by Pam Baker, veteran freelance journalist
Note: Names have been withheld to focus this discussion on the issues rather than on the personalities involved.
This story began, as so many do, with a slip of the tongue. It was just a quiet mention butted on each end by unremarkable sentences. It floated in a pitch by a PR pro who really wanted me to include her client in the story I was writing for a huge online publication.
But this slip was no mistake. It had been carefully choreographed to give both me and the speaker plausible deniability. I could easily ignore it, pretend it unheard, and it would be as though the incident never happened.
Though not directly spoken, the implication was as clear as church bells: a large number of page views could easily be delivered on this article and any other articles I might write.
Page views: the new Holy Grail for struggling journalists trying to stay employed. Publishers have long since set the stakes: write stories powerful enough, sensational enough, or popular enough to rack up huge numbers of page views – or lose your job. It’s not an empty threat. Thousands of unemployed journalists stand in the wings to fill the space and join the page view race.
Yet no one has ever been able to predict which stories will find favor in the eyes of readers. There is no apparent rhyme or reason behind which stories take fire, which burn the house down and which flicker to nothingness.
So, writers spend hours of what would otherwise be billable time promoting articles in places like StumbleUpon, Digg, Reddit, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn Groups, and on and on. These are hours writers can ill afford to give away given today’s low pay rates per article. Yet, failing to do so often leads to the unemployment line.
Journalists are cynical by nature. My thoughts immediately turned to “what’s in it for the PR gal?” Page views of any given article typically mean little to PR people compared to a site’s overall traffic. If a single story’s page views were important, then adding to the number could be beneficial to the PR firm but not so much to the firm’s client. Planting a super number of page views would give a false reading of how many readers had read the story containing the client’s super-duper whirlymagig.
As a freelancer, I write for many publications. The total readership of the online publication I was writing for on the Day of the Slip is huge. The article would most likely be read by some percentage of that traffic. Large exposure was a near-given or could be feigned by the PR firm by quoting the web site's overall traffic to the client instead; and, being able to point to an article in such a respected publication has its own rewards. No worries for the PR Lady on that front.
Plus, the high number of planted page views would bump the article to the top of search engine lists. This would mean more readers beyond those that follow the publication. A large number of whirlymagig units would likely be sold.
The PR firm would remain employed having satisfied the client’s need for media exposure. Make no mistake, the client’s need is very real as commerce cannot happen and profits cannot be made if the buying public does not know about products.
As journalists are laid off by the thousands and publications fold by the hundreds, there are fewer and fewer ways for manufacturers and retailers to get the word out. Getting the attention of the few remaining (and heavily overworked) journalists is ridiculously difficult to do. Obtaining a simple, unbiased review is another near impossibility.
Articles by respected journalists add credibility to products. Buyers often make buying decisions based on a journalist’s review or analysis. By comparison, advertising carries little credibility and costs a lot of money (especially in a recession).
So, If I accepted the offer:
PR Lady confirmed my analysis of her slip. Yes, she said. That’s what it means. See, everybody wins.
But no, I said. Everyone does not win.
If planted page views are added to existing ploys such as planted reader comments, paid reviewers and other manipulations of online content, we could soon find ourselves in the ‘age of misinformation’ where nothing is unsullied, nothing entirely truthful.
Or, is this merely the evolution of news? Is this pay-by-page-view play inevitable given that journalists are judged less by the value of their content and more by the number of people that arbitrarily read their work?
I know where I stand: I passed on the offer. My page views per story are organically grown, the same as my followers on Twitter and other social media. I have not gamed the system in any venue.
But was that the right decision – or an outdated stance?
It is clear that ethics are evolving as publishing models continue to shift and churn. I am asking you to help shape that evolution with an open discussion. Please share your comments below.
by Pam Baker, veteran freelance journalist
Herd mentality rules from Wall Street to Main Street. Lately, the journo herd has stampeded towards Helpareporter.com (HARO) for news sources. But just because HARO is the herd’s favored watering hole, doesn’t mean it’s the only place you ought to go to drink.
To reach the best sources for your article or book, leverage all the source services to your advantage. Here’s the lay of the land so you can map your own path and thus stand out from the herd:
Pros: Fast responses, quality sources. If your deadline is really tight, Peter and crew are great about Tweeting your source needs to a massive following on Twitter. They also screen members and punish spammers thereby eliminating “junk” and off-point responses to your queries. Reporter query form is streamlined and easy to use.
