How Can Local Media Be Saved?

Photo by NeONBRAND

While it’s becoming harder and harder to determine what is “fake news,” the real news has always been there for you — in physical newsstands all over your city.

As daily newspapers continue to suffer budget cuts and mass layoffs, they simply aren’t able to cover their communities as thoroughly as they have for decades.

That’s where the weeklies and alt publications come into play. These have become the bedrock of local media, uncovering corruption, giving small businesses a chance to advertise and letting people know when an art gallery is opening.

For PR professionals, alt publications should not be overlooked. The grim reality, as illustrated below by the Denver Post, is that with each day, our journalism counterparts are doing more and more with less and less. 

If you have a hyper-local pitch or a tip that requires a little more investigation, you’re better off picking up the phone and calling your alt-weekly in many cases.

According to the National Newspaper Association, there are more than 7,000 non-daily newspapers in the country — compared to just over 1,400 daily publications. Non-daily newspapers have a circulation of more than 65 million people.

However, these community publications are in dire trouble. Pew Research Center tracks the state of journalism each year, offering a sobering reality. Their most recent findings show that average circulation among the top 20 U.S. alt-weeklies has dipped precipitously from just over 87,000 in 2012 to around 55,000 in 2017.

So what can be done?

1) Newspaper as a nonprofit

Many publications — daily and weekly — have converted into nonprofits in order to still serve their communities.

This eases newspapers of the burden of needing to turn a profit, but also comes with several hurdles. On the bright side, these journalistic entities aren’t beholden to shareholders and won’t be subject to mass layoffs out of need to be in the black.

However, this isn’t a perfect solution. In this model, newspapers lean heavily on benefactors, readers and other donors. It can be hard to remain stable when funding can change drastically from year-to-year.

While many papers have become nonprofits (or at least started the process), it’s too soon to say whether or not this is viable long-term. Some outlets have even turned to crowdfunding platforms such as Kickstarter to bankroll projects.

2) Refocus on strengths

Washington City Paper might be one of the lucky ones. Purchased last year by VentureHouse CEO Mark Ein, the new owner believes in the publication’s ability to connect with readers.

Most newspapers are purchased by firms that just want to run it like a traditional business — bleed it for profit, then flip to a high bidder. Rinse, lather, repeat. Reporters get laid off, corruption goes uncovered, underserved communities remain ignored.

But Ein purchased Washington City Paper (a mainstay in our nation’s capital since 1981) with the vision of staying out of editorial decisions. But even with a focus on high-quality coverage, there’s still plenty of room for a publication to be financially viable.

Recode wrote about Ein’s plans for the newspaper earlier this year:

“Arts organizations currently provide about 80 percent of the paper’s advertising revenue, Ein said. But there’s another audience that buys twice as many tickets in town — sports fans — so he hopes to attract ad money from that side of the aisle by adding a sports section that will cover ‘the behind-the-scenes-story of the athletes and the teams.’”

3) Tax Facebook and Google

Facebook has been on somewhat of a public apology tour this year, after the proliferation of “fake news” spread like wildfire on the network.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg has vowed to make things right after the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Facebook has even turned to traditional media — airing a commercial — promising to make changes and restore quality to the site.

As recently as August 2017, Pew found that 67 percent of Americans polled said they get at least some of their news from social media. Publishers are increasingly called to post stories to Facebook, but on Facebook’s terms.

If Facebook really wants to settle the score, it can pay up. A blossoming idea is for social media platforms — which have received so much content from media publishers — to be taxed, with money going back into newsrooms.

A ‘public-media tax’ on Facebook and Google’s earnings would generate significant resources for a journalism trust fund,” wrote Victor Pickard, Associate Professor of Communication at the Annenberg School for Communication, in The Nation. “One percent of their 2017 net income, which these firms could certainly afford, would yield $159.34 million from Facebook and $126.62 million from Google/Alphabet—a combined $285.96 million. This money could seed an endowment for independent journalism, especially if combined with other philanthropic contributions from foundations and benefactors that accumulate over time.

