One Editor’s Snooze Is Another’s News

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By Patrick Potega (CSTO at MarkeTech)

It used to work fine. As far back as 1906, when the first press release was sent along a telegraph wire from a train wreck site to the editorial offices of an East Coast newspaper, communicating with editors was a piece of cake. By the mid-1980’s, the communications infrastructure was a bird’s nest, and the population of editors/journalists was overwhelming…to the point that Regis McKenna declared PR dead. That freaked me out, because I had just launched Video Games Magazine. Fortunately then, as now, no one believed Regis “Himself.” As the editor/publisher, I kept doing the same thing I had been doing every day during my previous decade as a technology-pub editor. Daily, I sorted through press releases, deciding what information my readership should (or shouldn’t) receive.  

In today’s over-connected public relations environment, anyone can self-publish, either as a contributor, or even an e-zine publisher. Online media can structure its content as news only, blogs+news, or even blogs only…and everything in between. I’m glad that I’m not on the publication side anymore. First, I’d be constantly pacing the floor trying to decide who were those people that I could legitimately identify as my “readership.” If I could figure that out with enough specificity, I’d then be getting brain cramps trying to judge what my audience considered news. Being an editor or publisher today must be tough, because many good periodicals and papers have folded. Maybe too many bad calls about what a most amorphous audience wanted to read.

In that context, I have great empathy for two first-class editors who have taken contrarian positions on what each considers newsworthiness in press releases. Here’s GISuser’s Glenn Letham’s view:

Going Social? Save the news for Social outlets
“by gisuser

“This may be a bit of a personal gripe, however, it really does need to be said. PR and marketing professionals really do need to get a grip and start to understand how ‘press’ works and how new media functions. Indeed there is overlap, however, there’s also many differences. Many PR people are simply consumed with getting their ‘news’ out there, regardless of how it’s done and how it reflects on their brand and image. Simply put, news (ie. announced in formal press releases and distributed to journalists, industry analysts and others) is simply that… NEWS. PR releases should be focused on a newsworthy announcement, perhaps details of an event, a key hire (sorry but no, not a new intern or even another GIS tech), a software release (or update) , you know… something that’s newsworthy.

“Recently I’ve received ‘news releases’ from companies because they have started on Twitter and on facebook… I’m sorry, but come on! The fact that your company is using a social tool like facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or ??? is NOT news. The best way to promote the fact that you’re trying to go social is to actually use social outlets to share this information. Penning a proper press release to announce yet another social bookmark is only adding to the noise and in my mind could back-fire. Got a new Twitter account, well then, get on Twitter, post something interesting, make a blog posting, connect with some industry people and start sharing – that’s how you get word out about your Twitter account. You should also add links from your blog, website, and promote your Twitter (and other social media accounts) in your staff email signatures and promotional material.”

(Read Glenn’s Blog and my comment posted there).

To Glenn, I proffer an observation. Numerous professional journalists have acknowledged that they seek news and trends on major social networking sites, and that bloggers are also a rich source of story ideas.

Now, let’s look at the reality that my GIS clients want to engage in the online “conversation,” and are simply showing preferences for sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. Well, if the previous paragraph has some truth to it, I’d say that at least my clients aren’t totally wrong.

If both of the above are valid, then my sending you an announcement that my client is on Facebook is the right thing to do. But, my obligation as a marketing/PR practitioner then also must extend to your readership, so expecting you to post my client’s announcement isn’t necessarily improper.

Now, putting on my 30+ year-old-editor’s hat, I would support your position of no such announcements, but only because it’s your pub’s policy. It’s always the press’ call as to what they do or don’t want, and you are perfectly correct in stating your position. It will make your day-to-day tasks much easier by not having to plow through the chaff looking for the wheat.

As the CSTO at our firm, I make daily decisions about the selection of online and offline media outlets. Sometimes there are tough calls, and the coin flip winds up with it standing on edge. I always fall back on one certainty…if I send information to the wrong magazine, it just won’t get published. That’s because it’s ultimately the editor’s job to say yeah or nay. If I don’t send it, I’ll never know. You see, I’m not the decider – you are. With GISuser, you made the decision, and I’ll support it.

Turning to Directions Magazine’s Adena Schutzberg, her position takes the opposing view, as her blog here states:

 “Friday, March 5. 2010 

 “Slightly Off Topic: Going Social? Don’t Forget the Press Release

“If a company is mounting a social media presence it should announce that presence via social media. I also think it’s important to offer a traditional press release. Why?

“A personal story: I took it upon myself to join Twitter a year or more ago since I though it’d be valuable for my work here at Directions Media. It has been. I joined LinkedIn mostly because Joe Francica had started a group for our Location Intelligence Conference. I held off joining Facebook because I didn’t have a compelling reason to join it… until someone gave me compelling reason. It became more and more clear to me chatting during long runs that I was not keeping up with my fellow runners trials and tribulations because I didn’t have them as friends on Facebook. It was important enough to me to know who fell on the ice, who bailed on track because they were sick or who had a great race at Hyannis Half Marathon to actually join Facebook. I probably would not have joined it because of another social media outlet; I joined it because of real live ‘word of mouth,’ not existing social media.

“By analogy, thus, I think it’s likely there are folks out there who are not yet on some of the social networks because they don’t have a compelling reason to be. If learning via a press release that the organization behind the GIS software you use at work or school is now on Facebook, it might just encourage you to check out Facebook. While press releases may seem ‘old fashioned’ to some, that area of our website continues to be one of the most read parts of Directions Magazine in 2010. Further, as I’ve said before elsewhere, we feel it’s a public service to allow geospatial companies to post their news (it’s always free to do so).

 “If you’ve not seen some of the recent social media additions announced via press release, check out the ones about ASPRS joining Twitter and Clark Labs offering a Fan Page on Facebook. Fact: I learned of those two additions to the social media world via those press releases!”

 (See my comment posted at Directions Magazine)

It may appear that Glenn is throwing out the baby with the bathwater, but he’s not. Adena’s editorial instincts clearly demonstrate a “nose for news.” From my perspective, neither the Clark Labs nor the ASPRS documents deserve to be elevated to the high standard of professionally written press releases. Just try pouring the words of either into the traditional inverted pyramid! Where’s the news in either? “News-i-ness,” perhaps, but that’s as far as it goes.

To hear that the press release is making a comeback, as some pundits allege, is somewhat disheartening. The poor press release, now over a century old, has morphed into a formulaic bucket for everything including the kitchen sink. What masquerades as “press releases” have had enough impact on our clients’ perspectives that our firm drafted a Monograph (white paper) on “The Perfect Press Release” to educate them as to the significant differences (e-mail me at csto [at] marketechcom [dot] com for a copy).

I’ll be the first one to apologize for the PR profession as the perpetrators of poorly prepared and written news stories. But, I am willing to consider, in today’s social media environment, that PR folk and journalists consider a different category of informational communication. Maybe it’s something like a “News-i-ness Announcement.” It’s kind of socially FYI. Intended to be engaging and start a conversation. Perhaps “Op/Ed-ish.” The back-story…the softer side. Human interest. The kind of document that bridges the gap between Twitter et. Al., and hard-hitting journalism. It could be a watershed tool for those “PR experts” who write advice such as “your blog doesn’t have to be grammatically correct”!

I can’t quite put my finger on it with enough certainty to create a format and style sheet, but it would certainly give those ASPRS and Clark Labs documents a place to exist. We could keep the press release reserved for the big stuff. Maybe then, editors would get fewer of them, and of better quality.

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