Defining Journalism

Some bloggers are journalists.

And some paid reporters aren’t.

The power to mold the future fo the Republic will be in the hands of the journalists of future generations.The “Who is a Journalist?” debate came back at the end of 2011 when Montana blogger Crystal Cox lost a Federal Case focusing on an Oregon law that protects journalists from having to reveal sources. Cox had been sued for defamation by attorney Kevin Padrick in regards to stories she wrote about the bankruptcy of Obsidian Finance Group LLC. She relied on anonymous sources.

A federal judge ruled that under Oregon law, she did not qualify as a journalist. This of course, sent the journalistic and blogging communities into a tizzy about definitions (until they figured out that Cox was a bit on the edge and, frankly, not much of a journalist at all). This isn’t a new debate, it’s been around since bloggers started writing online.

That’s the wrong debate. Journalism is a profession, it’s a way of thinking. It’s never been clearly defined, but you know it when you see it. Kind of like the classic definition of pornography. Can a blogger be a journalist? Sure, if they are doggedly pursuing truth, working sources, checking facts and, as Pulitzer would say, “shining a light into the darkest corners.”

By the same token, many paid reporters are no more journalists than typists.

Former Ambassador Joe Wilson is on a speaking tour with his wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, talking about what the two of them went through during the debate about going to war in Iraq. I’m not going to rehash the whole story here, but in his talk Wilson made a simple point: journalists didn’t do their jobs.

He points out how journalists wrote a narrative about he and his wife that was fed to them by people in power, while ignoring a much more important story about whey the US was entering a war and why the President put words into the State of the Union address that, on the surface, were simply untrue. The question is why? Why did reporters chase the Wilsons while not doing the harder and more “journalistic” work?

Dan Gillmor makes a similar argument in his wonderful book Mediactive, in which he calls the Washington press corps little more than “stenographers” in their coverage leading up to the invasion of Iraq.

I head a wonderful debate on the subject at Social Media Weekend during a discussion about Occupy Wall Street and Press Credentials. The issue here became pretty simple to understand, but complicated to solve. The NYPD issues press credentials so they can provide the right access to the right people. But not every person working full-time for a journalistic organization has them. Also, they take a while to get (one reporter applied for credentials in October and still hasn’t been “screened.” So when police started to arrest protesters, “journalists” were caught in the roundup. Still, were they journalists or were they participants?

Andrea Courtois over at WBZ TV (@AndreaWBZ on Twitter) told me that she stopped following quite a number of reporters because, she felt, they became too involved in the movement, killing their objectivity.

Then there is Josh Stearns, who tracked journalist arrests during the Occupy movements. Part of his issue was simply defining which of those arrested were, in fact, journalists. Even on the panel itself some people who worked for journalistic organizations like MSNBC or the Daily News went to the site to check things out during off-hours. In other words, they weren’t acting on behalf of their organizations when they started acting like journalists. So, in that moment, what were they?

What does it all mean?

In my opinion the main issue comes  down to the inherent tension between journalism’s “purpose” and its reward structure. Press freedoms are, in many ways, a necessary offshoot of democracy. The populous can’t make intelligent voting decisions unless it has information by which to make those decisions. However, publishing is a business, one that sells advertising and subscriptions. Information has value if people WANT to consume it. Citizen journalists fill some of this gap, but where will we the people get our information on a regular basis? How will we vet what comes in? What information can we trust?

We, as media consumers, prove again and again that we are far more interested in being entertained than informed. We do it every day by clicking on TMZ rather than Global Post. We follow entertainers in striking numbers on Twitter, but leave intelligent, thoughtful people alone.

The fault, dear brutus, is not in the stars, but in ourselves.

Social media is mainstream media

During the recent AFC Championship game (go Pats!), Dr. Pepper ran an ad for its “I’m a…” campaign. At the end of the commercial, the logo was accompanied not by a tag line or web site, but by a Twitter hashtag (#ImA).

