Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Media Impact: Public and Personal

While in New York and D.C., I discovered the direction of the media industry, but more importantly, I was also able to pursue and discover the directions of my future career. Meeting with professionals from all ends of the media spectrum, I was able to ‘cross off’ jobs which I had no interest in and ‘circle’ jobs which I could research further on my list of possible careers. I never imagined myself as a hard news reporter, but never shut the door on journalism as a profession. I learned on the trip that the art of journalism is dying for a few reasons. Blogs, the economy, law makers, and even the normal citizen all test the credibility of the media. Over the next few pages, I will attempt to summarize our meetings and then I will look at the state of the media from my perspective as well as its influence on my future career decisions.

Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting aims to critique news media and straight news in their magazine, EXTRA!, and in their radio program, Counterspin. Their studies focus on the stories told and the writer and the factual problems, omissions, and biases. Their website provides an ‘action alert’ which allows readers to combat the biases of media. Before FAIR, people had no idea that you could challenge the media and talk back to the authenticity and credibility of papers. According to Janine Jackson, program director, there is a “…conflict between goals of journalism and making profits.”

Business decisions are taking over journalism decisions. For example, for a higher profit, TIME allowed Ford to sponsor an economic issue. This goes to show the institutional climate that certain stories will enhance a cover and others will not, affecting sales. FAIR calls attention to the ownership of content as well as depicts how mainstream media finds it hard to accurately, if at all, cover issues of war and criticism of Americas objectives and politics. In our meeting with Janine, we also learned that corporate media struggles to accurately cover race and structural inequality is also a taboo subject. In terms of a left-right bias, there tends to be a top-down bias where the most powerful people get to speak. This leaves journalists with the question, who gets to speak and who is spoken for? Janine said the best way to succeed in this industry is to know something beyond journalism and to pursue interests beyond one area in order to support your media criticism.

While at the Smoking Gun, we learned that one person can achieve many things if provided with resources and gumption. The Smoking Gun is owned by TruTV, formerly CourtTV, and is a subsidiary of TimeWarner. As a small operation run by three men for twelve years, the Smoking Gun attempts to maintain a relationship with their readership by responding to every email which comes their way. Their advice to us to obtain resources was to never show your hand that you are a reporter. We learned that if you are credible, no matter what the content of your story, if you don’t pay for your stories and don’t gossip, that there is a real value in reporting. Investigative reporting seems like a lot of work because it is founded on exact documents and can sometimes be a long, enduring process. I don’t think this form of journalism would be for me as I tend to loose patience on long projects.

When walking away from The Onion we were all able to see the optimism in the future of creative journalism. These men, although a little rough around the edges and occasionally unfocused, were proof that there is a way to tell the news in a refreshing manner. They run a fine line between delivering stories with meaning and making people laugh. The employees at The Onion had good rapport between each other and we all walked away thinking that we would love to work in that environment. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact we felt we were in a grown-up playground or behind the scenes at Saturday Night Live. I think the best part about meeting with The Onion staff was when we were the test audience for three headlines they would use in their Inauguration edition. We placed our bets on our favorites and anxiously waited to read the paper in D.C. To our surprise, they used all three headlines on the front page.

Visiting Channel 13 was a good experience because we were able to view the studios and production rooms in order to get a better understanding of the role of public broadcasting. Our visit was the same day as The Onion and these two news organizations could not be more opposite. Channel 13 delivers serious news while The Onion’s main goal is to be funny. We met with the producers of Wide Angle and Front Line. Channel 13 is the largest of 350 stations in the PBS system. They produce some of their own programming, yet also maintain jurisdiction of programming their own shows. Wide Angle is an intimate, character driven approach to international communities and under-reported stories. They produce ten films a year and show them between the months of July and September. Due to the economy, they now have to share the rights with BBC.

