Journalism: The old is new and the new is old

Screen shot 2010-07-02 at 10.03.04 AM

I love journalism. I love it with a passion. I love good journalism. Well executed journalism. Well researched journalism.

I care less about the AP Style Guide and more about engaging content. I care less about J-school degrees and more about thoughtful and provocative prose with a dedication to facts. I care less about conglomerate media organizations and more about the reporters, writers and personalities who make up CNN and the New York Times of the world.

I am just a blogger. I have been writing for over six years and I’ve swung from the “new media will kill old media” mode to “new media and traditional (I don’t call it old anymore) media” have a place together. Still, many bloggers (and social media people as a whole) get locked in an us and them struggle with their traditional peers. We see it in the music industry, in access to sports, in public relations and marketing, etc. Everyone loves the us vs. them argument.

Here’s the dirty little secret though: Without ‘them’, there is no ‘us’ and without ‘us’ there is no ‘them’. We are married together for the future of the industry forever. And that goes for all industries where these conversations happen.

What really is happening is a separation of the power brokers from the base of power. In other words, in public relations, professionals at the agencies go about their mindless drone job of push, push, push without ever really talking, tracking, monitoring or engaging the demographic they are trying to reach.

In the NFL, for years the clubs engaged in tactics with bloggers that delegitimized the coverage they were receiving and, in fact, the public was consuming… only because bloggers typically didn’t write for large media organizations.

In fact, Jay Rosen, a Professor at the New York University School of Journalism (And one of the smartest, most insightful journalism critics I know of), characterized this problem on Twitter by observing how the White House Press Corps engages.

Indeed. Though one could ask why the White House Press Corps would communicate directly with the public instead of with the White House, where their job is. Nonetheless, the greater point that is being made is that Traditional media that communicates with the base of power (the citizens and customers) is generally able to perform their art in a more meaningful way.

New Media exists to bridge a gap. We will never replace traditional journalism. On the other hand, traditional journalism will never eliminate new media. The bigger question is… why would either side want to do those things at all?

In Washington They Ask, "What Can We Actually Use?"

As many of you know, I’ve spent the better part of the last three months looking for sustainable employment. Historically (in the past two years), I have focused on technology startups outside of my geographical region, but, as time has gone on I have seen increasing value in planting roots with a local firm.

In this process, I have interviewed with agencies, political action comittees, social cause organization, activist groups, development shops and even the occasional PR firm. However, by and large, most of these organizations are connected to the Washington government machine in some way.

A question that comes up frequently in interviews, specifically because I have a unique position as “power player” in the web space, is “What is out there that is new that we can use?”

This question has been answered in a variety of ways, being refined for each organization and group. Different folks, different strokes, different spokes.

As an early adopter of most new web technologies, I recognize this question. It is a question that generally stems from the desire to “be relevant” but often doesn’t consider the mission and constituency. So, in an admittedly generic and assumptive way, I’ll answer this question, and leave you scratching your head as to why I get hired for my social media strategery… There is nothing new out there that you can use.

Nothing. Absolutely Zero.

The principles of communication are really simple and have remained consistent over 10,000 years of recorded history… Talk to people the way you would want to be talked to. Give people information the way they want to consume information. If that’s a YouTube video, make a YouTube video (Bonus points if you can articulate a surefire way to make a viral YouTube video! ;-) ). If you have a thousand attorneys on a email newsletter, then communicate with compelling email newsletters (and talk to my buddy, Greg Cangialosi, over at Blue Sky Factory about their solutions). If your constituency wants a “pull” aggregator of interesting related content, give them a Delicious feed. If you are dealing with foreign wars, try to communicate with photography. If you’re dealing with climate change, work with a Google Maps mashup (build one!) showing the effect of rising sea levels and deforestation.

In other words, communications principles always remain the same: communicate with people on their level with respect. The execution of such principles varies according to organization.

Putting aside the “best tool” question, the real question becomes: How will you use the tools available to execute on mission, not simply be sexy?

Answers?

Rant: Silicon Valley Fenetics

shazam-poster-c10097475.jpg

Yes, intentionally misspelled. Phonetics.

Phonetics and mashup are all the rage in Silicon Valley web 2.0 start-up naming conventions right now.  When it was Digg, FaceBook and Skype, this was different.  It was cool, fresh and neat.  You could not help but ask yourself, what’s that?!?

Now, it’s not cute anymore (‘sup Pownce and Jaiku!). Instead it signals, “Oh, another 2 dot-bomb.” OK, maybe we’re not there yet, but you get the point.

Branding gurus are charging clients tens, hundreds of thousands for not-so-cheeky plays on phonetics or slamming two words together.  Read TechCrunch, and you’ll find posts littered with examples:

Out of the three of these, there’s only one I like: TasteBook. Why?  Because it tells you or at least gives you an idea of what it does.  TasteBook allows Shazam-Poster-C10097475users to create and order custom hardback cookbooks (“tastebooks”). BTW, that’s what a company name is supposed to do. Tell potential buyers, partners and investors what kind of business it is.

One must wonder how much longer this latest naming fad will continue.  And if you don’t think it’s a fad, how many eGoofy cos and .bombs can you name in five seconds? Pets.com, eHarmony, eLuminant, etc., etc.

P.S. As a result of this rant and as a tribute to Doug Haslam, I’ve decided to rename my PR firm Shazaaamr.