Reaching stakeholders, publics & audiences in a journalism 2.0 world where Free Costs Too Much

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The main, and most uncomfortable truth, is that this [journalism] industry is the principal architect of its greatest difficulty today. We are allowing our journalism—billions of dollars worth of it every year—to leak onto the Internet. It is time to pause and recognize this—Free Costs Too Much.
David Estok Keynote, Envisioning 2020: The Canadian Public Relations Leadership Summit

This post comprises a mashup of ideas resulting from a summit presentation and readings of the following: two Globe and Mail newspaper articles (print and online), a recent James Grunig research paper and a blog post by Chris Lynch. Although primarily focused on changes to newspaper readership and engagement models, an underlying quest is answers to the challenges impacting public relations practitioners regarding audiences who are only prepared to read (and opine about) newspaper content found online and at no charge. How important is this non-paying public to the strategic management of public relations in regards to media relations, research and reputation monitoring?

Free may cost too much, but here’s another journalism irony, also courtesy of the prescient Estok: “Newspapers like The Hamilton Spectator have more readers than ever in its history. There is not a crisis of audience; there is a crisis of revenue.” (David Estok was the editor of The Hamilton Spectator for several years, but he recently left to accept the role of vice president, communications, SickKids Foundation.)

The Envisioning 2020 summit was an invite-only event for a cross-section of 70-plus Canadian public relations and communication management leaders, from a variety of industry associations and special interest groups. It was held on March 5, 2010. The summit was the brainchild of Terry Flynn, APR, FCPRS, and it was hosted by the Canadian Public Relations Society.


Online hits versus newspaper circulation

Less than two weeks after the Envisioning 2020 summit and Estok’s presentation, an OpEd article by Roy MacGregor appeared in the Globe and Mail, “When journalism is about hits, the craft goes amiss.” There were a flurry of links to this article, which was mainly passed around by email and Twitter, etc., not to mention a wealth of opinions expressed. Although MacGregor’s core concern was about resulting “lazy journalism” from the “hits” concept, his article echoed several of the things Estok had expressed about newspaper readership. For example [bolding mine], MacGregor wrote,

“In the ubiquitous cyberworld of blogs and tweets and anonymous comment, what has come to matter more than anything else is the number of hits a certain story receives. The more hits means, in most cases, the larger the audience, and while reaching more readers and viewers is a good thing on one level, it is also a concern for those who believe journalism is about content and information more than reaction.”

When newspapers start confusing ‘hits” with ‘circulation,’ there is an undeniable danger to journalism.

If, as increasingly appears to be the case in the uncertain world of Web publishing, traffic is what matters most—and may one day be the basis for figuring out how finally to make money out of Web content—then it only stand to reason that those working in the [journalism] business will chase traffic harder than stories.”

What I would (really) like to know about this article

1. What percentage of the audience who read MacGregor’s article only accessed it online and for free?

2. If one is no longer paying to read content (i.e., newspaper print or online premium subscriber or a single-copy purchaser), do you remain a stakeholder in that media outlet? And, if you are not a stakeholder, will (or should) the opinions expressed about content and/or the journalist(s) have as much impact on a media outlet’s management decisions? For that matter, are you even a member of the newspaper’s defined publics…or simply a “reading” audience that might opine?

3. Finally, whether you are an in-house public relations practitioner or on the agency side, does organizational coverage received in an online format—and the resulting opinions expressed by the online audience—hold the same degree of importance, impact and resonance as a (print or online) publication that boasts a strong and varied stakeholder base? (A base that is presumably taken into account by the media outlet’s management in terms of what content—e.g., business or government profiles, investigative articles or editorials—is commissioned, what focus articles will have and by whom they will be written?)

Paradigms of global public relations in an age of digitalisation

In terms of defining the differences between stakeholders, publics and audiences, particularly in today’s “digitalised” world, I found a recent paper by James Grunig quite helpful, “Paradigms of global public relations in an age of digitalization.” (It was commissioned by Praxis, a digital PR resource centre based in New Zealand; however, I found out about its existence via the blog post of an Australian agency, Bluegrass Consulting.)

For example,

I use the term stakeholder to define a broad group of people with similar stakes in the organisation, such as employees, customers, or community members. Stakeholders can be defined as anyone who has a similar risk resulting from a relationship with an organisation (Post, Preston, & Sachs, 2002). Not every member of a stakeholder group is a member of the same public, however; and, as Figure 2 illustrates, several different kinds of publics can be found within each stakeholder category. These publics can range from activist to active, passive, and non-publics.”

Grunig further details,

“As Phillips and Young (2009) have noted, it is important to segment stakeholders and publics to understand their differing relationships with an organisation and to be able to communicate with them about their problems and interests using the new media. I segment stakeholders by identifying the impact of consequences or potential consequences of management decisions on groups such as employees, customers, or shareholders. I then further segment publics from these stakeholder groups using my situational theory of publics (e.g., Grunig, 1997; Kim & Grunig, in press). This theory segments publics using the concepts of problem recognition, constraint recognition, and involvement recognition.”

