New Year’s Resolution for Advocates: Stop Complaining About the Lack of News Coverage

The old model of public relations involved hiring flaks and marketers to persuade print, TV and radio journalists to cover you. Hiring one set of gatekeepers to guide you through another made sense back in the day. In a three-channel TV town with two dailies, maybe 3-5 weeklies, several radio stations and a monster-sized market share of consumer eyes and ears, you needed all the help you could get.

They called those pieces of media by names that indicated the scarce resource they controlled. Print filled its newshole and display space, radio the quarter hours and television by daypart. And almost everyone paid attention.

And now…not so much. Continue reading

Good Campaigns Have Always Told Their Own Stories

(In the off-season year of 1995, the editor of Campaigns & Elections Magazine asked me to write a brief story about the use of press releases by campaigns. Both as a media consultant and earlier as a congressional staffer, I had used my experience as a reporter to guide clients and organizations into helping themselves by helping reporters and editors do their jobs and sometimes doing the job for them. It wasn’t a new tactic: providing free branded materials to newspapers was common from recipes to right-wing advocacy. It wasn’t brand journalism, it was pure selling; an unabashed effort by organizations on either side of The Wall to have their needs met without openly compromising their roles. In bold below is one of the ways the arrangement worked in the business of campaigns.)

Most reporters say the value of a press release has gone up in recent times thanks to the advent of newsroom recycling. But your release can get to the box marked “in” before it goes to the one marked “bin” if it shows that you know your message and your media.

Trashing an ambitious politician is a cherished rite in the news business and showering reporters with too much paper is a surefire way to be called before the bar and grill after hours.One of the most satisfying columns I ever read was a piece about our opponent’s releases being used as scratch paper by the columnist’s toddler. A lot of the complaining may be due to the curly nature of fax paper, but in an age when satellite coverage and online services reach further and further down the journalistic food chain, the press release can seem less relevant all the time.

But like it or not, reporters and the people who assign them rely on releases and quickly grade campaigns by the quality of the information the campaign puts out.

Good reporters will never follow your roadmap all the way, but establish your credibility early and the press will work with you, not around you, up to the end. To keep your campaign’s releases in play, make them essential to the story you want to see. Start by making sure the press people are an essential part of the campaign team, with access to the candidate and the other senior staffers at all times and knowledge of the polling, paid media and mail strategies. Continue reading

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