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If you don’t read the newspaper, you are uninformed.

If you do read the newspaper, you are misinformed.


—Mark Twain

(courtesy of Ed Weed)

“Earned Media” is one of the most-used expressions in the world of public relations. It refers to the media coverage given to an issue, person, product or brand that is covered as news because of its potential appeal to readers, viewers or listeners, and not because it was paid for by an advertiser. Earned Media is free media coverage as opposed to paid media coverage.

Back when I was doing public relations work for corporations and not-for-profits, we would take pride when the quality of our messages and messengers on behalf of these clients would be perceived by the news media or worthy of coverage as news for their audiences. Our PR agencies or departments would receive praise and great credit from management for “Earning” such free media coverage based upon the merits and creativity of the messages we crafted. Such “earned media” coverage was usually seen as more credible and thus more valuable than messages we purchased as advertising. Though we could precisely choose how to phrase and present our own messages in advertising, it was seen as much more valuable when such messages were communicated through credible news people, who supposedly selected what to cover as “news” based upon its editorial   worthiness and suitability to their target audiences.

But in today’s news, when “infotainment” is the new norm in so-called news coverage, and entertainment value trumps (pardon the expression) real news content, it is increasingly embarrassing to professional communicators to see gratuitous coverage of political foolishness passed off as “earned media.” The public relations profession either needs a new term for real news that  “earns” its place in news coverage versus advertising, or else infotainment that tries to pass for “earned Media” should perhaps just be called what it is — “Goofy Media!”.

As illustrated so clearly here, we are living in a time of “mediated” existence. Most of us, much of the time, are connected to our friends, family and the external world through one form of media or another. I-phones, computers, TV, newspapers, movies…all both separate and connect us all. Good thing, or bad thing? Both, most certainly. We see people, ideas, events that we could not be present for personally, at a given time or place. But we remain separated from many of those same people, ideas and events by the very digital technology that connects us. Sometimes we can’t tell the difference, and sometimes we can. Yet nothing can replace sitting across from one you love, holding hands, or touching your sweet cat, or gazing at the beauty of nature, with nothing but the short distance from that living being or object to your eye standing in the way. We innately know that the best “connection” is the live, interpersonal connection, unmediated by technology, yet technology enables us to leap beyond our physical boundaries, whether it’s reaching out to family or friends, or reaching out and connecting with the world beyond our grasp. Yes, communications technology changes us, but it does not eliminate our personal responsibility to maintain the live, real  contact with the world that will always be important to our lives. We cannot live only “mediated” lives. But, while all of it is real, it is somehow vital that we recognize and value the meaning of our tactile connections to the world.

Williams is an excellent and committed journalist, who is also clever enough to see the irony (read: comedy) in life. What he did was nothing of significance, and those who want to make this a rorshack (sp?) test on television journalists know where they can put it. Williams is much more of a journalist than some of the ciphers on CNN and FOX and elsewhere, who barely qualify as “news readers.”

Let’s get over this, NBC, and move on.

The Justice Department’s overly aggressive and intrusive invasion of the Associated Press, and their stomping on the First Amendment rights of a free press, is cause for all Americans to be outraged. The checks and balances built into our democracy require active oversight by the people and their representatives. The how and why of this apparently excessive use of investigative power should be made public, and if there are substantial reasons in the public interest of why AP was invaded by the feds, the American public and the professional journalism community deserves to know.

My most costly magazine subscription is “The Economist” magazine ( @ $138/yr, with some lower deals available), but I think it’s the best buy, because of articles like the current (July 9-13) issue’s 14-page special report on the future of news, called, in its inimical British way, Back to the Coffee House.

In their lead story, the magazine reviews steps individuals can take to mitigate their worries about the transformation of the news business: “As producers of new journalism, they can be scrupulous with facts and transparent with their sources. As consumers, they can be catholic in their tastes and demanding in their standards.”

This special Economist in-depth section on the future of news brings the historical and social context of news into sharp new focus, and in my humble opinion, as a lifetime student of journalism, deserves to be required reading in schools that teach journalism, public relations and communications (reprints are available). As The Economist enjoins: “The coffee house is back. Enjoy it.”

Just as I recently blogged, and despite the overwhelming worldwide climatic disasters of recent days, weeks and months, and despite a new UN report of new, fresh evidence of long-term climate change, Congress, most especially the GOP, and news media, in my view, are largely ignoring the massive evidence of consequential climate change, and not prioritizing spending and science and public education that could make a positive difference, for this and future generations.

Politico details the new evidence, both of climate change itself and of albatross-like Congressional indifference, in the attached compelling story:

Let your representatives in Congress and your favorite news media know how you feel on this critical subject.

In its May/June issue, the Columbia Journalism Review features an article called “The Second Age of Public Relations,” which seems to conclude that PR is gaining on journalists and journalism in both numbers of practitioners and in influence, and treats this as an insidious development.

Maybe, from their perspective anyway, to some extent it is. While I trained as a journalist and have taught journalism at the university level, I have spent my entire career in public relations. I have never willingly lied to a journalist. I will admit to occasionally working in the gray area between truth and lies, but only to the extent of representing the perspective of my “client,” because as everyone knows, there can sometimes be multiple “truths” or perspectives on an issue.

Here’s is my response to the article, which I posted on the CJR website under the article in question.

PR people, like lawyers, represent their client’s interests, whether the “client” is a business, a not-for-profit organization, an arm of government, an individual, a candidate, or even the media itself. If PR people are ethical, their stock in trade is asserting the truth, at least the truth as seen from their client’s perspective. Good PR people are first reporters — they report about their client organization to outside constituencies, often through the media, but sometimes directly. Good PR people work with editors and journalists based on mutually understood rules of truth and fairness, and yes, there are occasions when both sides violate or circumvent these rules. And yes, PR is about a lot more than media relations, and can span the entire realm of communications and relationships. Many journalists will concede, if they are candid, that they can only do their job well with the assistance of good PR people. The writer’s notion that PR is gaining on journalism is perhaps a somewhat distorted version of the truth — too much journalism is descending into infotainment, and journalism is being reinvented as a much more direct and diffused form of reporting through so-called social media.

Posted by Charles Ebeling, APR on Tue 3 May 2011 at 12:38 PM

Here’s a posting that brings bright new perspective to the recent accusation that General Caldwell called for Psy-Ops to target Congressmen visiting Afghanistan. The REAL issues may turn around what the contemporary roles of Psy-Ops and Public Affairs should be. Is it realistic to limit Public Affairs to informing, and not influencing, which has long been the dual function of public relations in the civilian world? And should Public Affairs role be limited to domestic audiences, and Psy-Ops to foreign ones? The answer to both, in the real world, appears to be “NO.”

Here’s the article:

I suppose it’s just coincidence that at 12:30PM today, just as Chinese President Hu Jintao and U.S. President Obama were about to step up to the podiums for their major press conference in D.C., that beginning with CNN and then extending to all news channels, my DirecTV satellite system lost it’s signals. It’s a clear, windless say here in southeastern Wisconsin. Then I went to the computer and set it to CNN — again the signal speed (the high speed computer system runs through land lines) slowed to a crawl, so I could get but an odd word here or there of the live feed news conference now in session. I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but it just seemed odd that all this interference occurred right at that moment of this key live news conference. I’m sure there is no relationship with how the Chinese block media signals of content they don’t want their people to hear.

March 2023

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