“Audiences” (versus stakeholders or publics) are a little trickier to isolate, but (for the purposes of this blog post) I found this Grunig paragraph significant:

“I believe that publicity about management decisions can create such a reputational relationships between an organization and the audience exposed to the messages, but only to a limited extent and in certain situations. Therefore, I have labelled the dotted line no consequences because I believe that organizations have reputational relationships only with people for whom the organization has no consequences. Such people can be defined as audiences because they are not truly publics. These audiences have little importance to an organization. As soon as an organization or public has consequences on the other, it begins to develop an involving behavioural relationship, rather than a low-involvement reputational relationship. It is at that point that a group of people become an active and strategic public rather than a passive audience.

OK, fairly heavy-duty theoretical stuff, but useful in understanding the differences between stakeholders, publics and audiences, including their importance (or not), in our journalism 2.0 world. Who we want to be reading the newspaper may not be the same stakeholders and publics that media outlets are cultivating via the direction and focus of their newspaper content.

The Wente case study: online ruckus explodes around a print-based columnist

Margaret Wente is a long-time columnist at the Globe and Mail. Currently, she writes three columns per week for the venerable Canadian newspaper. Wente doesn’t shy away from opining about a variety of controversial topics, but I suspect even she was taken aback by the (primarily online) storm that erupted from her March 17th column, “Why are bloggers male?” Her short answer: male answer syndrome. “Opinionizing in public is a form of mental jousting, whether the aim is to out-reason, out-argue or out-yell your opponent. Women are just as good at this as men and, in some ways, better. Women are simply not as interested in doing it.”

Although the majority in the online court of public opinion (whether female or male) took Wente’s column and argument to be superfluous, unsubstantiated and decidedly opinionated attack on gender differences (male = negative, female = positive), plus were quite critical that the Globe’s editorial staff let it run without “fact-checking and proof,” my reading (or take) takeappeared quite different from the norm.

I took this particular Wente OpEd column (as well as her later participation and comments in the resulting online “conversation,” which was co-moderated by two Mommy Bloggers) as a clear statement that Margaret Wente had no plans to “enlarge” her journalism commitment to the Globe and Mail and its online readership by incorporating social media elements; in this case, to take up blogging. (It was more than a year ago that she wrote about her dislike of Twitter, for which the online reading and tweeting public also took her to task.) Furthermore, I maintain this means that Wente is confident in both her worth as a newspaper journalist/columnist, as well as in her faith in how she is valued by the Globe and Mail and its stakeholder readership. (Note: by my eyeballing, Wente’s columns provoke more letters to the editor in the print edition than any other regular columnist, especially now that former Globe columnist, Rex Murphy, has moved to the National Post.) I’m also speculating whether it is indicative that the Globe and Mail is also decreasing resources (journalists and digital staff) spent on the online version of its publication.

To test my theory about the real reason(s) behind Wente’s reticence to blog, I asked a journalist I respect from another major media outlet (with whom I have an online “relationship”) two questions:

1. Does your employer pressure its journalists into being active in social media (i.e., blogging and tweeting)?
2. Do you get any additional pay for your efforts?

The answers I received:

1. Yes, a bit.
2. No extra pay.

And the journalist also volunteered, “I like doing it, but frankly, it makes it hard to take in events properly, like the one I’m at now.”

David Estok’s experiment

When still editor at The Hamilton Spectator, David Estok decided to try an experiment. He took the newspaper’s core and respected columnists (many of them award-winning)…offline. Estok emphasized that the columnists weren’t placed behind a paywall (an experiment that he claims has proven “disastrous” in Canada)…their columns simply were no longer available to be read on The Hamilton Spectator’s website. If you wanted to read them, you had to subscribe to the newspaper or purchase that day’s copy.

Did any of the online reading publics or audiences complain? No. The only people who complained were…those same columnists who were taken off the grid. (I’m wondering if Margaret Wente would care if her columns no longer appeared on the Globe and Mail’s website…?)

In summarizing his presentation, Estok asserted that most newspapers in Canada remain profitable. But the freebie readership economy (for anything other than straight news) won’t work in the long run.

(Although he didn’t phrase it quite this way), Estok next asked how the newspaper business could turn free, online audiences into paying stakeholders. His suggestions included that media outlets could charge:

• the pipeline?
• the aggregators?
• the consumer with a micro payment?
• with a platform shift?

Alternatively,
• increase the amount of [online] advertising revenue?

Ultimately, Estok believes that the print and online versions of a paper increasingly will become two separate products: What appears in the newspaper, more and more, will not appear on the website for free. Just like his experiment with The Hamilton Spectator’s columnists.

He predicted more sophisticated development, which will takes advantage of the “technology” of both products:

For the Internet, things such as increased use of video, slide shows, interactivity, blogs, opinions, etc.
For the print newspaper, higher-quality analysis, longer narrative, better writing, and more interesting presentation.

Estok’s other predictions for newspapers of the future:

• physically smaller (less paper and ink)
• more expensive [to buy or subscribe to]
• of higher quality [in terms of content]
• targeted to a smaller audience
• “rewarding the reading experience”
• more focused (e.g., more local coverage)
• smaller staffs
• outsourcing of non-journalist activity (e.g., Pagemasters, ad production)
• more partnering with citizen journalists

The result will be a more informed [stakeholders/publics] audience on deciding “what is worth reading.”

