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Win for citizen journalism, loss for PR?

This video and many others like it have been swarming every media outlet—social and traditional—since the pepper spraying incident at UC Davis occurred.

Is this the big break citizen journalism needed to gain clout? Zack Whittaker at ZDNet argues that it does, and conversely that public relations has taken a hit.

With camera phones in nearly every person’s pocket, it is easy to be prepared to document everything from Ryan Gosling breaking up a street fight to incidents of police brutality.

“It gives citizens around the world chance to bring raw, unedited and unfettered truths to the masses,” Whittaker wrote.

Statements have been issued defending the actions of the police at UC Davis, as is to be expected. Whittaker dismisses these statements as “spin” and says the proof is in the footage. The “spin doctors” were caught and “spin no longer works,” he wrote.

Although on its face this may seem like a hit to public relations, I think it is actually quite the opposite. This shows how bad public relations fails. Good public relations should tackle issues with the same level of transparency as news because—as this incident made clear—the truth is what matters to people in the end.

A recent speech by Richard Edelman outlined principles to guide the future of public relations, and one of those principles is to “practice radical transparency.”

“More than ever, business must explain how and why decisions are made,” he said. “This is not a strategic opportunity; it is a necessity. Business is at its strongest only when it is transparent about its intentions and way of working.”

Although Edelman’s focus was business, the idea remains relevant to PR in all avenues. “Spin” is a dirty word to PR practitioners, and all one has to do to avoid the label of “spin doctor” is to be honest.

Ultimately, I think Whittaker’s article places far too much blame on PR in order to make his argument in favor of citizen journalism. Citizen journalism helped bring this incident to light, but public relations wasn’t the cause of the problem, it was just another player in the scene.

For good discussion on the underlying problems that really caused this incident, I found several articles in The Atlantic to be fascinating.


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Think before you tweet

If the above screenshot doesn’t tell the story already, let me fill you in: Ashton Kutcher ignorantly sent out the above tweet regarding the recent firing of Penn State football coach Joe Paterno, who was fired for not properly reporting child sexual abuse.

Kutcher immediately felt the backlash of tweeting without knowing the whole story. He looked like a fool at best, an insensitive jerk at worst. He has since issued apologies via Twitter and blog post, and he has turned over his Twitter account to his production company, Katalyst.

Although this change in feed management will undoubtedly improve the number of gaffes posted, I can’t help but think it’s a mistake. Kutcher gained more than 8 million followers because it was clear that he was the one tweeting. Fans like to feel a direct connection to the celebrities they admire, and Twitter has been one of the few ways they could do that.

Followers of Kutcher’s feed can now look forward to generic tweets promoting his work instead of getting insight into his random thoughts and daily life. And now when @aplusk retweets or replies to you? It’s not actually the guy you want, it’s just someone masquerading as him.

Celebrities have recovered from worse slip-ups, and I think Kutcher will get over this hurdle before the world bats an eye. However, I think it would be in his best interest to stay in touch with fans himself rather than by proxy. A genuine apology and some self-restraint would probably be enough for people to forgive and forget. It might be hard to have it both ways—the benefits of the personal interaction without the potential harm to reputation—but just think before you tweet and messes like this won’t happen in the first place.

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Plagued with plagiarism

Plagiarism is arguably one of the worst offenses a journalist can commit. I have to admit, though, I think it’s also one of the most fascinating to examine.

The Cavalier Daily, University of Virginia’s student newspaper, recently uncovered a series of plagiarized articles from one of its writers. After dismissing the writer and notifying the school’s “Honor Committee,”—a student-run Supreme Court-like entity that upholds the student Constitution—the paper ran an editorial explaining it all.

The editorial board was attempting to do the right thing by being transparent to the audience. However, this transparency has brought scrutiny to members of the editorial board. In the editorial tell-all, the student accused of plagiarism was not directly identified by name, but the Honor Committee found enough evidence to say the student’s Honor Committee Constitutional right to confidentiality had been violated.Ultimately the case was dismissed by the the University Judiciary Committee.

