The Plea for the Press to Evolve
With a couple years in Austin, TX, and a former 12 in Silicon Valley, I’ve had an exceptional experience working with distinctly different entrepreneurial communities. Each has a little bit of a grass is greener complex going on – Silicon Valley sees Austin as hip, less expensive, up and coming, entrepreneurial more than “startup,” but also independent; while Austin often believes Silicon Valley is where one must go for experienced tech talent or serious venture capital. Of course, I’m generalizing, and those perceptions are neither entirely accurate nor inaccurate, but I think they are fair generalizations and that’s my only point in sharing them; to set the stage for the thoughts here.
At the end of the day, every city, every community, has a unique set of market dynamics that make things work within that micro-economy. We have distinct cultures, experiences, resources, priorities, markets, and systems of education, and our job as entrepreneurs, as people, is to work within the dynamics of our market.
Challenging the macro economy (the economy or your state or country) is that we try to learn by example. Cities see something that works elsewhere and tries to replicate it, presuming that what works there, will work here. If the University system is heavily involved in a successful community, it can easily be presumed that getting the University system engaged in your community will drive the same success. Incubators are incredibly effective and invaluable in some cities, you must need them in yours. If you’re local economy doesn’t have enough Venture Capitalists, you must foster VC funding as that’s how startups are funded… isn’t it?? No. It isn’t that simple. Various dynamics enable one slice of an economy to have the impact that it does and as your community has different dynamics, what’s good for the goose isn’t necessarily good for the gander.
There is though, one market dynamic that I’ve come to believe is exceptional to Silicon Valley and would indeed, significantly, benefit every other entrepreneurial environment, if we were to learn by example and work toward fostering the same in our respective cities.
The Role of the News Media
Over the past decade, we’ve had a revolutionary shift in how we consume news; and no, I’m not talking about the death of print and the paper as our use of technology has replaced how we consume the news. The shift has been more subtle, more nuanced, and it affects our expectation of the media and affinity to traditional news brands.
With the rise of the Portal (Yahoo), RSS (blogs), Google (search), Twitter (social media), and Facebook (our communities), we’ve arrived at a point where we can know everything, immediately, on demand, and in detail. I’ve intentionally tried to stage the evolution of technology there in the order which we’ve experienced it. Yahoo (really, AOL first, I suppose), set the expectation that we can go to one place for far more information than any single media brand was capable of providing before then. RSS technology (and everything that came along with it), gave us the ability to aggregate everything, shifting some of the control of information FURTHER from a single brand (i.e. the newspapers), to a single brand aggregating many sources (Yahoo), to the ability to aggregate what we want. Google gave us even more personal control, timely news on demand, and finally, because of their index, an exceptional jump in the comprehensiveness of coverage. But Google didn’t have everything. Twitter opened our worlds next, truly, to citizen journalism. While the blog enabled people to write, it really took Twitter to teach the world that we could follow the news of any one, any where, any time. The fire hose that was Twitter though, frankly, gave further rise to the already-existing Facebook as we revolted against too much, saying, “I only want to follow the news of my friends, family, and peers.”
Through that evolution we learned that the role of the media is to inform us of everything, on our terms.
In 2008, The New York Times reported that “newspapers and magazines do not have an audience problem — newspaper Web sites are a vital source of news, and growing — but they do have a consumer problem.” Times reporter continued, “Stop and think about where you are reading this column. If you are one of the million or so people who are reading it in a newspaper that landed on your doorstop or that you picked up at the corner, you are in the minority. This same information is available to many more millions on this paper’s Web site, in RSS feeds, on hand-held devices, linked and summarized all over the Web.” A year later, The Chronicle of Higher Education shared, “During our most recent conversation, James Traub, a distinguished journalist who writes for The New York Times, noted that what most worries him about the current state of journalism is the dwindling support for lengthy investigations that lead to in-depth articles on complicated issues. The goal of higher education is, among other things, to prepare people to become responsible and productive citizens. Without serious journalists who are free to do their jobs thoroughly and carefully, democratic society as we have known it cannot survive.” Let me be clear that I’m not trying to be critical of the news media brands but there clearly is an epidemic in the industry and it’s one that has been plaguing the industry for a decade. The question is, what do we do about it?
