Category Archives: Lauren Rich Fine

Lauren Rich Fine: A conversation about news media

Lauren Rich Fine visited with my ethics class at Kent State yesterday. I’ve mentioned Lauren before. She joined the university last semester as a “practitioner in residence.” And part of her duties is to help tell the rest of the world about the great things that are happening here involving our School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

She’s the perfect person for the job. She has at a minimum a national reputation as an expert on the news media, gained through years of experience as an industry analyst with Merrill Lynch. She’s also a passionate advocate for a strong news media in this country with all the implications that has for our democracy.

She talked to the class and fielded questions on a variety of subjects ranging from the financial problems facing the newspaper industry today to the growing importance and acceptance of public relations and advertising. And she touched on a number of ethical issues and concerns such as transparency.

Here are some highlights. The students are also writing about her remarks, and I’ll share some of those perspectives with you next week. And please recognize that this is a very general overview. She went into considerable depth in talking about many of these topics. If you have the opportunity to hear her at a conference or other venue by all means do it.

Saying that —

Newspapers – the print version – will continue to get smaller, with fewer pages and a reduction in international and national news. The Internet – and online media of all kinds, including blogs – are driving the focus on local news. Newspapers in particular were slow to embrace this reality.

A challenge facing online media in general – including newspapers – is transparency. How do readers know about the honesty, accuracy and even the intentions of those who post comments online? For that reason, Lauren doesn’t envision a time when online news media will embrace the idea of anonymous postings. That happens now on many blogs. More on that later.

The traditional tension between the editorial/news side of newspapers and the business/advertising side is more intense now than ever. She said that previously the news staff and the advertising staff generally disliked each other. Now in many cases they hate each other. Why? The news staff, faced with doing the same or more with less resources, blames the advertising staff for not generating enough revenue. The problems here: the loss of classified advertising to online venues – and the decline in the automobile industry that has reduced ad spending, among others.

The winners in all this have been public relations firms and advertising agencies. Public relations is being viewed as more of a necessary and effective way for organizations to tell their stories. And advertising is a hot industry again, with an emphasis on creativity that didn’t exist a few years ago.

And for me at least one of the most interesting points Lauren made was about civility. She wrote (and perhaps still intends to write) a blog for The Huffington Post. But she wasn’t very thrilled with the experience, to say the least. Why? She said the number of rude and nasty comments – most if not all posted anonymously – were tough to deal with. Is she OK with criticism? Yes. Did she welcome an informed discussion on important issues? Yes. Did that happen? Not much.

So the news media are undergoing tremendous change. But civility, honesty, fairness, accuracy and transparency still matter. We could all have an interesting conversation on those points. I know students in my ethics class had an interesting conversation yesterday with Lauren Rich Fine.

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Public relations and giving print a chance

I received a nice comment from Meg Roberts about my posting yesterday on public relations and newspapers. Meg is a runner and a PR student. Hard to beat that combination. I hope that Meg and other public relations students and young professionals will read this blog and comment often. I really believe that their perspective on public relations and public relations education benefits us all.

This morning at 5:30 a.m. there weren’t many runners or cars on the roads. Maybe because it’s Christmas Eve; maybe the 25 mph wind was a deterrent to the few others in my neighborhood who run before the sun even thinks about getting out of bed. But I got my six miles in. And when I came home, there was The Plain Dealer in my driveway and the Akron Beacon Journal on my porch, both encased in plastic bags. That got me thinking. First, I only subscribe to The Plain Dealer on Sundays. Maybe one of the editors read this blog yesterday and made arrangements to have a copy delivered to me today. If so, that’s great marketing. But, more likely, it’s an attempt to take customers from the ABJ. That’s another story.

But here’s the point, I like reading newspapers, magazines and blogs online. It’s immediate. You can see video and hear audio. Gee, just like TV. And you can engage reporters, editors and bloggers with immediate comments and feedback. So far so good.

But I love reading the print edition. For those of you who have not read a newspaper on anything other than a computer screen for a while, I encourage you to try it. To steal and modify a saying that was widely used when my generation was engaged in our war in Vietnam: “Give Print a Chance.” Try it. You’ll like it. The printed version is actually pretty well organized. And you can navigate it with almost no training. Just go to the section you are most interested in at the time and turn the pages.

The real point though is that newspapers are changing the print editions. Maybe to attract a new generation of readers. Maybe to drive more eyes to their Web sites. I don’t know the answer. It’s a question I’ll ask Lauren Rich Fine next time I have a real-world chat with her at Kent State. But regardless, public relations pros need to understand the changes that are taking place throughout the news media, print, broadcast and online.

Consider The Plain Dealer. It’s making an effort to feature only local stories on the front page. You can check that out yourself by getting the newspaper. Or you can read an interesting article by Rick Edmonds, “Plain Dealer’s All-Local Fronts,” that was featured on Poynteronline on Thursday, Dec. 20. I suspect that the Akron Beacon Journal is making an attempt to highlight more local stories as well, but it may not have enough resources to make a substantial change. The great thing about blogging is that you can say something like without knowing anything about the management decisions involving content or the resources available to the newspaper and its staff. Maybe Jan Leach knows. Jan was the editor of the Akron Beacon Journal. Now she is an assistant professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Kent State. I’ll ask her next time I see her.

But as newspapers – and the so-called traditional media in general – continue to evolve, more emphasis on local coverage in print isn’t the only thing that’s going to change. New technology means we’re going to have to understand how to engage reporters not just with words but with audio and video. I haven’t quite sorted out the implications of the so-called social news release. But I guess it’s coming. It means that we’re going to see stories develop more quickly and remain public longer. Changes involving the news media — print and online — mean that we better figure out how to be available 24/7 – and how to monitor more effectively what is being said about our organizations and respond accordingly. (Check the blog by Mindy McAdams. It’s on my blogroll).

Regardless of the changes resulting from new technology, for public relations pros the same standards will continue to apply: build relationships with reporters and editors, be ethical, be responsive and responsible and know what you’re talking about, in news releases and in interviews. And be as available during a difficult story as you are when pitching the newest and greatest whatever.

And try reading – in print – at least some of the newspapers that are important to you and your organization. Go ahead. Give print a chance. It’s still about content. And about excellent writing, which I believe you get a better sense for in print than online.

Tomorrow is Christmas. It’s the one day of the year when I know I’m not going to run. Most likely won’t write anything either.

Hope everyone has an enjoyable and restful holiday. And especially at this time of the year, consider the things that are really important. I’ll bet news media story placements don’t even make the list.