Cons: Responses are generally strong from PR folks, company owners and technology leaders. Short on big name analyst firms, Fortune 500, political types, celebrities, economic development groups, and scientific and university sources when compared to other services. Also, you run the risk of your story idea being stolen as your query is very public; doubly so when it is tweeted by the crew. However, you are at similar risk when you tweet for sources yourself or use competing services that also use Twitter. Also, historically speaking, prime sources will tip their fav reporters to your story angles on occasion, so this problem is not unique to HARO.
· The Eric Friedeim National Journalism Library – $89 annual fee for just library services; no extra charge for National Press Club members. Owned/operated by the prestigious National Press Club. Probably the BIGGEST best kept secret in the sourcing/research game. Contact Research Librarian is Beth Shankle [email protected] or on Twitter at http://twitter.com/today
Pros: A professional librarian will research anything for you, and I mean anything. This resource makes any freelancer function with all the strength of a fully staffed newsroom; staff writers suffering from shortages in news rooms will also highly benefit from this service. A research librarian can identify leading sources and contact info; complete publishing history of a subject/industry; deliver stats, numbers of all kinds, clips (video or print) of previous interviews -- in other words comprehensive info you cannot easily, if at all, find anywhere else. Looking for contact info of the big names that shy away from media? The librarian will produce it in minutes. The Library also has full access to resources journos often cannot afford themselves, such as Nexis, the news half of Lexis Nexis. They can also direct you to sources that will give you a heads up on news forecasts (what WILL be news in the future) such as NewsAhead World News Forecast. Reliable research material and source info are handed to you on a platter!
Some research services cost an additional fee. The first 4 research articles are free. After that, it is $2.00 per article. Beth usually does the search and sends a citation list to you. Then, you can respond with which articles you want the full-text for, thus controlling the costs to you. There is an hourly charge for extensive research – such as researching trips to the Library of Congress.
Cons: Other than the fees, not a darn thing. Your queries are confidential and not shared with other journalists. Beth and her team are a godsend, simple as that!
· ProfNet – free to journalists but not to sources. Owned/Operated by PR Newswire. Maria Perez is director of News Operations at ProfNet [email protected] or reach her on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/profnet
Pros: Very strong in several source types: colleges and universities, corporations, government agencies, legislative offices, small businesses, nonprofit organizations, hospitals and medical centers, analysts, authors, speakers, consultants, and, of course, PR agencies. One of the benefits for reporters using ProfNet is that they can choose institution type(s) they want to send the query to. If you want to target just colleges and universities, for example, you can. Reporter query forms have been recently streamlined making the service easier to use.
Reporters can also search ProfNet's Experts Database to find experts and communicate with them privately (via their PR representative). This gives reporters yet another option for finding experts, without broadcasting their query to the full e-mail subscriber list. If your deadline is tight, Maria leverages Twitter to speed responses.
Cons: Responses can be slow although ProfNet has made considerable progress with speeding things up. Although there is only so much one can do to spur industry heavyweights and science types. Also, if you ask ProfNet to leverage Twitter to speed responses, you run the same risks you do with HARO on Twitter. Just depends, you want to keep your story idea to yourself, or not?
· Newswise – free to journalists, sources pay a fee. Newswise is great for university and research institution sources (over 500 of them!) for knowledge-based news. It was created in 1991 by Roger Johnson, Ph.D., a biochemist who became a science writer and freelance reporter in the Washington, DC area in 1978. Contact Thom on Twitter at http://twitter.com/newswise or his boss, Newswise President and Founder, Roger Johnson at http://twitter.com/newswiseroger .
Pros: The information found here is extraordinary. Five wires are available: SciNews, MedNews, BizNews, LifeNews, and Daily News. Journalists have access to embargoed news well in advance of release. This is an awesome advantage as it allows you time to thoroughly research a topic and yet publish a comprehensive piece on the actual release date. Offers an extensive contact directory and Find An Expert service to aid you in your own sourcing needs. A good news library and archive service enables you to find plenty of background info on a long list of topics.
Cons: To date, I haven’t found any. The service is limited to serious journalists; it is not sourcing turf for bloggers, citizen journalists or news aggregators (at least in terms of embargoed news and access to true experts in any field). Also, your queries are not shared-- nor visible to-- other journalists.
