musings on marketing, media, public relations....and life,
by David Reich
Reich Communications, Inc.
Reich Communications, Inc. is a boutique public relations agency in New York City offering full service in a variety of areas, with specializations in business-to-business; advertising, marketing and media firms; transportation safety; non-profits, and select consumer products and services.
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I think I've managed to stay out of the fray, with all that our president-to-be has done that's worthy of comment these past few weeks. I've refrained from talking about his thin-skinned tweets about parodies every president has had to suffer through from Saturday Night Live and other comedians. Or his response to a heartfelt plea from Meryl Streep. Or his inaccurate comments about the state of the Atlanta district that Rep. John Lewis represents. Or so much more that has dismayed and disgusted me and many of us.
I had been planning to write about the media and their attempts to cover the transition. I find it interesting and reassuring that some of the media the president-to-be has targeted as "failing" actually have been benefiting from his barbs. The New York Times, for example, has seen a net gain of more than a hundred thousand subscribers since the election, and its online readership has gone up by a third. The Washington Post has seen big gains also, with online audience up by 50%. Other "mainstream" outlets like CNN and the major networks have enjoyed similar jumps. And in these times of shrinking newsrooms, The Washington Post recently announced plans to add several dozen reporters, some of whom will be doing investigative stories.
I attribute it to the public's desire to get news and analysis that they can trust to be accurate. The prez-to-be may reach millions via his Twitter feeds, but many millions more are looking to the media to get the real news behind those often-conflicting and sometimes confusing 140-character missives. The Chicago Tribune, recognizing the public's desire for real news, has been using the phrase "real, not fake news" in its outreach to gain more subscribers.
The prez-to-be's first news conference since his election was a shameful farce and an insult to intelligent viewers. Rather than give us any real insight into his plans, he spent much of the brief event berating the media and, erroneously, calling out CNN as a "fake news" outlet. CNN, like most major media, did not go into details of the compromising Russian "shower" sexcapade, other than reporting accurately that both the president and the prez-to-be had been briefed on the intelligence reports about it. The report had been circulating the Washington rumor mill for months and none of the media reported details until Buzzfeed, not CNN, finally broke the details publicly, even as they said it had not been verified.
I find it so ironic that a man who has so often embraced "fake news" to further his own goals and hurt others -- the person who for so long had been a leading proponent of the "birther" issue to try to delegitimize Obama, who wrongly connected then-opponent Ted Cruz' father with Lee Harvey Oswald, who told us with a straight face that he watched thousands of Muslims in New Jersey cheering after the 9/11 attacks, and on and on and on -- is now ranting when the possibly-fake (or possibly not fake) news is not in his favor.
And what a piece of showmanship he pulled off, having as a prop a table piled high with papers that he said proved he is removing himself from his business interests, to avoid potential conflicts of interest. At least one reporter who was there said the papers appeared to be blank.
How stupid does he think we are?
All of this points up the crucial role the media play in keeping us informed and keeping our politicians honest. We must do whatever we can to support them -- buy newspapers, tune in to the major network newscasts, support PBS and NPR, and donate what you can to news organizations like ProPublica and the organizations that will fight for journalists in court, if need be.
It's important that we remember that the Declaration of Independence includes a line that says... "Freedom of the press is an institutional necessity to achieve a properly representative government."
Those are words we, and our leaders, need to remember and respect.
How far we've come in communicating and sharing information.
On this date in 1838, 179 years ago, Samuel Morse demonstrated the first telegraph, sending messages using a series of electrical dots and dashes -- short and longer electrical pulses -- representing the numbers and letters that became known as the Morse Code. Six years later, in 1844, the first commercial telegram was sent and over the next several years wires were strung throughout the U.S. to enable fast communication from city to city and eventually around the world.
When I was in Boy Scouts, I learned the Morse Code for a merit badge. And then, in my early teens as a ham radio operator, I used it to talk with other hams around the nation and worldwide. I'm a bit rusty, but I still remember the Morse Code.
To get my ham license, I had to be able to send and receive messages in Morse Code at 20 words per minute. Really good code operators could go at 30 - 40 words per minute, but even at that speed, it could take several minutes for a telegraph operator to transmit a message.
Today we get impatient if our emails and texts don't come through instantaneously.
Here's something I posted a year ago, but I feel it's worth repeating at this time of year. I hope you enjoy it.
My daughter Jennifer was taking her older son Jack, 10, to school recently and, as he got out of the car, he asked a question that worries many parents at this time of year. His question -- "Is Santa real?"
Jen didn't have a simple answer, so she said it was complicated and she'd tell him when he got home from school. She thought about it and wrote down her thoughts in a beautiful letter that I'm sharing below, with Jen's permission.