This situation fascinated me on several levels. First, there is an issue of freedom of the press. The staff at The Cavalier Daily were reporting truth, which is often the first and best defense. However, as the Honor Committee pointed out, there is some gray area concerning the rights of the accused. The editorial board argued that by leaving out “the plagiarist’s name, gender, staff position and class year, as well as the titles, dates and content of the plagiarized articles,” the members had done their due diligence to protect the identity of the accused.

If this had been a libel case, the editorial board’s argument would fall flat. The writer may not have been directly named, but several unique attributes would make the person easy to identify. Was there more than one person dismissed from the paper’s staff during this time? If not, there’s your answer. If so, then whose stories were pulled from the website? Anyone with access to a back issue or two can find out with a quick search.

Finally, I think there is good debate to be had on the pros and cons of protecting the identity of a plagiarist. In this particular case, I can understand the desire to protect the identity to follow school standards. Additionally, it’s kind to be lenient with a student and not let a mistake in school result in being blacklisted from future employment. Students who cheat in other classes do not get their name in the paper because of it, and many other professions would keep personnel issues internal.

However, it’s universally recognized that cheating and plagiarism is wrong. Journalists get an especially heavy dose of this lecture, and this student chose to be unethical. Punishment by identification would be in line with the consequences in any other journalistic workplace. Plagiarism destroys a writer’s credibility and the audience deserves to know if they’ve been duped in the past and by whom. If the reader doesn’t know which writer and articles were involved, the entire paper’s credibility comes into question.

Although being publicly identified as a plagiarist may be a harsh punishment, I think news organizations have little other choice. Choosing journalism as a profession means taking on a higher responsibility to the public, and with that comes graver consequences.

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Tweet regurgitation: An intervention

I get it—managing accounts on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Foursquare and everything else can be overwhelming. It can seem nearly impossible to update all of these feeds on the regular and still accomplish anything in real life.

Twitter on Facebook

Still, I just have to say it: Quit being so lazy! I’m sick and tired of seeing the same updates, word for word, across multiple platforms.

Social media management tools are fabulous for centralizing the social media experience. I use HootSuite to keep track of my various Twitter feeds, update LinkedIn and shorten URLs.

But just because you have the ability to update all of your platforms in one place doesn’t mean you should.

If you want people to follow and add you on every platform, each one needs to offer something different. I want to support a good company or a friend in as many ways as possible, but I don’t need to be bored to death by reading the same regurgitated tweet at every turn. And honestly, if you’re managing your social media effectively, you’ll play each one up for its unique strengths.

There is bound to be a little redundancy because friends and followers won’t always overlap and sometimes you have something that just needs to be shared with them all. That’s OK! If you’re sharing a link, though, consider the audience of each platform and tweak the message for each one, even if the link is the same.

So please, for your sake and mine, keep it fresh.

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A few days ago I read about the uprising in Egypt on Tumblr.

Bits and pieces of information littered my dashboard and I became engrossed. Social media helped organize a revolution, so any former thoughts of Twitter as a useless dumping ground for opinions disappeared.

When I discovered the Internet was shut down in Egypt, it was difficult to absorb. The place where anyone can have a platform to speak was cut off in an attempt to silence the protests. This is the first time in my lifetime–that I know of–where such blatant and widespread censorship occurred. (This is not counting censorship in areas where people never had the right or freedom to express themselves in the first place.)

While the power of social media has gained respect due to these events, much is being done to harm its reputation as well.

Information is disseminated so rapidly that fact-checking and context can be lost. As I’ve said before, the Internet can be full of lies, and we should remember that especially when everyone is clamoring to read the latest breaking news.

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A Tumblr crush

Tumblr crushes

Tumblr is better than Twitter.

There, I’ve said it. I’m sure that Kanye would like to tweet me off my blogging platform right now, but hear me out.

Since Twitter is all about the brief written message, it’s great for mobile. But that strength is also a weakness. Where are the visuals? The videos? Oh yeah, in a link.

