.... 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.
We are located at 228 East 45th Street, Suite 11-South, New York City 10017
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.
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.
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.
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/
It's important that we are aware and informed on national and international affairs, which is why read read and watch the news. But it's also important to know what's happening locally in our own towns and neighborhoods.
Local news traditionally has been the cornerstone of local media. It's why we listened to local radio stations -- not just for the music, but to know what was happening in our own towns. It's what we turned the TV on for in the early evening, to get an idea of what happened while we were at work or school. And the real place we turned to for local news was our hometown newspaper. Our daily paper could give us a more in-depth look at and behind the headlines, especially if we lived in a smaller city or town. Years ago, even small cities had their own daily paper, with real local news coverage.
I've decried this trend many times before -- the demise of local news outlets. And it's not just newspapers.
Radio used to be local. Back in the 80s, when the FCC loosened the rules on station ownership and the amount of time stations had to devote to news and information, many stations dropped local news coverage or combined the news organization among the many stations a company like Clear Channel owned in each market. Bottom line: less local news.
TV news, by virtue of the coverage area of its signal, is more regional than local. But cable providers came along with local TV news like News12 and others in many markets, devoting their coverage mainly to a smaller area like a specific county or group of counties. But those news channels are shrinking, as we've seen from recent announcements of staffing cutbacks and consolidation by some of the News12 channels here in the New York area. What used to be News12 Long Island, News12 Westchester, News12 Connecticut is now just News12. Bottom line, again: less coverage of local news.
We've seen local newspapers disappearing left and right. Media giants like Gannett have been cherry-picking struggling local and regional newspapers, buying them and -- again -- consolidating newsrooms, cutting reporters and editors and sacrificing coverage of local news.
Even here in New York City, we're seeing less local news coverage.
The New York Times used to have good regional sections on Sundays, where suburban readers could get interesting background on local news, as well as info on local arts, events and dining. Those disappeared in September with cutbacks, and it's all thrown into one metro section on Sundays, with much less real local coverage of the suburbs.
The Wall Street Journal launched, in the spring of 2010, its "Greater New York" section, to add more localized coverage of news, finance and lifestyle. It was an attempt, I'm sure, to lure some local advertisers for whom the national pages of The Journal wouldn't make sense.
My review of that section a few days after it launched was mixed, since it certainly was a mixed bag back then -- a bit hard to pin down. But the section, to me anyway, found its footing and became a welcome part of the paper. I found myself missing it when I'd read The Journal on out of town trips, where the New York metro section wasn't available.
But here we go again... The Journal just announced plans to trim down its metro section. The official announcement says "it will be a more concise, focused daily report on life and business." That sounds like corporate-speak for "less." Less local news, less local analysis.
The official announcement said there will be "an elimination of some positions." They're going from a staff of 36 for the section down to 16 -- 12 reporters and 4 editors, according to a story in MediaPost. The section used to have as much as 16 pages, but lately it was averaging 6 to 8. Beginning Nov. 14, it will consist of two pages within the main section of the paper. The Journal is also trimming some other sections including the Personal Business section and its Friday "Arena" section covering the arts.
It all means less local news. And that's not good news for any of us.
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 presidential election generally means ad time is harder to come by, both on the national and local level. Local media outlets -- TV, radio and newspapers -- had been banking on an ad windfall this year as the campaign heated up. But it just hasn't materialized, according to a story today in Adweek.
The big media story earlier in the campaign cycle was all the free media that the candidates, especially Donald Trump, were able to garner. Ad forecasters predicted the political media buys would ratchet up once Trump became the Republican nominee and had access to GOP campaign funds. (And don't forget, he's the guy who said he'd fund his campaign out of his own pocket.)
The Democrats are spending for ads, nationally and in key states. But the Trump campaign has been miserly in its ad spending, both nationally and locally. It's causing some distress in local markets that had been counting on political ads, especially for media that held back some time availabilities in their inventory, expecting the last-minute demand for political spots. It hasn't happened.
About $2.8 billion has been spent in local media for political ads -- not just for the presidential candidates, but for local races as well. But that figure is about 15 percent below what the forecasts had been. The Republican presidential campaign this year is actually spending a bit less than the McCain and Romney campaigns spent four and eight years ago.
Adweek cites experts who say spending by presidential candidates generally accounts for about 30 percent of total political ad buys, with the bulk going to support Congressional, gubernatorial and local races.
To keep it in perspective, the $2.8 billion represents less than 10 percent of total local ad spending, which is pegged at about $30 billion. But local media must be giving prayers of thanksgiving for their neighborhood car dealers, reliably buying time and space to push new cars off the lot.
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.