The Trust Crisis

March 23, 2017

by Roger Pynn

When I first read this article about research conducted by the American Press Institute and the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, I wanted someone to slap me awake.  “Could this really require research?” I asked.

The study concludes that Americans who find “news” online, it is not the organization that creates the news, but who shares it via social media that determines how much they trust the information.  In other words, if your beloved Aunt Jane (the one the family calls “Saint Jane”) shares an article on Facebook, you are far more likely to believe it because she shared it than whether it came from a highly recognized news organization like, for instance, the Associated Press.

As I read the story a second time, my attitude changed to “isn’t it a darned shame that news outlets lost sight of the basics of human trust?”

I’m like everyone else … concerned over the unraveling of American news media (I’ll not worry about media in Russia).  It goes way beyond the shrinking number of classically trained journalists, the shuttering of some fine papers and magazines, and certainly, the striking lack of editing or adherence to basic principles that used to restrict opinion creep.  I’m worried about the apparent inability of most people to recognize the difference between news and commentary – and that includes a lot of people who claim to be journalists.

This single comment left me reeling:

“All of this suggests that a news organization’s credibility both as a brand and for individual stories is significantly affected by what kinds of people are sharing it on social media sites such as Facebook. The sharers act as unofficial ambassadors for the brand, and the sharers’ credibility can influence readers’ opinions about the reporting source.”

Of course!  For Pete’s sake, are you going to accept something your most trusted friend tells you?  Even if it is published by some outlet you’ve never heard of?  You’ve probably never heard of the American Press Institute before, but if you’re reading our blog it is most likely because we have a relationship and you’re therefore likely to believe I wouldn’t share something with you if it was not reliable information.

All this boils down to the colossal failure of media organizations to earn trust.  It isn’t just because the President of the United States is cutting them up like paper dolls.  He’s simply capitalizing on their failure to create a relationship.  Facebook gets you to like someone.  Do you ever wonder whether your newspaper cares if you like them?


Will Automation Put the Fact in Fact-Check?

February 15, 2017

by Dan Ward

Automated fact-checking may be the wave of the future, according to this Poynter Institute story, and that could be a good thing if it begins to add objectivity to what is currently opinion journalism.

Instead of checking facts and declaring them correct or false, many “fact checkers” today deal in degrees of accuracy, judging stories according to a scale of truthfulness.  Human judgment is required to determine whether a story is true, mostly true or half true, and that judgment requires a subjective review that inevitably is influenced by journalists’ feelings about a topic.  So instead of getting a verdict on whether a statement is true or false, we get an opinion that factors in bias, assumptions and context.

From the story about the goal of automation: “The state of technology and the maturity of fact-checking organizations today make it possible to take the first steps toward that goal.”

In a nascent industry that issues rulings like “Pants on Fire” and “Four Pinocchios,” the term “maturity” rates a Half True at best.

But of course, that’s just my opinion.


Hello?

February 8, 2017

by Vianka McConville

If you’re looking for whistleblowers in the era of email hacking, why not list a phone number?

The New York Times has a system to receive confidential news tips which includes messaging apps, encrypted emails and snail mail, but omits a phone number.  Unless the line was bugged, I would think a phone call would be the safest way to share confidential information.

As someone who has tried to call reporters at the Times, I assume direct phone numbers are nowhere to be found due to the volume of calls the publication receives on a daily basis.  The phone system is a fortress.  But that can be a blessing and a curse; reporters may avoid the world’s worst story ideas, but also could miss out on the next big tip.

Is it an attempt to thwart a deluge of unrelated calls or have people become too comfortable behind screens and encrypted messages to actually talk to folks?


The Antidote to Hateful Speech is More Speech

February 3, 2017

by Dan Ward

When I first read about the violent protests at UC Berkeley over a planned speech by Milo Yiannopoulos, I was prepared to respond from the viewpoint of the middle-aged curmudgeon I’ve become.

I started a post about free speech coming full circle, with the birthplace of “the Free Speech Movement” now serving as a location for protests against speech.  Why is it, I was about to write, that young people today (“those darn kids”) seem less interested in protecting free speech than being protected from it?