Sidenote

I would encourage you to read the blog post, “What The Reader Elite Means for Journalism Schools” by Chris Lynch on his Lynch Blog, where some of these same topics are explored. The comments section is particularly rich with informed opinions and suggestions on the current state of journalism, as well as what it could and should be. Like this one from “Babydiscarted”:

As for “decades-old methods” that are being taught in journalism schools—do you mean storytelling, investigative reporting, researching, ethics and the law, copyediting and proofreading, visualizing layouts and graphic design, entrepreneurial thinking…? You’re right, those are useless! The market may be crap right now for traditional journalists, but these skills are still invaluable in many areas of media and communications. And if the future crop of journalists don’t have them, the content we consume will be far worse for it.”


What does it mean for PR professionals?

David Estok concluded his Envisioning 2020 summit presentation with the following challenges to the audience:

1. [Do changes in media models and journalism focus] make our messages harder to get out?
2. Does it change the role of traditional media relations?
3. Can we reach “right past” the media?
4. Do we need to get better at our own journalism?

To which I would add a few queries of my own:

1. Does this mean that marketing PR messages re: a company’s products and services will increasingly be eliminated from the majority of reputable newspaper outlets, if the papers are getting smaller and more focused on profiles, investigative reporting and editorials? (Might they get pushed to the online version only, as “filler” copy?)
2. What would this mean to the numerous “online monitoring” companies that have sprung up like mushrooms in the past few years? Will PR departments and agencies still be interested in a service that only monitors content that is available online, if traditional media outlets are taken out of the equation? (See my earlier question #3.)
3. How much value will public relations practitioners place on a stakeholder versus a public versus an [online-only] audience?
Finally
4. How valid do you think are David Estok’s predictions regarding future newspaper models and their impact on the public relations function?

Thank you for making it all the way to the end of this long and wide-ranging blog post.

Links related to this blog post

When journalism is about hits, the craft goes amiss, Roy MacGregor
Paradigms of global public relations in an age of digitalisation, James Grunig
Why are bloggers male?, Margaret Wente
What The Reader Elite Means for Journalism Schools, Chris Lynch

23 COMMENTS

  1. This is a useful contribution. I think we are about to see digital differentiation with the paid online content model, which will highlight how not all stakeholders are equal (knowledge is power and it has to be paid for).

    Social media might well concentrate informed power into a narrower elite than existed before it did (that’s the opposite of what SM ‘gurus’ predict). On the other hand, it might widen the the informed crowd – but that point remains hard to sustain so long as the crowd puts no commercial value on discovering the truth from reliable sources.

    Real knowledge is still a relatively rare commodity – that’s the part of the traditional media business model that Clay Shirky missed (he thinks its edge was in the high cost of acquiring the means of production, as opposed to the high cost of developing the content). Basically, he misunderstands the media’s reason for existence.

    BTW: is Osama Bin Laden a stakeholder of Israel? He certainly has an impact on it, as he does on US foreign policy. Are all stakeholders equal? To whom are entities accountable?

  2. Thanks for the comments, Paul. In David Estok’s (considereda) opinion, the paid online content model is *not* the way to go. (I would think the only exception is choosing to subscribe to a newspaper’s contents via a mobile device.):

    What appears in the newspaper, more and more, will not appear on the website for free.

    But he also sees a role for the online platform of a newspaper:

    • For the Internet, things such as increased use of video, slide shows, interactivity, blogs, opinions, etc.

    When you indicate “the high cost of developing the content,” that was the heart of the matter in David Estok’s presentation as well. And he mainly meant the talent pool of journalists. Not just their salaries, but the office space provided, the equipment needed to conduct their jobs, travel costs associated, meal allowances, etc. (where applicable). Just like any knowledge source (i.e., top talent in a business), there are costs involved in housing and “feeding” the talent.

    And yet the end result (i.e., the journalism produced) should simply be placed online and for free, for anyone’s reading and/or use?

    I think what people (especially the younger generations) need to get their heads around is that media outlets are, first and foremost, a business. Yes, it is a “public service” if there is quality journalism, but that service still needs to come at a price. Otherwise you are reduced to relying upon the opinions of “people like me” when trying to make sense of the world around you. (And the 2010 Edelman Trust Barometer pointed out that trust in “people like me” was actually down over the previous year.)

    I think you are pulling my leg with your Osama Bin Laden question, as I don’t see how he would fit into any of the examples James Grunig provided when it comes to stakeholders “I use the term stakeholder to define a broad group of people with similar stakes in the organisation, such as employees, customers, or community members.”

    Does a country, such as Israel, even have “stakeholders?” Wouldn’t it be the ruling government party, etc., that would have stakeholders? Regardless, I don’t believe OBL would qualify.

  3. Judy – an interesting post and various matters to ponder. However, I wonder if there is an issue in considering this issue from an “old world” view of journalism. Arguably, journalism arose from a need to have trained people find, interpret and write news and opinion in a form that others (probably less literate) could absorb. Whether it ever really was a public service and/or third party endorsement/opinion on which people could rely or trust, is a matter of debate.

    Newspapers (if we stay in that area of journalism for the moment), were often founded by rich men who wished to control (or more benignly enable) public debate or the public agenda. (Ironically, I have an episode of the Simpsons on television at the moment where Mr Burns is buying up the Springfield media to do just that). They were also funded by advertising and purchase revenue.

