That’s going to leave a mark

UPDATE — I’m not sure when it actually happened, but as of Monday, Sept. 13, the video has been removed by the Michigan GOP. I can’t say for certain that my blog posts, the media coverage and many people joining me in deriding this ad had an effect, but I’d like to think so. Thanks to all who commented or sent notes of support.
~aba
—————

I’ve had active blog posts before, the kind that get people talking and commenting on the page, via Twitter or in person. To date the largest single day of visits came when my post about President Obama’s handling of the Henry Gates situation was featured on CNN.com for a while. And I’ve had many posts that had more visitors than the one I wrote on Tuesday about a Michigan Republican Party YouTube video that I felt sullied the Lansing community. But the “Pure Crap” post has easily claimed the title for drawing the most attention from mainstream media.

After word started spreading about the video and my post railing against it, I was contacted by several reporters while others simply wrote about the situation without talking to me. Tim Nester read the post on his TalkLansing.net show. I was featured in radio segments on City Pulse On Air and Ebling and You. The City Pulse wrote an article, as did Gongwer News Service. And this morning I was mentioned in a political column in The Detroit News.

Certainly, my post wasn’t that extraordinary. What really got the media interested is that I was writing about disagreeing with a Republican video and I’m a former Republican spokesperson, having been the press secretary for a Michigan Senate majority leader. That’s what makes the whole thing newsworthy. And, hopefully, that’s going to leave a mark on the communications strategies for the state Republican and state Democratic parties. Both have been slinging the mud for so long now that people have come to expect it. But that doesn’t make it right and I needed to say it — regardless of my supposed political loyalty. As I mentioned in several of my interviews, many political operatives I speak with say “negative works,” while the average voters on the street I speak to often complain about the negative messaging.

I’ve also been involved in politics long enough to know I’m probably going to be asked by more than one person what I’ve been smoking. But I felt it was important to speak out and leave my mark. I hope that, even if my efforts don’t change the tactics of political operatives in this state, that I might inspire a few more people to stand up and say something when it needs to be said.

So I’m challenging everyone reading this blog to stand up, speak out and leave their mark. Even if it doesn’t change things immediately, it will make you feel better knowing that you tried. And, just maybe, if enough of us inspire others, we might actually see the power of positive change in Michigan. Who is with me?

It’s time to end the rage and hate forums

Reader comments. Story comments. Rage and hate forums. Call them what you want, but the comments section at the end of every Lansing State Journal story posted at its web site have gone from crazy and laughable to pointless and stupid.

When will the publishers of the State Journal realize that their reader comments section destroys the paper’s credibility as a beacon of truth and leadership in the community? Allowing unmoderated comments from hurtful people focused only on their own agendas of hate is the last thing this region needs and making it an official record by hosting it at the LSJ web site is a disservice.

I don’t mean to single out the State Journal, because they certainly are not alone in this age of anonymous rage. I just happen to be exposed to that newspaper more than others because it’s my local paper. I posted a question on Twitter today about this subject:

Reader comments at (the Lansing State Journal) are filled with rage & hate. Do all local papers have that problem?

It was disheartening to have so many people reply in the affirmative:

Yes. It’s the anonymity that allows for it. Newspapers rushed to add the comments, but didn’t know how to build a community. ~ Ike Pigott, Birmingham, Ala.

The (Detroit Free Press) and (Detroit News) reader comments are also filled with rage and hate, and most discussions turn to race in no time at all. ~ Maureen Francis, Birmingham, Mich.

I’ve seen the same on Detroit and other news websites. Kinda makes you lose faith in your fellow (hu)man. 😦  ~ Kate Sumbler, Michigan

Yes, they do. I think it’s bad on news sites because there’s an anonymity in ranting about something you don’t agree with on web. ~ Valerie Morgan, Lansing, Mich.

And it’s more than just nonsense — it’s a problem for journalists and their sources. As Louise Knott Ahern pointed out, “Negative comments actually scare off sources from talking to the media.” There’s an interesting piece about this phenomenon involving the Washington Post here.

It was awesome to get a much more positive response from Derek Wallbank, a reporter for MinnPost. As Derek explained, “We moderate comments & require real names to post anything. Keeps it more civil.”

