MEDIA - REPORTING ON OTHER MEDIA: MEDIA ROUNDUP - US media industrymasters the art of introspection

Only recently has the media begun to cover its own industry. But

are readers truly interested? Are advertisers? David Ward takes a look

at who's covering what media outlets, and why it's worthwhile



Legendary TV correspondent Edward R. Murrow's comment that "Journalists

don't have a thin skin, they have no skin," may be in need of some

serious revision. These days, the media finds itself under such a harsh

spotlight that a tough hide may soon join the pen and notebook as

absolute requirements for the job.



In the past two decades, the media's coverage of itself has increased

dramatically in virtually every way. Every newspaper now has at least

one media correspondent, and in many cases the beat is divided among

specialists focusing on the business of media, sports media, and

television. Add to that the rise of watchdog publications like Brill's

Content and a healthy influx of new trade outlets, and it appears that

media watching - and criticism - has rapidly become a national

obsession.



Elizabeth Ames, founder of Bolde Communications and Public Relations,

says this increased coverage simply reflects the growth of media

itself.



"It's an industry that's grown up in the last 20 years," she says. "You

have so many more media outlets - you've got cable TV, and you had only

the beginnings of that 20 years ago. You have the web, and you didn't

have that 20 years ago."



With all this growth has come an increased understanding of exactly how

the dissemination of news works, especially among the reporters who

specialize in media. "There's a much greater sophistication that people

bring to this whole area, and the reporting has become much more in

depth and much more frequent," adds Ames.



Nowhere is this more apparent than in television. In the past few

months, the role financial news network CNBC played in the stock market

boom and bust has been repeatedly analyzed and critiqued; all the

national networks were slammed for their premature declarations of the

Presidential election; and The CBS Evening News found itself the subject

of national debate for its initial decision not to cover the Gary Condit

scandal.



Gil Schwartz, CBS Television EVP of communications, observes, "We're the

most scrutinized industry outside of the government. There's an entire

industry that's dedicated to doing nothing but critiquing, analyzing,

sniping, berating, and occasionally praising



television."



The double standard



Schwartz argues there's a bit of a double standard among media

journalists, saying newspaper and magazine writers are far more critical

of television than they are of printed publications. "No one asks for

the same amount of probity and excellence from the print media than they

ask of us," Schwartz says.



That may be true, but Brill's Content, along with long-standing

publications such as Columbia Journalism Review and the American

Journalism Review, keep every media outlet - TV, print, radio, and the

internet - under the microscope. Everything from where a story gets

placed, to the tone of the coverage, to who writes and edits the story,

is subject to second-guessing.



While the public wants some media accountability - and there's no doubt

that icons like Talk's Tina Brown and columnist Jimmy Breslin are public

figures in their own right - there remains the lingering question

whether the general reader is really as interested in the media as

reporters and editors think they are. Gene Ely, publisher and editor of

the online trade magazine Media Life, says, "There's a belief among

journalists that if they're fascinated by media, everyone else is," he

says. "Actually, the media is not a very interesting business for

outsiders."



The intense scrutiny has impacted how media outlets handle public

relations. High-profile publications like Salon.com now find most of

their PR efforts are reactive rather than proactive. "It's gotten to the

point now where it's morphed into a bit of a self-sustaining organism,"

explains Patrick Hurley, Salon.com's SVP of business operations. "We

have a huge audience of journalists who are bookmarking and reading the

site on a daily basis. I field calls much of the day from broadcast and

print journalists."



While he says most coverage of Salon is "pretty fair," Hurley notes the

site is being taken to task by media writers a bit more now than when it

was considered more of an underdog. "I generally just roll with the

punches," he says. "But when there's been absolutely no effort given to

balancing the opinions and commentary or, most importantly, when the

facts are completely wrong, then I may give them a call to make sure

that reporter has his facts straight for future stories."



Raising media's profile



Most of the PR people representing media outlets claim they rarely use

campaigns. But they all admit there is a conscious effort to find

appearances for star reporters and editors in order to raise the media

outlet's profile.



Andy Plesser, president of Plesser Associates, which represents Red

Herring and CNET, explains, "It's very important to project the

authority of the editors and the editorial vision on an ongoing basis.

For example, Red Herring editor Tony Perkins was recently quoted in the

New York Post about the Microsoft case and the government's decision not

to pursue a break-up."



Ames adds that the other key to media outlet PR is to make sure you stay

top of mind with advertisers. "They need to communicate what niche they

occupy, and that necessitates putting out messages," she says.



But Ely, whose ad-supported website is aimed at media planners and

buyers, complains that far too many PR people are naive when pitching

media clients.



"They're so used to having puff stories written about their publications

that when you want to do a detailed piece, they don't want the story,"

he says. "Most people come to us and say, 'Write a story about why our

magazine is so good.' That's not what our job is."



Even though virtually every outlet now has a media beat, there are a few

that have achieved national prominence. They include The Washington

Post's Howard Kurtz, David Shaw of the Los Angeles Times, Dan Fost of

the San Francisco Chronicle, the San Jose Mercury News' Deborah Lohse,

sports media writer Richard Sandomir of The New York Times, Steven Brill

and editor Eric Effron of Brill's Content, executive editor Michael Hoyt

of the Columbia Journalism Review and Jim Romenesko of the Poynter.org:

Jim Romenesko's Media News (formerly Mediagossip.com). On the trade

side, they include Sid Holt of Ad Week and Ely of Media Life.



Media writers tend to feel they understand their own business better

than most, but that doesn't mean the media is covered fairly and

accurately - especially when it comes to the issues that exist behind

the screen or printed page. Critiquing content is one thing, but

understanding the impact of changes in postage rates, paper prices,

newsstand distribution policies, and the up-front ad market is quite

another. "Most of the media critics have little understanding of the

business of media," says Ely. "And the business of media is

fascinating."



Still, Paul Capelli, VP of PR for CNBC, says that in the end, all this

intense scrutiny ultimately results in a better product. "Just like

competition is good, this is good for any industry," he says. "You want

people to pay attention."



WHERE TO GO

Newspapers: The New York Times; The Washington Post; The Wall Street

Journal; San Francisco Chronicle; Dallas Morning News; The St. Louis

Post-Dispatch; New York Daily News; New York Post; Los Angeles Times;

Chicago Tribune

Magazines: Brill's Content; The New Yorker; Time; Newsweek; Columbia

Journalism Review; American Journalism Review; TV Guide

Trade publications: Folio; Editor & Publisher; Broadcast and Cable;

Communications Daily; Advertising Age; Ad Week; Hollywood Reporter;

Variety; Brand Week; Media Week

TV & Radio: CNN; CNNfn; CNBC; MSNBC; National Public Radio

Internet: Inside.com; Salon.com

Medialifemagazine.com; Poynter.org



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