The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism indeed found, in 2012…
New research released in this report finds that mobile devices are adding to people’s news consumption, strengthening the lure of traditional news brands and providing a boost to long-form journalism. Eight in ten who get news on smartphones or tablets, for instance, get news on conventional computers as well. People are taking advantage, in other words, of having easier access to news throughout the day – in their pocket, on their desks and in their laps.
At the same time, a more fundamental challenge that we identified in this report last year has intensified — the extent to which technology intermediaries now control the future of news.
They want on, “A year ago, we wrote here: ‘The news industry, late to adapt and culturally more tied to content creation than engineering, finds itself more a follower than leader shaping its business.'”
The News That’s Fit To Print
You see the attempts by the media to evolve to meet this changing expectation. The rise of the 24 hour news cycle with CNN, MSNBC, Fox, and other news stations, is evident of our demand for always accessible news. Print media, unable to update itself constantly, didn’t die as we moved from consuming through a piece of paper to a laptop, it died (it’s dying) because it continues to fail to meet that consumer expectation – even online, print news favors the stories of old rather than the timely and comprehensive coverage we demand today. When I look to my local news source, I expect to have everything going on locally; it’s role is not to determine what’s news, that’s my role. Instead of working to fulfill that expectation and sustain their brand, print continue to make laughable mistakes; creating digital versions of their traditional newspaper, as though digital means we really just want to consume the good old newspaper on an iPad in a way that we can turn the pages.
While I’m being harshly critical of some news brands’ ability to change, there have been incredible success stories; notably from Silicon Valley where technology comes first. It’s in their success stories that we find the real crux of the challenge in our new expectations of news. In our demand for a brand to cover everything, please appreciate that I’m not saying it’s the news media’s fault (not entirely anyway) – it’s nearly impossible for a single brand to be aware of and cover everything. While the traditional, corporate, organized entity for reporting can be broadcast 24/7, it’s impossible for a few employed reporters to possibly report all the news.
But it’s not impossible for technology to accomplish that.
Rather, it’s not impossible for those who understand the role that technology played in evolving our expectations of the news media – in shifting our demand from that of in-depth, quality reporting, to comprehensive coverage on our terms, to evolve. Technologies, such as those powering Techmeme or Paper.li show us that it’s possible to meet our expectations technically. Techcrunch and VentureBeat show us that it’s possible for traditional news reporting brands to evolve. How? Look to how communities socialize business.
The Driving Force in Socializing Startups
Just a couple months ago, Gordon Daugherty, Austin angel investor and Director of Capital Factory’s developing accelerator, remarked that the PR industry is going through a transformation as startups conclude that they don’t really need it, “since they can use social media channels instead.”
He’s not wrong in saying that we don’t need traditional PR but let’s not confuse that by thinking that we don’t need the media.
The fact that PR stands for “public relations” causes people to think a particular way but shouldn’t confuse the key purpose and intent of the function: to get important messages out to important constituents,” added Daugherty. “In the old days this typically centered on press releases and media pitching to get coverage in various types of print publications.”
What we need is for the media to evolve with our changing expectations. The way to do that, is to open the doors to your community’s marketing channels. So first ask yourself, does your community really have a local marketing channel?
What makes Techcrunch so pervasive, and the coverage of an entrepreneurial market such as Silicon Valley so in depth, is that the entire startup economy in California is driven by marketers. Bear with me a sec, I hear you asking, “but aren’t they internet and technology companies??” Indeed they are, but distinct about Silicon Valley relative to other communities is the early, prioritized investment in growth and marketing. Where other communities hire marketing expertise only after they’ve figured out how to make money with a venture, Silicon Valley puts marketing talent in the earliest stages of a team; often, marketing is the 4th or 5th hire in a business. And that, changes the entire dynamic of the local economy.
