Wednesday, February 14, 2007

They Can't Help Themselves 

This story on TV's tabloid journalism during the last week is disturbing. It was Anna Nicole Smith all the time, unless it was astronaut Lisa Nowak. It was as if channels like CNN couldn't help themselves. I could write that it is a sad commentary on the state of TV journalism, but it isn't. TV loves a lurid story like newspapers of old when multiple editions during the same day brought episodes of the plight of someone caught in embarrassing circumstances. If you don't believe that, look at the history of New York and Chicago journalism.

Whenever one thinks there has been progress in human nature, there is backsliding to remind one that interest in human failing doesn't change much. We like a good scandal even though we might try to discipline ourselves from reading or viewing too much. It is a reminder to PR practitioners that it is difficult to duck the media when a CEO gets in trouble, for example. Witness the headlines when a well-known CEO falls from power. There is plenty of piling on by the media that not only buries the former CEO but heaps dirt as high as possible. Given all the "dirt" that comes out, one wonders how the CEO held office for so long.

As PR practitioners, we need to be prepared for excessive media attention. The spotlight is glaring and the intensity of the light blinding, but there is plenty of work to do. One must remember to get it done.

TV loves those stories because people watch them. Like any other successful business they cater to their customers. So any complaints we have must cause us to look at ourselves, not necessarily as individuals but as a collective public.

It's a lot like email spam. Lots of people complain about it, but the only reason the spammers keep sending the junk is because enough people actually click and buy to make it profitable. That's hard to imagine, frankly, with some of the spam out there, but it's true.

If the media responds to market forces then, PR practitioners must be aware of those forces and either take advantage of them, when possible, or be aware of their effects if not.
The case of McDonald's came quickly to my mind when reading this post. Just a while after their CEO passed away, they announced the name of the new one, and stopped the increasing sensation of crisis.

It is not the same case, but instead of a death we could have been in the presence of a sexual scandal, for instance. And media love scandals.

Fast reflexes at "the golden hour", and a good crisis plan, are essential.

Regards from Buenos Aires

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