June 25, 2017

Helping PR pros make smarter decisions

Dear Journalist:

Dear Journalist:

I know you’ve been dying to grab that bite of lunch I offered, but I know how it is these days. The calendar is a blur, the endless rush from event to interview to photo opportunity, then back to the newsroom for the daily ritual of wordsmithery and crash story-telling. I remember those days, when a lunch seated somewhere other than a drive-through and a bucket seat was a treat.

But it’s worse now, more so than when the stress of the daily grind pushed me out of the industry six years ago. Then, we were dealing with the lingering cuts of 2001, and dreaming of the day when the newsroom could function at full strength. There was no fat to cut when the economy tanked in 2008, and the meat of the muscle was on the chopping block. TV audiences are shrinking, and you print guys watched 28 percent of your ad revenue vanish in 12 months. Now there is a technological revolution underway, as journalists are racing each other to figure out this new media stuff before the skeleton crew has to figure out which femur it can live without.

I get it. And I know how scared you are. And it’s not just you.

It’s also the many of your colleagues that have also tried to have lunch with me, to pick my brain on getting out while the getting is good. Some of them are considering the very same buyout package you are, and the clock is ticking. Grab the severance and take a few weeks or months in a jobless recovery? Or grit it out, and then take the chance that your position will get eliminated down the road with no parachute, no pad, and all gravity? (And for the life of me, not a one of you has offered to pick up the tab for lunch, but with what you are under right now I couldn’t accept it in good conscience.)

So what are you going to do?

Have you considered becoming an embedded journalist?

No, not overseas. I mean within a company.

You see, your problem is dangerously close to becoming our problem.

PR firms and corporate communication departments are noticing there are a lot less of you than there used to be, and you aren’t covering as many of the events and issues that you used to. We’re not taking it personally, we just know that we have to do a better job competing for your time and attention and editorial budget.

In the past, we’ve responded by doing a little bit more of your job. The heralded “Press Release” was nothing more than an institutionalized way to get a bug in your ear, at a time when journalists were supposed to ferret everything out on their own. Later, we started assembling Press Kits, and even B-Roll, which took away much of the uncertainty in the hunter-gatherer aspect of your job, and allowed you to do the parts you enjoyed: the writing, crafting and assembling.

Later, we even started “packaging” the news for you, but some idiots got a little far-fetched with the use of Video News Releases (VNR) and got the FTC involved. (Rightly so.)

But now we (on the corporate side of the fence) have a need that isn’t getting fulfilled, and you need to brush up on your personal salesmanship if you want a place as an embedded journalist.

Comfort in the Belly of the Beast

The embeds of the future will work for the company, and be paid by the company to provide news about the company in a multitude of formats. Print, newsletter, video, blog, podcast, moving billboards, tattoos — whatever it takes. Because the bits and pieces of Corporate America that have a story to tell will still have their stories – just no ready outlets.

How is this different than what you have today? Surely there are corporate PR departments and external agencies already doing these things, right?

No.

What is required is an internal producer who writes in external voice — like the neutral point-of-view so often described by Wikipedia. People can smell marketing and propaganda coming around the corner, and they know when the pitches and puff pieces are missing that edge of neutrality. An accurate and fair piece is accurate and fair, no matter who writes it.

The current newsrooms of record will find their roles specializing even further. Where they have already ceded the “hunt-and-gather” function, they will soon cede some of the writing function. Why bother spending the man-hours to reconstruct a perfectly balanced wheel? It rolls just the same, and since it was likely written by an Embedded Journalist (who just happens to be employed by the company or trade organization,) it will carry the style, tone and quality that news consumers expect.

The remaining journalists will build their utility around curating, aggregating and delivery. They will be the line of defense that says “This story from ACME stinks to high heaven, and I will blast them for their inaccuracy.” They will be well within their rights to do so, and in some cases they may have no choice.

You see, in the future, one way or another corporations and organizations will find their own ways of getting their messages across. The business world isn’t going to sit back and wait for the established newsrooms to catch up. We’re going to blog, and podcast, and publish, and Tweet, and engage directly with the people. That’s not going to be nearly enough, but it will keep the remaining mainstream editors honest. If you ignore our well-written and balanced content, you will only hurt yourself. And if we abuse the privilege of publishing direct-to-consumer, you will call us out.

The New Normal

It sounds so alien compared to what we’ve been taught is the ideal, but the combination of a new economy and new media leaves old journalism in an unsustainable quandary. There will be a new equilibrium, and one that news consumers will adjust to faster than we give them credit for.

They want some assurance of vetting, and someone to help them weed through the clutter. Tomorrow’s Editor/Curator will do just that.

Companies want the assurance they will be heard. Tomorrow’s Embedded Journalist will tell the stories in ways people will want to hear.

The public at large will demand transparency, and will note the push and pull of this new balance, where Business and The Fourth Estate wrangle for the best truth.