“But we can’t afford marketing”
Such a foreign concept that thought is to many experienced marketers, that many communities are in a death spiral when it comes to entrepreneurship. Without marketers, ventures aren’t effectively positioned, traction easily attainable these days, is lost, too little capital is raised, and local industries remain fractured and nascent. You can’t afford not to invest in marketing as marketers don’t sell your paid web service or run Adwords to get you white paper downloads, anyone with a budget can do that. Marketers evangelize industries, help create value and equity leading to capital, get early traction for entrepreneurs without having to learn or question how, and position ventures in such a way that the world cares. Such marketers don’t engage a community where they aren’t supported or prioritized and without such marketers, the entrepreneurs in such a community are doomed to languish (or get outpaced by entrepreneurs in other economies), because they languish, they can’t afford good marketers – the death spiral.
What do you get when you have marketers penetrating every venture in a market? What do you get when businesses employ individuals who talk, sell, network, and toot their own horn? What do you get when the individuals who can do PR, as well as social media, blogging, SEO, advertising, and branding and messaging in their sleep are part of the fabric of your community? When they are vested and invested in your business??
Frankly, marketers who are all a little egotistical…
You get talked about. You get socialized. And the media, the evolving news media, recognizing and appreciating that consumers demand comprehensive coverage, talks about you; not because you are a story they like or think their readers will like, but because you are news – and in the noise that exists in a community, marketers help you rise above the noise so that those who cover the news comprehensively, know to cover you.
Don’t get me wrong, PR and demand gen experts have been working closely together for a long time. But with social media marketing having one leg in each camp, some companies will struggle to decide how they want to organize and/or how they want to go about using agencies and freelancers.” adds Daugherty. “If you’re a startup or early stage company, this doesn’t matter very much because you’ll have very limited resources (in-house or outsourced) that will need to wear multiple marketing hats anyway.”
Why you can’t afford not to invest in marketing
What I fear many fail to realize is that the exploding pace of entrepreneurship and the… what’s bigger than exploding?… pace of innovation and technology means that moving quickly and efficiently to scale your business isn’t about your success, it’s about avoiding your failure. I assure you, whatever great idea you have for a venture, a small business, a technology, an innovation, someone else is doing it too. As new businesses try to conserve funds by learning how to grow their businesses on their own, elsewhere, the entrepreneurs with similar ideas realize that marketers define product roadmaps, development priorities, create stories, and identify marketing channels by knowing your market and having the experience to put you there, effectively and immediately. While you’re learning, they’re going to market.
What I know is that the news media must evolve if we’re to adapt (return) local communities to the more entrepreneurial economy we once had in the United States. As news brands grasp the significance that comprehensive coverage has on a community, as they appreciate that our expectations are indeed that they cover a greater breadth of news, they must rely on that community that is socializing everything if they hope to remain aware of what’s going on.
Many have explored how and if the traditional PR agency can fill this role; whether or not the PR firm can effectively play in this new era of growth hacking, in which your organization must understand and leverage the synergy that’s created in content marketing, SEO, social media, PR, and conversion optimization as one. Startups and business owners will continue to discover that PR firms have their place, and scaling your venture is not likely it.
Chris Seper CEO of MedCity Media, recognizes these trends and offers that, as with any established business model, incentives must be put in place for the media to change (apparently the loss of news media jobs and erosion of an audience isn’t incentive enough).
It’s common to have reporters, based solely on what interests them, pursue stories that aren’t part of their primary assignment,” shares Chris in a LinkedIn article, Journalists should share in the success (and the risk). “Imagine someone assigned to write about a specific community who is into cooking that starts writing disproportionately about homemade recipes by local residents versus issues facing the local government. That’s a real example, by the way, and it dilutes the quality of a product.”
Every journalism job, he suggests, should have a bonus structure in which a reporter’s total compensation is based off benchmarks that consider the amount of traffic they bring to the brand. Reporters can and should continue to cover news that interests and appeals to them; certainly, they must (if not they then who?) continue to do in depth reporting, but news media hopefully also appreciate that their consumers, our economies and entrepreneurs, need more breadth of coverage.
Consider your local economy and ask yourself if you are aware of the incredible health care, manufacturing, mobile, ecommerce, video game, or venture capital industries that exist there. I’m sure you know how great it is to live and work in your city but do you really know why? Imagine what would happen to your economy if your stories were shepherded by marketers who know how to expose and get traffic for those stories, to a local and national news media that understands the value of that traffic, and what that would mean to business where you live and work.