Channel 13 takes the stance that the more they maintain original formatting, the more they become unique in the changing landscape. I learned that in order to be successful in broadcasting, you must be flexible and have a back up plan. Mary Ann Donahue gave us the advice that, “…the news cycle is no longer something you wait for. You must create your niche.” Due to blogging, Channel 13 feels the pressure to be accurate with news delivery and authenticity. It is because of their dedication to standards in journalism and non reliance on traditional advertising dollars that PBS news broadcasting has been voted the most trustworthy source for five years. “Once you lie to viewers, you loose their trust and they will no longer watch your show. We can’t afford to lie,” Donahue said.

According to Dave Thomas of Nielsen Co., television remains the principle marketing and advertising medium. Due to the increase in viewing choices on television, there is an increased opportunity to advertise. Nielsen Co. uses the approach of “A2M2” which means Anytime Anywhere Media Measurement to gauge the attitudes towards new perspective products. With this information, they then are able to understand if the consumer would be inclined to buy the product. They then deliver the data to clients in order to give them a clearer understanding between internet and television marketing. The company in turn then produces something that combines sight, sound, and motion in order to appropriately advertise on television and the internet. During this meeting, we discussed the role of Nielsen in the upcoming transition to digital broadcasting. They have become the source for the digital transition announcements and have taken an anticipatory stance. Thomas says that the media industry is seeing a shift from program bias to commercial bias.

I have always been interested in public relations, and eventually want a career in this field. I was ecstatic to meet with Ketchum Public Relations and the Public Relations Society of America. Due to the importance of advertising and marketing as well as the other opportunities which new media is providing, public relations is a flourishing field. Ketchum has a variety of audiences and a variety of techniques which they use when they represent their clients. Every institution knows they must listen to and address its critics, Ketchum provides clients with the tools to do so. We learned that PR is a global profession and interaction which is booming in spite of the economic condition. Clients are not cutting back because they understand the high value of return on their investment in Ketchum’s strategies.

Their holistic viewpoint to doing business and cross communications platform streamlines resources, allowing them to conduct business in a competitive field. Their job is to make clients happy. This company heavily relies on research. “Research starts before the relationship and you win business based on the research you present them,” said John Paluszek, senior PR practitioner and director of PR for PRSA, “Ketchum’s goal is to achieve our client’s goal”. This organization stressed the importance of internships for employers.

Flemming Meeks of Barron Magazine online was a testament to the revolution of new media. His article is only produced online and readers must pay $1,000 dollars a year to receive his financial tips. His audience is a bit older and his goal is to give information to individuals who have a lot of financial power. In order to do this, the source must be credible and ‘every page has to sell the story’. Meeks is given more freedom to write freely due to not having to advertise, all profit is from subscriptions. This is unlike other publications which have traded their credibility for advertising dollars. I enjoyed hearing Meeks personal story of his road to journalism as he is a testament to the saying ‘it’s not what you know, but who you know”. He stressed multiple times that a liberal arts education is vital so that you can understand human nature in order to have an attentive audience.

Our meeting with Michael Botein of the New York School of Law took an unexpected detour when we discussed the technical workings of the digital transition for a majority of our allotted time. However, I was most interested in what Botein had to say about the digital environment and the problems it presents to media lawyers. His perspective is that the internet has made intellectual property a blurry area and that he has no faith in Digital Rights Media as a long term resolution.

“Print journalists don’t know how to technologically appeal to readers, they need a business plan. No one has a clue how to make money from print journalism right now,” said Botein. He stressed the importance of taking a business course in college in order to succeed. Botein does not believe that bloggers will have a true impact on print journalism and that citizen journalism is not a threat. He said, “…bloggers have certain self interests, they are not credible sources, they won’t make money in the long run, and they will self destruct.”

One of my favorite meetings was with the Associated Press (AP). Xavier Williams brought two guest speakers to the meeting, allowed us to sit in on the morning news brief, and took us on a tour of the expansive offices of AP. What I learned from this meeting was that Associated Press is perfectly suited to adapt to the internet age since most new forms of distribution end up existing side by side with the old. The internet is developing the other areas of journalism and helping to reexamine the roles of writers. Again we heard the importance of being business trained when Robert Naylor said, “One thing that will be in acute demand are people who are media and business minded and trained who can present a creative business role model.” Due to the economic struggles, the AP is driven to produce a better product and to invent a delivery platform that caters to the reader.