Why do I share this information with you? Because I believe, heart and soul, in good journalism and I want to do everything I can to see the industry weather and prosper despite the current economic obstacles. Go forth and report – and know that I salute you!
by Pam Baker, veteran freelance journalist
It’s stunning, really, how many people think that journalists and editors are defined solely by their medium; as though we would whimper into nothingness when the presses shut for the last time. Lest you fall for this latest of urban myths, let me lift the veil and show you what you do not see, what you cannot know, about journalists. In this case, a very special group of journalists called the Internet Press Guild (IPG). After you sneak a peek, tell me then if the new media world is indeed truly new, and conversely, if the old journalism guard is not the edgiest media of all…
The Secret Retreat Where the Elite CIOs Meet
Let me begin with an illustration of sufficient shocking magnitude to make the most pressing of points. The world we live in operates on many levels. The levels with the most impact are typically the most inaccessible, the most invisible and the most surprising. Take for example, The Secret Retreat Where the Elite CIOs Meet, an independent business unit of Gartner Research called simply The Research Board.
Behind the doors of an elegant town house in midtown Manhattan, The Research Board’s super elite CIO members, a group of 100 from the world’s wealthiest and most powerful companies, “mingle, pour over research, debate best practices, and entertain presentations from technology vendors which would give their last bit of RAM for an audience with these CIOs who collectively wield billions in I.T. buying power.” And here you thought the halls of power were contained to a hill in Washington, D.C.
What you don’t know happens without you; what you don’t know happens to you. Ignorance is neither a gateway nor a shield. For edification and protection, the world needs reputable, reliable, seasoned journalists who operate within a strict code of standards and ethics.
The Research Board has been in operation for nearly 40 years. Would you like an update on The Research Board’s work? It’s an exceedingly difficult story to get and solely within the purview of seasoned journalists. Or, did you imagine you could simply Tweet them up and they would conveniently, and without discretion, DM or email you back in rich detail?
The Ambulance That Will Not Come
If you depend solely on citizen journalists, bloggers, Twitter, and “free” content for the news, you’ll likely not hear another word about The Research Board or any number of closed doors facing any battery of streets. These are not the stories where one needs only to jockey for a press pass, jot a quick blog, send out a green intern, or hire a $1.50-per-story writer in a foreign land.
Even Google won’t help you much: a search will net you a vague LinkedIn page; a tell-nothing web site of a single, lonely page; and a nugget or two mentioning this or that staffer. Go ahead, bust out the search engines and see what you find.
It is impractical and delusional to believe that journalists can easily be replaced with technology. That’s like saying you don’t need an ambulance service because you own a phone: while connected, these two things are not interchangeable. The same applies to journalism and technology.
I could have chosen any one of thousands of exposés bylined by IPG members from nearly any time frame. Why did I choose one of my own stories as an illustration? Because the IPG is a fiercely independent group of talented technology writers and no one member speaks for any other, much less for the entire group. Therefore, I offer only my own observations. But if you look closely, you’ll find IPG member bylines on nearly every important technology news story told over several decades. If you want a list of IPG members from which to compare, you’ll find it here.
IPG members have always been there telling their stories, all up in your face in a newspaper, a magazine, a book, or on television, radio, or online. Some of us are older, some of us quite young, but all have chops and all have earned their street creds repeatedly in the harshest of environments.
Incompetence isn’t tolerated in this group; the IPG has been known to eat its own.
IPG began years ago as alt.internet.media-coverage. As the founders of the group tell it “in response to an infamous net kook who began to alter the signal to noise ratio, the IPG was formed as an invitation-only private mailing list, as happened with a lot of Usenet groups at the time for similar reasons. a.i.m-c quickly lost its signal to noise ratio too and some of the members formed the IPG to ‘take a stand against shoddy, inaccurate reporting about the Internet.’”
Now IPG members are outstanding technology writers offered membership by invitation only. Such is issued by the most demanding and exacting of all judges: their most accomplished peers. By the way, there is no conspiracy here – entirely too much independence and cynicism among members for any collusion to occur -- but we do discuss issues of the day and, on occasion, that may include you and your products.
The IPG and the Death of Journalism
Many IPG members hold degrees in technology or science rather than in journalism and/or were programmers, consultants and CIOs before they were writers. All were the very people that told you, through their news stories and yes, even in early blogs and now in social media, about technology developments pre-Internet forward. And, we’re still at it.