Facebook and Google have already started such efforts, but more can be done. Google has earmarked $300 million over three years for its News Initiative, aimed at battling misinformation and helping media outlets monetize their content. Facebook has also announced a $3 million journalism accelerator, but it’s to help organizations build content on the social network.

This is far from an easy situation to solve, but definitely a worthwhile one.

By Justin Lafferty

Good Job, Media! The 4 Best Articles We Read This Week

It’s been a while since we’ve done a roundup of the best articles that we’ve been reading. It’s not because we haven’t been reading great articles – on the contrary, the more a certain president lambasts the media, the more the media rises to the occasion – it’s mostly due to a certain amount of media fatigue. But we’re back and without further ado, here are the 4 best articles that we read this week:

PHEW! Did you hear that collective sigh of relief this morning? We sure did.

Today’s New York Times recap of 45’s failed health care reform bill is classic Grey Lady: Concise distillation of a complex issue, no sparkly prose or flowery language needed – just the facts, ma’am, with a couple of underhanded digs thrown in for good measure. Love it.

 

The term “National treasure” sure does get thrown out there a lot, and oftentimes the recipient is undeserving. But we’ll be damned if Rebecca Solnit isn’t a bona fide candidate for National Treasure. We’re lucky enough to be in the same city that Solnit calls home, and our local alternative paper, the SF Weekly, was nice enough to feature Ms. National Treasure on their cover. Read the excellent feature and see if you agree with us. And if you’re in SF, stop by the wonderful Green Arcade bookstore, owned and operated by yet another national treasure – Patrick Marks. There we go again, throwing that term out there!

Bonus props since this was editor/writer Pete Kane‘s first issue as the new Editor-in-Chief. Congrats, Pete!

 

 

Jia Tolentino‘s superb takedown of the perils of the “gig economy” is a fantastically written piece on a fantastically depressing sentiment that our country seems to praise: that of working oneself to death. Calling to mind the hilarious old “In Living Color” sketches where having one job was the pinnacle of laziness, the idea of hard-working Americans stringing together gig after gig to barely make a living should be the poster children for why our economy needs fixing, and not why the gig economy is “working.” Read the article while you’re waiting for your Lyft ride. It’ll make you think twice.

 

 

 

While it’s not an article but an NPR interview, the Fresh Air segment with writer/author Jane Mayer on the Mercer family is eye-opening and more than a little frightening. Hold on to your latte when you hear the story about the scientist that the Mercers are funding, a man who thinks that nuclear wars benefit humanity (!). It’s chilling stuff. The Mercers want to stay out of the limelight and it’s journalists like Mayer who are shining a needed spotlight onto who these people are and more importantly, what their motives are. You can run but you can’t hide from good journalism.

Share your thoughts with us on Twitter and Facebook

 

 

How PR Pros Can Support Journalism In Trump Era

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In the new Trump era, it is more important than ever for PR professionals to support journalists and a free media.

As PR professionals, it’s in our self-interest to ensure that we have a free and democratic media. As U.S. citizens and members of this nation, it is in our self-interest to ensure that we have a free and democratic media.

Anti-media rhetoric is filling the mouths of talking heads – these so-called “surrogates,” many of whom are inexplicably and rather ironically paid by news outlets to spew rhetoric – and our very own president-elect. The public has grown increasingly hostile toward media. The media themselves don’t often help their cause. But don’t be fooled – the media is never more critical than during regimes like the president-elect’s.

Media absolutely must be held accountable when they make missteps and many of them treat ethics loose and fast. With a lack of training combined with the dangerously alarming speed that reporters must churn out non-fact checked articles, journalism itself has lost a lot of credibility. Despite that, it is not only unfair to malign all of media but detrimental to America’s health as a democracy to do so.

But this isn’t a post about the value of media – we don’t need to emphasize their importance. This is a call to arms to fellow PR professionals to ensure that we’re helping, not harming, the progress of this country. There are many things that PR professionals can do to contribute to a better media landscape, including:

Don’t work with dictators, liars, deceivers and corporations that do very bad things. It’s easy, just say no. You don’t need the business, it should be more important for you to sleep at night. Representing violators of human rights, dictators, oppressive government regimes and outright criminals is bad for business and bad for life. Just. Don’t. Do. It.

