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Americans are fed up with news coverage that puts emphasis on gossip, celebrities, sports and sensationalism.
You wouldn't guess that if you watch most TV news or read many newspapers. But that's what a recent Harris Poll discovered, as reported in Media Daily News.
The poll, taken in August, found that 76 percent of American adults feel celebrity gossip and scandal gets too much news coverage. Forty-five percent say entertainment in general gets too much coverage, and 41 percent feel that way about pro sports.
The poll also found that some issues are believed to get too little news attention. Forty-seven percent cited education issues, 45 percent cited science, 44 percent said government corruption, followed by global humanitarian issues at 33 percent and health issues at 30 percent.
If this survey is accurate,there may yet be hope for real news. But it's a big IF. Let's face it -- when people fill out surveys, they generally want to appear more highbrow than they really are. So they may say there's too much gossip and trash on TV, even as they tune into it and then talk about it online via social media.
The proliferation of gossip and soft news may be why the level of trust in media continues to drop. The same Harris poll showed only 25 percent place great confidence in local TV news and even less -- 21 percent -- in their local newspapers. Network TV news is trusted by only 17 percent.
Online news sites not affiliated with a "traditional" news outlet had only 11 percent confidence among those polled. Well, at least they got that right.
Less than half of us now watch TV programs as they air live, Media Daily News reports.
Only 41 percent of us watch the live broadcast, as time-shifting grows in popularity. Watching via DVR is what 43 percent of us now do, as 19 percent use video on demand.
The move to viewing TV on so-called second screens -- mobile devices, PC, laptops and tablets -- isn't happeniong quite as quickly as pundits had been predicting. The vast majority -- 91 percent -- still watch TV on a TV. Laptops account for 12 percent of viewing, tablets 5 percent and somehow 3 percent manage to watch programs on their smartphones. It adds to more than 100 percent due to duplication -- watching on a regular screen and also on a second screen.
Programs like sports and major news events understandably score a higher amount of live viewing.
Imagine my embarrassment when I got stopped by a NY State Trooper for speeding. After all, I do a lot of work in traffic safety, and when I got the ticket, just north of Albany, I was on my way to the first New York State Teen Safe Driving Summit, where I was presenting on distracted driving.
I had a good excuse -- I had been doing the 65 mph speed limit on the Thruway all the way up to Albany. I didn't realize, and I obviously missed the signs, that the limit on the stretch between Albany and Saratoga drops to 55. So I couldn't say much when the trooper told me I was doing 67 in a 55 zone. Even when I told her, in response to her question about where was I headed, that I was going to the Teen Safe Driving Summit, she showed no mercy.
I was so embarrassed that I tried to get away without telling my wife. It almost worked, until a letter came to our house saying my check was made out for the wrong amount. Damn!
But today I read that someone else who also should know better got ticketed for speeding. Barbara Fiala, the NY State Dept. of Motor Vehicles Commissioner, reportedly got ticketed for doing 47 in a 30 mph zone in her neighborhood upstate. Not only is she the DMV Commissioner, but she is also the chair of the Governor's Highway Safety Committee.
To put it into perspective, I remember being at a meeting of a task force on speeding, with about 50 police officers, traffic safety advocates and traffic safety officials from New York and the Federal government. One of the moderators called for a show of hands, asking who has ever exceeded the speed limit. Every person in the room -- some sheepishly -- raised his or her hand.
So I guess, aside from the $225 fine, I shouldn't feel so bad after all.
More about Twitter than I can say in 140 characters...
The latest internet consumer study, reported in Mediapost's Social Media & Marketing Daily, shows Twitter, which was touted as the next best thing when it burst onto the scene, has slipped a bit.
The percentage of respondents using Twitter dropped two points to 34%. Twitter remains a major social media factor, though, behind Facebook and LinkedIn. FB remains the gorilla in the room, dominating with 77% of consumers saying they use it. LinkedIn is a distant second at 37%, followed by Twitter. Newer platform Pinterest jumped to the number four spot with 26%.
Highlighting the fickleness of social media (or maybe more the fickle nature of teens), FB continues to lose younger users who are migrating in droves to Pinterest. It's the platform of the day. (Remember MySpace?)
Twitter has proven popular as a way for fans of TV shows to share their thoughts in real-time as a show airs. And reality contest shows like NBC's "The Voice" have used Twitter not only to engage viewers, but also as an instant voting tool to let viewers decide if a contestant stays or goes.
The survey found that 52% of those who don't use Twitter make that choice because they feel it's "a waste of time." I have to admit that was my initial impression when I joined soon after the platform launched. It seemed that all I saw was people tweeting really inane things like "The sun just came up" or "Can't decide whether to have a blueberry or corn muffin." Like I care (about the muffin, not the sun).
I have found Twitter useful as a way to point people to my blog posts. And early on, I participated in a few PR chats in real-time. Didn't learn anything about PR, but it got me many of my almost 1,000 followers.
So despite the dip in the latest user survey, I'm pretty sure Twitter will be around for some time, even as new platforms continue to pop up. By the way, I couldn't have expressed these thoughts in 140 characters. Blogging is still alive and well, despite predictions that it, like Twitter, would disappear.
Joe Mandese, writing in today's MediaPost Real-Time Daily, recalls a 1975 study that estimated the typical American was exposed to about 500 brand impressions a day. Now, he says, Nielsen estimates we're bombarded with more than 5,000/day.
Ad messaging is no longer confined to the more obvious places of 40 years ago, such as TV and radio, magazines and newspapers, billboards and signs. Think about it -- every time you check your email, an ad banner opens on top, and often along the borders on both sides. Even when I opened the email with Joe's article, a pop-up ad came up and obscured some of his words until I clicked to close it. And when I got to the bottom of his article, there was another banner ad across the bottom of the message area.
Joe mentioned these numbers because his MediaPost group is launching a system that will track consumers' attitudes toward advertising as well as the media carrying the ads. It's being called the Ad Sentiment Index (ASI) and it should help marketers get a better idea of how ads impact consumers' attitude toward various brands.
Joe's article appeared just below another piece by George Simpson, who takes a lighthearted look at how we try to block some of those thousands of ads and messages that marketers aim at us every day. He talks about the annoying telemarketing calls and how he deals with them -- he doesn't; he just lets the phone ring unanswered.
Even though my home number is listed as a "Do Not Call" household, we still get several of those calls every day -- usually at dinnertime or during the evening when we're relaxing watching TV or reading. I often check the caller ID and if it's a number I don't recognize, I just let it ring. Or I'll pick up the phone and then just hang up. But sometimes, when I'm in a foul mood, I'll answer and as the caller begins talking I'll say something like "Oh, that sounds interesting. Can you hold on a second?" And I put the phone down and leave the caller hanging until they finally give up and disconnect.
Simpson writes about other things he does to avoid ads, like taking out all the blow-in cards in magazines and peeling off the ad sticker that often adorns the front page of the newspaper.
I agree with Simpson's parting advice to marketers. He writes, "None of it (the 5,000 ad exposures a day) matters unless you are selling a good quality product backed by flawless customer service. That's where loyalty and word of mouth come in, which is inventory you can't buy."
He's mostly right about that, except that with PR, properly done, you sometimes can buy (or maybe build is a better word to use) word of mouth and loyalty.
Rosh HaShana, the Jewish New Year, begins at sundown tonight. It's not like the secular New Year, with parties and noisemakers and drinks.
Instead, for Jews around the world, the Holidays are a time to reflect -- a time of thanks and of self-assessment. We thank God for all the wonderful things He's given us and for Life itself. And we look at how we've behaved over the past year and where we've made mistakes. We ask God for forgiveness and for help and guidance to do better in the coming year.
In the end, it's very simply about doing the right thing -- treating others the way you would like to be treated. After all the symbolism and tradition, that's really what it boils down to. And that's what we all should strive for every day -- not only on the Holidays.
To all, no matter what your beliefs may be, best wishes for a Happy, Healthy and Peaceful Year.
Every year at this time, New Yorkers -- especially those of us who live or work in Midtown East -- have to endure major inconveniences during General Assembly Week at the UN.
New Yorkers are used to traffic, congested sidewalks and the seemingly constant shrill of sirens from police, fire and EMS vehicles. It's just part of living in this wonderful city that we love.
But it all ramps up during General Assembly Week. First Avenue and the cross streets in the east 40's have become parking lots. East 44th Street has barricades, police and bomb-sniffing dogs checking vehicles heading East toward the UN. This area is always a great melting pot with people of all ethnicities and in a dazzling variety of dress, but this week, it's even more so.
When I went out before at lunchtime, Second Avenue was barricaded, with police standing by as all kinds of quiet, peaceful protests and messages are displayed to passersby. Each block seems to have a different group holding signs about something, almost all of which seem obscure and unknown to most of us here.
As crazy as it seems now, once the big heads of state begin arriving and shuttling from their hotels and embassies to the UN a block from my office, traffic will grind to a standstill. It even impacts pedestrians, who often have to wait several minutes to cross a street as official caravans with foreign delegations drive past, preceded and followed by police cars and big SUVs with dark windows, with lights flashing. The streets and crosswalks get temporarily closed by police as they pass.
Poeple throughout the world will be seeing stories with the dateline UNITED NATIONS, New York, and photos from General Assembly proceedings will be beamed globally on TV.
The United Nations is far short of what its founders had hoped for some 65 years ago. There's a lot of talk and a lot of foot-dragging. Important things often get vetoed by a Security Council member nation, which tends to render the organization toothless at times when teeth are needed.
With all its faults, however, I believe it still serves an important purpose. It's a place where nations, who often have very different and opposing interests, can sit down across from each other and hash it out, raising voices sometimes, but not raising arms. Even then, the diplomacy doesn't always stop the fighting or the abuses of power or the denials of personal freedoms around the world.
But sometimes it does. And the annual meeting here in New York puts the world's focus on not only the differences and disagreements, but also on the honest attempts to find ways toward peace and dignity. And for those fleeting times when it does work, the UN is worth it after all.
I think the book should be required reading for anyone applying for a driver's license, as well as for those of us who already drive. It's easy reading. The book, although non-fiction, reads like a fast-paced novel and the reader gets to really know and understand the various characters in the story. It tells of Reggie Shaw, in every way a model teenager who, like so many of his peers, used his cellphone to text while he was driving. Distracted, he crossed the yellow line and sideswiped an oncoming car, which caused a crash that killed two rocket scientists. The book chronicles the story of the driver, the victims, their families and the lawyers and prosecutors involved in the legal case that ensued.
What's important about this book is that it explains the science behind our addiction to texting and other mobile device functions. Yes, there is scientific proof, which the book explains, that texting or even just talking on a phone while driving is extremely dangerous. It takes us through, in easy to understand terms, the reasons we cannot multitask, despite assertions from so many -- especially young people who've grown up with texting -- that we can drive while doing other tasks.
Working on the PR side of traffic safety for some 20 years now, I've met with and heard from so many people who've had their lives dramatically changed by bad decisions behind the wheel. For many years, the culprit was alcohol, which still remains a real problem. Drowsiness is a significant factor as well, although driving drowsy is usually not a conscious decision we make.
Texting while driving is a conscious decision. And now that it's become clear that it does impact our ability to drive safely, there is absolutely no reason to do it. Legislators in 44 states have recognized that by making it illegal to text while driving. So if for no other reasion than risking a ticket and points on your license, all of us should refrain from this dangerous behavior.
But as Matt Richtel points out in his book, so many of us, knowing the physical dangers and the risk of a ticket and points, continue to text and talk on cellphones while we drive. There are now devices that can prevent people from texting or talking while driving, like an app made by one of my clients, LifeSaver. It's very inexpensive and simple to use, but it still requires a voluntary step by a parent or spouse.
Richtel reported last week about plans by the cellular industry to have a device that comes with new cars that will prevent any cellphone usage while the car is in motion. But, if it ever actually happens, it's still at least a few years away.
What I think is needed to stop what former Sec. of Transportation Ray LaHood called "a national epidemic" that kills several thousand people every year is tougher laws with much higher fines and license suspension for a month after the first offense and license revocation after a second infraction. No excuses, no exclusions.
It's that serious. Read A Deadly Wandering and you'll understand and I'm sure you'll agree.
I get tired of seeing stories in various marketing and PR trades and social media declaring that “the press release is dead.”
The latest one was a discussion on a LinkedIn group called Public Relations and Communications Professionals. Jay Stancil, a PR person at a college in Kentucky, pointed to a blog post titled “Time to Put the Press Release on Life Support.” It was written by an assistant VP at a PR agency in Colorado.
The piece talks about how useless releases are. In fairness to the writer, she eventually does say that the press release, which more accurately should be called a media release or a news release, can be a useful public relations tool. But take the time to read though some of the comments and you’ll see I’m not alone in disagreeing with her.
The piece refers to a “study of 100 reporters and editors across the country found that 69 percent of journalists spend less than 60 seconds reading the news releases that many of us in the public relations business spend days writing.”
“And for an even bigger reality check,” she writes, “based on my own conversations with journalists about the usefulness of press releases and the level of response I’ve received to news releases I’ve distributed—I thought their figure was low.”
OK, I’m being picky here, but “news releases that many of us in the public relations business spend days writing.” Days? Hours, maybe. Aren’t those of us in PR supposed to be good and fairly fast writers?
And the news release is not an end-all to getting media coverage. Those who use it by simply blasting it out everywhere and anywhere are wasting their time, the client or boss’ money and frustrating media people who are overwhelmed by useless or misdirected news releases cluttering their inboxes.
But more important is to look at why so few news releases get used by journalists.
Some of it is simply bad writing. I had an office-mate who was a beauty writer, and I’d see the news releases coming in from some of the biggest and most prestigious agencies around. So much of the writing was horrendous, and cover letters accompanying the releases or product samples were equally as bad.
Too many news releases are totally self-serving and are of no news value to a reporter.
So many releases are totally misdirected, thanks to the services like Cision that make it easy to create media lists that can be used to e-blast out to the world. But Cision and other media databases are not easy to navigate, and they still require the user to have some knowledge of the media he or she is pitching.
Several months ago I wrote about a great column by New York Times columnist David Segal,who lamented the lack of targeting and judgment by many PR people who use databases to send releases out to the world, regardless of whether most reporters targeted are even remotely interested in the subject of the release. Check out the article. It should be a wake-up call for too many in our business.
Media list development is grunt work – boring, time-consuming, not glamorous. But it must be done properly rather than the lazy way of clicking on computerized databases. A good media list forms the foundation of media relations – pitching, news release distribution, follow-up and – score! - a placement that we get paid to do.
So please, no more articles and posts and online discussions about the death of the news release. It is – and should be – very much alive and an important component of a comprehensive media relations program. It should not be the sole component, for sure, but it IS still needed.