.... 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.
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That's the idea behind a new ad campaign being launched by The New York Times. The "newspaper of record" has been the brunt of attacks by the president and by his followers who believe his fake news accusations, which are designed to distract attention from the fake news being disseminated by the White House.
A full-page ad in Friday's Times introduced the campaign, with the tagline "Truth is more important now than ever."
The Times is also running a 30-second ad during the Oscars telecast, at a cost of $1.2 million.
It's part of a two-pronged effort to fight back against the fake news allegations while boosting circulation. Since the election, people searching for truth have boosted the paper's online subscriptions by more than 270,000.
Other papers are also responding to fake news charges. The Washington Post this week introduced a new slogan, Democracy Dies in Darkness. They are running it immediately beneath the paper's masthead in Page One.
I've seen other papers including the Chicago Tribune use the theme of real news or reliable news in promotional campaigns online to draw new readers.
As we continue to hear rants and charges of fake news from the president and his minions, more people are turning to media they feel they can trust to ferret out the real news from the contradictions and outright lies being fed to us by the administration.
We are seeing more news coverage that corrects wrong information. Many papers and networks are including fact-checks that correct inaccurate statements or put them in context.
This is what we need and what people should use if they hope to have a real and honest picture of what our new administration and our elected officials are doing. We can't and shouldn't rely on questionable reports on websites posing as news but really run by political groups, whether leaning left or right.
Truth is what we need now and what we get from legitimate and credible news organizations like those in the president's cross-hairs.
When I began this blog just over ten years ago, my goal was to focus on professional issues and events in public relations, marketing and media. I generally stayed away from politics. But that’s changed over the past two years, since the presidential primaries began.
For readers who only want my 2 cents on professional issues, I apologize. But I think current events in politics are impacting media and public relations and, bigger than that, the moral fiber of our great nation. I cannot stay silent in this space. If this bothers you, please close this post now. If not, read on and comment as you see fit.
The circus of a presidential news conference the other day was shocking and troublesome on many fronts. Aside from his rudeness to reporters, his anti-Semitic and racist posturing and his doubling down on his belief in alternative facts about the election results, his approval ratings and his inheriting “a mess,” the ongoing and misplaced attacks on the news media pose a real threat to our democracy.
His claims of fake news are grossly off-base. He even predicted that headlines the day after his news conference would focus on his “ranting and raving.” He was right on that, but if he didn’t want those kind of headlines, then why did he rant and rave? I heard the news conference and “rant and rave” would be an accurate description.
He sounded like a whiny baby, saying the press has treated him “unfairly.” This, coming from a man who behaved like a spoiled child when he mocked his primary opponents, called them silly names and used theatrics to take the focus off the important issues the public wanted to hear the candidates discuss.
Worse yet, his constant portrayal of the news media as “fake news” and now “enemies of the American people” is more than off-base. It’s almost self-servingly treasonous in its attempt to take down a key element in our democratic system of checks and balances.
The White House would like to control the media so only positive information – and often exaggerations and outright lies -- flows out to the American public. This would make it easier for the new administration to fulfill its misguided pledges to dismantle social programs that help so many Americans and, ironically, many who voted for him.
Blocking the flow of accurate news would help the administration put in place rules or programs that will increase the tax burden on the middle and lower class while granting generous tax cuts to the super-wealthy. It will make it easier for the White House to take away agencies and rules that protect consumers from predatory practices by some financial institutions, from shortcuts that can harm us through food we eat and products we use every day, from regulations designed to protect us from ourselves in terms of environmental issues.
Here’s the bottom line as I see it. The news media are not perfect. They make mistakes and they sometimes have a bias. But the vast majority of the hard-news reporting is accurate and truthful. It may not paint a pretty picture of the administration and the president’s actions, but the truth is not always pretty, especially these days in Washington. But we need an honest press to keep a balance on what seems to be an unbalanced White House. If we are accurately informed on what is happening in D.C., we can respond in an informed manner, working to halt actions we fear may be damaging to us and to our great nation’s standing in the eyes of the world.
It’s telling and a bit heartening that even as the president denigrates the media and calls them “failing,” subscriptions and viewing is up significantly for The New York Times, The Washington Post and other major market dailies, as well as for one of the president’s favorite targets, CNN. What we can do as individuals to help the media weather this storm is to buy newspapers and watch the network and cable newscasts.
