners have tried (and largely failed) to cut their way to success.

But what if another familiar industry tried this approach? Let’s say you live in a city with one full-service restaurant – a venerable and trusted institution that has served generations excellent food with the highest level of service – alongside four fast-food restaurants, as the only dining establishments in town. Ten years ago, when sit-down dinner business began to fall off because customers preferred quick meals for their busy lives, the restaurant opened a drive-through. To generate interest in the new drive-through, it gave free dinners to anyone who used it.

As revenue began to slip, the family that owned the restaurant sold for cash to a corporation that owned restaurants all over the country. The former owners moved into a mansion in a city far away and the corporate owners began to cut. Ten years later, when there were not enough cooks to keep up with orders, they cut down the menu, offering fewer choices. They cut the wait staff, which for years had focused on personalized service, so there is one server per four tables. As business fell off, corporate owners ordered lesser qualities of meat, replacing USDA Prime, and doubled the price of steaks. Workers felt overworked and underpaid but were just happy to have a job. Meanwhile, the drive-through continued to give away food for free. Business continued to fall and the corporation continued to cut.

In this case, the restaurant is the newspaper. The drive-through is the Web version of the paper. The steak is the paper itself. And fast-food, well that’s broadcast (for the record, I believe there is such as thing as good fast-food). If the restaurant seems like a business nightmare, you get the idea of what’s happening in the media business.

Why would a company reduce the quality of its product, making it less valuable to customers and seem like it has no interest in growing market share? As a wise source once said, “Follow the money.”

Public media company executives don’t get bonused on how many stories their companies break or how many Pulitzers their newsrooms win. They don’t get to keep or lose their jobs because of good or bad journalism. They are like all other public corporations – it’s all about “hitting the numbers.”

While journalists lose their jobs and communities lose their journalists, executives get paid. Case in point, Gannett, which owns more newspapers than any other company. Their CEO received $32 million to leave the company earlier this year.

Without journalists, the executives of today who cash out tomorrow may have no way of knowing when the newspapers they oversaw finally cease to exist.

Appreciating Professional Journalism For What It Is – And Does

Sunday, June 10th, 2012

We are living in extraordinary times. While Dan Gilbert, Pete Karmanos and others in the business community continue to provide investment and momentum for development, commerce, downtown living and increased tax revenue in the city, Detroit’s civic leadership continues to struggle. This morning, the Editorial Page Editors of both dailies, Nolan Finley and Stephen Henderson – addressed the issue head on with necessary candor.

“Swallow your pride — or choke on it,” writes the Detroit Free Press’s Henderson. “That’s what Detroit is down to in its operatic arc of financial tragedy: a final choice between acceptance of reality and suicidal defiance. The city’s elected officials can let their rogue corporation counsel…attempt to undo the consent agreement with the state to better manage Detroit’s finances. Or they can act like grown-ups and accept, with just a modicum of humility, that it is their responsibility to determine Detroit’s fate…”

Opines Finley of the Detroit News: “Somewhere in the city there may be someone capable of running Detroit, but it’s not the bunch occupying City Hall. [Governor] Snyder tried a shared-power arrangement in deference to the city’s pleas to respect local control. Now the governor can see what local control looks like in Detroit. Snyder should appoint an emergency manager and put an end to this train wreck before it takes down the rest of the state.”

Anytime anyone questions the power of the press and importance of the media (including oft-maligned print), I point to columns like this or, similarly, Pulitzer Prize winning pieces that bring public corruption such as Kwame Kilpatrick’s wrongdoings to light. Outstanding journalism cannot be underestimated and should not go unappreciated as it serves as an important seeker of truth and catalyst for positive change.

If You Care About Media Change, Make Time To Watch “Page One”

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012

We started Tanner Friedman five years ago this week, on the cusp of some of the most profound changes the PR and media businesses have ever experienced. Like our friends in the newsrooms, we have lived the changes you have noticed and read about. Sometimes, it seems a shame that we didn’t document it on camera, as history has been made in front of us more than once.

Someone, though, had the foresight to follow the superb journalists who cover media for The New York Times. The people who have chronicled the changes, while working in the epicenter of change, are the primary subjects of a documentary called “Page One.” It premiered last summer in a relatively few theaters but is now airing on The History Channel and is available via Netflix, among other providers.

Since you’re reading this blog, the subject of media change likely at least intrigues you. So, I highly recommend that you watch this film. In addition to featuring an industry, a company and a newsroom in transition, the film also captures a glimpse of the editorial process, something we as PR professionals work with every day. For PR pros who never worked in a newsroom (or haven’t lately), the interaction between reporters, editors and subjects is “must see.”

Much of the film centers on compelling reporters David Carr, whose background as a recovering drug addict and former welfare recipient makes him an ironic figure at the pinnacle of journalism, and Brian Stelter, a former college blogger who moved to the epitome of traditional media to cover media. Both are terrific reporters whose Twitter feeds I regularly depend on to keep up with what’s happening on a daily basis.

One of my pet peeves in working with newspapers (shared by many journalists inside newspapers) is also exposed in the film. Many news decisions are still dictated by “space in the paper,” even though the news organizations themselves are supposed to be following the customer-driven trend to digital content. “Column inches” are still driving factors even though online space works differently and is potentially less limiting.

For your media consumption, Page One should be priority one in the coming weeks. If you have seen it or if you now decide to see it, please share your comments and reaction. It’s a film that makes you think about where this is all going and the value to society of “real” journalism.