.... my 2 cents ....
musings on marketing, media, public relations....and life,
by David Reich
Reich Communications, Inc.
Reich Communications, Inc. is a boutique public relations agency in New York City offering full service in a variety of areas, with specializations in business-to-business; advertising, marketing and media firms; transportation safety; non-profits, and select consumer products and services.
For more info, call us at (212) 573-6000, email to david@reichcommunications or text to 914-325-9997.
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Newspaper giant Gannett yesterday announced another round of layoffs, this time affecting 350 people, which is about 2% of a workforce of 18,700. Unfortunately, newspaper layoffs aren't surprising news anymore. We just heard from The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times about impending cutbacks yet again.
I don't have specifics in terms of how many of the layoffs are newsroom employees. I did read that at The Journal News, Gannett's paper in New York City's northern suburbs, at least three people being let go are veteran journalists with a big following locally. Judging from comments posted on Gannett's site, many readers are not happy to lose these bylines, which include popular columnist Phil Reisman. Many are saying his column was a key reason they remained subscribers.
I understand the need to cut costs, especially in the newspaper business, which is struggling to hold onto readers and advertisers. But I just don't see the logic in cutting the people who create the product the paper sells.
Meanwhile, Gannett CEO Bob Dickey continued to pull down a salary and bonus in the $5.9 million range. According to Morningstar, a financial firm that tracks executive compensation at public companies, Dickey's pay package went up more than 47 percent last year, even as the company's revenues declined by 9 percent.
Another site says the average salary for a reporter at Gannett is around $43,700, with a range from $33,000 to $69,000. I wonder how much their sales reps or their HR people make? I bet it's more than the people who actually produce what Gannett sells.
I also wonder how many reporters' jobs could have been saved if Dickey and the other top five execs would have trimmed even one-quarter of their combined compensation that totals $13.9 million (up last year, by the way, from nearly $8 million.) Nearly $3-1/2 million could have kept about 70 or 75 reporters in the newsrooms.
Similar statements could be made about the top execs at The Times and The WSJ/News Corp.
A column in London's The Guardian a few days ago asked if Facebook is the leading threat to newspapers and, more broadly, journalism itself. The writer, Roy Greenslade, said that by luring away readers and advertisers, the social media site is jeopardizing newspapers and, at the same time, narrowing the news agenda, which he says poses a threat to journalism.
The issue of losing readers and advertisers is something newspapers have been facing for decades, beginning when TV became the dominant media form. But over the past 15 years or so, newspapers find themselves in the same basket as other "traditional" media including TV, as digital has taken over. Most papers have embraced, perhaps reluctantly at first, digital with branded sites of their own. They're still struggling to find a way to monetize their news sites, and digital ads so far have not fully replaced print ads in terms of how much advertisers are willing to pay for them.
What's a newer issue, though, is the impact Facebook is having on what we perceive as news and the accuracy of what gets reported. The Pew Research Center published a study a few months ago showing that 66 percent of Facebook users get their news via Facebook. True, that's not 66 percent of the U.S. population, but with an estimated 60 million American Facebook users, it's still a very big number -- roughly 40 million people. And as we know, it's not just Millennials on Facebook -- in fact, almost all of my Boomer friends are on Facebook to some degree.
So with 40 million people reading Facebook, here's where the problem lies, as articulated in the Guardian story. What's considered news on Facebook is not determined by traditional journalistic standards After coming under criticism earlier this year, Facebook adjusted the algorithms it uses to determine what's "trending." But "trending" is still largely based on what people are posting about, so if the Brangelina split trends high because it's juicy gossip about a big celebrity couple, it may push off the radar legitimate but less sexy news like the plight of refugees leaving Syria or starvation and slavery in some parts of Africa or the continuing erosion of the Arctic ice shelf.
To make it worse, other news sources including many of the "traditional" media like the networks and major newspapers now look at what's trending on Facebook to help determine what they report.
And there's another risk to relying what's reported as news on Facebook. News can easily be manipulated, with information that's bogus attributed to normally reliable sources. It then gets shared and reposted, taking on a life of its own as real news. I saw an example of this just a few weeks ago when a friend shared an article about saying something outrageous Trump supposedly said. I'm not a Trump supporter at all, but this seemed just too crazy ...even for Trump. The article referred to a story in The Washington Post, but when I searched the WaPo site, no such story existed. But there it was on Facebook, something obviously incorrect being passed along as real news with the Washington Post referenced as the source.
So yes, Facebook poses a real threat to the health of other news media. But the larger threat is the potential damage its misuse can do to the journalistic process -- a process that the Constitution recognizes as an important way to keep us informed and our politicians and business leaders honest.
Sunday mornings won't be quite the same, now that Charles Osgood has hosted his last weekly show on TV. He's been a fixture -- a sense of calm and sensibility and dignity in a world that has been filled with too much crazy news.
For 22 years, he's been a friendly face who somehow has helped assure us that despite the too often bad news, we'll somehow get through it together as life goes on.
I had the good fortune of meeting Charles Osgood a few times, when he presented or received honors at the annual Christopher Awards, which I've represented for nearly 20 years. Having the chance to chat with him briefly in the green room before the ceremonies began or afterwards during the reception, he was always charming, friendly and totally down-to-earth.
Although retiring from TV, we'll still be able to hear his voice and get his insights and commentary on CBS Radio. So until then, Charles, thanks for all the great work and see you on the radio.
Back in the 1940's and 50's, most Americans got their news from daily newspapers. Most major cities and many smaller ones had more than one paper -- the morning paper with news from the previous day and early evening, and the afternoon or evening paper with news of that day.
Then along came TV, which quickly became the dominant news source for most of us. And it wasn't too long before network newscasts had to share their audience with cable news - first CNN and then several other 24-hour cable news channels. All-news radio stations in bigger markets also had - and continue to have - big audiences.
But the internet has changed the equation yet again. It's not just the more "legitimate" online news sources like the news sites of newspapers and TV stations, and other sites like Huffington Post. The somewhat startling news is that social media that has become the dominant source of news, at least for younger Americans.
A new study by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism finds that 28 percent of Americans ages 18 - 24 cite social media as their primary source of news. Twenty-four percent of that same age demo say their primary source of news is TV. It's even higher among people who search for news on the smartphones -- 48%.
Facebook is the most popular social media site for young people to get their news, with 44% saying that's their top go-to place for news. YouTube comes in at 19%, Twitter at 10% and WhatsApp at 8%.
What troubles me about these numbers is how easy and commonplace it is for online readers to get misinformation that's disguised as news. It's not unusual to see Facebook and Twitter posts that refer to an article in a trusted major news source, but the facts get twisted, often intentionally. Just the other day, a friend told me about an article she saw in The Washington Post that had some troubling information about Trump's mental state. As much as I dislike Trump, the story just didn't sound right. I had my friend show me the article and it turned out to be a Facebook post that referred to the Post story. But there was no link and when I went directly to the Washington Post site, there was no such story. So someone along the way put out a false post, incorrectly citing a major news outlet as the source. And it got re-posted online countless times.
This happens a lot on social media, so if nearly a third of young people are relying on social media for news, I'd say we have a problem.
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.