But then my hope was restored by a Berkeley freshman, Shivam Patel, who was quoted at the end of this CNN story about the protest.

“It’s a sad irony in the fact that the Free Speech Movement was founded here and tonight, someone’s free speech got shut down.  It might have been hateful speech, but it’s still his right to speak.

Thank you, Shivam, for recognizing that the First Amendment protects even speech that makes us uncomfortable.


The Proof About Proofing

December 27, 2016

by Roger Pynn

We all make mistakes.  My pastor reminded us of that in his sermon on Christmas Eve.  He also reminded us that forgiveness is important.

So is taking responsibility.

Just as you can’t rely on a spell-check utility in your word processor to proof your work, a priest in Sri Lanka learned that you can’t count on a “young boy” you ask to download lyrics to be sure he got the right song.

As CNN reported, the priest wanted the words to the traditional Christian prayer “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee,” for printing in the program for a Christmas carol service.  Instead, churchgoers found the lyrics to rapper Tupac Shakur’s trashy “Hail Mary.

I hope, Father Da Silva, whose apology included laying blame on the young boy, remembers that the buck stops here.  Proofing is an art almost lost for many – as I found out when I caught a typo in our family Christmas card after Shutterfly had already shipped it to us.  It was my fault.


Content vs. Stories

December 27, 2016

by Vianka McConville

I don’t like the word ‘content.’  To me, it’s in the same category as ‘moist’ for some or how others detest ‘networking.’

I don’t like categorizing writing as content because it demotes story.

My job is to tell stories – stories that are relevant and reach people in a positive manner.  I have learned that in order to be good at my job, everything I write needs a human element, whether it’s a media pitch, copy for a website, or a speech.  Content does not always make that connection.

To drive home the point, take a look at two versions of the same hypothetical lead:

Firefighter saves 46-year-old woman from burning house.  All of her belongings are gone except for the clothes on her back.

Sarah Carpenter is thankful to have the clothes on her back after her home was burned to the ground.

Telling a story is simply more powerful.


A True Celebrity Spokesman

December 13, 2016

by Roger Pynn

We’re not big on using celebrity spokespersons.  Many in our business have experienced problems when a paid celebrity becomes embroiled in a media controversy, has a run-in with the law or – as some high-profile personalities are wont to do – cancels at the last minute when media and fans are already expecting to see a star.

We’ve worked with many celebrities over the years and most have been a lot of fun, although some have been a royal pain.  We won’t mention any names, although one is currently embroiled in one of the most distasteful court cases in recent history.

But we did have several opportunities to work with a true celebrity and I will never forget that this man, who was also one of my boyhood heroes, was not only a fantastic “draw,” he was an extremely effective spokesperson and one of the most humble, pleasant and gentlemanly people I’ve ever met.

John Glenn was a partner in a Holiday Inn ownership group we represented for many years … a group built by Henri Landwirth, also founder of Give Kids The World.  Landwirth had been a hotelier in Brevard County during the earliest days of the Space Race, and the Mercury astronauts often stayed in his hotel and became his lifelong friends.

So when we launched a new family-oriented brand of Holiday Inn with Henri and his group, Senator Glenn was more than happy to attend a major New York City media event for travel writers.  If memory serves me, we had almost 100 percent acceptance of our invitation to attend the news conference, meet our American hero and receive an autographed copy of his book John Glenn: A Memoir.

About a year later we hosted another group of travel writers for a visit to the innovative new resort and once again, John Glenn was a willing storyteller.  I will never forget that he also made one lady very important to me very happy.  My mother-in-law had just lost her husband and we were most concerned that she not be left alone … but my wife and I had to be at the hotel for the events the senator was hosting.  Henri and John’s managing partner Terry Whaples insisted we bring my wife’s mother along and that she be included in a dinner with our astronaut friend.

Imagine the impact when John Glenn wandered over to our table and asked “could I please meet Louise Kiefer?”  He sat down next to her and they had a wonderful time chatting.  It lifted her spirits and you could see in his eyes that he was totally focused on her … including when he handed her a personalized autographed copy of his book.

It rests on a shelf near our fireplace today, a memory of Louise and a true celebrity now gone.  I hope they meet up soon.


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