Educate your clients on why it’s important to be transparent and honest, and why it’s better business. The public values honesty. Brands that have made mistakes that they’ve owned up to have often been forgiven. It’s the brands that continue to lie and obfuscate who never regain the public’s trust.

Fact check your own statements and reports that clients provide to you. Yes, you work for your client, but you also have a set of ethics. If something doesn’t sound right, take the time to research something to make sure you’re not disseminating lies. 

Support journalists by not lying or deceiving them. Share positive articles and don’t normalize behavior like threatening to kick journalists out of news conferences because they’re doing their job.

Ensure that you’re promoting factual news and striking down propaganda and click-bait. Work to ensure that platforms like Facebook and Twitter not populate these fake news links, and debunk any false reports and articles that do arise. As PR pros, media monitoring is an integral part of our job. We see the news before many others, so make sure you’re not spreading unverified stories and let others be aware of ones that are.

Give back and provide pro bono resources for organizations. Like Meryl Streep implored, the Committee to Protect Journalists is one that deserves your support. The Center for Investigative Reporting has also been doing standout work. Pick your passion and go.

Above all, we need to work with journalists to make sure that all of our voices are heard – every citizen, not just those who pay the most money. As public relations professionals, our obligation is to the public, first and foremost. We have a civic duty to use our skills to disseminate stories that are honest, truthful and provide value to the public that we all serve as citizens of this great nation.

By Katy L.

Good Job, Media! 3 Best Articles We Read This Week

The media has never been more important than in today’s rapid-fire, corporate-owned news cycle where fact checking and veracity are mere annoyances to getting immediate clicks. We read many, many, (too) many articles and often bang our heads on our keyboards. But every so often, we read articles that give us that ecstatic face emoji. 

Here are the three best articles we read this week.

Screenshot from Bloomberg's Hampton Creek article
Screenshot from Bloomberg’s Hampton Creek article

Bloomberg’s report on Hampton Creek (written by Olivia Zaleski, Peter Waldman and Ellen Huet), another health/food startup besieged with negative scrutiny, hits hard and peeks beneath the layers of PR obfuscation that enables companies to go unchecked.

Bloomberg has frequently had Hampton Creek in its investigative crossfires – the startup was recently busted purchasing its own products to attract investors, in another excellent piece from Olivia Zaleski – and this series is reminiscent of the Wall Street Journal’s John Carreyrou’s fantastic exposés of Theranos. One hopes that instead of lamenting articles like this, Hampton Creek instead gets a wake up call and changes their practices, putting consumers before profit. Nah? Yeah, I guess we were being idealistic. Carry on, Bloomberg.

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Maintaining the focus on Silicon Valley, The Daily Beast exposed Oculus Rift founder, and Very Rich Dude, Palmer Luckey, as the benefactor behind an Internet hate group supporting Drumpf. The revelation comes on the heels of fellow Very Rich Dude Peter Thiel destroying media outlet Gawker, and shows how important it is to know where the money is coming from.

It also casts a potentially negative light to the company that Luckey founded, despite its sale to Facebook. Will conscientious consumers think twice before shelling over their hard-earned dollars for an Oculus Rift device?

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Screenshot from Tim Kawakami’s article on Mercury News

We’ve always been a big fan of Bay Area sports journalist Tim Kawakami. For one, he doesn’t act like other sports journalists. He’s never been a “homer” like a lot of embedded sports reporters are. Plus, he’s one of the few Asian-American sports journalists. While many sports reporters are frothing at the mouth to vilify Colin Kaepernick because the quarterback dares to care about the troubling spate of black Americans killed by police officers, Kawakami writes this thoughtful article. Thoughtfulness in sports journalism is the true miracle on ice, so thank you, Tim. And don’t block us on Twitter.

 

 

 

Good Job, Media: East Bay Express & The Power of Alt-Weeklies

Alt-weeklies used to be a reliable staple. When I lived in L.A., the LA Weekly was my social bible. From the news to cultural events to movie listings, the LA Weekly was informative, stimulating, educational, and most of all, wrote compelling articles highlighting misdeeds, the voiceless, injustice and corruption.