    So these three streams enabled the media and public relations practice (given this is PR Conversations), to operate without a direct exchange relationship being necesary.

    I believe that the “old world” model of journalism can still be substantiated for many print magazines – especially where there is quality and a benefit in having a hard copy to read (whilst there is a market of people who value paper and reading quality materials).

    Whether this also applies to newspapers, I’m less certain. Do we need newspapers for the news? Arguably not (given their production contraints, not least in terms of the time required). Are they supported by advertising and sales revenue? Not on the same mass market basis as before going forward.

    What society does need is quality behind the “news” that is available. I think that ideally would include an independence of view, and the resource and ability to undertake research and bring new things to the public’s attention. Arguably the Telegraph did that in the UK last year with the MPs’ expenses scandal – where it had the “content” to control via a print medium.

    Would that have mattered if it had been reported online – not necessarily. There are online “news channels” that will perhaps utilise the resources and independence of mind to break and control such stories.

    How they will be funded may depend. The advertising model may still apply if the audiences are there (using that word as you have done). There may also be publics willing to pay if the topic is one that they value (ie they are driven by the issue to pay for more information).

    Or there may be new ways of gaining income online – open access for some infomation, micro-payment for others, subscription, pay to click or other options that are not yet even considered.

    Free is powerful – and hard to put back in a bottle. But look at what people (especially younger generations) are prepared to pay for. Texting into vote for American Idol, download ringtones, overpriced cups of frothy coffee (ie paying for air), and many more areas of spend that previous generations would have found laughable.

    Yes, the bank of mum and dad may be funding their mobiles, access to the Internet and other “essentials” at the moment. Only time will show us which of these they’ll fund with their own pay cheques (or should that be pay bank transfer).

    Will quality information have value? Undoubtedly – although maybe in niche or longtail market model form.

    Will expert opinion? Only if the person has established a reputation that others wish to pay to access.

    Will “news” – yes, where that can be controlled in some way, which may mean only for a limited period. That is, we may pay to be first to the news or to access information that say PR people release selectively through certain outlets only.

    I think it is premature to write off traditional journalism, but also too late to put the genie back in the bottle. The world has already changed – but will continue to change in ways we can envisage, and ways we haven’t yet considered.

    There will be money following markets (publics, stakeholders, audiences) – and markets with money (publics, stakeholders, audiences). And there’ll be people who’ll provide content for free to those who’ll value it all the same.

    As well as those who provide nonsense for free (or paid for) that may be believed, retweeted and further “pollute” truth (whatever truth might be).

    But that’s always been the case in the “real world”, so why should online be any different?

  4. Judy, sharp and useful reply. I think that we are just coming to the end of all-the-news-for-free internet. We had thought advertising would cover the cost based on massive hits (eyeball) numbers. But the revenue never came even though the audiences were massive (truth was, Google worked out an alternative means to cream the advert market for itself). Meanwhile, people expected their content to be free because it was, er, free. Now we shall see how successful the likes of Rupert Murdoch will be in re-educating their market and whether or not others will follow. My guess is that at the high end we shall see paid-for-content sold online that will be of higher journalistic quality than in the recent past because of the need to justify the fee and the need to demarcate the paid-for content from what’s out there for free.

    Smart answer on OBL.

  5. Paul, I would say that Osama bin Laden is an activist public of the Israeli (and the US) Government. Grunig originally described a continuum with stakeholders being mostly ‘passive’ with no problem in the relationship between the stakeholder and the organisation. However, as soon as the organisation’s behaviour has consequences on the stakeholder, there is a problem in the relationship and the stakeholder turns into a public – first a ‘latent’ public, not yet knowing about the problem; then an ‘aware’ public (finding out about the problem); then an ‘active’ public (actively communicating about the problem); and finally, in extreme instances, an ‘activist’ public (bringing in the media to make an issue of the problem).

    However, a public doesn’t need to be a stakeholder but can emerge around an issue/problem if there are consequences. (That is why strategic PR, in my opinion, rests on the pillars of both stakeholder and issues management—an organisation cannot afford to look at the concerns/expectations of stakeholders only but has to identify issues as well in order to identify the publics/activists that emerge around issues). Osama bin Laden is thus a public (and an activist one at that) – he is going to have a problem with the consequences of almost any decision taken in Israel or the US—whether by the government or another group.

    In principle I agree with Judy that bin Laden cannot be a stakeholder of a country (Israel) since theoretically there has to be consequences of decisions/behaviour to be a stakeholder and a country cannot take decisions or behave—but its government can take decisions or its citizens can behave in a certain way.

    However OBL can have a problem with the ‘existence’ of the state of Israel and then he can be defined as a stakeholder, since the decision of the original role players who decided that Israel should come into being more than 60 years ago, would have consequences for him and still has.

    Of course I argued Grunig’s view of stakeholders and publics here. There are many other ways and views on how to define stakeholders.

