Following up on yesterday's post on manipulating the press, this article shows how easy it was for Edward Snowden to move the press in ways beneficial to him... and he isn't a big corporation. Just one guy.
Following up on yesterday's post on manipulating the press, this article shows how easy it was for Edward Snowden to move the press in ways beneficial to him... and he isn't a big corporation. Just one guy.
Interesting story on CNN today on how the "objective" press is manipulated by people with a particular axe to grind. The story reveals how whistleblowers, like Edward Snowden, have sought out journalists that have a reputation for dislking certain political extremes for the purpose of gaining public sympathy for their actions. For Snowden, his use of The Guardian's Glenn Greenwald have paid off handsomely with offers of political asylum from countries like Iceland.
I'm not passing judgement on anyone here, I'm just opening the curtain on the myth of absolute objectivity in the press.
I've been a journalist for several decades now and for most of that time, I've bought into that myth... but since the advent of social media, my belief in that myth has eroded into virtual non-existance. I worked very hard on maintaining objectivity in everything I did in the early years and discovered something uncomfortable. The closer any journalist approached a story with real objectivity, the less likely that journalist would have a career. The more they were able to artfully inject their opinion into a piece, the faster their career rose.
The Guardian, for example, is the only British publication that has a web presence specifically targeted at US news and audiences. It is also an unabashedly liberal publication politically and takes great pleasure in reporting news that is damaging to the US government... no matter who is in charge of it. They make a lot of money doing that and that's specifically why Snowden leaked the information to them. That left the US media scrambling to catch up and take on varying positions on the issue. For example, Fox News has been braying about Obama's involvement in the secret surveillance and MSNBC has been just short of calling for Snowden's head. So far, I have not seen ANY reporting that could be close to being called objective.
This is, however, nothing new. Even the most objective journalists I know have subjective methods for determining what should or should not be covered. One well-known journalist told me years ago that he has stopped taking calls and emails from any PR person that he doesn't already know and has worked with. Another will only accept direct messages from Twitter (and you can't reach him unless he has connected with you. I've also talked with journalists who say that when there are five companies that are involved in a particular technology issue, and all are saying virtually the same thing about the issue, she will only include the input from the largest company of the five, because it's better for the SEO of the publication (not to mention that the largest company is an advertiser).
Speaking of advertising bias, I've had several journalists (all very good and very respected) who have sworn up and down that advertising doesn't affect their reporting, bitch and rail whenever they come back from an interview with a company that never advertises in their publication... or any other. Yes, those journalists, to their credit, still write up the interview, but does anyone actually believe that the coverage is not affected by their anger?
It is not just important, but absolutely necessary for a journalist to be as objective as possible in reporting news... but in today's day and time it rarely happens, nor does anyone really believe it does unless the reporting agrees with their particular position. Then it's absolutely fair and balanced.
How do we move the needle back towards reality? It's not the job of the journalist for the most part. It's the job of the source of the information. Objectivity and truth are the responsibility of everyone today.
Many companies tell us wondrous numbers about how many hits they get on their site, all produced by their amazing SEO program. But when I ask how many of those hits are real people and how many are spiderbots and how many are RSS reads, they have no idea what I'm talking about. All they know is their site gets a lot of traffic. That is not necessarily a good thing
There is a minor skirmish in the media metric world over search engine optimization (SEO), mostly between SEO and content marketing experts (I generally fall in the latter area). Yesterday I found a story in the obviously slanted Content Marketing Institute that actually explained where the lack is.
When you need to sell a bunch of products to a bunch of people. SEO is your number one web tool. You need to reach a lot of people and making it easier for them to find you on the web is a great idea. But if your business is selling a few products and services to a small number of companies, those customers are not going to base their decision on how high up you show on a web search. It's not even likely that those customers will do a search at all unless they are looking specifically for your company. They are going to make the inquiry based on what thought leaders say about you and your business.
That won't be affected by SEO. As the article states, that is all about the content.
Unfortunately, determining if you have thought leadership is hard to measure in web analytics. it can be, but you have to look for it and then you have to optimize your analytics to give you the data. One way is time spend on site and time spent on page. Most tools I've encountered give you that data if you dig but it's not easy to get. And when you do, you generally have to do the calculations yourself.
