Archive for July, 2010

Calling the emporer on his clothes: Farmer nails it on today’s news coverage

Call me old-school, but the most exciting thing in Sunday’s Star Ledger (other than the fact that the Royals beat the Yankees) was John Farmer’s column about today’s political news coverage.

 He used the circus triggered by media that failed to double check a conservative blogger’s very special editing of a passionate speech by a U.S. Department of Agriculture official as a news peg.  Shirley Sherrod’s address carried a powerful message – if you took the time to hear the whole thing. Unfortunately, nobody – even her employer – bothered to double check what the blogger accused her of saying, resulting in some very well-publicized embarrassment.

Farmer talks about the evils of taking things at face value and how that has impacted what passes for news these days. When I became a reporter in the 1970s, I was taught about those same dangers. Farmer’s column, which you can read by clicking here, remembers the days when no self-respecting reporter would use a source’s information without double-checking the info. Nor would he or she use his or her news space or air time (no Web back then…ah, good old days) to create coverage that was deliberately slanted toward one position or another, unless the piece was labeled commentary. And we also understood that commentaries – and falsifying information –could make our jobs difficult later.

Farmer’s point is that if journalists aren’t going to exercise any scrutiny or healthy cynicism when they’re given information, especially stuff that grabs eyeballs and supports whatever position they want, then consumers of news will have to be cynical. To me, a firm believer in the role of journalism in keeping our democracy going, it’s a return to the yellow journalism or the post-Revolutionary War era, when newspapers were overtly supported by political parties.

Wonderful commentary, right? But I’m really thinking about the impact of this new journalistic style on those of us in public relations. We’re up against a 24/7 news cycle (and a million vendors who want to charge us to tell us how to cope with it). That would be enough of a challenge. But today, people will just as easily believe a story that puts our clients in a bad light, even if it’s 100 percent false and concocted and spread by someone with a definite axe to grind. And while doing well by doing good is more important than ever, it’s not enough. Stir in the reduced resources most of us have these days, and we face challenges that we couldn’t have imagined 10 years ago.

How we deal with this situation is what makes public relations different today than it was not so many years ago. A press and a public that regarded what they’re told with a little cynicism and an open mind would be helpful. Since that’s not going to happen, I figure we need to take the high road on behalf of our clients. We need to monitor what’s being said about us and the industries we represent. We need to know who’s saying what understand the axe they’re grinding. We need to use truth and good citizenship to make the organizations we represent defendable if not unassailable…and if a company doesn’t want to engage in good citizenship, we need to walk away.

It’s not much of an answer. And the way things move these days, by the time we figure out a better one, the question probably would change.  

Anyway that’s my take. What’s yours?


July 25, 2010 at 4:09 pm 2 comments

My son, the Blogger

Everybody talks about overeating on vacation, but my son and daughter-in-law, Ethan and Emily, set out on a trip up the East Coast and across Southern New England to see friends and make sure they overeat by looking for lots of interesting food. We had a great time with them when they got to New Jersey, and took them into NYC. You’ll enjoy reading Ethan’s blog about the trip:

Meanwhile, Ethan talks about the good time he had eating Chinese food and playing with his cousin Mia. So you gotta see this pic of the two of them.

July 1, 2010 at 12:11 am



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