musings on marketing, media, public relations....and life, by David Reich
Reich Communications, Inc.
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Whenever I travel, I make an effort to read the local papers and watch the local TV news. It's just my professional curiosity, as a PR guy with an interest in journalism.
Local TV news in Los Angeles can sometimes be a bit strange. The stations seem to have a fascination with car chases, and they use their news helicopters to follow chases from above. The coverage can go on for a long time.
The last time I was out this way, the 11 p.m. newscast on two stations spent almost the entire time on "breaking news" of police chasing a suspect in a car as he went on and off the freeway and through neighborhood streets. The coverage of the chase knocked off most other stories, shortened the weather report and totally precluded sports news. One of the stations even delayed the start of the network late-night show to continue showing the car chase, which finally ended when the car crashed around midnight.
Here in L. A. this week, I saw similar coverage, although not as long. And the other night, coverage of a peaceful protest that blocked a busy intersection in the Compton area included extensive and repetitive helicopter coverage of the crowd, even though nothing new was happening. But the coverage from above went on, knocking other news stories off the air.
The stations in L.A. like to use their helicopters. Maybe the low height of buildings out here makes it easier to get good shots from above. But I suspect that the stations are responding to what their viewers want. I've talked to some of the locals here and they've admitted, "We do like our car chases."
"Lowest common denominator news, as it happens and as long as it's happening, live from over the streets in southern California."
I've said this before, but it bears repeating... a free and unfettered press is an essential component of the balance of power that makes our democracy work. It's part of what makes America great now.
So when a major party candidate bans media he doesn't like from covering his events, it smells like demagoguery.
He pulled press credentials from The Washington Post after it ran Op Ed pieces he didn't like. He's already banned Huffington Post and a few other online news sites whose coverage he didn't like. And he's said in his campaign speeches that he wants to change laws that protect freedom of the press, making it easier to sue media if he doesn't like what they report.
Doesn't this sound like he'd prefer state-controlled media like in Communist and dictatorial nations such as Russia and North Korea?
What I think the major media should do is, as a group, boycott his events, including his news conferences. I know this would be an unorthodox response, but we are dealing with an unorthodox person who goes by his own rules which are constantly changing.
If they stop giving him the free coverage he craves and needs to advance his campaign and his personal brand, then maybe he’ll start to play by the rules. And if he doesn’t, then he will be the one to suffer instead of our entire election process, as imperfect as it may be.
But making moves to unilaterally undo our First Amendment is not what a presidential candidate should be doing.
I suppose it should not be a surprise, but Trump's attacks on the media have gone over the top.
His attacks on the media and on individual reporters at a news conference earlier this week emphasize how unfit he is to be President.
Calling a reporter a ‘sleazebag’ because he pressed the candidate on his donations to veterans groups takes him to a new low.. if that's possible. The media are doing their job when they ask tough questions and continue to hammer when all they get are non-answers or tangential responses aimed at distracting from the initial line of questioning. They do it to all the candidates and others who are in office.
When asked by a reporter if this is how he would behave if he made it to the White House, he said yes. Earlier in his campaign, he said as President, he’d sue reporters and media who don’t report “fairly,” leaving the definition of “fair” to his own discretion.
Major Garrett, who reports for CBS News, said on CBS This Morning that for reporters who have been covering his campaign, this behavior is not a surprise. It's fairly normal for this candidate, he said.
This candidate is hardly the only politician who lashes out at the media when reporting doesn’t go exactly as they would want it. Sarah Palin, the candidate’s partner in grime and also a name-caller, refers to the media as the “lamestream media.”
This behavior in the White House would be totally unacceptable and against the idea of a fairly transparent government. I'm not saying every President, including our current one, has never blurred the truth or evaded some lines of questioning. But civility in government is crucial to maintaining dialogue that can lead to resolution of conflict and building of trust among leaders and the citizenry. Imagine name-calling and nastiness on the floor of the Senate and the House. We know some of them can’t stand each other, but they remain civil and engage in discussion which, before obstructionism, would lead to compromise and things getting done.
The presumptive Republican nominee demonstrates none of that civility. His thin skin causes him to attack -- often childishly -- anyone he feels has treated him ‘unfairly.’ As President – heaven forbid – would he spend precious time and attention on name-calling reporters who report the truth as they see it, or who ask the probing questions they are supposed to if they are doing their jobs?
As President, it seems like he’d ignore the Constitution’s very first Amendment – the one guaranteeing Freedom of the Press. That seems to be in step with his calls for action that would ignore other amendments like Freedom of Religion as well as Civil Rights laws passed 40 and 50 years ago.
I know the media will continue, as they should, asking tough questions and probing… not only of Trump, but of Clinton, Sanders and others in offices high and low.
Right from the early days of this nation, our founding fathers recognized the importance of a free press as a way to inform the public about what our elected leaders – people we pay with our tax dollars – are doing on our behalf. That’s the role of the media, even if some candidates don’t like it.
With the ongoing talk about how newspapers are dying, here's an interesting newspaper success story.
