MLive may just breathe life back into journalism

When people have complained about print newspapers dwindling and everything moving online, I’ve written  about how news gathering matters much more than the form in which it’s delivered. I’ve also had my share of critical reviews of MLive, its recent merger with Booth Newspapers, and the entire concept of focusing too much on delivery of the news and not the gathering of it. I had a first-hand, behind the scenes look at the new MLive Media Group recently, though, and I have to admit that maybe I have been too quick to judge.

I still get frustrated with MLive’s website being too cluttered — some days it seems a testament to society’s insatiable appetite for information vs. knowledge, not to mention the wisdom needed to fully appreciate both. But if you spend some time with Dan Gaydou, publisher of the Grand Rapids Press and now president of  MLive Media Group, you can start to see the positive side of what that organization is trying to do for the journalism industry and its consumers.

During my tour of the new Grand Rapids MLive hub, which is being prepared for opening in February, I have to admit I found myself nodding in agreement with what Gaydou was preaching, and finding myself more excited about the future potential of journalism than I have been in years. Gaydou is a traditional newspaper guy but he has found a way to embrace the next generation of journalism. He still understands that what matters is community — how every story can be a local story because news readers can and should care about what’s happening across town, across the state and across the country because of its potential impact on their town. But he also sees the increasing use of technology in journalism as a method by which to gather and deliver that news faster and better, and not a collection of flashy toys that look impressive but don’t deliver on their full potential.

It’s not appropriate for me to share too much inside information with folks. After all, that is MLive’s news and I’ll let them be the first to share it. But I can tell you this: MLive is outfitting its reporters with some of the latest technology and providing workspaces that are tapping into technological resources many of us will be envious of regardless of our current industry or position.

MLive’s “hub” is under construction in Grand Rapids.

As a news consumer, I’m excited to see the technology and flexibility of bloggers married to the standards and ethics of professional journalists. As newspapers have struggled to survive, they have left a void filled by amateurs who, even when well-intentioned, often fall short in their ability to deliver quality news. Bloggers aren’t journalists, and not just because of a judge’s list on page nine of this 13-page ruling.

But journalists have suffered recently as their employers have scaled back, struggled to survive and refused to give them the resources they need to do their jobs well. I think that could change with the MLive news hubs. Journalists will be given the equipment and resources needed to be out in their communities gathering news, writing good stories and delivering them at an amazing pace. Hopefully, MLive Media Group will see that there is still a place in this world for well-researched, longer stories that deliver more than knowledge, they also help readers find wisdom. I heard a great line about the difference lately. “Knowledge is knowing tomatoes are a fruit, while wisdom is knowing not to put them in a fruit salad.”

The MLive Media Group is growing rapidly in several markets and has its eyes set on more. They are challenging the old way of thinking in journalism. Gaydou preaches that they are trying to find a way to deliver the best journalism they can in a way that allows them to connect with old and new audiences alike. If they truly practice what they preach at MLive Media Group, then we’re about to see something special happen.

Blogging isn’t social media

Every time I turn around there seems to be another study being conducted about who is responsible for social media at a company or organization. Is it the role of public relations, media relations, marketing, advertising, customer service — or a combination of all the above? What I’ve found most interesting about these studies is that many seem to still be lumping “blogger relations” in with “social media.”

I’ve long held the belief that bloggers are not journalists. There is something to be said for a professional journalist who has been properly trained to research a story and write a compelling article that people actually want to read. At the same time, however, I don’t believe bloggers should be relegated to the social media realm either. When I think of social media outlets, I think of 140-character tweets, two-sentence Facebook status updates and comments, a photo with a cutline on Flickr or maybe even a short video with comments by viewers on YouTube.

Social media is more about the continuing small-talk conversation being carried on between you and the world. Blogging is different. It can be weighty stuff or it can be about fashion trends. It can challenge your thinking or it can be something sarcastic and entertaining. But it is not social media.

Perhaps the problem is society’s insatiable need to classify things — especially new things people don’t fully understand. Now, certainly, blogging isn’t new, but for many people it is uncharted territory, as is social media. And since both are done via the Internet it makes sense to folks to drop them into the same bucket. That’s a mistake. Blogger relations is a new component of a very old discipline: media relations. As I said, I don’t believe bloggers are journalists, but they are a segment of writers that need to be dealt with professionally.

That’s why I’d argue that blogger relations is a function of whomever is handling media relations in your organization. Bloggers need information, either on background or on the record. They need assistance gathering photos, videos, soundbites, facts and figures. In short, they need information to complete the publication they are working on. But it is not enough for the media relations department to simply send them a press release and a link to some photos. For years, media relations professionals have spent time honing their craft by learning about news outlets and what makes individual reporters tick. It’s time we started doing that with bloggers, too. It is going to add a lot to our workload, but passing the buck and letting marketers or customer service departments deal with blogging because it is “social media” is not productive. It may even come back to bite you in a blog post that is anything but social.

What do you think? Do you believe blogging belongs in the social media bucket, the news media bucket or all by itself in a shiny new bucket?

(Photo courtesy of Chris Jones’ Flickr stream.)

The trip to the holier than thou mountaintop is shorter than you think

humboldt mountains

By now, many of you have heard about the story of Brody PR and the lessons learned by its owner when she inadvertently sent a pitch out to journalists and bloggers by putting all of their addresses in the cc: field instead of the bcc: field. Therefore, I won’t bore you by beating a dead horse — if you want a quick review of what happened, Jeremy Porter has a decent recap over at Journalistics.