Readers won’t pay to read our stories you say? Well, that may prove true. But that doesn’t mean we lack marketable skills. If the media world can no longer afford us, many of us will likely move on. Probably to more profitable privately-owned positions where the knowledge we possess, the relationships we have built over decades (yes, pre-social media and beyond), and the facts we can dig up are more highly valued.
The media never owns any journalist’s talents and contacts. We carry those with us. Thus, the top journalists will not fade with the ink on printing presses. A few may open new media outlets; some will do private analytical and investigative work. But, if the best and the brightest of journalists do not remain journalists in the end, it will be the public that suffers. That’s not arrogance; it’s a simple hard truth. The writers will merely tell their stories to a different audience.
The IPG web site is new; some parts are still under construction. In all these many years, we’ve only recently felt a need to reveal ourselves. Several of us are curious to see who comes calling and who doesn’t.
IPG journalists continue to write while the media crumbles around them because their heart is very much in the craft. They are each aware they have other choices in careers. They know, for instance, that there is a lucrative market for information among start-ups, venture capitalists, tech firms and the like on entities such as The Research Board and for intros to key people, like Peter Sole who is so powerful that Bill Gates himself pitches Microsoft before him. Gates has personally addressed the Research Board on at least 15 occasions, beginning in 1988 when Microsoft was in its formative years.
Even so, IPG members would rather stay in journalism despite relatively low pay and the continual bashing. The one thing that will most certainly make them change careers is reader desertion.
And so it is that the ending to this story is all up to you, dear reader. All up to you.
This is NicheKnot, where news niches knot into the big picture, signing off (for now)…
by Pam Baker, veteran freelance journalist
(This post is in response to the onslaught of questions I have received on where I stand on the ethical issues tied to the TechCrunch/Twitter situation. For details read here: http://tinyurl.com/ltqobq then read Michael Arrington’s reaction here: http://tinyurl.com/msnlpz )
To print or not to print, that is the
question. Since the first newspaper, editors and writers have struggled with
this ethical quicksand. Now bloggers are faced with this same dilemma. Case in
point: a hacker drops private and sensitive info on Twitter’s inner workings
into TechCrunch’s inbox. The info is sent to other bloggers as well. Now
Michael Arrington says he will, indeed, publish some of the material.
To print or not to print, that is the question. Since the first newspaper, editors and writers have struggled with this ethical quicksand. Now bloggers are faced with this same dilemma. Case in point: a hacker drops private and sensitive info on Twitter’s inner workings into TechCrunch’s inbox. The info is sent to other bloggers as well. Now Michael Arrington says he will, indeed, publish some of the material.
That decision is unethical. Why? For many reasons. First, for the same reason it is unethical for a pawn shop to receive and sell stolen goods. In this case the goods are intellectual property, they’ve been stolen, and TechCrunch will profit from publishing them. Arrington’s rep, reader count, page views and ad revenue will likely increase from his use of these stolen goods.
You don’t need a degree in journalism to know Arrington’s move is wrong. Your gut has already told you this. Still, some need to hear it said out loud, hear their own gut reaction vindicated, because we live in an anything-goes world where one is considered a dinosaur for holding to the old societal rules or a wuss for not being up to the game of 'me before all else and winner takes all.'
But do we really want to live in a world where honor and dignity are replaced with ill-gained profits and ruthless profiteers? I don’t. And, I suspect many of you don’t either.
Secondly, TechCrunch’s decision must not be confused with investigative journalism for it is more akin to assisted corporate espionage after the fact; company secrets were stolen.
In investigative journalism a wrong or a suspected wrong is investigated – usually by a team of skilled journalists – after a whistle-blower sounds the alarm or a suspicion arises from circumstance. Yes, anonymous sources have indeed dumped information in journalists’ email or mail boxes. Some elect to call and disguise their voice. But these sources report a wrong or suspicion, not simply “here look at this juicy stuff” (unless, of course they’re calling a sleazy tabloid where the rules of ethics seldom abide).
Journalists have faced this dilemma time and time again. The difference is in how mainstream news media (the reputable players anyway) make the determination of what to print or not to print versus how Arrington made his.