And if you want a job that will sustain you, my fellow storyteller — you’d better brush up on those new media skills and rework your resume. You are a Corporate Storyteller, an Embedded Journalist. And you are for sale.

Trust me… in a couple of years that will sound a lot less ignoble than it does today.

Your pal —

Ike.

(p.s. – when you get that new job, you owe me a lunch.)

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12 Comments

  1. rdfrench@gmail.com'
    RDF

    Ike., you have illustrated the state of our world so well. "The New Normal" may not be what we want, but that may be because of what we have been taught … our taught ourselves. The walled garden view of PR and journalism had a big gaping hole punched in the wall. I like your phrase, Embedded Journalist. Be the solid reporter. Be the balanced viewpoint. (Oh, how that word 'balanced' has been so butchered and bastardized by some.) You just need to see the new opportunities to still achieve your goals while working in this new environment. It isn't easy, but it is doable.

  2. gary.goldhammer@edelman.com'
    Gary Goldhammer

    Excellent post, Ike — I do agree that for journalism to survive it must adapt. I don't worry about newspapers going away, but I do worry about journalism and this concept makes sense. My concern (of course I have one) is creating a culture filled with more "editors and curators" than with storytellers. And while there would be some checks and balances, a company ultimately wants it story told to make it look as good as possible. Then again, I think I just described Fox News 🙂

    In a way, what you are also saying is that journalists, by being embedded, have to go back to doing their own work — no more press releases or B-Roll. It could make "story" stronger, the reporting more alive.

    Lots to think about — thanks Ike, and again, really well done.

  3. david.griner@luckie.com'
    David Griner

    Good points, Ike. I find that my experience as a newspaper reporter and editor have been tremendously useful in a corporate/agency environment. Instead of losing my principles or advocacy role, I've simply transitioned them to become "an advocate for the customer."

    I think that's one of the key reasons that former journalists have been so successful in the world of social media marketing. Representing the public's needs and concerns has simply never been a mainstream corporate function, and I think you're right in your description about how that's all starting to change.

  4. mjkeliher@gmail.com'
    Mike Keliher

    Great for the companies, and presumably great for the embedded reporters, as well. Let's just hope we don't have too many reporters defect to the inside.

  5. noemail@intensedebate.com'
    Jay Korff

    Ike-Your perspective, as always, is insightful and intruiging. There may come a day when passionate journalists like myself choose another path.

    I firmly believe that a vibrant, independent fourth estate is critical to maintaining a well-mannered and well-balanced society. I think corporate america already does an effective job of getting its message out via lobby efforts, ads, spin and the like.

    I will say this…your ability to predict the next curve in the media roadmap is uncanny. I respectfully, though, plan on riding the off-road trails of reporting for the near future :).

    Regardless, the next time I see you, lunch is on me!

    Jay Korff
    WJLA-TV

    1. ike@pigott.name'
      Ike

      Jay — while you feel that corporate America already does an effective job, the declining number of working journalists makes that job more difficult.

      There's already a vibrant debate ongoing about the lens or prism of various outlets. The idea of Journalism as strictly neutral POV is something relatively recent, too.

      As there are fewer Big-J journalists, and fewer outlets for reporting, entire industries will fill the slack — and how better than by hiring the very people who have years of experience in telling stories? People have proven they can be discriminating about where they get their information. This is little more than a continuation of the path created when people could see News Releases directly, and they DO find them through search engines.

  6. jack@jacklail.com'
    JackLail

    Pretty much on the mark and we've seen a few of our journalists to become, as you call them, embeds.

    — jack lail

    knoxville news sentinel

  7. thaotran03@gmail.com'
    Thao

    Whatever happened to relationship building? Journalists…start networking! Don't just talk to us to get a story…get to know us. There's a chance we are a very valuable resource.

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  10. j@j.com'
    Jason

    I don't doubt that companies will hire out-of-work journalists to try to beef up their PR. (And by the way, PR people: That means your jobs are on the line.) But it won't work.

    It won't!

    Tell me this: Where is the audience? Where are the masses of people lining up to hear word directly from a company that doesn't already entertain them? Who wants to be spoon-fed self-promotional garbage, no matter how well crafted, from some firm? A lot of money will be spent on this, and not a lot will come out of it. Good luck to you all.

  11. j@j.com'
    Jason

    I don't doubt that companies will hire out-of-work journalists to try to beef up their PR. (And by the way, PR people: That means your jobs are on the line.) But it won't work.

    It won't!

    Tell me this: Where is the audience? Where are the masses of people lining up to hear word directly from a company that doesn't already entertain them? Who wants to be spoon-fed self-promotional garbage, no matter how well crafted, from some firm? A lot of money will be spent on this, and not a lot will come out of it. Good luck to you all.

Comments are closed.

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