In a few short years, Twitter (and other social media outlets) drastically shifted strategy in the world of advertising. Ads, both print and digital, now push consumers to Facebook profiles, Twitter handles, Google+ pages… or even Twitter hashtags! Dr. Pepper wants users to contribute to a discussion that may or may not have anything to do with their brand… but more importantly, continues the story.

Shifting directly to consumers

Dr. Pepper kicked off their campaign with a major investment in a 60-second commercial. However, their consumers will help them build the rest of the campaign through their own words. If they’re smart, the beverage company will:

  • keep a constant eye on the #ImA hashtag in the coming weeks and highlight specific tweets on their other social media outlets,
  • engage with these select tweets and re-introduce their products as free giveaways, and
  • let their customers do the heavy lifting.

In short, that’s content marketing – repurposing content for additional opportunities to engage with consumers.

Social capital

In the end, Dr. Pepper’s advertising/social media/content marketing experiment results in true consumer research. The company learns of their customers’ creativity, drive, and buying potential.

Consumer research goes mainstream.

Is content marketing part of your story?

We’re using the term “content” around HB much more. Creating compelling content is something we’ve always delivered to clients, but we’re digging much deeper into the content universe these days. Content marketing, branded content, brand journalism – you might hear all these terms in your marketing conversations.

Since we’re storytellers at HB, we recognize that individual pieces of content – video, landing page, white paper, print piece, even this blog entry – mean nothing if not delivered within the context of

  • recognition of client marketing and business goals, and
  • an engaging way to use content to reach those goals.

Oh, and the content needs to be creative, repeatable, shareable, interesting and honest.

Mark O’Toole, our new managing director of public relations and content marketing, penned this article for Boston.com, sharing his forecast on content trends for 2012. Mark touches upon the controversial, like who “owns” the content strategy, the rise of curation and the decline of TV, the rejuvenation of print marketing and more. Give it a read.

And let us know your thinking on content marketing. Did Mark miss trends? Hit the nail on the head? What’s working in your organization?

We’d love to know.

Stop. Collaborate and Listen.

The way we collaborate has changed dramatically in recent years, mostly due to innovations in technology. We now have computers, mobile phones, tablets, email, various forms of social media and countless other capabilities that allow us to collaborate with people not only in our immediate surroundings, but around the world.

With social media you can connect with someone you’ve never met, from a place you’ve never visited, almost instantly, something that was unheard of not too long ago.

But has technology only had a positive effect on the way we collaborate? Are we becoming too reliant on technology and losing the physical, human aspect in the way we work together?

We want you to tell us what you think. Two heads are better than one but does technology help enhance this theory? Take this quick survey and share how you collaborate with us.

Just a Number: Measuring Influence is Personal

Mention “Klout” in a social media conversation and you’ll hear groans, frustrations and grumbling.

But all those folks know their Klout score.

I don’t need to rehash how Klout recently changed its algorithm and sent Twitter ablaze with vitriol. You can read a great piece on the impact and find the alternatives here. But what has always been frustrating about Klout is how it tries to apply a number to something rather arbitrary. We’ve trod this ground before, but it came up again today during an online event called “Relevant Influence – Discovering and Engaging with Influencers for Effective Social Marketing” moderated by Chris Selland of Terametric. Mike Maney, who is an incredibly intelligent marketer, pointed out how he does most of his work by hand. He becomes an influencer, he learns the influencers he needs to know and just talks to them. Sure, there are tools out there to help him do that, but sometimes it comes down to something simple.

Like collecting the top influencers on a given topic at a Mexican restaurant at SXSW, pouring Margaritas and having a conversation.