Since those halcyon days, most alt-weeklies have either folded, been absorbed by larger media conglomerates or are mere shells of their former selves. Alt-weeklies used to be exactly what their name implied – the alternative, independent voice to the bigger corporate (and oftentimes, toothless) publications like the L.A. Times or the San Francisco Chronicle. Like most print publications, alt-weeklies (and the reporters whose work fuels the interest)  have been thinned out by a lack of advertisement dollars and funding.

That doesn’t mean they’re all dead. In our hometown of San Francisco, the SF Weekly has turned out some of the best San Francisco reporters – bylines by the likes of Rachel Swan, Chris Roberts, Joe Eskenazi and Julia Carrie Wong (with the exception of Roberts, all have moved on to bigger outlets) have played a big hand in spotlighting issues that San Franciscans should care about. Along with the SF Weekly, there’s another alt-weekly across the Bay that has consistently turned out excellent journalism.

 

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The East Bay Express has always been a powerful voice but their work in the past two weeks investigating and exposing the beleaguered Oakland Police Department and their exploitation of a teenage sex worker has been on another level. The scandal itself is stomach-turning and not only involves abuse of power but a cover-up of a possible murder disguised as suicide. No one’s hands are clean, not even the wife of a former police chief. The whole thing is despicable and encapsulates everything that is wrong with not only the OPD itself, but the infrastructure and power dynamics of police departments in general, a narrative that we’ve all been seeing play out on a national level.

The investigative reporting of East Bay Express reporters Darwin BondGraham and Ali Winston has even led to the OPD spokesperson inadvertently outing one of the police officers previously unnamed in the scandal. They’ve made the entire department that flustered. It’s investigative journalism at it’s absolute finest.

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If you can swallow your disgust at the abuses committed by these men (and a few women) in power, read the entire series that EBX has published. Their work deserves to be read, and changes demanded.

Go here: http://www.eastbayexpress.com/oakland/badge-of-dishonor-top-oakland-police-department-officials-looked-away-as-east-bay-cops-sexually-exploited-and-trafficked-a-teenagerdepartmen/Content?oid=4832543

By Katy L.

Where Have All The Journalists Gone?

TechCrunch is reporting that technology journalist Dan Lyons is leaving his job as Editor-in-Chief of ReadWrite to join the software company HubSpot. What would compel a veteran journalist (and one who often generated controversy in his industry, whether it was parodying Steve Jobs  or deflating major egos) to leave the top editorial position at a popular outlet to work in-house at a technology company?

Many reasons, it turns out.

For one, the wonderful art of journalism is still in a state of decline in “traditional” media (the kind where Lyons’ writing flourished). Opportunities for talented writers like Lyons are diminishing, and many journalists would rather see their byline than run their own blog. However, brands are now generating as much content as bloggers themselves. While the in-house content is certainly very biased towards the brand and have a very specific, company-focused agenda, there’s no denying that content is now king, and every company worth their stock options recognizes this (and in no industry is this more prevalent than technology).

Like PR and advertising, journalism is reshaping itself to fit in this new, digital marketing landscape. Throw in a likely cushy paycheck and the promise of freedom and you might just see more defections.

We’ve already seen talented journalists whose work we’ve admired do what Lyons is doing, from Caroline McCarthy, formerly of CNET (lured away by Google) to Rafe Needleman, also formerly at CNET (he left for Evernote). The companies they’re choosing are savvy and content-driven, and generally quite forward-thinking.

We don’t want to see good journalists go in-house (although we welcome our arms to any talented journalist who would like to write for us! Call us!) but given the state of things, it’s not surprising that they do. What will be worth noting is how these positions go for these typically free-spirited journalists. How tight of  a leash will they be kept on writing for corporate brands? How much will they have to play the corporate game? It remains to be seen, though no one has yet to jump ship. Given that most news outlets are already corporate-owned (and we’ve already seen much tension in this perilous relationship, most recently with the CBS-owned CNET), it’s not as much of a stretch as one would think.

While jobs in journalism might be waning, writing jobs for brands certainly isn’t, and marks a shift in how content is both viewed and presented.