With Earned Media Changes, Brand Journalism is Critical

I spent six years as a daily newspaper reporter covering cops and courts, city councils, legislatures in three states, Congress the White House and various crooks and scoundrels on the investigative beat. My parents met in a newsroom where, it was said, journalism was known as “the last refuge of the vaguely talented.”

I mourn the decline of newspapers, but I’m not bitter. As time passes, I’m less inclined to view reporting as some sort of calling and more as a skill with many applications, and one that is critical to organizations in the form of  brand journalism.

Political Scientist Daniel Hallin in his book The Uncensored War defined three “spheres” of journalism. The first is the Sphere of Consensus, where the topics include issues like genocide, slavery, and childhood obesity. In this sphere of topics, journalists are under no compunction to present differing points of view. They can take a side confident that their objectivity is intact.

The second sphere – that of “Legitimate Controversy,” is the journalists’ wheelhouse, where objectivity is the definition of the profession and those who want the title devote significant effort to balance. The third is called the Sphere of Deviance, where aliens, talking dogs and legitimate rape reside – the ridiculous and irrelevant, considered unworthy of legitimate attention.

Dallin’s key point is that the explosion of new media has not only fractured traditional coverage of events, it has changed the definition by certain journalists and audiences of all the spheres and greatly expanded that second sphere. What is “Legitimate Controversy” is in dispute. Continue reading

Peaceful Transitions in Glen Canyon

(A travel story, now 25 years old. I’m inspired to post it here after a trip to visit my grown son in New Mexico reminded me how much I miss the West.)

The scenery off the bow of our 50-foot houseboat shifted slowly northward as our captain found her “attention arrested by some new wonder.” She indulged her urge to explore and “we found ourselves in a vast chamber carved out of rock.” Slowed to an idle, our boats’ wake lapped back to us from the canyon walls.

The view is of the bowl of stone and natural wonders that hold the waters of Lake Powell. The quotes are by John Wesley Powell, the Civil War veteran  and explorer who wrote more than 110 years ago about the land some 400 feet beneath the surface of the lake in southeastern Utah that bears his name. In Powell’s time, Back then, the only water here was a placid stretch of the Colorado River on its way to the Grand Canyon 75 miles south and then to the Gulf of Mexico.

Powell named the Glen Canyon after the verdant ribbons of vegetation that lined the river and poured over from the ledges and dooryards of ancient aboriginal homes. These cave dwellings of the Anasazi farmers were chiseled from cliffs vaulting hundreds of feet off the canyon floor.

With a gentle shove from the two 75-horsepower outboards, we moored on a sandy beach at the foot of a semicircle of cliffs that rose from the canyon pool about half the height Powell had seen. After lunch and a midday swim in the shadows of the August sun, the grotto narrowed to a crevice in the rock. We gathered in the wheelroom of our pontooned home to plan our voyage. In our first of seven days on the lake, we found ourselves wandering, lured by silent finger canyons off the main lake and ignoring the itinerary we had set at poolside in Page, Ariz. the day before our trip began. After the huddle, except for a consensus about visiting Rainbow Bridge, the largest natural arch in the world, we firmly decided not to decide. Continue reading

Digital Divide & Conquer

In August, the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism reported on the presidential campaigns’ use of digital to bypass traditional earned media. The broadest conclusion was that the president’s campaign posted almost four times the content as his challenger and was active on nearly twice the number of platforms.

The Pew study also revealed that the dominant national message of the campaigns dealing with jobs and the economy was not the dominant interest of voters on the digital hook. For both campaigns, issues like immigration, health and veterans generated two to four times the reaction.

The digital divergence didn’t matter to the campaigns. As Pew said, “neither candidate engages in much dialogue with voters,” referring to citizen content on the digital channels of the campaign. Continue reading