TV advertisers have long sought what they consider the key demographics -- adults ages 18 - 49. To meet that demand, the networks have long aimed their programming at that most-desired age group in order to lure the dollars from big mass-market advertisers.
John Crupi has an interesting backgrounder on those golden demos in the new issue of Advertising Age.
He reminds us that the focus on the 18-49 group goes back more than 50 years when ABC was a young and struggling network, getting clobbered in the ratings by the larger and more established NBC and CBS, which had many more affiliates and, therefore, more eyeballs.
To combat the difference in viewership, ABC put on programming that appealed to a younger audience and then, in a brilliant move, began touting the 18-49 demographics as the ones with money to spend on products being advertised.
In reality, the younger end of that age group likely did not have lots of money to spend. Just out of school, they were either in college or getting started on the careers, with lower-paying jobs at the bottom of the ladder.
As people passed the 50-year-old mark, they suddenly became less desirable to advertisers, if you bought what the networks told advertisers.
But wait… think about it. As we get into our 50s, we tend to have fewer big expenses like college tuition and other child-related costs. If we bought a house, our mortgage may be almost paid off. And as we are older, we are often more advanced in our careers and getting a bigger paycheck.
And as we move past that magic 50+ mark, many of us have more disposable income that we can use on travel, recreation and hobbies. With kids out of the house, we might downsize, which often means buying new furnishings. We also may go out to eat more often, since we’re paying only for two rather than three or four or more.
So you can see, the whole idea of 18 – 49 being the key money-spending demographic seems to be off-base. But the networks’ sales machines, supported by Nielsen ratings, have done a masterful job of selling 18 – 49.
Smart marketers and smart agencies have seen through the sizzle and have been more targeted in their ad spending.
I wrote about the importance of credibility about two weeks ago, saying... Credibility is one of the most valuable assets a business, institution or an individual can have. That's why millions and millions of dollars are invested in public relations/community relations. It's not just about getting the word out, but about building trust in that word.
The White House continues to test the limits of credibility, stretching the truth and coming up with plainly wrong information that is easy for anyone who reads or sees to dispute.
First it was ego-based claims about the size of the audience at the inauguration. Now it's about the media not covering terrorist events that we all know about, like the shooting at the club in Orlando and the attack in San Bernardino or the drive-though massacre in Nice. How do we know about those events? Because we read about them in the newspapers and saw them over and over in coverage on TV and cable news channels.
Yet the White House says the media did not cover them.
It seems the so-called president and his advisors are living in some sort of alternate reality, filled with alternate facts.
People are beginning to get tired of the daily drama, based on late-night tweets and speeches that veer off track onto a rant about fake news and illegal voters. I would think even some of his supporters are starting to wonder, although they may not admit it publicly yet.
The White House is losing credibility not just among American voters, but around the world. Foreign leaders know they must deal with the U.S. and its president, but do they feel they can trust him (and, therefore, us as a nation)? More outrageous lies and denials of reality only serve to erode whatever credibility the White House now has.
The media are finally doing their job, reporting the news and quickly pointing out incorrect assertions so we get the full picture in context, not just the "news" the way the government would have us believe.
Truth tends to win out over lies and deception, except in authoritarian or dictatorial states where the news and the media are tightly controlled. Thank goodness we have a free and independent press that, despite roadblocks and fabrications put in its way, will always seek the truth and report it to us.
Let's hope the White House can't change that or we are sunk.
Last week, in the midst of all the hand-wringing in the media over the chaos in the White House, I got an email from my friend Rocco Sacci, a longtime PR pro and also for many years a professor of public relations at St. Johns University.
Here’s some of what Rocco wrote to me…
“Reading the New York Times article (Jan. 18) about their future business plan to emphasize digitalization, the term ‘legendary media’ was used. I think it's the replacement term for ‘mainstream media,’ but I am totally underwhelmed with it.
The article was, in essence, a lot of ‘mea culpa’ on how the media just have no idea where they belong in this digitized world. Liberal press has no answer for conservative right wing media, whose talk show broadcasters talk in brief headlines, bearing little truth, but easy-to-grasp concepts. Meanwhile, the liberal media delves in lengthy treatises to explain issues too time-consuming for anyone to be able to understand their concepts.”
I’m not sure the term “legendary media” is a good one. It has the feel of oldness, staleness. Yet “mainstream media” has negative connotations now, thanks to our clueless old friend Sarah Palin and reinforced by the White House.