The very first question reputable reporters and editors will ask: is this news? Is this something the public has a right to know? That’s an exceedingly important question. Ethically, the public has the right to know anything that may affect them, their lives, their country, their families…well, you get the idea. Does releasing Twitter’s private information pass this basic but essential test? No, it does not. The public is NOT affected by Twitter’s projections and future plans.
However, Twitter can be irreparably harmed by the release. Is this ravaging damage for the public good? No, it is not. A reputable reporter and/or editor would not have released Twitter’s information and instead would have reported the hacking and what was stolen and left it at that.
That probably means the newspaper or magazine, offline or on, would not have nearly as appealing a headline this morning as TechCrunch’s. It means once again that mainstream news media would be mocked and ridiculed for “missing the story” or “coming with too little too late” or “too antiquated to matter any more” or something else of that ilk. Journalists would bear those blows, as they have for months on end now, all the while trying to explain the decision in what undoubtedly would be labeled largely weak and ineffectual terms.
But when did we decide as a society that doing the right thing is a show of weakness? When did we decide that protecting innocents from harm -- and passing on the profits that could be had from such harm – is the wrong thing to do?
Yes, mainstream media makes mistakes and sometimes gets it wrong. And, there are those among us that don’t pass muster. But, we have a multi-layered system of writers, editors, editorial boards, and publisher meetings for a reason. We have journalistic standards for a reason.
The reason is to ensure accurate, ethical reporting. That’s our calling and we’re sticking to it. For anything else, you’ll need to read a tabloid or follow an ethically unencumbered blogger.
Update: There is another point to consider. Publicity spurs bad behavior. That is why mainstream news media struggles so hard with reporting mass shootings and the like; we don't want to reward people gunning down innocents in shopping malls and schools with fame. Should we not discourage hacking in the same way?
While publisher need for freelance content is at a new high, pay is at an all-time low. The recession has forced me to work twice as hard and twice as fast just to break even. I have to go into overdrive to make any real dough. Time is money and time has sped up. There isn’t a second to spare.
The most HARO responses I have received on a single request is 147: for a story I was writing on social media. The least was 16: for a story I was writing on health care. I have to use a minimum of three unrelated sources in any given story and no more than nine (such are the rules of journalism; the total number used is directly related to the length of the story).
A phone interview (of any depth) takes at least eight minutes (if I’m rude and rush the interviewee). But, I can never get it done in eight minutes because interviews rarely start on time and I have to push past all the pat answers, sales pitches, product pushes, and positioning statements before I can get to the core nuggets that make a great story. At the volume I write, there’s no time for three such phone calls per story, much less 147 of them.
So I ask for email responses to my HARO requests. This speeds the process and ensures accuracy in my reporting – working this fast swings the door to the Error Room wide, freakin’ open. Email interview answers are an incredibly effective doorstop.
I read every single HARO response that I receive. They then go to two files and a database. Those I’ll use in the story at hand go in one file; the rest go in a second file for use in related stories over the next 30 days. They ALL go in my source database for consideration in stories that I’ll write beyond the 30 day window. Well, almost all of them anyway. First, I have to sort the wheat from the chaff.
The elimination round.
Any HARO responder that offers to write the story for me: DELETE. All that are off topic: DELETE. Obvious nutcases: DELETE. Any that merely are a cut & paste of web site copy, blogs, previously published articles or original manuscripts: DELETE. Any that offer a phone interview after I specifically requested full comments be emailed to me: DELETE (with the rare exception of a truly unique source which I will react to accordingly, but for the most part I simply don’t have time to chat, so the email is deleted… though I may move the source to the database for a future story in the hopes that I may have time then).
Who makes the cut
I look for responses that are conversational, not robotic, over- thought or chockfull of legalese. I look for valuable info and insights and skip propaganda or product pitches. Speak in terms of your industry not your product. Unless I’m doing a product review, I’m never going to advertise or endorse your product. Accept that fact of journalism. Make your answers relevant to your industry and the question(s) posed. Put your product and company info in a boilerplate paragraph beneath your answers. In the off chance I think your product is relevant to the story, I’ll pull the info from your boilerplate.
Next, I’ll read all the emails for a consensus and I’ll note contrarian views. Then I’ll narrow by relevance and look for the quotes with the most power in the punch (if your quote rambles, you’re probably not gonna make the cut as someone who can get to the point with pizzazz is much more likely to take the slot).