Most companies I've talked to, though, don't make that effort. In fact, when I do an initial consultation with them, their eyes glass over when I ask how much time to people spend on their site and content. So let me say here, especially if you are thinking about getting one of our free consultations, you might want to have that data available before we get there. It's incredibly important if you are concerned about thought leadership.
If you get a hit from, say, googlebot, that means you got pulled up in a general search for a term. That doesn't mean you actually got a human being to your site. If it comes from a specific URL with 0:00 minutes of time on the site, that means you probably got picked up in an RSS feed, but it doesn't mean it got read. If it shows that the eyeball spent a few seconds, that was a scan-and-go. But if it says they spent a minute or more on the page, that meant they actually spent some time reading or viewing the content. The latter one is the only thing that matters when it comes to thought leadership.
That's what most people don't measure. It is possibly more important for you than SEO.
At Footwasher Media, we spend a lot of time studying that number. It determines what we write about hear in Communications Basics, and at New Tech Press, and on the Footwasher Media corporate site. in many cases, we can trace it back to a specific audience member, or at least the department they are in. for example, we know that someone in the executive suite at Newscorp reads this blog regularly (Hi, Rupert!).
Thought leadership can be measured by the number of Facebook "Likes" or Linkedin connections, or Twitter "follows" but none of those measurements really determine if you are leading thought. The time spent on the content, however, is enormously important. You can determine more about your audience and what they really want, need and value easily.
The problem is that number is infintesimal compared to the number of hits and RSS links, which means your marketing and web teams are going to want to avoid talking about it. It's not as impressive to the undeducated. So that's why I thought it would be a good time to do some education. As I've said before, the value of social media is not whether you reach a lot of people. The value is in reaching the right people.
Here's Google's Matt Cutts on how to increase that time-on stat.
Alex Wolfe, who left UBM Tech a few weeks after Design West in San Jose, has taken a position as director of strategic communications at Oracle. Most bets were on him moving to Intel, but I wasn't really sure that would have been the greatest move for either Wolfe of Intel. The chip company already has several journalistic enterprises underway. There's no word on the details of his new position but I think we'll see Oracle jumping into the corporate journalism world with Alex leading the charg.
This as a very positive move for Oracle and a good one for Alex. He seems to think it's "not so dark" being on the corporate side, according to his comments on his Linkedin page.
Wonder what SAP is thinking?
Wow. I've been getting an earful for several weeks about the changes in B2B media,especially in the embedded, semi and electronics industry. One might think it's Armegeddon.
One PR maven just came out and said that the efforts of companies like Cadence, Intel and Altera to produced independent content is a smoke screen and that they are "clearly" not objective. And yet when I've heard the same thing from others, no one can produce any CLEAR evidence that the content is anything but objective... at least as objective as a human being can be.
Like climate change, humans have had a significant hand in creating the current environment and, like climate change scientists, there are those who say it needs to be reversed and those (like me) who say we need to adapt. Why do I take that position? Because no one knows how to reverse it.
Let me be very clear, here: unless advertisers decide to quadruple their ad buys, like, tomorrow, nothing is going to go back to the way it was. Why quadruple? Because that's how much the advertising budgets have been cut since 1999. To make up for that loss, media companies have had to identify new forms of revenue. Sometimes it's in the form of selling placement of news releases in a box on the online page. Sometimes it's in the form of selling space for "contributed" articles. Sometimes it's in events. Sometimes it's in custom content.
And here's the thing: Marcom and PR folks are MORE than willing to promote companies that way. They are NOT willing, however, to quit working for companies that prefer NOT to by ad space.
Make no mistake, display advertising is what made journalism, PR and marcom effective for several decades. But when it became possible to get news releases distributed "for free" on the internet and media companies started accepting brochures in the form of "contributed articles" in pay-for-play programs, the effectiveness of it all became questionable.
So we are faced with two possibilities: either force corporations to start advertising again and let other people be concerned about ethics, or learn how to adapt to the current environment that REQUIRES individual commitment to ethics.
This post is likely to piss off a lot of people, but here goes.
The discussion regarding credibility and ethics related to sponsored-content as been civil and illuminating, and has generally reaffirmed my belief that there are now many forms of valid B2B communication, even if one believes one is morally superior to all others. The one uncomfortable part of the discussion has been the veiled accusations of moral failure for certain individuals and organizations.