But if you’re looking at a number like a Klout score you need to ask yourself “what are you truly measuring?” Even accepted measurements have flaws. For evidence of that look no further than a great Freakonomics video on Football stats. They point out how seemingly simple metrics like a QB’s passing yards never tell the whole story. The video points out that last season, quarterbacks who threw for 300 or more yards a game went 47-49. When you look at those QBs with 400+ passing games, that record drops to 3-11. (I’d like to note here that Joe Namath was the MVP of Superbowl III without throwing a single touchdown pass. He didn’t throw any passes in the 4th quarter. Yet the Jets still won.)

I like what Klout is attempting to do: trying to provide everyone with a simple way to measure influence. The problem is, it means different things to different people and has a dozen different contexts.

In other words, “influence” isn’t so simple to measure.

Getting inside the problem

Knee MRI

Sometimes you need to go deeper.

This week I had knee surgery. Originally I was diagnosed as needing ACL reconstruction. However, an MRI revealed that the ACL was intact. My surgeon wasn’t sure how things would turn out. He advised that he should wait to make a judgment call once he was inside the knee and could really see what was happening. I agreed.

It’s ironic how closely this matches the work we do on a regular basis. Prospective clients come to us with a problem or a challenge and ask for our help. Too often they ask us to diagnose the problem and prescribe a fix in the form of a proposal… before we truly understand the real problem.

Our point of view is that we must get inside the problem and deeply understand the challenge prior to prescribing a solution. We propose a strategy/planning session, one where we can peel away the layers of business goals, audience, messaging and competition in a well-defined process that reveals the gaps and overlaps and informs recommendations. Getting inside the problem results in better knowledge, deeper understanding and more positive results.

Social Business: Finally Here?

I very much enjoyed today’s “Awareness Exploring Social Media Business Summit,” but not for the reasons I thought I would.

The event was an excellent overview of how far we’ve come. According to Jeremiah Owyang, the opening speaker, 71% of businesses have had some form of social media program in place for more than a year (his slide deck from the program is below).

The event was also an excellent illustration of how far we have yet to go. When I saw the phrase “Social Media Business” I thought there would be more exploration of how social is moving beyond the marketing department. The Altimeter Group itself shared some interesting survey results on social’s expansion into other departments back in June (see below), but the focus of today’s program stayed very much in the marketing department.

Departments where Formalized Customer Facing Efforts Occur

That’s definitely not a bad thing — there is plenty of work left to do when it comes to realizing the full potential of social media marketing. And as a PR guy, I should be happy about where we are. But so much of my success as a PR pro is dependent on the quality and reputation of the company or product I’m promoting — and that can only be helped by involving more than just the marketing department.

Those of you interested in continuing the conversation outside the marketing department should tune in to Tuesday’s Social Product Innovation Summit and SPIKE Awards event, being sponsored by the Social Media Club and Fresh Ground client Kalypso, among others. The free virtual program starts at 11am and runs through 3pm — sign up at http://www.spikesummit.com/, even if you can only make part of the program!

Five Years of Social

What did we do before Facebook? Before Twitter? Before most of what we think of as social media and smart phones and all of today’s connected technologies existed?

Five years ago, much of what we think of today as social media was either in its early days or still stuck on a whiteboard somewhere.

Five years ago, we felt the same pain that we do today. We felt overwhelmed by new media (there were millions of blogs in 2006). Our filters sucked only slightly more than they do today.

Five years ago, I had the honor of being there, at least in a virtual sense, for the first meeting of the Social Media Club, or at least the meeting that started it all. Chris Heuer and Kristie Wells sat down with Todd Defren, Brian Solis, Sally Falkow, Tom Abate, Seth Mazow, Tom Foremski, Mark Nowlan, Jen McClure, Pat Meier-Johnson, Russell JohnsonShannon Clark, Lisa Chung, myself and (also virtually) Jason Baptiste to talk about the changes that social media was bringing.