Then I’ll weigh those responses based on the authority of the speaker. The more integrity and authority the responder has, the more likely I am to use the quote. This does NOT mean I will only use responders from big corporations. Reader value tops corporate might every single time.
Lastly, I will verify the source and the material and follow-up with a phone call as needed.
Then, I write the story.
The extra benefit for HARO responders
I’m aware that you went to an awful lot of trouble to respond to my HARO request. I don’t take your efforts lightly. That’s why I make the extra effort to use your information in other articles if you didn’t make the cut for this one (and you or your client had something brilliant to say about the matter).
Sometimes that comes as a surprise to many of you. I often get emails praising my articles but asking when I interviewed the client (the fear I ran around PR is palpable in these emails). When I email a copy of the HARO response, PR folk inevitably say “Oh, I remember, I just didn’t put it together that Pam Baker at xxx publication online is the same Pam Baker at xyz magazine.”
I have been freelancing for over 15 years. I think that’s ample time to connect the dots. But even if you don’t make the connection between this HARO response and the story you’ll see in a different publication next month with my byline, rest assured I did. I have nothing but respect for your work and your efforts in answering my HARO requests. Thank you for being there for me!
by Pam Baker, veteran journalist and business consultant
Old media has been shattered but new media is full of just as many shards. Anyone that believes you can do the job – be it distribute the news or deliver the corporate message – with any one piece of that jagged mess is either delusional or a swindler. Either way, the shards will cut you just as deep and the hemorrhages will be just as bloody reekin’ red.
Yet it is the shards and the New Media charlatans that are hailed as the saviors of the day. Go figure.
New media is fast but often faulty. Old media is slow but usually correct. TV is no longer bound to a TV set, but is still TV. Newspaper is more than newsprint but hardly news. Social Media is a mix of gossip unleashed, eye witness testimony and Hail Mary plays. Radio is beamed and streamed but still consumed in narrow waves. Blogs are rarely more than rants but often are the sole source for the most intriguing news. YouTube can make you a viral sensation but you have better odds winning the lottery.
So where among all this media dilution is the scale of attention one needs to make a profit?
Back when I owned a PR/Advertising agency, we bought scale. In TV you buy chucks of thousands of viewers, in radio chucks of hundreds. You bought local, regional or national media exposure in a carefully calculated mix of mediums, but you always bought the numbers (based on ratings, circulation etc). You also attempted to get coverage -- which cost you nothing but meant everything -- from mainstream media and bloggers to establish your credibility. The goal was to get your message before as many qualified buyers as possible for the money you spent. Same goal as today, actually.
I’m now on the other side of the fence: I’m a writer/journalist. Guess what? We still have to chase the numbers. The name of the journalism game: Digg, Slashdot, Twitter, etc., anything and everything to get the page views up and up and up.
Numbers. That is all there is or ever was in the game of profits.
New Media alone often can’t deliver numbers big enough for corporate paydays much less stockholder payouts. Yes, I know about the exceptions in terms of start-up funding and brand successes, but I’m talking about new media as a one-size-fits-all corporate communication strategy. It does not, and cannot, totally replace old media.
For example, if you think news (and ads) can only be distributed in digital form then you better take another look at census data: the U.S. demographic is heavy on the older baby boomer side – a huge but splintered group, many of whom are tech savvy but just as many or more still either don’t surf the ‘Net or barely do so. Yet this group has HUGE disposable income. So what, Corporate America’s gonna write off that major market without a second glance? Not bloody likely. Then there’s that whole digital divide problem (which rising unemployment is worsening): many advertisers want to reach these people too. Remember, the game is to capture the BIG numbers (market share, qualified/interested buyers, number of readers/viewers, etc and aka scale).
Next there’s the whole touchy-feely Social Media thing. Personally, I love social media but it doesn’t scale well. As a journalist, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social media are perfect vehicles to find story tips and expert sources. But that’s a one-on-one game to begin with. For Corporate America that needs huge scale, it could be a money drain outside of CRM usage. The prevailing problem: in this day of massive layoffs to cut operational costs, how much staff do you have to add or overtax to hold hands with every potential client or squawking complainer on Twitter alone? Hmmm?
Now flip the problem over: how long can Twitter, or any other social media for that matter, stay in business with no profits in hand? So, how smart is it then to bet your whole business strategy on any communication vehicle that may or may not exist -- or be in vogue -- tomorrow?