Of the non traditional journalism meetings, I most enjoyed meeting with Saatchi & Saatchi advertising. When walking into their main office, a potential client would be swept off their feet into the breathtaking views of the New York City skyline and forget about the woes of their business plan. However, the consultants at Saatchi & Saatchi understand that when presented with a marketing scheme, they must start on a strategic side and address the objectives, issues, and creative challenges of the organization before planning an advertising campaign.

I loved the setup of the creative suites which allowed for open communication between employees to bounce ideas off of one another. The environment of Saatchi & Saatchi seemed to address community holistically, making it an organization I would trust in the future—as an employer or employee. Their focus on “love marks” as an advertising campaign rings true within the office environment, as seen in the high love and respect for each other.

Two of my roommates, Stephanie and Hannah, and I were blessed with a lifetime opportunity to meet with Sean Hannity of Fox News. Now, I may loose some audience right off the bat when I mention his name, but I do believe that no matter what political stance one may have, there were valuable lessons to be learned from our experience. Due to the nature of the airplane crash that day, Sean’s taping of his television show was delayed so that it could have live coverage. This meant that we would have less time with him, yet we could see the behind-the-scene nature of producing a live broadcast of breaking news.

Upon entering the building and receiving our credentials, Sean’s assistant Elise brought us up to the recording studio and gave us a brief tour of that floor of the building. She was very interested in our tour and repeatedly made the statement that she ‘wished she would have had the opportunity to take part in a study tour such as ours”. We were then ushered into a green room where the guests of the show were being miked-up and made-up. We met pilots, witnesses, firefighters, Wall Street journalists, stock brokers, a professional blogger, author of new book American Grit, a colleague of Don Imus’ and employees of Fox. We chatted with the guests of the show until we were able to meet Mr. Hannity. When walking into the studio I was surprised at how expansive it was. He immediately walked up to us, made us feel welcome, shook our hands and took an interest in our lives. We had prepared multiple questions, none of which we were able to ask due to the easy conversation which flowed regarding our trip and his genuine interest in our career goals. We then watched the rest of the show and enjoyed the company of the guests.

We were exposed to multiple career opportunities pertaining to broadcast media and left with many contacts and ideas for our futures. The most enjoyable part of the evening came in the form of a picture with Mr. Hannity when we were all exiting the studio. I had insisted on wearing towering heels, and when combined with all six feet of my natural height, the end result was this picture of the girls, Sean and I--soaring a whole head above him.

Our last meetings in New York took place at Columbia University. Sree Sreenirasan, the Dean of Student Affairs and professor of journalism, spoke mainly of new media. “Every journalist must have a new media skill set, but also a new media mindset,” said Sreenirasan. We learned that the problem with the media industry isn’t with the consumer or producer, it is with the business model. Sreenirasan gave us tips on how to develop new media tools and how to acknowledge that the audience may know more than the writer. Most importantly, we learned that if you can create a following, people will notice you and in order to do so, you must promote yourself.

While in New York, I received the vibe that media professionals were sweating bullets because the sky seems to be falling. Conversely, when leaving the meetings in D.C., the sky seems to be blue and almost cloudless. There is generally a positive attitude in D.C. regarding the future of the media. Perhaps this is due to the overall nature of D.C. being a city that thrives on writing public policies in order to better society, and creating opportunities through these policies is a daily deed.

At the Project for Excellence in Journalism in D.C., Tom Rosenstiel spoke of the revolution of media and of how some credibility of journalism was lost to cable news and internet. I learned that we as consumers have evolved from passive to active hunters and gatherers of information. As a part of the ‘On Demand’ generation, I have contributed to the power shift from journalists narrating a story and agenda to the consumer who is their own editor of news. “You are assembling your own diet of news. In the same way Americans are obese, it is because things are made convenient to us. If you have a sweet tooth for celebrity gossip, you need to moderate it,” said Rosenstiel.

