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?


Conflict Abounds.

February 27, 2017

by Roger Pynn

If there’s one thing that’s certain, conflict is everywhere these days.  But it doesn’t stop at the borders of the District of Columbia.

My friend Elise Mitchell, APR, CEO of Mitchell Communications Group and of Dentsu Aegis Public Relations Network has a fascinating blog focused on leadership, and in her most recent post she addresses a leader’s role in conflict resolution.

Every day we are seeing people through the lens of the media, many running from conflict.  To the contrary, she suggests, it may be better to approach conflict the way a firefighter takes on flames … running into the danger.  She says, First, let’s clear up a common misconception: Having conflict on your team doesn’t mean you’re a bad leader. Conflict is just part of a leader’s journey, and you have to accept that, not run from it.”

Conflict is as predictable as the sunrise.  In our business, navigating conflict is essential.  God put us here to create relationships, and if we run from conflict we’re likely to be short-lived for the profession.

In her new book Leading Through the Turn (which metaphorically takes insight from what she’s learned as a motorcycle enthusiast), Elise suggests leaders ask themselves these questions:  1) Where do you want to go? 2) How do you plan to get there? and, 3) Are you enjoying the journey.  It was question #3 that made me wish I had met Elise a long time ago.


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.


Bring Me Thinkers.

February 13, 2017

by Roger Pynn

An interesting article in Tactics, a publication of the Public Relations Society of America, makes a case for writing as the most sought-after skill in public relations.  With apologies to the author Hanna Porterfield, let me say that writing is just a bar for entry.  What I want is people with critical thinking skills … who hopefully are writers.

Of course, you have to be able to put your thoughts “on paper” in this business.  But I can teach even a fair writer to do better work in that area.  What I can’t do, I’ve found, is teach people to logically think through a problem or challenge instinctively.

Why?  I think it stems from what and how they are taught in school.  Few public relations programs I’ve seen have more than one – if even that – course addressing how to think through the challenges you’ll face as a practitioner.

Sure, it is true, that in your early days in our world you will be doing sometimes repetitive research to find out what has already been published on a topic, or to create a media list or identify thought leaders.  And you’ll be asked to write a lot less than the Great American Novel.  But if you are truly cut out for public relations, you’ll approach each of those tasks by asking one big question.

“Why?” is the question that should drive everything.  When you understand why you are doing something, why information is important, why the three paragraph release or blog post fits into an overall communication program, you’ll be on your way to bigger assignments.

We’re trying to hire an entry-level communications specialist now.  To us, entry level is someone with a couple of years of experience under their belt.  They should be looking for that second job … one that gives them the chance to write bigger things, be part of creating strategies and take their place on the front line with clients and community.

The biggest challenge for us right now is finding that person who can think … as well as write.


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.


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.


Who Will Run the Last Story?

November 3, 2016

by Roger Pynn

As I read this article from The New York Times about the malaise of the newspaper industry, I had to wonder which paper will run the final article … the one that says, “This is the end of the road for an institution once so powerful that what they thought drove what the most powerful did?”

I’ve written many times about my affection for daily newspapers, having started my career there and relied on pulp far more than airwaves or bandwidth to deliver news all my life.  My paper is a good friend.  My paper and my morning cup of coffee have a lot of shared memories.

But this quote in particular stood out:

“More and more publishers are coming to the recognition that there’s a new normal,” said Alan D. Mutter, who teaches media economics at the University of California, Berkeley, and writes about the media on the blog Reflections of a Newsosaur. “And the new normal is not nearly as nice as the old normal was.”

I’ll adjust and I’ll surely get used to consuming news on one of my devices, but I won’t like it.  And I don’t think I (or anyone else) will ever see those who deliver information to my digital door as institutions of power, objectivity or authority.  The model they’ve crafted makes them click chasers who erased the invisible line between newsrooms and the revenue-driven front office.

To people in our business, perhaps it is a good thing.  The door is wide open for us and our clients to become much more important sources of news and information to our stakeholders.


%d bloggers like this: