Saul Hansell on AOL's Fresh Ground #1

Saul HansellWelcome to the inaugural episode of the Fresh Ground Podcast. Each week, we feature 10 minutes of insights from people driving change in today’s competitive business and media landscape. We talk about the evolving worlds of media, public relations, marketing and business, with a special focus on creating more social organizations.

For our first episode, Chuck Tanowitz, principal at Fresh Ground Communications, talks with Saul Hansell. Saul is one of 74 people who recently accepted buyouts from The New York Times — and who, along with Jennifer 8. Lee, is one of the biggest names on the list. In addition to his work covering technology and telecommunications at the paper, he also started the Bits blog and was one of the more regular contributors there. In all he spent more than 17 years at the times, 12 of those covering AOL, the company that he now calls his employer.

Saul and Chuck talk about media relations, the future of The New York Times and AOL, transparency, scaling content and the new role of journalism.

Some of the more interesting excerpts from Saul:

“AOL is just as much a journalistic organization as The New York Times, as Bloomberg, as NBC News, as all kinds of organizations new and old.”

“In my experience as a journalist, [the relationship between companies and their PR agencies] is a deeply dysfunctional … relationship that … never served either the client or the agency…”

The New York Times has a bunch of people doing great work and will continue for centuries to come…”

“I think all that kinds of media — big and small — give you voices to understand, and I think that one of the things that everybody is trying to figure out is [to] make sure that when you’re reading something, you know where the person is coming from.”

“AOL has a brand that needs to mean something, and it needs to mean trust if they’re going to be in the content business…”

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Our opening music is “D.I.Y.” by A Band Called Quinn from the album “Sun Moon Stars” and is available from Music Alley, the Podsafe Music Network.


Yesterday, AOL previewed its new identity to fairly mixed reviews. There’s plenty of conversation about the new logotype, which you can find simply by typing “AOL” in your favorite search engine. What I’m most curious is their resistance to adopting social media technology in their communications.

AOL's News Release

A Link-Free Press Release

As a member of the IABC working committee on the subject, I’ve been my own worst critic when it comes to the social media news release. It took an impassioned, patient conversation with Shel Holtz (that’s @shel for the record) to finally win me over. So I minght be the last guys you expect to criticize anyone for not adopting it. But the announcement of a new logo seems a perfect opportunity to try out a few extra bells and whistles with your news release, something AOL failed to do. If you have a look at the press release announcing the new design, the one thing obviously missing is the actual design, or even a link to the design. In fact, there are no graphics or even links to the new graphics in the press release at all.  In fact, there are no hyperlinks in the release at all, unless you count the automatically hyperlinked email addresses. I guess we’re just supposed to close our eyes and imagine what the new logo looks like.

Mind you, I’ve seen the design, and so has the entire tech community — no thanks to the news release, however. This indicates one of two things: either the press release is dead and AOL simply doesn’t care about them anymore, or AOL just doesn’t get it.

Digging (hah, get it?) even deeper, the press release as it’s shared on their corporate home page also includes no social bookmarking features, which even the staunchest social media haters have (however grudgingly) agreed to incorporate under pressure from the twenty-somethings in their communications department.

Something tells me AOL doesn’t get it. Perhaps freeing themselves from Time Warner will free up their thinking a little bit when it comes to embracing the new media. Dear AOL: I’ve done a little work for one of your subsidiaries in my past, and Chuck and I would love to help you “take the company into the next decade” as you shed the cobwebs of outdated technologies and twentieth century modes of thinking. Call me!