The most important thing I took away from this meeting is that the current predicament in the media industry is not the loss of audience, but a loss of revenue. The internet is decoupling news from its revenue source as there are no subscriptions. The internet also provides a bad platform for advertising because you don’t need the news to sell the product. Nevertheless, Rosenstiel was positive that the internet is giving way to a richer form of journalism, only if we learn how to use the medium to make a better product.

The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) represents television and radio stations in court settings. We heard again that in order to be successful on television, you must have a robust, easy to navigate website in order to have an audience in broadcast. “Innovation and creativity are not only necessary to survive, but also to thrive,” said Marcellus Alexander, President of NAB Education Foundation.

When meeting with National Public Radio, we were given a tour and learned about being a broadcast organization which exists solely on memberships. Depending on the size of the audience, stations can purchase programming from NPR if they pay dues. I was most interested in the digital media department which develops progressive technology to keep radio programming up to date in this changing world. The most interesting technological advancement is radio caption technology for the deaf.

When meeting with Lucy Dlaglish of the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press, I was blown away when she maintained a positive attitude about the direction of her organization, regardless of plummeting donations, and obstacles presented by previous policies. Perhaps the best news for this questionably floundering profession is that “44”, as locals refer to our new president, has reversed the Ashcroft memorandum within his first two days of being in office. This first step to revive the public interest in government by attempting to allow viewing of documents according to FOIA regulations, will permit for a more ‘transparent government’.

The work that Frank Lomonte of the Student Press Law Center is also allowing student journalists to enjoy and take advantage of the privileges of the First Amendment. This group which deals with combating high school and college level censorship, is taking large strides to not only educate student journalists but also to inform the deans, teachers, and advisors of these student groups of their rights in journalism.

Chett Rhodes of Washington Post Online (WPO) presented the idea that we are in a “newsy time” but the news industry is failing due to the dominance of the internet. People can pick and choose what they want to read instead of being presented with the news. Most of the WPO’s audience comes from website traffic nationally, unlike other newspapers. When designing web pages, Rhodes builds for users who may not be familiar with the internet. In other words, he designs with his mother in mind. In order to succeed in the media arena, Rhodes suggested we develop news judgment, the ability to write clearly and succinctly, and the hunger to tell stories.

Our meeting at PBS was incredibly informative and very impressive. I walked away with a new respect for the mission of the organization. PBS combines legacy media with new media and their biggest issue this year is placing content online. They are developing social media tools for their website and are experimenting in order to understand what works. Paula Kerger believes there is a place for both non profit and corporate networks. “Our shareholders aren’t on Wall Street, they are on Main Street,” said Kerger when asked about how to balance advertising for their network with the economic situation.

After the scheduled meetings, I was thrilled to also learn that people in the media business were not the only ones who see a light at the end of the tunnel, but also a few Washington lobbyists. Hannah, Stephanie, and I went to dinner with Sally and Bill Murphy, friends of Stephanie’s family. We were spoiled with an extraordinary meal at the Capitol Grille where we were able to enjoy a clean environment (unlike our hostel situation), rich conversation, and amazing company. Amongst a serenade from Bill, joyful and optimistic tears about our Inauguration day experiences, and steaks which must have come from heaven, we also discussed the uphill battle newspapers have in order to appeal to a technology savvy generation. The positivity that emerged from this conversation lifted our spirits, and I think a lot of that generated from the outlook that we as Americans can do anything we put our minds to-- a theme which has resonated through the election season and especially this past week.

