Newspapers: Still Popular

I’m one of the more than 14.7 million Canadians reading newspapers. Many of whom likely didn’t know that the newspaper industry is thriving.

Prior to seeing this Toronto Star story about this surprisingly robust medium, I thought I might be out of touch and wasting time on broadsheets visa vis digital information sources. You see, I enjoy the feel of daily papers and I think there’s a physiological advantage to reading hard copy. I process the offline info differently; I might even retain it better.

That said, I of course get most of my news digitally and have learned to efficiently (mostly) embrace the rich, fragmented, hyperlinked reality of social media. There are, after all, many credible, purely digital news sources, some of them led by talented ex-journalists, who will ensure that online media continues to grow.

However, old media will also continue to thrive because newspapers have far more trained journalists skilled at researching and writing interesting stories. These writers and their papers are trusted. Also, many of these old media companies are effectively embracing the new. The result: even if people aren’t reading offline, they’re paying attention online.

At least that’s what I read on a website.

Fine Line Between Earned and Paid Media

I read a smart post by Dave Fleet about “Why Paying Bloggers For Posts Changes the Game.”  He basically says that paying for the post turns it into paid media, also known as advertising. And if the media, or coverage, is paid for then perhaps the advertiser influences the content.

This paid content emerges as something different from what we see in mainstream media. Newspapers and broadcasters typically aren’t paid by brands to cover anything. Journalists share the facts and editorialize based on research that’s ideally not influenced directly by payment from advertisers.

However, as I stated in another post here, “Some might argue that print and broadcast media outlets are indeed influenced by advertisers, especially these days due to declining revenue.” It’s hard to imagine that mainstream media doesn’t at times treat big brands buying millions of ads more favourably.

Jumping to the comments section of Dave’s post, one commenter asks, “Isn’t the mere acceptance of so many ‘freebies’/products/trips/event tickets/ etc., etc., tantamount to accepting cash?” She refers to PRs sending products to reporters for them to review. I don’t think it’s the same as accepting cash because the journalist is obliged to provide an honest and fair review after getting the so-called freebie. They can’t write about it if they don’t experience it first.

Another POV comes from Jen Maier who runs the UrbanMoms blog network. She argues here that networks should operate like mainstream media and pay bloggers for their writing. The advertisers and sponsors pay to be part of this influential network (one million plus views per month) for the same reason an advertiser appears in the Globe and Mail: the brand wants to be seen and appreciated by its many readers.

Perhaps comparing a vast blog network to a standalone blog is like comparing apples to oranges since the writer in the blog network isn’t paid directly by the advertiser.

So what does this mean for PR and earned media? Fewer bloggers to pitch based solely on the merit of the story, for one thing. It also means that the lines are blurring between paid and earned media, between church and state. There’s a finer line now between editorial and advertising that needs consideration by all parties: bloggers, brands, agencies.

So as always, PR pros need to know whom they’re pitching. They also need to understand the shifting nuances of earned vs. paid media.

Tribalism, Bias and Climategate

The current battle between climate change believers and deniers provides great reminders about the realities of media and tribalism.

The climate change skeptics have gained considerable momentum as illustrated by the heated debate concerning emails hacked from servers at the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit. I wonder what motivated the hackers.

The hundreds of pages of hacked emails apparently contain some very persuasive content. More persuasive than the radio campaign launched by the Friends of Science that I commented on here. As I said, the climate skeptics needed to collaborate and use social media instead of attack ads. Well, they certainly have developed some good partnerships and Climategate has ignited a lot of social and traditional media discussion.

Much of the discussion concerns the alleged scientific biases in the hacked emails; apparently some of the climatologists may have manipulated some of their research.

Curtis Brainard of the Columbia Journalism Review wrote a compelling article about the Climategate coverage. His conclusion:

“Now is a good time for journalists to reassess their coverage of climate change, weed out any bias from their reporting strategies, do what they can to disentangle politics from science, and be more aggressive about covering what many scientists, business figures, policymakers, and activists think is the most important climate story of this still-new millennium.”

This isn’t an indictment of journalists but instead refers to the complexity of the issue and, no surprise here, the dwindling resources that traditional media must now cope with. According to Brainard:

“As with business and political reporting, there is a tendency for science journalists to become too reliant on and close to a limited number of sources, which can lead to ideological bias in terms of accepting the sources’ statements uncritically… In addition, the mainstream media tends to abhor complicated stories on areas of scientific uncertainty about the causes and consequences of climate change. This tendency is not exclusive to science reporting—most editors tend to prefer distilled and simple news bites.”

As a member of a tribe or community it’s hard to imagine not becoming too close to and reliant on friends, colleagues, sources, etc. The close connections are valuable, the give-and-take is rewarding and biases hard to avoid. Shared biases might actually be part of the glue that holds communities together. Given this reality, it’s important for citizen journalists and traditional media alike to not be unfavourably influenced by their prejudices.

As online communities and social media continue to flourish, it will be interesting to see how opinion and biases continue to shape journalism and conversations.