So, no, new media can’t carry the load alone. But neither can old media. The answer is to take the shards of splintered media and make a mosaic tool uniquely suited to the job you have at hand. Then use it as a whole and not as a grab-bag of broken pieces.
As to me, that’s why I write in many forms and in many mediums for a variety of publications and private corporate clients (but I never mix the two). My work, too, is more stained glass window than mere shimmering splinter. I suspect many successful journalists, PR and marketing people are doing the same.
by Linda Cureton, CIO of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
Someone gave me this wonderful book to look at called, The No Asshole Rule by Robert I. Sutton. And I tell you, I struggled with whether or not I should even blog about this topic because I would hate the fact that if you put in search keywords “Linda Cureton” and “asshole” that you would get a hit. But lately, I’ve been dealing with more than my fair share of jerks and it seemed appropriate to perhaps spend some time thinking about this fascinating workplace challenge.
My husband and I used to work together before he retired. He always noted that I have this amazing ability to work well with jerks (ok, I’m not using the a-word anymore). As I reflect on this topic, it seems that somehow, I would always draw the short straw and have to deal with the jerks. Though we don’t work together anymore, he still says that this is true. I asked him why he thought that was true. He gave me three reasons:
I find ways to get what I want and am able to see how they can contribute to the organization.
I have a close friend who is proud of being a jerk. He actually refers to himself as a bastard – and swears he keeps a copy of his birth certificate in his pocket for proof. Everyone avoided him because he was a real bastard. But, this amazing man was critical to my success in the organization. He was adept at working through adversity and punching through barriers. If it were not for him, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
I am adaptable and find ways to achieve objectives in spite of jerks.
There’s a particular jerk I have in mind, who is an amazing talent perhaps even a genius. I announced to him publically that I was taking advantage of Microsoft Outlook and filtering all e-mail from him into my trash can. That was a happy moment for me. You gotta love that feature in Outlook. But, I never met the guy up to that point. Then, I had what I thought would be the misfortune of actually meeting him. He wasn’t so bad. He was extremely passionate. Deployed in the right direction, this guy is remarkable. Nevertheless, his rants still merit going into the trash can.
I use the strength of jerks in the workplace and minimize their harm.
My husband always said that I was “too soft” and “for the people”. I started to tell him to go to hell, but then I would be a jerk. But he was right. And this affinity sometimes keeps me from being results oriented. So, I learned to “subcontract” my need for being a jerk. In other words, I need at least one jerk on my team in order to compensate for this “strength” that I have. Whether you call this “good cop/bad cop”, the balance that this offers to my style is critical for my success.
I guess I understand the point that Sutton makes in his book. The toxicity in the workplace may not be worth it. But, I do think that there is a place for everyone in the workplace, even jerks. Their strengths and weaknesses must be managed, including their inclinations for acting like the a-word. I like his notion of the need to be a temporary jerk.
I had a dicey workforce situation with a few jerks and decided that I needed to cuss them out. I had to practice … in front of a mirror. It worked. And the effects still linger today, nearly 8 years later.
So, yes, we must have civility in the workplace. But, as my grandmother often said, it takes all kinds to make the world – even jerks.
