Niche content, Palinism vs. Liberalism and the plight of Newsweek

Palin

While watching my somewhat regular 15-20 minutes of O’Reilly Factor every other day, I caught an interesting segment with Bernard Goldberg. He and Baba over there, were discussing (nay, dissecting) the Rick Pearlstien story on Palin in Newsweek, mulling over the overwhelming negative tone coming from a ‘left wing activist writer’ as they called him. What got me thinking was the focus on the survival of Newsweek as a media publication part of the discussion…

Note: I read the story after watching the exchange on the air, which was very heated about the level of criticism Mr. Pearlsien gave ex Gov. Palin. While possibly seeing their point while watching, I didn’t find the story to be vicious at all or bellow the belt while reading… if anything it was more about OReilly/Limbaugh/Beck backend of the story that got him heated more; and no, I don’t like Palin.

When I was growing up in an avid various press reading family, the one magazine I always remember being around is Newsweek… that is until one day, my dad got enraged at the number of ads impeding his reading flow, cancelling and cursing the pub for nearly a decade. Despite this hiatus, I got used to Newsweek being my de-facto consumer news weekly, until encountering the TIME magazine staple at the in-laws.

Either way, going back to the segment spot… the point that Bernard Goldberg was making is that all of these publications (as is most media) are fighting for survival and thus seeking out niche plays to satisfy the bottom line. Given the various perspectives out there on Newsweek’s coverage tone (i.e., the 2008 campaign coverage of Palin, read: Has Newsweek Gone (Too) Liberal? or Newsweek: Palin Too Common, Too Stupid to be VP, She’s ‘Dangerous’), can Newsweek go too niche into liberalism by shunning Palinism outright? And, how niche is niche, in terms of content and the changing face of media nowadays any way?

Another major trend I’ve been observing at as part of my industry monitoring is the rise of niche content as a possible silver bullet to the media’s woes. The troubles facing Newsweek, TIME, et al (unfortunately now also including my personal favorite BusinessWeek, read: McGraw-Hill Puts BusinessWeek on Auction Block) unite them in the need to hone in their messages to their core strengths and please a niche audience to maintain a base for survival… easy for me to say.

But it does seem to have an ounce of possibility to work (think: WSJ/NYT editorial, Washington Post/Washington Times, etc.)… if my two families could recognize the coverage tone between Newsweek and TIME in the 90’s enough to drive them to a distinct choice… why not harness those wings and fringes then really go all out?

O’Reilly was upset that Newsweek didn’t disclose that Mr. Pearlstein was a ‘left wing activist writer’ versus the ‘author’ credit they printed him with… to quote my beloved Judge Judy: “Baloney!” Even if true, why should they disclose more (agreeing with Bernard Goldberg again); he’s not a first time contributing writer. Bill is once again huffing up hot air about something he himself is a part of. As centrist as he says he is (no spin zone and all), everyone knows he is a conservative talk show host, and he continues to be named alongside Rush in print, which I think always sets him off.

I see no radical change in the coverage of Newsweek toward liberalism (even if anti Palin, I’m looking at you Peggy Noonan)… but maybe, just maybe, Newsweek is circling the wagons around a theme and message that works for them (the trimmed down redesign that Newsweek underwent recently is another possible sign)… possibly taking a chapter out of Bill’s play book, hm?

I don’t know, but for me it’ll always be that magazine that Dad read, however liberal or anti-Palin or over-stuffed with ads it is… I do like the old design better though, but it’s good to not have as much celebrity focus anymore… consider your wagons circled.

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How Michael Jackson Brought Back Traditional Media (for now…)

MJ Photo Via Cinie World

“The media is dead, long live the media!”

Coupled with recent ZDNet op-ed from Google’s Jeremy Allison with the same headline, this tweet from Tom Foremski for #mediatalklive forum got me thinking… has the recent wave of exorbitant Michael Jackson coverage in traditional, new and social media alike brought the dueling mediums closer together? Or again, pit them one against the other?

It’s no secret that it wasn’t just the tabloids that loved anything and everything Michael Jackson, undeniably making all media have a hand in the draining of his celebrity in one way or another. The last few weeks were no different, with one exception… the role of social media in the three ring circus that is ‘Jacko’ coverage.

However musically talented he was, the sheer fact that the gloved one took over every form of media imaginable for over a week (indeed the true king of ALL media, sorry Howard) is already more unparalleled than Thriller ever was… the media’s in-sync chorale around the life and death of Michael Jackson may have brought back traditional media, even if only for a little while.

While the story did break on TMZ.com, ‘Jacko’ coverage always lived in print and broadcast. For more than a few days, I saw more people watch TV in homes and offices or read newspapers on NYC subways and buses than I ever have. Social media seemed to discuss various news and late night segments while linking to commemorative print editions… sounds like a gasp of relief for traditional media to me.