The Herald-Tribune would seem to have the odds against it, serving an aging population in Sarasota, Fla. But the paper, which last week won its second Pulitzer Prize in five years with a solid story about the area's mental healthcare system, is bucking the trend, with readership growth both online and in print.
Media Life wrote about it and says...
"The paper’s growth in readers is a remarkable achievement by any standards, but especially so for a Florida market in which 34 percent of the population is over age 65. That’s almost three times the number in most American cities.
By returning to the basics of what readers expect from a newspaper–real journalism–the Sarasota Herald Tribune has revealed a lead others might follow."
New York State yesterday approved a bill that outlines various forms of lobbying and requires firms that engage in those activities to report their actions.
I don't yet know what the reporting procedures are, but a troubling clause in that bill includes PR agencies' contact with editorial boards of newspapers.
The 10-page bill lists various activities that are excluded, including "normal" dealings with reporters on news and feature stories. But if I were to arrange a background session for a client with an editorial board or the opinion editor at a newspaper, it seems like I'd be obligated to report on that activity somehow. I don't yet know what and how much paperwork would be involved or if fines could be levied for failure to report.
The idea is a bad one, a clear overreaction to recent corruption cases up in Albany. It flies in the face of free speech.
Over the years, I've arranged meetings between clients and editorial boards. One example was for NHTSA, to encourage editorials urging readers to buckle up when driving, or not to drink and drive. Clearly, those are messages in the public interest, but I would now have to report on such sessions.
Traditional lobbying is another story, and I feel there should be much tighter restrictions on what lobbyists can do and how money they can distribute to public officials.
I've seen firsthand how lobbying works. Several years ago a client wanted to get Congress to pass stricter laws on a public safety issue. I helped them find a reputable lobbying firm. They began by identifying legislators who were on committees that impacted that issue. The lobbyist knew most of them. I helped them prepare position papers outlining the what and why of my client's objectives, and then they had meetings with the legislators themselves or key aides.
But here's where it got dicey. The lobbyist strongly advised my client to attend various events sponsored or supported by some of those targeted legislators. Some were fundraisers for nonpolitical organizations favored by the legislators. But in several cases, my client was encouraged to attend small-group luncheons or meetings, where the price tag was often $5,000 and up to sit across the table with a dozen or so people and the likes of Nancy Pelosi, Barbara Boxer and Chuck Schumer.
All perfectly legal, but how fair is it, really? How many of us can afford to spend big bucks for such direct access? And you have to wonder, when really big bucks -- millions -- are spent, does a public official then feel obligated? Look at big spenders like the gun lobby and big pharma and think about the lack of action on some issues those industries face.
That's where attention needs to be focused. When I or another PR firm sits with a client to inform or try to influence an editorial writer, there are some big differences from lobbying public officials. Meeting with editorial boards, we make our best effort to explain our position on an issue. But the ultimate decision of if and what gets published is in the hands and heart of the editor, a journalist who tries to weigh facts before taking a position. And that choice is not impacted by money.
It's a big difference. So New York, especially in light of all the corruption that's finally being prosecuted in Albany, should focus on traditional lobbying and not dilute those efforts by trying to regulate normal media relations efforts.
Catching up on the news is a Sunday morning ritual. For me and millions of others, that means enjoying a cup (or 2 or 3) of coffee while reading the fat Sunday edition of The NY Times and watching CBS Sunday Morning. Charles Osgood has been hosting that show for more than 20 years.
His calm demeanor always lends a feeling of "we'll get through this" when he reports bad news, and his dry sense of humor, his poetic interludes and his courage to play piano and sing as seasonally appropriate makes you think of him as a wise, erudite uncle. He's someone whose visits you look forward to.
Osgood had big shoes to fill when he took over the spot from Charles Kuralt, but he's done it well.
The Daily News today has a story saying Osgood plans to retire this year. At age 83, he's certainly earned it. Hopefully, we'll still see him doing occasional reports or think pieces.
And hopefully, when a new host takes over (Jane Pauley is seen as a front-runner), the program will stick with its perfect mix of hard news and features on happenings in the news, the arts and sciences, personalities and the occasional oddities.
I've met Osgood a few times, when he's been an honoree or a presenter at the annual Christopher Awards that my firm publicizes, and he is as charming and classy in person as he is on camera.
His presence on Sunday Morning will be missed. Sundays won't quite be the same.
I was a bit surprised when I saw an item Monday on CBS This Morning about the supposed controversy brewing over Starbucks' plans to have a simple red cup this Christmas season, replacing cups decorated with snowflakes and reindeer from years past. Some Starbucks fans evidently voiced their displeasure on social media and the media picked up on it. Even the New York Times had a story about it in Monday's editions.
The Times even quoted one wacko from his Facebook page... “Starbucks REMOVED CHRISTMAS from their cups because they hate Jesus,” Joshua Feuerstein, who described himself as an evangelist, Internet and social media personality, wrote."
Sure, Starbucks hates Jesus. Oh Jesus, c'mon!