So last night I did a quick content snapshot of several publications. On one side I looked at sponsored-content sites, including New Tech Press in that category. On the other side I looked at three sites that identify themselves as independent journalism. This is what I found.
On the independent sites, there were 40 to 50 pieces of content. On one site, eight pieces were original and the other 42 were press releases, articles paid for by sponsors, and ads. On the second site there were five rewritten press releases, a video interview of an executive from an advertising company, 20 verbatim press releases, seven ads and two pieces of original reporting. On the third site there were 8 ads, 15 pieces of original content feature representatives of site advertisers, and 10 verbatim press releases, and three pieces of original content not featuring advertisers.
Over on the sponsored sites, all content was original, New Tech Press had three pieces that mentioned sponsors, but were primarily about applications that included several companies' technologies, and 10 non-sponsored pieces. Spark and Intel Free Press, on the other hand, did not mention the sponsoring companies in the content at all, except to point out that the content had been subsidized. There were no ads, press releases (rewritten or verbatim), no contributed opinion pieces from corporations. Moreover, the links in the text directed readers away from the sites 9 times out of 10, and always to other independent sources.
What can we assume from this? Does true journalistic independence mean that multiple sponsors pay the freight in exchange for 80 percent of the real estate on the site... or is it based on personal intent?
The wall has disappeared
The argument that a medium is independent, ethical and credible simply because it accepts advertising from multiple sources does not hold water. The esteemed "wall" between advertising and editorial in the B2B world was obliterated decades ago when publications started accepting contributed articles. Every time a journalist sits down with an advertiser to discuss his latest product announcement, and then writes a story about it, the wall does not exist. Every time a journalist picks up a print edition a thumbs through it... and sees who is advertising... the wall does not exist.
A medium is independent because the people operating it have decided to be independent and ethical. Only they know the real truth. In the end, it is up to the medium's audience to decide what is credible. If the journalist is intentionally acting independently, or is acting in collusion with the corporation to delude customers, the audience will figure it out.
Not to get religious on you, but this guy named Jesus said it this way: Don't condemn the intentions of others, unless you want to be condemned as well.
Wow. The past few weeks have been pretty intense as I complete a white paper on Media in the 21st Century (gotta get it done because lots of people are aksing for it.) But in the past week, the conversation, from my audio interview with Kevin Morris of EE Journal has started to get a little heated. It sort of reminds me of a scene from the movie "The Man Who Would Be King." As Michael Caine and Sean Connery are recruiting followers, every tribe has the same thing to say about the tribe that harrasses them. ""We don't like the people who live upstream; they keep pissing down the river on us."
Nobody likes their closest competitor and it seems to be required that you blame them for serious moral turpitude. Only the guy on top has the requirement to be magnanimous.
I'm not really a competitive guy. I have a basic moral code that makes me try to see the good in everyone and everything. Most of the time it works (except in politics and soccer) and in the world of media evolution it is mandatory. Footwasher Media has taken a middle ground, which make people on both sides uneasy and sometimes angry. I was right with one side for a long time. In fact, I kinda blazed the trail to it back in 2001 demanding that everyone see that it was about to fall apart. Some of the people who don't like what we are saying and doing now were the same ones who said I was delusional more than a decade ago.
But I do understand the need to be competitive. The pie has gotten much smaller in traditional media than it was at the turn of the century and conventional business wisdom requires that you establish a moral high ground for yourself over the rest of the field that is still offering much the same thing you are. It's called differentiation.
But it's all so tiring because there will always be someone pissing into the river upstream from you. Sometimes you just have to dig a well.
This blog actually began in 1995 as the State of the Media Annual Report to our clients in 1995. In 2000 as media started to contract and editorial staffs were cut, it came out twice a year, than quarterly. Then we started this blog, Communications Basics to make distribution easier and to expand into discussions about how corporate communications was changing best practices.
In 2013 we are seeing a solidifying of the media industry around several disparate niches and have discovered how media will work for the foreseeable future. We are in the process of compiling our observations into a white paper on the State of the Media in the 21st Century. The focus is primarily on the electronics and embedded software industry that we have served for many years, but the concepts are applicable in multiple industries.
But instead of giving it away as we have in the past we are asking for something in return. We want to talk to the people who are in a position to make the changes needed to succeed. If you are that kind of person, fill out the form on this page and, after we evaluate what you say about yourself, we’ll send it to you at no charge, with the understanding that we may be contacting you about doing business together.