I understand that this could all be a perception and observational mistake on my part, or maybe it’s just the world’s way to show appreciation for a talent that’s gone… but I will say this, the ‘filter’ of traditional media props up the old medium against its newly minted counterparts online, specifically in situations as controversial as the life and death of Michael Jackson…

To me, the grieving fans and the tasteful homage paid to the King of Pop by traditional media was something to behold… however even when watching the CNN/Facebook broadcast of the memorial, the sidebar was peppered with rough and distasteful commentary from ‘the public,’ also being echoed in the trending topics on Twitter (read: Michael Jackson Memorial Takes Over Twitter), as much adoration as hate present. And when New York Rep. Peter King wanted to air his angst against the media orgy where did he go? Fox News? CNN? No, Youtube (see the rant here).

To paraphrase a quote from 140TC, “crowdsourcing ruins everything, because not everyone has good taste”… this mega event is no exception; editors, producers and filters of traditional media showed the last few weeks why they are still relevant, if anything by showing the very real possibility that the masses can be so cruel, if just given the chance.

If not for a moment, Michael Jackson brought back old media… and gave them a breath of fresh air as it continues to move further and further underwater.

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Did Twitter Save Brand America…?

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One of the things that I’ve been following as part of monitoring for major trends that impact corporate reputation (I do corporate PR, remember?), is the so called ‘fall of brand America,’ in lieu of the perceptual waning based in part on Bush’s years in office, as well as the economic crisis leading to a global downturn that followed. The trend is not new, but looking at America as a brand is something I haven’t done before seeing it through the lens of public relations and communications.

I will note, I always looked up to America as an image and pillar of democracy, opportunity, and freedom; after all I am a naturalized citizen, who had to survive communism to get here (born in Moscow).

It’s no secret that the Bush years wreaked havoc on the image of America, both at home and abroad, so what changed? Is it possible to reverse at all, or is the damage too long lasting (two wars going on, an endless recession, etc.)… My thinking is a resounding yes; like the old Spanish phrase about food, a little bit often (shouldn’t that just become Twitter’s motto too?!).

In my opinion, first step was electing Barack Obama… love or hate him and his policies, the 180 degree change to the Bush tenure was needed to start a process of global reconciliation on the right foot… moreover, I credit the Obama campaign for bringing twitter and social networking into the fray of politics (sorry Mr. Dean), a necessary final step in its full democratization for the masses.

As Victoria Esser recently wrote, in her fantastic byline for Politico:

“Is social media diplomatic window dressing or can the U.S. Twitter its way into the hearts and minds of other countries? While the answer is somewhere in between, the U.S. cannot afford to wait while these channels are perfected in order to direct them in service of President Barack Obama’s priority of renewing America’s global leadership. Indeed, Mr. Obama can use the themes and technologies that helped him generate huge grass-roots support in his presidential campaign to build support for America on the world stage.”

Mrs. Esser continues to source Pew Global Attitudes Survey finding broad anti-Americanism around the world, with the image of the United States declining in 26 of 33 countries since 2002; while characterizing the U.S. image as ‘abysmal’ in most Muslim countries in the Middle East and Asia… so far down has the image fallen that not even the newly elected government could make a dent in the negativity (read: Poll: Obama Not Helping U.S. Image In Iran)

So what’s step two? For me, step two came not during the watered down ‘social media town halls’ from the Obama administration at the onset of his presidency, nor from the YouTube/CNN debates earlier in the campaigns. Rather, it was the election in Iran, and the social media/citizen journalism combo, into what I call open source protesting.

The telling sign of this was the #iranelection crowdsourced outrage over the election results (read: Staggering #IranElection Stats: 2 Million+ Total Tweets), where the world joined hands where the president could not… I’m not blaming Obama at all, diplomacy is hard and not black/white, but I will say that he could have said what he said louder and faster.

By following the conversation on Twitter, we saw American citizens showcasing US ideals in 140 characters, with RTs, links, photos and genuine care for the cause of freedom… without Twitter it would not come to be, and the Iranians would not be able to see the willingness to collaborate and unite in cause, as long as that cause is just. Because of the flat world and the access to open (somewhat, I’m looking at you China, Iran, et al) communication platforms, the ‘face’ of a nation is no longer just based on its leaders, but also the interaction of it’s citizens.

Of course, Twitter never was and never will be the tell all solution to everything, and  I’m not claiming it to be either. I just think that without it, there would be no such level of interaction… a solid building block. I agree with Mrs. Esser, when she concludes her poignantly intellectual analysis of the situation with:

“There are limits to this virtual dialogue, and so it must be continued on the ground with engagement in “retail” public diplomacy — the critical dialogue with political leaders, opposition, minority groups and others needed to demonstrate that the U.S. is willing to come to the table.”

I could not have said it better myself, so I won’t. I will agree though, a ton of work is yet to be done, mainly on the ground, because even the most solid of foundation is not enough… now it’s time to build.

To be sure, however romantic about the topic I may sound, I am NOT endorsing the notion that Twitter founders should receive a Nobel Peace Prize for rescheduling planned maintenance… regardless of that though, didn’t Twitter save Brand America?

If not yet, then it will… just watch.

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