The Times went on to wonder.. "Perhaps it was part of the company’s intent to generate a little buzz, however negative and extreme some of the instant reviews sounded." Ya' think?
And the media fell for it.
Sure, such a silly story is a nice break from all the heavy news we're dealing with these days. But still... is this really news? I guess because it's on social media, the real media think it's real news.
Or, maybe it's just been a slow news day. Somehow, though, I don't think that's the case.
Here's a lesson for us PR folks... We don't and can't control the press. It's their job to dig and ask questions. It's our job to be prepared or to prepare our clients for those questions, but not to avoid them or chastise those reporters.
This is what veteran NY reporter Gabe Pressman wrote, after a local reporter from Channel 2 here had a dust-up with NY's mayor over a question she asked him at a news conference. It might be no coincidence that the mayor has a very low favorability rating from the public -- around 33%. Also no coincidence that the New York media have been writing about his low polling numbers. You get what you give.
A friend, Eric Berlin, producer at Channel 2 News here, posted Pressman's item on Facebook, and I'm reprinting it below.
(The trial Pressman talks about, with John Peter Zenger, took place in my hometown of Mount Vernon, which is why our city father's call it "The Birthplace of the Bill of Rights.")
THE MAYOR WHO WANTS TO TELL REPORTERS WHAT QUESTIONS HE’LL PERMIT THEM TO ASK .. by Gabe Pressman
New York's Mayor DeBlasio has tangled with a reporter, WCBS-TV's Marcia Kramer, over whether she had a right to ask him a question.
The Mayor who promised to run a “transparent” administration has done the opposite. He insists on setting the agenda for his press conferences. He gives us the topic and then assesses each question. If it’s something he doesn’t want to discuss, he admonishes the reporter to stay “on topic.”
I’ve been covering press conferences at City Hall for 60 years---and never has a Mayor had the temerity to enforce an agenda on journalists.
This Mayor who proclaims he is a “progressive” is anything but. The word “retrogressive” might be a better fit.
He needs a lesson in the history of freedom of the press in New York. John Peter Zenger went to jail for criticizing the English governor of New York. That happened 300 years ago and, if it were not for Zenger, the principle of freedom of the press might never have been embedded in our constitution.
Zenger, a half-literate German-born printer, was a true progressive. He would not let himself be bullied by the top government official in New York. And, thanks to a brilliant lawyer and a courageous jury, he was acquitted of wrongdoing.
Any question is fair game for every mayor. Indeed that principle has suited presidents and governors as well. For a reporter to be guided by any other code would be unprofessional and a betrayal of his obligation to the people.
Journalists being manipulated by political candidates and elected officials is nothing new. The term "pack journalism," in fact, goes way back to the early 1970s when Timothy Crouse published "The Boys on the Bus" in 1973, detailing the reporters covering the most recent Presidential campaign. Hunter S. Thompson touched on it the year before in his "Fear & Loathing on the Campaign Trail."
I've come to expect the tabloids and the "Access Hollywood"-type gossip shows to pander the to the exploits of crazy wannabe politicians. Look at all the coverage Sarah Palin got a few years ago. As unqualified as she may have been for the VP job, she at least had some experience as a governor. But Trump... come on.
I was disappointed to see his planned visit to the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas as one of the lead stories on today's CBS This Morning, the one morning news show that touts "real news." This is just another campaign stop for a loud-mouthed candidate, but even CBS News is giving it coverage (and thus credibility) over what so many of the other candidates are doing and saying.
It's truly a shame that the media are letting one kooky candidate hijack the campaigns and important discussions of real issues by other real candidates.
Even conservative Rupert Murdoch has said he doesn't like Trump's style and self-aggrandizement. But he's not above using his name and antics to sell papers and get ratings on his TV stations.
I thought some of the other major media were above that, but hysterics get eyeballs on the page and on the screen... and that translates to money.
If I were advising any of the other candidates, I'd say to simply ignore the ranting and taunting of the crazy rich New Yorker and stick to the issues and platforms that you've identified as important. Don't get drawn into the fray, because it only validates and brings more exposure to the crazy one.
Nancy Silberkleit, a friend who is Co-CEO of Archie Comics, is a firm believer that comic books, or graphic novels as they are sometimes called, can teach and inspire.
The iconic Archie series is often about teenage puppy love and the angst of growing up.
But Nancy has used the Archie platform, as well as the comic book medium in general, to help young readers deal with issues like bullying and self confidence. She even formed a foundation called Rise Above Social Issues to help kids deal with the issue, and she is a frequent speaker through out the U.S. and as far abroad as India and Africa.
Nancy also believes comics can inspire positive action. She recently added a teacher's guide to an Archie story titled "Get Drastic with Plastic," where Archie's pals Betty and Veronica, after hearing a speaker at school talk about the environmental impact of plastic, got their school and the community to do more to recycle. Nancy made the lesson plan available at no charge to teachers.
Hats off to Nancy Silberkleit for showing how a medium many see as simply light entertainment can be used to inspire and promote responsible action.