Sunday, November 20, 2005

Looking Back: Thinking Forward - Part 3 

This is part 3 of an extended article reviewing early blog entries and what I have learned from them

Blogs and Blogging

My first entry on the topic of blogs and blogging (2/21/2003) was a response to a journalist’s complaint that bloggers were nothing more than "free-ranging opinionators." My response was that my blogging was an attempt to elucidate concerns that public relations practitioners deal with. I wrote, “We forget perceptions drive great issues, and there are lessons for good and ill in how perceptions are handled.” From that beginning, I noted PR uses of blogging, such as its growing application in movie and product publicity (2/25/2003 and 3/06/2003). I commented as well on the low-cost of blogging and why inexpensive publishing was influencing and driving change in traditional media (6/3/2003). This evolved into issues such as what is off-limits when dealing with bloggers (6/9/2003), the need for corporate blogging policies (10/03/2003) and whether to pitch story ideas to blog writers (9/4/2003.) I took issue with a notion that bloggers, especially reporters who blog, should be free to say what they want (9/23/2003), and I openly mocked journalism schools that teach blogging as course content (10/16/2003). I noted an early example of blog spamming (10/28/2003) that has become a bane of bloggers and the fact that blogging changes one’s relationships with colleagues -- sometimes for the good and sometimes not (1/27/2004.)

What did I leave out? Plenty. I didn’t foresee the incredible growth of the medium although because of its low cost, I had inklings. My concerns now are that blogging is too popular. With 20 million or more blogs catalogued on Technorati, the usefulness of the medium is being buried. Here my friend and colleague, Peter Shinbach, and I differ. He points to the strong role that blogs have gained in the political arena and makes the point that:

“their usefulness, I propose, is not related to their size but to their individual reputations for providing trustworthy, relevant information & opinions to the relatively small number of people who find value in each of them. They are a combination of highly targeted marketing and Negroponte’s “The Daily Me.” So, no, I don’t think their usefulness is being buried. To the contrary, I think their usefulness is being elevated but not as something that can be counted.”

While I agree with Peter’s view, most blogs including blogs used for PR purposes, it seems to me, will not achieve individual reputations that make them useful. It requires hard and sustained work and creativity to find and/or generate content that readers find interesting and to which they return regularly, even in small numbers. When there were a few web sites at the beginning of the internet revolution, everyone flocked to see them. By time there were 1,000 web sites, only a few gained attention. Now, with hundreds of millions of web sites, most are identified only if indexed in Google. Web site marketing to gain attention is a well-developed craft. So too, blogs have difficulty rising out of the noise that millions have created. Peter is right in that some have succeeded and others will, but it is more difficult than it was.

What is needed is deeper investigation into blogs’ effectiveness – what works and what doesn’t Others do that better than I, but if I stumble on interesting projects, I will note them. I will also continue to note changes to blogging that threaten its viability such as phony blogs (splogs) used by spammers to boost access to their ads.

Changes in Journalism and Its Effects on PR

Traditional journalism has been shaken to the core. Factors in the shift include the rise of online journalism, declines in circulation and viewership, the influence of bloggers on political agenda, an increase in transparency over the way reporters work and the impact of technologies on publishing in general. These factors and more contribute to changes in how PR practitioners relate to reporters.

The shifts concerned me from the beginning (9/19/2002), along with outcomes such as continued shrinkage of news holes (1/15/2003 and 6/11/2003), the slow recognition among traditional publishers of the impacts of technology (2/4/2003) and the impact of major news on the use of online media. (2/11/03). I followed as well attempts of traditional media to fight back online (3/27/2003 and 7/2/2003), their successes (5/20/2003) and failures (4/9/2003, 3/24/2003) and first steps of traditional media into blogging (3/25/2003, 10/09/2003). I also noted the rise of community news sites that change how local news is handled (7/17/2003, 10/07/2003), the multiplicity of skill sets and media that reporters now bring to their work (8/5/2003, 10/01/2003) and how these impact PR. Finally, I cited examples of disgraceful media behavior that impacts PR practitioners and demeans credibility (10/17/2003, 11/21/2003).

PR is still absorbing rapid-fire changes in traditional media. At this point, it appears that most practitioners continue working with traditional media because traditional media still have greater credibility and reach. This can’t last much longer because alternative media are maturing, and members of traditional media are publishing in nontraditional ways, such as blogging, in addition to convergence appearances in newspaper columns, on the Web or on the air. Here again, Peter Shinbach has a different view:

They (practitioners – ed.) continue working with traditional media because that’s what they are comfortable with and know how to do; because that’s what their clients demand & expect (what I call “living down to your client’s expectations); and because new media as a whole are not trusted for a variety of reasons.

Peter’s observations are largely correct, but practitioners will follow traditional media as the media transform for reasons he cites – client demand and expectations. Further, reporters from traditional media with whom practitioners work, such as Dan Gillmor, are moving into blogs and alternative media, and practitioners maintain contact with them.

Change is accelerating, not slowing. This means I should continue to pay close attention to it, but I should focus more on how PR practitioners respond to change. I am optimistic that media convergence and universal distribution of information offer plentiful opportunities for PR practitioners to get messages out. More media means more opportunities, not less. It is a matter of learning how to operate in a new environment.


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