First, an exercise. Then, a blazing finale. (perhaps) To complete this exercise, you'll need: Take the first sticky note and use the crayon to write whatever you expect to get out of your new blog. It's important to use the crayon because it's bulky, awkward, and not the best tool for the job at hand. Much of blogging is the same way. You might be an excellent writer but a mediocre editor and a terrible salesperson. That's okay. But if you want to build a successful blog, you must be willing to step into a variety of roles and learn to run in ill-fitted shoes. Once you've completed the list of what you want out of your blog, set the sticky note aside. Take the second sticky note and write down what your blog will provide to readers. Are you hoping to provide them with an insider's view of where you live? Do you have a perspective on real estate, finance, health, or politics that you think others would find useful? Who do you think will read your blog? Fill in the blanks: My blog will interest _________ with posts about ________. It can be longer (as much as you can write with a thick crayon on a sticky note) or a bit shorter. It's up to you. The important thing is that you have a clear view of what you wish to provide with your blog. You cannot expect something specific (community, support, moolah) from others without first having an idea of what you are providing for them. Fill your mouth with water from the glass. Instead of swallowing the water, force it against your lips and teeth until it sprays out of your mouth (and hopefully in a safe direction!). You need to practice spewing water because you will be repeating this exact motion while reading some of the comments left on your blog. Most readers will not read your "about me" page to see what your credentials are before commenting. They don't care. Most readers won't read your entire post, and if they do, they won't read it carefully. The comments they leave will reflect how ill-informed they are. Unfortunately, how you respond to those comments matters a great deal because other readers will judge you by your responses. It's best to leave the angry spewing for water across your living room and approach every comment with an eye for the positive. Once you've cleaned up the water, it's time to grab your sticky notes and start blogging. If you're wondering if a certain topic would be good for a post, check your second sticky note and see if it will further your goal of providing a specific type of content to your readers. When considering if, when, and where to place ads on your blog, a quick consultation of your first sticky note will lead you to a conclusion. You might ask, "What? How can that be all? Isn't there a long and drawn out system through which I can build a blog that will guarantee my financial future?" The answer is very simple. There is no specific system that will guarantee success. If you have your personal and projected goals (the sticky notes), you are in a solid position to make good decisions for yourself. If you can stomach the idea of facing your detractors alone, then you'll really enjoy the best parts of a blogging community! One of the key parts of successful blogging is to appear both present in your content and willing to discuss the posted topic beyond the original text. I think back to the 5-paragraph essay format I was bludgeoned with in school and consider blog comments to be the elusive 6th paragraph. That said, if you have any questions about building a blog, forming a community, or just something random that comes to mind, drop them in a comment below. I'll be around to reply. (the blazing finale you were waiting for)
First, an exercise. Then, a blazing finale. (perhaps)
To complete this exercise, you'll need:
Take the first sticky note and use the crayon to write whatever you expect to get out of your new blog. It's important to use the crayon because it's bulky, awkward, and not the best tool for the job at hand. Much of blogging is the same way. You might be an excellent writer but a mediocre editor and a terrible salesperson. That's okay. But if you want to build a successful blog, you must be willing to step into a variety of roles and learn to run in ill-fitted shoes. Once you've completed the list of what you want out of your blog, set the sticky note aside.
Take the second sticky note and write down what your blog will provide to readers. Are you hoping to provide them with an insider's view of where you live? Do you have a perspective on real estate, finance, health, or politics that you think others would find useful? Who do you think will read your blog? Fill in the blanks: My blog will interest _________ with posts about ________. It can be longer (as much as you can write with a thick crayon on a sticky note) or a bit shorter. It's up to you. The important thing is that you have a clear view of what you wish to provide with your blog. You cannot expect something specific (community, support, moolah) from others without first having an idea of what you are providing for them.
Fill your mouth with water from the glass. Instead of swallowing the water, force it against your lips and teeth until it sprays out of your mouth (and hopefully in a safe direction!). You need to practice spewing water because you will be repeating this exact motion while reading some of the comments left on your blog. Most readers will not read your "about me" page to see what your credentials are before commenting. They don't care. Most readers won't read your entire post, and if they do, they won't read it carefully. The comments they leave will reflect how ill-informed they are. Unfortunately, how you respond to those comments matters a great deal because other readers will judge you by your responses. It's best to leave the angry spewing for water across your living room and approach every comment with an eye for the positive.
Once you've cleaned up the water, it's time to grab your sticky notes and start blogging. If you're wondering if a certain topic would be good for a post, check your second sticky note and see if it will further your goal of providing a specific type of content to your readers. When considering if, when, and where to place ads on your blog, a quick consultation of your first sticky note will lead you to a conclusion.
You might ask, "What? How can that be all? Isn't there a long and drawn out system through which I can build a blog that will guarantee my financial future?"
The answer is very simple. There is no specific system that will guarantee success.
If you have your personal and projected goals (the sticky notes), you are in a solid position to make good decisions for yourself. If you can stomach the idea of facing your detractors alone, then you'll really enjoy the best parts of a blogging community!
One of the key parts of successful blogging is to appear both present in your content and willing to discuss the posted topic beyond the original text. I think back to the 5-paragraph essay format I was bludgeoned with in school and consider blog comments to be the elusive 6th paragraph.
That said, if you have any questions about building a blog, forming a community, or just something random that comes to mind, drop them in a comment below. I'll be around to reply. (the blazing finale you were waiting for)