Click-throughs aren’t necessarily a bad thing, but if I can avoid adding to the seemingly endless list of open tabs in my browser, I will.

Tumblr, on the other hand, incorporates the visual and interactive components into its design. Embedding: It’s a thing! Who knew?

The formatting of Twitter means scrolling through the day’s messages and seeing an endless list of text and avatars. On Tumblr I can scroll through and stop to examine a picture that catches my eye. It’s like comparing the dos and don’ts of newspaper design.

And speaking of newspapers, I was surprised to find that I prefer Tumblr as a general news source.

Front Pages is a great way to keep up on the news worthy of A-1 from several major papers. The best part is that–as the name implies–the front page of each paper is scanned in. You get the best of both worlds: the feeling of print design with the convenience of hyperlinks.

As my Tumblr Crushes list shows, I am also a fan of the NPR, NPR Fresh Air and Today Show Tumblrs. They feature news that I’m interested in. And if it’s not something I’m interested in, the witty commentary is worthy of my attention. Unlike Twitter, there is always plenty of room to add a snarky quip.

As much as I love Tumblr, I do think that it can take a page from Twitter’s book in one area: lists.

Scrolling through all the content can seem impossible sometimes. It can be avoided by going to the individual pages of those that you are most interested in, but I don’t want to leave my homepage and click more than I have to.

I would love to separate the news Tumblogs from the personal updates, but right now I don’t see a way to do that. I’m going to write to them and see if they fix it.

Oh, and if you’re interested, here is my little Tumblr named Gray Space.

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AAJA Convention, Day 3

Friday was the last day of the convention for me.

My overall impression of the convention was positive, but only just. There was nothing that I disliked, but I felt indifferent about several of the panel discussions and workshops. There were some disappointments, because the discussion would veer off track or focus on things that I didn’t think were the most important. I also found that there were pleasant surprises, like the diversity panel from day two of the convention.

Though some of the discussions were dry, I know that I learned something from each workshop and panel, and I’m glad I attended.

Beginner Interactive Narrative

Your Career, the Sequel

Be Your Own Boss

Career Fair and Expo

Beginner Interactive Narrative

The focus of this discussion was how to tell a story in a non-traditional way. It started off with a short documentary-style film about student diversity in a small town. It included staged, artistic shots of the students and voice-over where the students would be reading their thoughts aloud.

The question was then posed: Is this journalism? The consensus was surprisingly “yes.”

Despite the staged aspects of the video, the reporting done was valid and the audience thought the artistic nature of the video was acceptable to create tone.

From there we discussed other forms of storytelling, focusing on the options for interactivity on the Web.

First, there are the more obvious advantages of the Web, such as virtually unlimited space and the ability to provide dynamic content. However, simply using the Web to connect to audiences directly is a powerful tool.

Live blogging events have found audiences, and the power of interactivity has been shown even in advertising, like the Old Spice campaign.

A newspaper can take examples like these and tailor them to their audience. For example, when running a story on a resident trying out for American Idol, the paper can host its own local competition and post it on the Web for readers to participate and vote.

Your Career, the Sequel

Be Your Own Boss

These two workshops were more tailored toward the people who had recently lost their job in journalism or were looking for alternatives. I attended these because I thought it might give me an idea of what else I can do if the job market was unwelcoming upon graduation. The possibility of freelancing was discussed, and it was interesting to hear the frank discussion about what the job really requires; things such as calculating costs, deciding what stories to take and how much time to spend on them. Other panelists shared their success stories of delving into other fields, such as Web startup companies and authoring a book. Although all of these other careers seemed interesting in their own right, I don’t see myself heading in that direction.

Career Fair and Expo

Perhaps if I was at a different stage in my life I would have found the career fair more useful. The fair undoubtedly offered many opportunities for out-of-work professionals, but students just entering the job market were mostly overlooked. If nothing else, I appreciated having the opportunity to see what the job hunt could look like. 

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