The issue here is an important one, obviously, because so many people have reacted and commented. But let’s face it, many people have joined together to make a mountain out of a molehill. Actually, they’ve made a holier than thou mountain out of a molehill. I’m really getting tired of these folks who think their time is so valuable they can’t be bothered with the PR pigs feeding at the trough. Guess what? It seems to me that many of them have become high-prancing stallions intent on building their personal name recognition and Google-search status much more than providing a valuable service to anyone.

The journalists and bloggers involved with the offending Brody PR email went ballistic on this one, from what I can tell, because of the flood of replies that came into their email in boxes. The thing is, Brody PR didn’t send replies to everyone — the journalists and bloggers who clicked “Reply to All” caused that mess.

In the end, Beth Brody has stepped up, taken her public caning and committed to learning from her mistake. I don’t know Beth personally, but I’m inclined to get to know her, if for no other reason than the fact that she has been made the focus of a wrath that was so over the top it’s almost laughable.

I try to have “be cynical and paranoid” added to all my job descriptions, so I suppose it’s no wonder I have a different take on all of this. Was it really necessary for the recipients to reply to all when  complaining about how the email pitch was handled? Absolutely not. They could have ignored the email, they could have replied just to the sender or they could have used their own publications or blogs as a teaching tool. Instead, they decided to make an example out of someone who made an honest mistake. They turned someone’s attempt to do her job and earn a living into a voodoo doll designed to inflict pain and suffering on the entire PR industry.

Are there poor PR practices and professionals in the industry who give it a bad name? Absolutely, but you can say that about every profession, including journalism and blogging.

In my career, I’ve been used as a source for news reports more times than I could ever count. And there have been plenty of times when I’ve dealt with clueless reporters for whom I had no patience. Not only did they not understand a subject they were writing about, they refused to learn and stop repeatedly asking me for the same explanation over and over. Did that mean I hated the entire journalism industry and went out of my way to skewer it whenever possible? Of course not.

Then there are the bloggers writing missives that are opinionated and filled with poor research but passed off as delivering a factual news story. Does that mean all bloggers are evil and not to be trusted because the industry as a whole has no code of ethics? Of course not.

The next time journalists and bloggers want to go on a rant about the public relations industry and how all of its practitioners are evil, they need to take a deep breath and remember this: the trip to the holier than thou mountaintop is shorter than you think. It also is a trip that can be avoided if you just stay on the molehill.

(Image courtesy of kiwinz on Flikr)

Are bloggers the new “special interest group?”

A friend of mine recently posted a blog entry about the Motrin Moms and how “this marketing debacle validated the simple fact that social media has changed our culture.”

I commented at her post, and some of the comment is replicated here. But I also wanted to chime in with something disturbing I’ve been noticing lately: the lack of an ethics creed for bloggers and social-media types.

“Social media people” need to be careful not to become the “social media elite.” Sure, a bunch of moms got mad about something and forced a company to change course. But does that mean the Motrin Moms are right or just loud and unrelenting?

Suggesting that companies can’t do anything right if they haven’t consulted with “us” first is a bit cocky.

I can’t help but wonder if Twitter and other social media networks have become the new home for the squeaky wheel.

The old saying, “The squeaky wheel gets the grease,” is now amplified, which means the potential for knee-jerk reactions by corporations and politicians also is at an all-time high. And rarely have knee-jerk reactions ever resulted in the best strategies for anything.

I’m a firm believer in a little anarchy now and then being a good thing. But I also believe that power corrupts even those who start out with the best of intentions.

Bloggers who started out as an alternative form of media that would hold corporations’ and politicians’ feet to the fire may be on their way to becoming a special interest group that expects everyone to cater to their needs and demands.

At the same time, you have a number of people who aren’t following some of the most basic credos of journalism, such as verifying facts, being fair and balanced in their reporting, and protecting the integrity of their writing by avoiding even perceived conflicts of interest.

I pointed out at Digital Pivot the other day a story from Advertising Age that talked about one of the purveyors of the Motrin Moms’ debacle now being a WalMart supporter via Twitter. The story talks about some special treatment she’s received and how, lo and behold, she can’t stop talking about how great WalMart is. I think the title of the post I made, “Perks are pay, aren’t they?” sums up my feelings on this pretty well.

When I was a journalist, I once made the mistake of accepting a free trip, thinking I would be very objective in reporting on the new destination hotel I was reviewing. When I was finished, I even patted myself on the back for pulling it off and writing a well-balanced, conflict-free review. Then, my publisher read it and asked what we got for it. “I sure hope you got a trip or something out of that, since they should be paying for such a fluff piece,” he said.

His comment hit me right between the eyes and I never accepted anything gratis again.

I asked on Twitter the other day whether bloggers are following any kind of ethics code about not accepting freebies. One blogger commented that she never keeps anything she takes in for a review. She either gives it away as an act of charity or returns it to the manufacturer. But another person commented that several bloggers at a public-relations meeting she attended expect freebies if a company wants coverage.

As I said before, I believe in the sentiment that power corrupts. As you’ll recall, the entire phrase is “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” It’s a great phrase that bloggers and tweeters and their counterparts need to remember, lest they become blinded by their own self-proclaimed importance.