  6. Dear Benita Steyn, given your take, perhaps OBL has a right to an Israeli and US passport? Perhaps Mr. Grunig will lead the campaign to get him both of them? Perhaps we only ever go to war with our stakeholders – so the Nazis were stakeholders of the very Jews that they put into concentration camps or vice versa? Are all stakeholders equal? Or are some stakeholders more equal than others? Perhaps the police in a riot situation should announce: “stakeholders stand back or we shall shoot or arrest you.” There is something very simplistically wrong with Mr. Grunig, at least as defended by you. Actually, every human has a link to every other human – but in that sense the concept of stakeholder becomes meaningless if we follow the logic that you do.

  7. Paul, in my first example where I applied Dr Grunig’s model re the different stages of stakeholders and publics, I said that Obama bin Laden was NOT a stakeholder but an ‘activist public’.

    Your comment to me has provided another practical application of Dr Grunig’s model. Judging from your reaction to Dr Grunig, you are obviously an ‘active public’ as far as he is concerned which means that you have a problem with his theoretical views(?) and you are ‘actively communicating’ about it. To me, the usefulness of his classification is to judge whether it is worthwhile to use scarce resources to communicate to an ‘active or activist public.’ Communication during the ‘aware’ stage would have the most impact.

    My 2nd example where I said that OBL could be considered a stakeholder if he was assumed to have a problem with the existence of Israel, is actually not based on Dr Grunig’s model but on Freeman, the father of stakeholder theory (sorry, I didn’t make this clear). Freeman describes a ‘stake’ as an ‘interest’ or a ‘share’ (in an undertaking). He considered 3 groups of stakes:
    o Equity stakes (held by shareholders).
    o Economic or market stakes (employees or customers).
    o Influencer stakes (interest or activist groups).

    Looking at stakes from Freeman’s viewpoint, one has to assess whether the stake is economic in nature or moral. A person or group with an influencer stake has a moral or normative interest and has the capacity to mobilise public opinion in favour of, or in opposition to, a cause. Hence my remark that OBL could actually be considered a stakeholder (with an influencer stake).

  8. Heather, thanks for weighing in. I deliberately did only talk about newspapers in this post, because I believe the print newspaper (and magazine) industry (and, by extension, paper and magazine journalists) are the ones who have been hit the hardest by the free, online economy. Although it seems all television and radio stations do have a web presence, I think it’s fair to say that the (free) online version is not a direct competitor for the revenue stream of the parent station.

    And I wasn’t personally offering suggestions to newspapers about their web presence or possible revenue models or streams; rather, I was detailing David Estok’s predictions and informed opinion, as well as a perceived anti-online sentiment from at least two Globe and Mail columnists.

    You might be interested in watching the archived webcast of a fall Canadian Journalism Foundation event, Journalism is Dead; Long Live Journalism (2009/09/15). The event featured “Rem Rieder, editor and publisher of the American Journalism Review, in conversation with Ira Basen, producer of the award-winning CBC radio documentary series Spin Cycles and the recent News 2.0.” I was at this event, and can tell you that Rem and Ira offered up two alternative models, which are not discussed above.

    But one thing that became blindingly obvious to me (at least) after David Estok’s presentation was that newspapers really don’t need to put their core creative online. There is absolutely no obligation to “leak” exclusive, premium journalism onto the Internet, nor is there any perceived value in “upping” competitors in this fashion.

    And this is not “regular” news I’m talking about. By that I mean the same breaking news or announcements that you will also hear about on the radio or on the evening newscast or on an information website.

    What I really was trying to isolate (maybe not very successfully), was how this impacts our decisions and perceptions as public relations practitioners. Does it matter to us if (for example) a profile of an organization’s CEO and her work in corporate social responsibility (“fresh water for developing countries”) is only read by a fairly small “Reader Elite” (educated, affluent, generally in business or one of the professions) who subscribe to the newspaper, in whatever fashion (print, mobile device)? Or, would we be better off trying (as per Estok) to “reach ‘right past’ the media” or to “get better at our own journalism?” Presumably by that, the main communication platform of choice would be the Internet, whether it was the company’s own website or online-only publications.

  9. Really like your line, Paul, “truth was, Google worked out an alternative means to cream the advert market for itself.” Very true. So the question is how much of a stakeholder are Google and other search engines (or online monitoring companies), if the Reader Elite content is no longer searchable…because it isn’t there?

    Would search engines be willing to pay (as per Estok) for:

    • the pipeline?
    • the aggregators?
    • a platform shift?

    Benita, you know I defer to your expert opinion when it comes to public relations theories. But, thanks to Paul’s sense of humour and mischief, my look at journalism stakeholders, publics and audiences has been derailed by this talk of Osama Bin Laden and his role (or not) as a stakeholder or public in the country of Israel.

    Benita, it would be helpful to me if you could indicate what role you see an online/free readership playing, both to the media outlet and to the average public relations practitioner. Both in the current state (i.e., with easy access to all content), as well as the possible future state (content no longer available).

    If you could do that, maybe (other) PR practitioners might not be afraid to join this conversation. Help me to make the theoretical concepts practical, applicable and easy to understand. Then you would have my heartfelt “thanks.” 🙂

  10. Dear Benita Steyn, I think you’ve just said, OBL is either a stakeholder or an activist public of Israel and the US depending on your point of view. Forgive me if I say that I find Grunig’s and Freeman’s thinking somewhere between loose and useless. In my view, an inability to write clearly reveals an inability to think clearly.