An interesting side note... Jen is Jewish and her husband Jon is Christian. The boys, Jack and his brother Gabriel, 6, are being raised with traditions from both faiths. Not necessarily the religious dogma, but traditions like lighting the menorah on Chanukah, having matzoh for Passover and, of course, at this time of year decorating the Christmas tree and waiting for Santa.
I am so proud of my daughter for expressing her thoughts so beautifully and helping keep alive a beautiful tradition that makes this time of year magical for so many people -- especially children. Wouldn't it be nice if in this way we could all retain our inner child?
Here's Jen's note to my grandson Jack...
You asked a really good question earlier and I didn’t have time to answer it then. It is a question I knew was coming sooner than later, and I had a feeling it might come around this Christmas. It is a question that parents all over the word have to face at some time, and it is bittersweet. So I came home and gave it some serious thought and here is my answer to your question, “Is Santa real?”
Yes and no. Your image of Santa, as a big, fat, jolly man in a red suit and a beard, flying all over the world in s sleigh, is not real. You are a smart kid and you probably have questioned for some time how that could be possible. The presents under the tree that are from Santa are in fact from Daddy and I, and we fill the stockings too. After you and your brother go to sleep on Christmas Eve, Daddy and I are hard at work, sneaking quietly to make Christmas magical- just like Grammy and Poppy did for Daddy, and their parents did for them.
And that is where the other part of the answer comes in- Santa may not be real in the way you thought, but the spirit of him is a real part of Christmas. The story of Santa has been around for hundreds of years and the magic his story creates for children is a beautiful thing. And for adults too! I know that Santa is not real in an actual sense, but I still believe in his spirit as a grown up. I still feel the beauty and magic and love on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning, even though I know the truth. And I hope you will too.
Santa teaches love and magic, and hope and happiness. He creates the ability to believe that anything is possible, that there are miracles in the world, and that giving to others freely is the surest way to fill your heart- and theirs- with joy.
So while now you may know that Santa himself isn’t sneaking down our chimney at night, I sincerely hope that you can still believe in the magic and beauty of his story. I hope that Christmas still feels special for you and that one day, you will make the Santa story come alive for your own children.
Learning about Santa is a big step in growing up. I have to admit, I shed a tear or two writing this as there is a certain part of childhood you are leaving behind. But here is the neat thing: you now get to be a creator of this magic, a helper, and elf, if you will. It is important to let each child realize the Santa story on their own, or the magic can be ruined. You are now a guardian of Santa- like Daddy and I have been for you. You must keep his story alive for those that still believe, like your brother and your friends. It is a really big responsibility but one that you must take seriously. You can now help spread the love and the belief in miracles and the magic of Santa- you are now on his team, as Daddy and I have been for all the Christmas mornings you can remember. Welcome.
You may have more questions, and I am happy to answer them. Or you may just need to let this sit for a while. Just know that while the Santa you see at the mall surely is not real, the love and generosity and spirit of kindness and giving that he instills in people is very real and very important. Be sure to carry the Santa story with you in your heart forever.
Here's the latest newsletter we wrote for client The National Road Safety Foundation.
The newsletter describes some of the programs and activities we create and help manage for this client -- contests to engage teens in talking about safe driving; tie-ins with media like Scholastic, the top publisher of in-school magazines, Teen Kids News, the nationally-syndicated news show that airs on 220 TV stations; and lots more.
It's hard to believe that email has been widely used for only about 20 years. It is now the dominant form of business communication, far outstripping snail mail and faxes.
We got rid of our fax machine about a year ago, after the only things we got via fax were paper-and-ink-consuming promos selling everything from discount travel to health plans to discount fax toner. And there are many days that go by where the only thing the mailman delivers to the office are ad flyers, unwanted and very fat office and cleaning products catalogues and the occasional bill. Some days, there is actually nothing in the regular mail.
What's happened? It's all in email these days -- virtually instantaneous and free. On a typical business day, I get upwards of 200 emails.
A survey just out, reported in Research Brief (via email), shows most of us check our email at least once a day. Forty-four percent of us check email at least a few times a day. Most of us (67%) check our email mostly via our smartphones, with the rest about evenly split between laptops, desktops and tablets.
Before writing this, I did some checking to learn when email began. For me, I was reluctantly pushed into using email by a client back in the early 1990s. The client, out in Palo Alto, Calif. would have me draft a news release and then send it to them by fax. They would fax back their edits and have me fax back the final for them to review and give a final go-ahead. Back then, I still didn't have a regular computer. I was using a word processor. I'd make the changes and then do a mass mailing to targeted media, making hundreds of copies, labeling envelopes and running them all through a postage meter. The postage alone often cost $90 - $100 or more.