Hallelujah — a newspaper with a conscience! I looked up MinnPost’s terms of service about comments:

MinnPost does not permit the use of foul language, personal attacks or the use of language that may be libelous or interpreted as inciting hate or sexual harassment. User comments are reviewed by moderators to ensure that comments meet these standards and adhere to MinnPost’s terms of use and privacy policy. We intend for this area to be used by our readers as a place for civil, thought-provoking and high-quality public discussion. In order to achieve this, MinnPost requires that all commenters register and post comments with their actual names and place of residence.

Imagine how wonderful it would be to have a hometown newspaper with a solid terms of service that required real names to be used in a forum moderated for civility. The Lansing State Journal’s terms of service make promises, but the paper falls short of enforcing them every day. The LSJ’s terms read:

(Readers agree not to)…Engage in personal attacks, harass or threaten, question the motives behind others’ posts or comments, deliberately inflame or disrupt the conversation, or air personal grievances about other users.

And, of course, it doesn’t help that many newspapers don’t require the use of someone’s real name when posting comments. It’s interesting that they require name, address and phone number when you submit a letter to the editor, but online they let hate and rage run unchecked. As Nate Erickson, a recent Michigan State University graduate now living in New York, noted: “Anonymity or perceived anonymity breeds idiocy.”

Idiocy. Rage. Hate. Call it what you want. It’s time for real names, personal responsibility and common civility to replace it all. This is my public challenge to the Lansing State Journal publishers to lead the way. Claim your place as a leader in building a positive online community by reviewing your policies, improving them and enforcing them. If you build it, we will come.

If you build it, they will read it

printing pressThe world of newspaper journalism has been turned on its head lately with bankruptcies, layoffs, the discontinuation of print editions, the discontinuation of papers altogether — and many people seem to be struggling with how to help the industry survive.

I’ve been to several meetings in the past few days talking about the new, digital face of newspapers and how this is the way to be successful. I’m not sure I buy it, though, because I’m not sure newspaper publishers have figured out their problem: if you don’t give people a product they want to read, they won’t read it, no matter what flashy format you deliver it in.

There was a great blog entry posted recently about the 16 things people learn in journalism school. It is an awesome reminder to those in the industry about their responsibilities in wielding the power of the pen, which we all know is truly mightier than the sword.

Unfortunately, it seems to me that the 16 basic rules outlined in that blog are often pushed aside lately. I’ve seen it in the journalism schools themselves, as the basic concepts of excellent reporting and writing are ignored to make room for the teaching of delivery methods.

While I was at one of the aforementioned meetings, I was tweeting about changes occurring at the Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press, which both have recently scaled back home delivery to three days per week, have launched E-editions and are working on E-reader versions to be available on the Kindle within a few weeks. As I like to do while tweeting events, I started posing questions to start some discussions.

I thought one of the most compelling comments was this one, from @yasky:

They can’t control delivery method as they are no longer the gatekeepers of information. We may transition, but by choice only.

Perhaps that’s the biggest problem newspaper publishers are dealing with. They are faced with increasing expenses and decreasing advertising revenue. They are faced with a 24-hour news cycle that won’t wait for the ink to dry on the paper anymore. And they are faced with a fickle audience that will not pay for news when it’s available for free in so many other places. But, the harsh reality is just as @yasky said: they are no longer the gatekeepers.

Journalists as a whole, be they in print or broadcast, used to be the primary sources for news and information across the globe. Now, I often don’t hear about news first from a professional journalist, I hear about it from someone who has posted it on Twitter or Facebook or a blog. Certainly, that first person to post a news item may be directly involved, but often they are initially hearing the news from a professional journalist. However, that’s where the control stops. The spreading of news and information has gone global, it has gone viral, it has gone out of the hands of newspaper publishers and into the hands of their (former) readers.

So, the big question is, how do they turn those former readers back into subscribers? First, they need to remember the 16 things they learned in journalism school from the blog post linked above. Then, they need to learn to produce stories so well-written and compelling that people want to read them. They need to build a newspaper that, regardless of delivery method, people feel they cannot do without because it is offering information not found elsewhere. They need to, once again, become the gatekeepers of information that no one else has the time or the talent to uncover and write about.

I’m certainly not professing to have all the answers that are going to save the newspaper industry — no one should be foolish enough to claim that talent. But I am willing to suggest certain steps that newspapers should consider taking immediately:

— give the readers what they want and need;

— give the readers something they can’t find elsewhere;

— create a mecca for news and information that is credible and reliable.

If you build it, they will read it.

(Image courtesy of the BBC.)