    So let’s see if we can gain some clarity. If OBL is – or could be – a stakeholder holder in Israel and the US, were the Jews stakeholders in the Nazi party or vice versa? Please answer yes or no, according to the father of stakeholder theory as far as you understand it.

  11. Paul, I have decided not to continue this conversation here for the following reasons:
    1. Judy asked that we stop ‘derailing’ her post with our unrelated comments. I think she has a point.
    2. I quote from my comment above: “To me, the usefulness of his (Grunig’s) classification is to judge whether it is worthwhile to use scarce resources to communicate to an ‘active or activist’ public”.
    3. If you find Grunig and Freeman’s thinking on stakeholders ‘loose and useless’, there really isn’t a point discussing further examples thereof.
    4. Since the concept of ‘stakeholder’ is the foundation of strategic communication management, it would be constructive to discuss other perspectives on ‘what constitutes a stakeholder’. I therefore invite you to do a guest post on PRC on your perspectives in this regard.

  12. Dear Benita Steyn, your kind offer is gratefully accepted. I wish also to apologise for my derailment of Judy’s useful post. I shall, however, write a considered piece on stakeholders to make up for it.

  13. Judy:

    Thanks for the interesting post.

    I think that the question “who will pay for news” is unquestionably an important one, but we need to also consider the question “who will be paid for news”.

    The two questions are obviously related. If there is no sustainable business model for news, there can be no sustainable professional class of newsgatherers.

    Does that matter? Not according to Chris Lynch. But David Simon, the former newspaper reporter who went on to write the brilliant cop drama The Wire thinks it does.

    In lamenting the decline of local and regional newspapers in front of a U.S. Senate Committee hearing on the future of the media last year, Simon predicted that “The next 10 or 15 years in this country are going to be halcyon days for state and local political corruption. It’s going to be a great time to be a corrupt politician”.

    Simon went on to remind the Senators that “high-end journalism is a profession. It requires daily full-time commitment by trained men and women who return to the same beats day in and day out…I’m offended to think that anyone anywhere believes American monoliths, as insulated, self-preserving and self-justifying as police departments, school systems, legislatures and chief executives, can be held to gathered facts by amateurs pursuing the task without compensation, training or, for that matter, sufficient standing to make public officials even care who it is they’re lying to or who they’re withholding information from.”

    Of course, this is a very different view of journalism that that presented by Chris Lynch in his blog rant. But of the two, I’d be inclined to cast my vote with David Simon.

    Having taught journalism students for several years, I believe Chris Lynch’s analysis is wrong on several fronts, but I’ll just mention two of them.

    Lynch believes that the object of the exercise is “content creation”, and in order to do that, you don’t need to be a trained journalist, you just need to know stuff. So the content creators of the future will be people with finance degrees or computer scientists etc..

    There is no doubt that knowing what you’re talking about is critically important, but if you can’t tell your story in a compelling way, you will not find an audience. That is why public relations practitioners spend so much time helping their clients learn to tell their stories to the press. The CEO might know everything there is to know about their industry, but that is often not enough to win friends and influence people.

    PR people and journalists both know that telling compelling stories is a skill that can be taught. The purpose of a journalism education is not to learn to be a content creator. It is to learn how to be a story teller.

    Lynch’s second error is the one identified by David Simon. Lynch says that the future will be all about “trust and truth”. But as Simon points out, uncovering the “truth” when you’re dealing with people who are trying to keep it hidden, is hard work and not a job for amateurs.

    In Lynch’s view, journalism school simply teaches students to write pseudo-objective “he said, she said” stories that are of no real value. In my experience, what journalism schools actually do is teach students the skills to be truth-tellers. And yes, that does involve talking to all sides involved in a story, and then applying critical thinking skills and other tools of the trade to sort through the spin, the hype and the lies and get to something that resembles the truth.

    You don’t necessarily need to go to journalism school to do this. Many great journalists did not. But many did, and to suggest that the “truth” is something that will simply drop into your lap if you wish hard enough for it is to ignore the real work that journalists actually do.

    But if Lynch is right, and we no longer need people who can make a decent living as professional truth-tellers, who will take their place? Who will fill the web’s insatiable appetite for content?

    One possibility is the model developed by Demand Media. They have more than a million stories floating around the web, with another 4-5000 added every day. And they are all produced by an army of more than 7000 freelance writers (including me) who write for $15 a story (roughly 3 cents a word). How hard will those writers work to build trust and truth at those prices?

    Is that the future of content on the web, an industrial model that owes more to Henry Ford and F.W. Taylor than it does to Pulitzer or Hearst? In a world where nobody is prepared to pay for news, you will get the quality of news you are prepared to pay for.

  14. It’s great to hear from a veteran journalist, Ira, particularly one who has researched and produced quality shows related to both public relations and new media.