Whatever we call the legitimate media (hey, maybe that’s a name), they certainly do have a place in today’s world – maybe more now than ever in recent memory.
We have a White House that, so far, is operating under the cloak of secrecy, with both a president and a press secretary who openly belittle and demean the media, calling their reporting fake news and lies. It’s pretty ironic when the lies, blurred by the new name “alternative facts,” come from the White House and, has been the case for many years, the man in charge himself, going back to when he was a real estate huckster and a reality TV personality. And a few days ago the White House senior strategist and white-nationalist-in-charge told the media to “shut up.”
The majority of people are horrified by this and are turning to the legitimate media increasingly to try to get the true story. This is helping media from a revenue perspective, as they are getting more viewers and more readers both in print and online.
Thankfully, the media are hunkering down for the duration, adding more reporting staff, including investigative journalists, to get the real truth and separate it from the alternative facts that are being thrown at them and at us, the American public. The Washington Post recently announced it is adding as many as 40 staffers to its reporting staff. CNN disclosed yesterday that it is beefing up its investigative reporting unit. Other major media are taking similar steps, knowing that the public wants and needs the real news and accepting that they, the media, will have to dig harder to get it for us.
To Rocco’s point about the conservative media using sound-bite friendly talking points often with little regard for facts, while the real media often go to great pains to fully explain positions which can get tiring and boring, Joe Mandese, editor of ad trade publication MediaPost, recently wrote about that same thing. It’s prompted me to start to reach out to pros in PR and advertising, to see if we collectively can find a way to help frame often complex issues in simple, easy-to-digest terms so even FOX News viewers might understand it.
I have said here many times that the free press is a crucial underpinning to our democracy – something that our Constitution provides for and protects. The media help keep the politicians, whether conservative or liberal, honest and accountable.
We need them to do their job and, finally, it seems they are doing it. And they need us to support them.
I think I've managed to stay out of the fray, with all that our president-to-be has done that's worthy of comment these past few weeks. I've refrained from talking about his thin-skinned tweets about parodies every president has had to suffer through from Saturday Night Live and other comedians. Or his response to a heartfelt plea from Meryl Streep. Or his inaccurate comments about the state of the Atlanta district that Rep. John Lewis represents. Or so much more that has dismayed and disgusted me and many of us.
I had been planning to write about the media and their attempts to cover the transition. I find it interesting and reassuring that some of the media the president-to-be has targeted as "failing" actually have been benefiting from his barbs. The New York Times, for example, has seen a net gain of more than a hundred thousand subscribers since the election, and its online readership has gone up by a third. The Washington Post has seen big gains also, with online audience up by 50%. Other "mainstream" outlets like CNN and the major networks have enjoyed similar jumps. And in these times of shrinking newsrooms, The Washington Post recently announced plans to add several dozen reporters, some of whom will be doing investigative stories.
I attribute it to the public's desire to get news and analysis that they can trust to be accurate. The prez-to-be may reach millions via his Twitter feeds, but many millions more are looking to the media to get the real news behind those often-conflicting and sometimes confusing 140-character missives. The Chicago Tribune, recognizing the public's desire for real news, has been using the phrase "real, not fake news" in its outreach to gain more subscribers.
The prez-to-be's first news conference since his election was a shameful farce and an insult to intelligent viewers. Rather than give us any real insight into his plans, he spent much of the brief event berating the media and, erroneously, calling out CNN as a "fake news" outlet. CNN, like most major media, did not go into details of the compromising Russian "shower" sexcapade, other than reporting accurately that both the president and the prez-to-be had been briefed on the intelligence reports about it. The report had been circulating the Washington rumor mill for months and none of the media reported details until Buzzfeed, not CNN, finally broke the details publicly, even as they said it had not been verified.
I find it so ironic that a man who has so often embraced "fake news" to further his own goals and hurt others -- the person who for so long had been a leading proponent of the "birther" issue to try to delegitimize Obama, who wrongly connected then-opponent Ted Cruz' father with Lee Harvey Oswald, who told us with a straight face that he watched thousands of Muslims in New Jersey cheering after the 9/11 attacks, and on and on and on -- is now ranting when the possibly-fake (or possibly not fake) news is not in his favor.
And what a piece of showmanship he pulled off, having as a prop a table piled high with papers that he said proved he is removing himself from his business interests, to avoid potential conflicts of interest. At least one reporter who was there said the papers appeared to be blank.