In November of that same year, a group of about 100 of us teamed up with the Society for New Communications Research and hosted our first Boston meeting of the club. Jen was there, as well as Chris Heuer, and we were joined by a great group of Boston folks, including the following folks who really helped get the word out and share their thoughts: Adam Weiss, Adam Zand, Alison Raymond, Amanda Watlington, Barbara Rudolph, Brian Cavoli, Bryan Person, Chuck Hester, David Meerman Scott, Doug Haslam, Geoff Livingston, Mike Spataro, Paula Slotkin, Scott Monty, Susan Koutalakis, Tom Francoeur, Tony Sapienza and many others who you’ll recognize in the photos below.

In the five years that have transpired since then, so much has happened. There’s a great blog post on some of the milestones, and this great infographic from JESS3:

Social Media Club, The First Five Years

Here are some thoughts from Social Media Club Founder Chris Heuer on our 5th anniversary:

I’ll share my own thoughts on our 5th anniversary at our November 8th “Evolution of Social Business” event at IBM. I hope you’ll join me for that!

Meetings, Greetings, and Tweetings

Meetings and Greetings

Networking events serve to connect people, provide an opportunity for introductions, and act as an environment in which to speak about your business.

And often they conclude without any business leads. Such is the nature of networking events – meet interesting people, engage in conversation, but ultimately struggle to gain traction with prospects. So what’s the point?

Practice

Start thinking of networking events as incredible opportunities to speak eloquently about you and your business. I recently attended several events, including a South Shore Tweet-up, where constant interactions require I succinctly and efficiently share HB’s solutions from the perspective of the client.

Patience

In order to effectively discuss your business, you must practice. Practice in the mirror, to your significant other, to your dog – whatever works best. Over time, networking events will seem less intimidating and more beneficial. Talk about your business well and your conversations become more meaningful.

How are you talking about your business?

Why I'm Negative on Google Plus

I hate to be the one who brings a skunk to Google’s party, but I’m not as bullish on Google Plus as the rest of the world. Yes, it’s interesting and, in some cases, shows a remarkable touch for creating a wonderful user interface. Like others, I’m impressed with how you can put people in (asynchronous) circles. But people are finding even those to be a bit of a chore.

Facebook’s biggest advantage right now is its utility. By utility I don’t mean how I interact with software, but that it allows me to see information about people and companies I care about without much effort. When Amy Winehouse died this past weekend my Facebook feed lit up. Over on Google+ I saw a smattering of reaction, but really people were still talking about Google+.

In Ken Auletta’s New Yorker piece about Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, he notes that Sandberg “would tell people that Facebook was a company driven by instinct and human relationships. The point, implicitly, was that Google was not.”

Related back to Google+, it’s beautiful and it has the social media elite excited by what it offers in terms of both control and design, but the big question is whether it gains the true utility.

Sure, it boasts plenty of users, but the big measure of any social network isn’t the number of people who signed up, it’s the number of times a day people share something. How many “shares” per person does it have? What types of information are likely to be shared? Apparently I’m not the only one noticing this. Apparently visitors are down over on Google+ as is the time on the site. Granted, this is still early and not indicative of much long-term. But it’s still an interesting development for the site.

I sent a few friends invites thinking that with more people close to me I’d see more sharing. One put up one picture and commented how much easier it was than on Facebook. But then when she took a few days off her updates only showed up on Facebook. So for me to find out about her life, that’s where I have to be. So long as that remains true, then my time on Google Plus remains limited as well.

My wife had the best comment of all. After looking at it for a few minutes she said “What do I do with it?” Frankly, after using Facebook and Twitter the answer should have been obvious. It wasn’t. Keep in mind that what attracted her to Facebook was her friends, not just that they were using it, but that they were sharing information she wanted to know. Conversations around her would include “Oh, I saw on Facebook….”

Can this change? Certainly. But it’s not going to be overnight, it will take years. Facebook is in place, unseating it isn’t going to be easy.

Right now my social media diet includes a constantly running Twitter feed and regular checkins on Facebook (for an intermingling of personal information and news). If Google Plus doesn’t build true utility, we’ll end up waving goodbye.