At one point, the client said either get a computer, use email or we'll have to take the business elsewhere. So I bought a Compaq Presario all-in-one unit, only because the guy next door had the same unit and I felt if I needed help, I could just run to him.
Now, I can't imagine working without email. (Thanks for the push, Rocco.)
Email officially began in 1978, my research shows, when an Indian immigrant working a summer job at a New Jersey medical school created a way for the office staff to share their memos electronically. Siva Ayyadurai, then 14, gets the credit for the first email, despite some claims by others including a Ray Tomlinson, that they created email as early as 1971. Those claims, it seems, have not been substantiated.
Even as late as 1982, there were only about 1,000 email accounts worldwide. The explosion began in 1983, when it grew tenfold to 100,000, growing again by 2-1/2 times by 1985 and then doubling every two years till it reached a million in 1989.
The growth continued to skyrocket, hitting 5 million in 1992, 10 million in 1995, 25 million in 1996 and 400 million by 1999. It crossed the billion mark in 2007 and 4 billion in 2013.
It looks like the media are in for a tough challenge when it comes to covering the White House after Jan. 20th.
Unless we see some major changes, which are always possible when it comes to the president-to-be, information will come from the White House primarily by Twitter and possibly other forms of social media like YouTube.
It's good to get information out to the public directly, which the White House currently does via Twitter and Facebook. But if very few (or none at all) news conferences are given, then how will the media do their jobs -- which is not to simply parrot what's being handed out, but to ask questions and follow-ups?
That's the normal procedure ... the give and take of a news conference. The president or his press secretary may choose to avoid answering some questions, but at least they get raised and hopefully some actually get answered. It's not a game of gotcha or political partisanship -- it's merely the media trying to keep the public accurately informed.
But as we've been seeing, normal is no longer normal.
A story on Politico the other day advised journalists to keep asking questions and if news is generated via tweets, to incorporate unanswered questions into their news coverage. If wrong information is given in a presidential tweet, such as the recent assertion that much of the 2 million vote lead for Hillary came from illegal votes, the media will have to, even as they report on the tweet, include in their news stories that the initial statement or allegation is incorrect.
It will make for some challenging reporting and writing, but we must rely on the media to fact-check for us even as they report. And they may have to stand up to calls of media bias from some. But remember, it's not bias if it's truth.
We may be entering a new era of reality, and more than ever we will need the free press to keep that reality truthful.
Before the internet, it was pretty easy to know what news was real and what might be fake, exaggerated or inaccurate.
For real and accurate news, we could rely on major newspapers, radio and TV. We knew -- or most of us did -- that certain newspapers like The National Inquirer and News of the World, often found at supermarket checkouts, were sensationalist at best and totally fictional at worst. They featured stories about 2-headed cats, 1,000-pound women and celebrity exposes. Most of us knew not to believe them, even if they did make for entertaining reading.
The internet and social media have made fake news a major problem on many fronts.
During this past election, fake news often played a major role in driving the national discussion. At least one candidate, now our president-to-be, often cited wrong information gleaned, whether knowingly or not, from fake news stories online.
And throughout the election furor, many of us saw fake news stories online and believed them, often sharing them with others on Facebook, Twitter and other social media. We're learning now that some of this fake news had been spread by sources connected with Russia,possibly in an effort to impact the election. Many other bogus news stories, spread via "shares" on Facebook, came from independent entrepreneurial hackers in eastern Europe, with no political agenda but instead the desire to make thousands of dollars when advertisers paid per click for viewers to their sites. They quickly learned, through trial and error, that stories about Trump drew the most views.
Although I know some might disagree, stories taken from news outlets like the major daily papers, networks and cable channels, as well as online sites like Huffington Post, Buzzfeed and ProPublica can generally be trusted as legitimate and accurate.
But with so much news online, how can we trust that it's real?
That looks like it will be a major question for some time to come. Sites like Facebook are trying to monitor fake news sites and take them down, but they seem to pop up as quickly as FB can knock them off.
I think the answer, for now, is to rely only on what we know are reliable sources. Conservatives will say the major dailies, especially The N.Y. Times and The Washington Post are not reliable, but I strongly disagree. When they publish something that exposes something questionable about a candidate or about the president whether it's Obama or the incoming guy, they are fulfilling their role in our democracy -- a free press that can publish fact, whether or not flattering to the people in power. That's how the Founding Fathers planned it, and any attempt to minimize or hinder that role, whether by political parties or by the president himself, must be fought at every turn.
The free press may have a tough road ahead, with an incoming president who has expressed outright disdain for them even as he has used them to his advantage. We will have to rely on the courts to back the media as they try to keep our government and our leaders transparent. And each of us can help by subscribing to newspapers and supporting non-profit journalism like ProPublica and NPR.