Getting caught in the new vs. old media divide

"Newspapers look like an endangered species," announced Senator John Kerry at this week’s Senate subcommittee hearing on the serial demise of newspapers. Full of...

"Newspapers look like an endangered species," announced Senator John Kerry at this week’s Senate subcommittee hearing on the serial demise of newspapers. Full of outrage and drama, traditional print media representatives furiously blamed aggregators such as Google for being parasites, "leeching" the work of professional journalists and putting it on their own sites. Meanwhile Arianna Huffington, a celeb-journalist famous for broadcasting a contrarian voice, argued that the future of journalism is not about the traditional print world, but instead is based on a link economy, search engines, online advertising, citizen journalism and foundation-supported investigative funds.

In the middle of all of this, there is the debate among PR professionals as to whether bloggers are the new journalists and if they are, do the old PR rules apply? In a remarkably short time, certain bloggers have built their own brand with increasing impact when they talk about a client’s brand or product. Today, many blogs are a form of participatory journalism and many online journalists see blogging as a channel for communicating their views and opinions directly to the audience without editorial interference.

For the PR world, this leads to the reasonable concern that the very lack of editorial interference that is so appealing to bloggers may also be at odds with the definition of objective journalism that we have come to rely on when it comes to pitching stories and making our executives available for comment. Whether it is viral videos, Facebook postings, tweets-on-the-run, or power bloggers, the new direct-to-consumer dialogue has less checks and balances with very visible and uncontrollable ramifications. So how do public relations professionals influence and manage content when the very DNA of the new social media world is more about opinion and less about facts?

First, we educate our clients that it is less about broadcasting and more about participating. As brand proxies, it is now the communication person’s 24/7 role to penetrate deep into all the conversations happening about a client’s brand where ever they are taking place and help determine when a brand needs to listen, learn and act based on the conversation, or when it needs to just be comfortable letting the free-form dialogue happen. We also do what we always do: we monitor, evaluate and counsel, knowing that we are in the midst of a new media world that is changing in real-time.

-Susan Butenhoff, CEO/president, Access Communications

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