Our experience at Inauguration was fantastic as we were able to see the world come together to support one man and one nation. When I tumbled out of my wooden bunk bed at four in the morning, I was alarmed that my friends in Spokane were still awake and text-messaging me ‘good night’ whilst I responded ‘good morning’. The day’s game plan looked something like this: wake up, have breakfast with Congressman Mike Thompson at 8, leisurely stroll into our ticketed area by the reflecting pool, watch the inauguration and then stroll to the Anheuser Busch/Honeywell parade watching party where we would be the ‘belles of the ball’. However, in reality, our day went something like this:
4 a.m.—Wake up, shower, dress.
6:30 a.m.—Walk to Starbucks, pick up coffee and breakfast and begin trek to Capitol.
7:00 a.m.—Begin to see swarms of people lining up around the city blocks just to enter the Metro system. Immediately understand that the route our tickets advised us to take via Metro was no longer a good idea. Walk with the masses.
7:15 a.m.-Abruptly stopped in a horde of angry people chanting, “Open the gates! Open the gates!” Stupidly wait with these people after being told ticket holders must go through these gates as well.
8:00 a.m.—Became fed up and after talking to an ABC correspondent, we took his advice and attempted another route.
8:30 a.m. -- Stupidly paid 30 dollars for a very short bike ride to a tunnel.
9:300 a.m. - Emerged from a tunnel and found the “Silver ticket” grouping.
10:00 a.m. - Finally went to the security line for our ticket section. Patted down by security guards.
10:05 a.m.—Took pictures in front of Capitol, called family members, looked at Capitol. Realized that because jumbo-trons aren’t pretty, they weren’t placed in ticket holding areas, making any view of Obama and friends look like ants.
10:15a.m. - Began trek to the Anheuser Busch/Honeywell party.
11:00 a.m.—After being pummeled by angry ticket holders not able to get into Inauguration, walking back through the tunnel, and briefly loosing each other in a crowd, we arrived at the party and collapsed in the lobby.
11:05 a.m.—Sat down in the plush 5th floor overlooking the Capitol and parade route, stuffed our faces with catered food and beverages.
4:00 p.m.—After chatting with numerous people in powerful positions, eating our fill of good food, and viewing Inauguration activities, we were saddened to leave and have to walk home.
4:15 p.m.—Feet went numb/ lost feeling, knees were buckling, hailed a cab home.
5:00 p.m.—Went to bed, passed out. Awoke a few hours later, ordered a pizza, and we collapsed once more. Feeling in feet still missing.

Our experience on Inauguration was completely unexpected and although things went haywire, we made the best of it. We met and chatted with so many people, sang happy birthday to three different complete strangers (yes, it was legitimate), met families from Zimbabwe, Peru, Puerto Rico, England, and numerous states, political figures, and lobbyists. However, the same theme remained: No matter what happened to each person that day that could have turned a beautiful moment into a disappointing one, each individual understood that the underlying theme of this occasion was unity as a country. No matter where we went, people of all races, religions, viewpoints, social and marital status, and age were all there for one reason: to support this great country and what it stands for.

I heard from multiple sources that the best way to succeed in this industry is to know something beyond journalism. When meeting with Dave Thomas of Nielsen Company, Ketchum Public Relations, Flemming Meeks of Barrons, Michael Botein of New York Law School, Associated Press, and Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising, it was made very clear that writing skills are a must in the media business, yet there are numerous other qualities which are attractive to employers. When asked about their hiring processes, all organizations defended their stance that connections, personality, and drive are the most essential components of a desirable employee.

As a Communications major and Business Management minor at a liberal arts university, I
believe that I have been afforded the rounded education which employers are seeking. The impact of this trip on me has been that contacts are necessary to advance your career, you can not close a door on any opportunity, and you must find a mentor in order to succeed.

I learned that the definition of a journalist has changed, and will be evolving as long as technology advances. However, true journalists have standards and bloggers don’t follow these codes. Ethically, the standards have and always will be the same: to deliver fair, accurate, credible, and accountable. Bloggers tailor their work for this audience whereas journalists write to tell a purposeful story.

Journalists are not threatened, yet newspapers are. Journalists must work to expand their skill sets and take new approaches to writing stories. Newspapers must not root themselves in tradition but if to stay afloat, must be a step ahead of the reader and a step ahead of technology.

To wrap things up, I am inspired by the students on this trip who feel that journalism is their duty to society, and am also inspired by the students who believe other forms of in the communication field are their calling. All the professionals we met with agree that if you are not happy in your job, it is not for you and that in order to succeed you must want to go to work every morning, regardless what criticism you receive from others or the obstacles in your way. This trip not only influenced the way I read newspapers, blogs, and magazines but also influenced the way I will think about my job search in the coming months. In fact, I may even start a blog.

-Nikki W.

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