How stupid does he think we are?
All of this points up the crucial role the media play in keeping us informed and keeping our politicians honest. We must do whatever we can to support them -- buy newspapers, tune in to the major network newscasts, support PBS and NPR, and donate what you can to news organizations like ProPublica and the organizations that will fight for journalists in court, if need be.
It's important that we remember that the Declaration of Independence includes a line that says... "Freedom of the press is an institutional necessity to achieve a properly representative government."
Those are words we, and our leaders, need to remember and respect.
How far we've come in communicating and sharing information.
On this date in 1838, 179 years ago, Samuel Morse demonstrated the first telegraph, sending messages using a series of electrical dots and dashes -- short and longer electrical pulses -- representing the numbers and letters that became known as the Morse Code. Six years later, in 1844, the first commercial telegram was sent and over the next several years wires were strung throughout the U.S. to enable fast communication from city to city and eventually around the world.
When I was in Boy Scouts, I learned the Morse Code for a merit badge. And then, in my early teens as a ham radio operator, I used it to talk with other hams around the nation and worldwide. I'm a bit rusty, but I still remember the Morse Code.
To get my ham license, I had to be able to send and receive messages in Morse Code at 20 words per minute. Really good code operators could go at 30 - 40 words per minute, but even at that speed, it could take several minutes for a telegraph operator to transmit a message.
Today we get impatient if our emails and texts don't come through instantaneously.
It looks like the media are in for a tough challenge when it comes to covering the White House after Jan. 20th.
Unless we see some major changes, which are always possible when it comes to the president-to-be, information will come from the White House primarily by Twitter and possibly other forms of social media like YouTube.
It's good to get information out to the public directly, which the White House currently does via Twitter and Facebook. But if very few (or none at all) news conferences are given, then how will the media do their jobs -- which is not to simply parrot what's being handed out, but to ask questions and follow-ups?
That's the normal procedure ... the give and take of a news conference. The president or his press secretary may choose to avoid answering some questions, but at least they get raised and hopefully some actually get answered. It's not a game of gotcha or political partisanship -- it's merely the media trying to keep the public accurately informed.
But as we've been seeing, normal is no longer normal.
A story on Politico the other day advised journalists to keep asking questions and if news is generated via tweets, to incorporate unanswered questions into their news coverage. If wrong information is given in a presidential tweet, such as the recent assertion that much of the 2 million vote lead for Hillary came from illegal votes, the media will have to, even as they report on the tweet, include in their news stories that the initial statement or allegation is incorrect.
It will make for some challenging reporting and writing, but we must rely on the media to fact-check for us even as they report. And they may have to stand up to calls of media bias from some. But remember, it's not bias if it's truth.
We may be entering a new era of reality, and more than ever we will need the free press to keep that reality truthful.
Before the internet, it was pretty easy to know what news was real and what might be fake, exaggerated or inaccurate.
For real and accurate news, we could rely on major newspapers, radio and TV. We knew -- or most of us did -- that certain newspapers like The National Inquirer and News of the World, often found at supermarket checkouts, were sensationalist at best and totally fictional at worst. They featured stories about 2-headed cats, 1,000-pound women and celebrity exposes. Most of us knew not to believe them, even if they did make for entertaining reading.
The internet and social media have made fake news a major problem on many fronts.
During this past election, fake news often played a major role in driving the national discussion. At least one candidate, now our president-to-be, often cited wrong information gleaned, whether knowingly or not, from fake news stories online.
And throughout the election furor, many of us saw fake news stories online and believed them, often sharing them with others on Facebook, Twitter and other social media. We're learning now that some of this fake news had been spread by sources connected with Russia,possibly in an effort to impact the election. Many other bogus news stories, spread via "shares" on Facebook, came from independent entrepreneurial hackers in eastern Europe, with no political agenda but instead the desire to make thousands of dollars when advertisers paid per click for viewers to their sites. They quickly learned, through trial and error, that stories about Trump drew the most views.
Although I know some might disagree, stories taken from news outlets like the major daily papers, networks and cable channels, as well as online sites like Huffington Post, Buzzfeed and ProPublica can generally be trusted as legitimate and accurate.
But with so much news online, how can we trust that it's real?
That looks like it will be a major question for some time to come. Sites like Facebook are trying to monitor fake news sites and take them down, but they seem to pop up as quickly as FB can knock them off.