    Here are some of your (carefully chosen) words and phrases that particularly resonated with me:

    • “sustainable professional class of newsgatherers”
    • “…high-end journalism is a profession. It requires daily full-time commitment by trained men and women who return to the same beats day in and day out…” (David Simon)
    • “…can be held to gathered facts by amateurs pursuing the task without compensation, training or, for that matter, sufficient standing to make public officials even care who it is they’re lying to or who they’re withholding information from.” (David Simon)
    • “content creation” (a la Chris Lynch) versus newsgatherers and story tellers
    • “if you can’t tell your story in a compelling way, you will not find an audience. That is why public relations practitioners spend so much time helping their clients learn to tell their stories to the press. The CEO might know everything there is to know about their industry, but that is often not enough to win friends and influence people.”
    • “The purpose of a journalism education is not to learn to be a content creator. It is to learn how to be a story teller.”
    • “…uncovering the ‘truth’ when you’re dealing with people who are trying to keep it hidden, is hard work and not a job for amateurs.” (David Simon)
    • “In my experience [as a journalist and professor of journalism], what journalism schools actually do is teach students the skills to be truth-tellers. And yes, that does involve talking to all sides involved in a story, and then applying critical thinking skills and other tools of the trade to sort through the spin, the hype and the lies and get to something that resembles truth.”
    • “…to suggest that the ‘truth’ is something that will simply drop into your lap if you wish hard enough for it is to ignore the real work that journalists actually do.”
    • “…we no longer need people who can make a decent living as professional truth-tellers, who will take their place? Who will fill the web’s insatiable appetite for content?”

    Given the training and value that journalists bring to their profession, not to mention the personal investment (i.e., attaining an education and requisite experience) and the professional investment of media outlets to produce quality news, don’t you agree that newspaper outlets are perfectly justified in no longer replicating copy on the Internet (i.e., websites) for free?

    The question is whether a conceivably smaller subscriber base can sustain a viable publication. If the only “considered” newsgatherers” alternatives are outlets such as Demand Media, will that satisfy the serious reader who is looking for critical thinking and/or investigative reporting?

    From a public relations perspective, possibly staff will need to work a three-stream approach:

    • traditional media (newspapers, radio, TV)
    • online media (i.e., online-only publications, related websites, blogs, etc.)
    • self-published media (i.e., company-sponsored websites and social media)

    Ultimately, time dedicated to each area likely will be dependent on perceived (and evolving) authority and influence, as determined by an organization’s various stakeholders and publics. Maybe the majority of companies and organizations will no longer feel the need to have their “stories” told or covered via newspapers.

  15. On Wednesday I had the opportunity to hear Margaret Wente speak at an Eh List, Authors Series event, hosted by the Toronto Public Library. Although I didn’t get a chance to question her directly about her “Why Are Bloggers Male?” column (which she did talk about), I did learn more about Wente’s history at the newspaper:

    • she has been employed by the Globe and Mail since 1986
    • the underlying theme in many of her columns is that “conventional wisdom is often wrong”—and she sets out to prove why and how, in her writing
    • her most controversial columns are ones where publics or audiences have felt that their identities were attacked
    • she feels blessed to have a publisher and editorial board that help protect Wente from herself
    • Wente admits that she writes strongly (often provocatively) on some topics, but works for a paper that encourages her “to do my own thing”
    • she is aware that it is a “privilege and a gift” not to be told what to write or what not to write
    • the Globe and Mail appreciates “strong voices” in its journalists, and that is what Wente believe makes the Globe and Mail “great.”

    Regarding the “Why Are Bloggers Male?” column, she confessed that is was basically a throwaway column, written on a slow news day. But she continues to believe in the existence of “male answer syndrome,” as well as the concept that “opinions need to be well informed.” She does not believe that the average male calling in to a radio talk show or commenting on a web site has well-informed opinions. And she still contends that more males “opinionate” than females.

    Wente finished that segment of her talk (where she used three “controversial” column examples, including the above) by stating, “You can never tell what is going to set off readers,” as well as, “All of this has made me more humble.”

    Some questions from the audience led to some interesting answers about Wente, including:

    “I consider myself fiscally conservative, but socially liberal.”
    “I could be classified as a Red Tory.”
    “I don’t think we should try to box people, because we are all over the map.”

    On publishing on the web, she commented, “The web gives many writers a whole new audience, and the best thing is that you don’t need a publisher to publish. But although the opportunities are greater, the competition is also stronger.”

  16. Dear Judy, you quote a professor saying: “In my experience [as a journalist and professor of journalism], what journalism schools actually do is teach students the skills to be truth-tellers.”

    Does this professor read newspapers? Buy five quality newspapers in the UK, Switzerland and USA and you will read five different versions of the truth (but if what he or she said were true there would only be one version). The great thing about newspapers is that one paper’s mistakes are corrected by another’s which profits from an expose of its competitor’s follies. Newspapers are Darwinian capitalism in action: commitment to truth is only part of it (newspapers have their lines to follow and that leads them all over the place), but competition is what ensures that truth – or an approximation to it – emerges, eventually, because it is proven sustainable and authentic over time.

  17. The journalist and professor of journalism I’m quoting from is Ira Basen, Paul.

    Although I know he is currently doing some work training journalists in another country (i.e., his internationally known expertise was procured), hopefully he will check in to this post and answer your queries, directly.

  18. Well, quite a fascinating piece, Judy, and the comments are also alternatively droll and deep.

    To Paul’s point about Darwinian capitalism in action, I must agree. Much of the rose-colored view of journalism dates from the 30 or so years between WWII and Watergate — Edward R. Murrow of CBS and Woodward & Bernstein; the halcyon days of “60 Minutes.”