If you don’t want to go through the evaluation, or if you don’t qualify we offer two options: Either pay a fee for the report, or give us the contact information of someone in your organization who does qualify. We will send it to them and they can share it with you. Sound fair?
You can sign up at our website or fill out the form right here.
Got a call from Rich Nass, brand director of Design News, about an important distinction within the UBM family. Design News and it's associated conferences are not part of UBM Tech. Rich works in the division know as UBM Canon, which was originally made up of the print properties that had been purchased a few years ago from Canon Communications, which had acquired the properties from Reed Elsevier, which previously belonged to.... Well, you get the idea, and yes it is hard to keep up with it all.
Anywho... UBM Canon is not out of the print game. Design News is still very much a print AND online enterprise with a healthy circulation (145,000) and online reach of over 300,000 and a boatload of conferences all dedicated to horizontal design industries including manufacturing, medical devices, packaging, pharma, etc.
Like UBM Tech, UBM Canon considers itself a "community" driven by the input of it's audience. Rich says 75 percent of the content in Design News print and online is written by the readers. The remaining 25 percent is produced by the 10-person editorial staff. Also like UBMl, that staff "doesn't sweat over a story for two months to produce a 3,000 word article," but instead cranks out a series of much smaller articles every day for online and print publication.
So other than the print property, UBM Tech and UBM Canon are much the same philosophically.
Now do you think you have a clear idea what UBM is all about? Neither do I. I think I've got these two heads of the Hydra under control. We'll see.
My posts on the changes at UBM Tech have been the most popular on this blog since I started it. Lots of people have weighed in on whether it is good or bad (most say bad) but I've tried to remain neutral. I'm maintaining that neutrality, especially after talking to UBM Tech CEO Paul Miller last week.
Miller has said to me several times in the past couple of years that UBM is a marketing company, not a media company. In last week's chat he took it to another level. "UBM Tech is, effectively, out of the magazine business. We are now running online communities."
There have been several comments from people still in the media business expressing doubt that UBM properties can be considered ethical, reliable, trustworthy "real journalism," etc. But the answer to all of those concerns is... it's not a media company anymore. Trying to measure the UBM business model against traditional journalism is like determining distance with a measuring cup.
A few weeks ago, Joe Basques wrote that companies need to change their perspective to understand their market. I submit that everyone looking at the new UBM model needs to change their perspective as well. Paul Miller said, in essence that UBM was giving up the journalism field of competition to Hearst, Extension Media, EE Journal and all the others, not because they didn't think it was a good business to be in, but that it had become such a small part of the UBM business that it mattered less than the direction their communities were going did.
Paul even wished all his former competitors well and considered them a valued part of the information ecosystem that engineers needed. But they are no longer what UBM considers competition. Who are they competing against? Their old foes Reed Elsevier for one, who abandoned the journalism business for the event business as well a few years ago. What UBM has that Reed doesn't however, is the online communities.
Another competitor you might consider is Google itself. And here's why.
Google recently changed it's search algorithm to diminish keyword (the core of SEO practices) and focus on engagement: what people are reading, what people are commenting on and what people are sharing. That means they are actively boosting what the users are interested in. That is, essentially, the UBM model now. What was known as the editorial staff are now community managers and brand managers whose primary job is curation. Armed with a powerful new technology these managers can look at what content provider and content is getting the most play and their job is to feature that content in the community. The managers will develop content, but that's not their primary job. Readers who actively comment and make valuable input will be invited to become regular contributors. Sometimes that will be paid, more often it will not. The readers will make the ultimate decision as to what rises to the top of the medium, not journalists.
This is significantly different than what we know as traditional journalism. It may fail spectactularly or it will succeed spectacularly. Whatever you may think of it, Miller and UBM are taking a massive but calculated gamble. "We're pretty positive about how this will turn out, but it is admittedly very different. However, when you look at traditional media, the odds for success are not very good. We wish all who remain the best of luck, but something different has to be done. We think this is one way to do it right."
I am currently working on a white paper that looks at the current state of the media in the 21st centur. It will be available in a few weeks, but we aren't giving it away free this time. If you want it, we need to know if you are the right person to get it, or if you can get it to the right person, If you aren't one of those, get your credit card out. This one is too good to give away.