Saturday, July 12, 2008

When Social & Traditional Media Converge

FOX Cable was certainly in the news this week and received a lot of ink in our Veritas e-newsletter Touchdowns and Fumbles (TD&F) as a result. In addition to the Jesse Jackson – Barack Obama debacle that had its genesis on FOX, there has been another, equally political battle ensuing.

When the cable giant hit back at The New York Times for a television ratings piece that suggested it was losing ground to rivals CNN and MSNBC, it did so with blunt force. On a recent morning Fox & Friends segment the hosts attacked the article’s author, Times journalist Jacques Steinberg and his editor (and former FOX affiliate employee) Stephen Reddicliffe, alleging “sour grapes” on the part of Reddicliffe and calling Steinberg his “attack dog” . Citing online magazine Radar as the source, the hosts went on to suggest that Reddicliffe was making a million dollars when he was at FOX affiliate Reader’s Digest and that when he was fired and moved to the Times his salary dropped ten times establishing motive to grind his axe. This on-air rhetoric was accompanied by photo-shopped images of the two that dramatically distorted their appearance in a misleading and unflattering way. While the hosts at no time came clean that the photos had been photo shopped - when the image of the pair’s faces inserted into a poodle and master photo appeared, the tone of the story was obvious. Check out the segment at http://mediamatters.org/items/200807020002.

The blogosphere lit up. First Radar clarified that the item to which FOX was referring, was actually a story repeating rumours from other blogs that were characterized in the Radar piece as a “bit of a stretch" and a "neat little conspiracy theory."

Then the back and forth, which my colleague Kathy Barnett has dubbed "Blog Rage" - the snarling, gnashing of teeth and personal attacks between journalists from each of the outlets and amongst the unwashed masses over the matter - began.

When New York Times columnist David Carr weighed in to defend the honour (and appearance) of his colleagues, with a scathing broadsheet response that called the FOX image alterations “anti-Semitic” he not only fuelled the blog-o-fire but his explosive allegation moved the online debate back into traditional print and electronic media across North America, positioned as a full scale battle between the New York Times and FOX.

That coverage, including an entertaining Globe & Mail missive written by one of my favourite scribes Sinclair Stewart, was riddled with references to and quotes from – you guessed it - the ongoing blog debate.

While I have already tackled the communications fumbles of both the Times and FOX in TD&F this week, I’d love to hear what others think of photo-gate and the ensuing battle. What does that say about both news organizations? If you haven't done so already, check out TD&F this week and feel free to let me know whether or not you agree with my point of view there.

But one other perspective I’d like to explore is the obvious reliance on the blogoshpere for story fodder and commentary in this case and look at what that means for both news and for PR today.

First, FOX took an on-air, personal swipe at Stephen Reddicliffe based on information it sourced from an online publication that had in turn sourced it from a number of other blogs and so on and so on... Then the ensuing battle and personal attacks in the blogosphere became colour to support the supposition that there was a battle raging between the two news organizations when the story made its way back into traditional media.

So at essentially every touchpoint as this situation has unfolded, the opinions (and that is all that blogs are) of individuals who may - or in most cases - may not be, personally involved, have had the potential to be relevant somehow. Taken a step further, what it really means, in my view is that every opinion has the potential to be a source of news or a voice to support a news story.

Clearly, FOX crossed a line by citing unsubstantiated rumour as fact. I am going to hazard a guess that they knew they couldn’t really defend that information. But as the blogoshpere explodes and becomes more relevant as a place where people share opinions, how many other news organizations will (knowingly or not) do the same?

What this means for PR is that we are obligated to ensure our clients understand the power of online social networking not only as a platform where costumers and consumers go to get and share information and opinions but also as a source of news for traditional media.

Anyone who thinks that a blog post or point of view about a product or service might never find its way to the national news simply has their head firmly in the sand. Blog search engine Technorati estimates there are more than 112 million blogs in existence today. Think about how many voices could be talking about any particular brand at any given moment…staggering!

Friday, July 11, 2008