    The Fourth Estate is a business, and just as with other businesses, it needs to grow and change or it will perish. That’s bad for democracy, in my view, and it’s bad for literacy when we talk about the print form.

    It may be that some print media can thrive — but I agree that the demise of local newspapers will bring a bonanza of governmental corruption. Here in the states, we appear to have reached a weird equilibrium — half the country is certain the government is conducting a massive takeover of individual rights, and the other is certain that big business is trampling people under the giant footfalls of greedy capitalism.

    The media needs to stand in this breach and cast a critical eye on everything. That’s a huge burden for mere people, especially as marginally paid as they are. Meanwhile, media concentration and the desire of conglomerates to maximize investment leads to smaller newsrooms, overworked writers and editors, and ever-more pressure. I wish I had an answer, but perhaps Murdoch’s right to charge more for more content as his scale creates a winning bottom line.

    Wither local papers? Dustbin, likely. Sad and harsh.

  19. I should add that perhaps the demise of local papers is more apt for the U.S. — as Judy points out, “Estok asserted that most newspapers in Canada remain profitable…”

    Whether this is testament to the proclivities of we intellectually wastral Yanks, or merely a function of corporatization of media here, I don’t know. My esteemed colleague Bill Sledzik asked recently if the world was getting dumber — and perhaps the political discourse supports that notion, as might American Idol.

    But, belatedly, on to Judy’s closing questions:
    1. Does this mean that marketing PR messages re: a company’s products and services will increasingly be eliminated from the majority of reputable newspaper outlets, if the papers are getting smaller and more focused on profiles, investigative reporting and editorials? (Might they get pushed to the online version only, as “filler” copy?)

    +++Third party endorsement will still be important, but the marketing communications type of media relations will be served more by direct communication (caveat emptor) and constituency “quasi-journalism” than by traditional newspapers. Magazines will play a big role, though, imo.

    2. What would this mean to the numerous “online monitoring” companies that have sprung up like mushrooms in the past few years? Will PR departments and agencies still be interested in a service that only monitors content that is available online, if traditional media outlets are taken out of the equation? (See my earlier question #3.)

    +++I don’t think all outlets will be unused, and online monitoring (and analysis) will become more important, not less. Secondly, with behavioral advertising nearly all the way here (though the government in the States is looking into the privacy issues surrounding combining on-and-offline data), helping companies understand the complete package of integrated messaging will be more important than scaling up – big consumer brands will still need that scale, but nearly all brands would benefit from cogent analysis.

    3. How much value will public relations practitioners place on a stakeholder versus a public versus an [online-only] audience?

    +++Good PR practitioners have long been expert at segmentation — the right message to the right people at the right time — and if anything, the increasing availability of online data will ease that process. This is especially important as we look to integrate offline information with mainstream and social media, and Web metrics. PR people will need a deeper understanding of how all that fits together.

    Finally

    4. How valid do you think are David Estok’s predictions regarding future newspaper models and their impact on the public relations function?

    +++My crystal ball is in the shop — traditional media relations will be much more difficult in the print space. Without the advantage of geographic scale (getting the Plain Dealer in Cleveland is first prize because of its influential audience, not necessarily the size of it), there will be many more people to talk to about our messaging and no consistency in how our material is used. The advertising-based model requires driving down the per impression cost, rewarding large audiences at the expense of segmented ones (a generalization, I know.) Efficiency isn’t necessarily the most effective path.

  20. I think tha Judy’s question about the implications for the PR/media relationship could benefit from putting this debate into a wider context. Media in developing countries is somewhat different than in markets like North America and Europe. It runs the gamut from official/state media to community media (often radio because of literacy/language differences between cities and rural areas, not to mention the economics of distributing paper copies) to an increasingly diverse and sophisticated commercial media. Levels of professionalism vary widely as do access to basic infrastructure (e.g. electricity, let alone the internet).

    My experiences working with these media reveal both opportunities and challenges for PR pros. On the upside, many of these journalists are so grateful to be given information, which is often in short supply, that it may be ridiculously easy to place stories — with media alerts and releases sometimes being printed verbatim.

    1) However, if they are not checking my facts, that means they are not checking anyone’s and may print anything that crosses their desk, even if it is not based in fact. This does not seem that dissimilar to some of the wild stories that ripple through the internet.

    2) If it is this easy to get coverage, then we as PR pros have an even heavier responsibility to make sure the stories are solid and well-founded.

    3) The lack of access to information on the part of the journalists means that we need to do more work upstream. I just did a project for a client where on top of the alert and release, we prepared a Facts & Figures document and an extensive backgrounder with links to further reading. For complicated reasons, we were unable to publish the background information with the release (which my client — having cutting his PR teeth in Canada although being “from” this developing country — asked if it was really necessary). In the very first interview with local radio, the journalist explained that a soundbite wasn’t enough because they didn’t actually understand the basic problem (the need for agricultural development in Africa) that our story was meant to address so they couldn’t just add our story to an existing body of knowledge. Perhaps there is a lesson here for the internet: we need to avoid the temptation of just providing the nugget and focus more on contextualisation. Perhaps that is the added-value of the PR pro in the online media environment.

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