I think the answer, for now, is to rely only on what we know are reliable sources. Conservatives will say the major dailies, especially The N.Y. Times and The Washington Post are not reliable, but I strongly disagree. When they publish something that exposes something questionable about a candidate or about the president whether it's Obama or the incoming guy, they are fulfilling their role in our democracy -- a free press that can publish fact, whether or not flattering to the people in power. That's how the Founding Fathers planned it, and any attempt to minimize or hinder that role, whether by political parties or by the president himself, must be fought at every turn.
The free press may have a tough road ahead, with an incoming president who has expressed outright disdain for them even as he has used them to his advantage. We will have to rely on the courts to back the media as they try to keep our government and our leaders transparent. And each of us can help by subscribing to newspapers and supporting non-profit journalism like ProPublica and NPR.
The early leaders of this country recognized the critical importance having a free and unfettered press, which is why they added Freedom of the Press as the very first of Ten Amendments to our Constitution. It says, in part... "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."
A free press serves as one of the checks on our elected officials, including the president. It is their job -- their role in our free society -- to keep us informed accurately and to seek the truth - the story behind the official media releases and sound bites. I'm not talking about digging for dirt, but digging for the truth behind the headlines.
The major media like The New York Times and The Washington Post have certainly taken political sides in their editorials and op-ed pieces, but that's what those sections of the paper are supposed to be about. But the news stories -- the straight reporting -- from those outlets is generally unbiased and accurate, despite what the president-to-be may say, when he doesn't like what they've reported about him.
Like many others, I am concerned with the attitude of our president-to-be towards the media. For years, he has courted them to get as much attention as he possibly could. It worked very well for him during the primaries, where his often outrageous statements and tweets got full attention, often to the detriment of his opponents.
When he didn't like what a media outlet said about him, he would ban them from his events, threaten to sue and/or make snarky comments about them on Twitter. And, more troubling, he continues to rant against the media in his tweets, even as he is preparing to take on his new job.
That attitude and behavior toward the media will be inappropriate, to say the least, and potentially harmful to us, the citizens who will be paying his salary.
Admittedly, President Obama didn't hold lots of open news conferences. But the media got a daily briefing from the press secretary, who was then open to questions and further digging by reporters. I would hope and expect that the new administration will have daily press briefings and that all pronouncements from the White House won't be limited to 140-character tweets.
I hope I'm wrong, but it looks like the free press will be in for a tough time with the new White House. Unless there's a major shift in attitude, reporters will be kept at bay, subject to expulsion from future news conferences if they report something the new president dislikes, and feel under constant threat of being hit by a lawsuit or some government action if their reporting isn't to his liking.
I do hope I am wrong on this, but I can only base my concerns on past action we've seen. Hopefully, he will grow into the job.
Meanwhile, however, there is something each of us can do to help keep a free press alive. It is quite simple... buy a newspaper or, better yet, buy a subscription. Support the big dailies like The Times, The Washington Post, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, or buy your local paper. Listen to and donate to PBS and NPR, known for their independent and in-depth reporting and analysis.
Another thing to do is read and donate to ProPublica. Here's what ProPublica is about, taken from their homepage...
ProPublica is an independent, non-profit newsroom that produces investigative journalism in the public interest. Our work focuses exclusively on truly important stories, stories with “moral force.” We do this by producing journalism that shines a light on exploitation of the weak by the strong and on the failures of those with power to vindicate the trust placed in them.
The Mission: To expose abuses of power and betrayals of the public trust by government, business, and other institutions, using the moral force of investigative journalism to spur reform through the sustained spotlighting of wrongdoing.
In the best traditions of American journalism in the public service, we seek to stimulate positive change. We uncover unsavory practices in order to stimulate reform. We do this in an entirely non-partisan and non-ideological manner, adhering to the strictest standards of journalistic impartiality. We won’t lobby. We won’t ally with politicians or advocacy groups. We look hard at the critical functions of business and of government, the two biggest centers of power, in areas ranging from product safety to securities fraud, from flaws in our system of criminal justice to practices that undermine fair elections. But we also focus on such institutions as unions, universities, hospitals, foundations and on the media when they constitute the strong exploiting or oppressing the weak, or when they are abusing the public trust.
Does this sound like something we need now more than ever? Go to their site, read them and, if you can, support them with your donations. https://www.propublica.org/