Archive of ‘Communicating’ category

Ooh, they have the Internet on com­put­ers now?


I think this would be akin to teaching your parents how to use the computer. Well, mine anyways.

Wired Journalists is like a MySpace website where traditional journalists can create a profile, network with each other and together learn how to find their way around the “Interweb” (that’s how I imagine they call it).

“Bravo!” I say to these Johnny-come-latelies. If this isn’t proof that social media is force to be reckoned with then I don’t know what is. It is not so much a matter of these old schoolers taking an interest as it is a “do or die” reality. You either adapt or you slowly become extinct.

But I don’t believe traditional media will go the way of the dinosaur. It will adapt by absorbing aspects of social media, sort of like a fish growing limbs and walking on land (there’s my Cole’s notes version of Darwinism. Feel free to use it.). And it’s already happening – every media outlet has a website with either a blog, RSS feed or podcast. Television stations are even asking their viewers to submit their “newsworthy” digital images. Either they are embracing the concept of “citizen journalism” or have figured out its cheaper than using their own cameramen. (I guess you aren’t “everywhere” anymore, CityTV.)

Former colleague and dear friend Andy Donovan posts his client’s videos on YouTube. It’s been his experience that journalists are hungry for new content and are looking to the web for it. (To any journalists who see this: go to Andy’s YouTube page and feast away!)

Now if Lloyd Robertson would only start blogging…






Last week the blogosphere picked up a story about a PR Newswire employee who was fired for slugging a release inappropriately. (If you are unfamiliar with the industry, a “slug” is a short label which helps editors figure out at a glance what the story is about (CP Stylebook). For example, “Leafs-win-Cup” would be a slug for a story about the Leafs winning the Stanley Cup (like that would ever happen).

Anyhow, this employee was formatting a release about a rally taking place in Philadelphia to raise political awareness of mental illness and homelessness. She slugged the release “loony-bin-rally”. 

Something like this would typically go unnoticed by the public, since a news release slug would only be seen by the news media in their wire terminals. However, one intrepid reporter spotted the insensitive slug and notified PR Newswire about it. And it must have been a slow day in the newsroom because he then wrote about it. And like all good stories about complete and utter stupidity, it spread like a virus.

PR Newswire responded with an official public apology and the employee was terminated for exhibiting “very poor judgement.” (Ya think?) Personally, I think they handled it the only way they could. Keep in mind that PR Newswire distributes thousands of news releases a day and it would be logistically difficult to vet each release before it is sent out. They must rely on their employees to practice good judgement and this comes from having faith in their staff and hiring practices. However, it just takes one bad apple to spoil the entire barrel. And in this case, they got rid of it.

This wasn’t a case of some poorly-trained employee making a small mistake. It was an act of pure ignorance and insensitivity. If someone believes it is perfectly acceptable to refer to the mentally ill as “loonies” it wouldn’t be a huge assumption to think this same person would ascribe offensive labels to other minority groups. Could they have given the employee a second chance? I wouldn’t. Having worked in a newswire service, you can train a person on where a slug is placed but you cannot train them on what to put in there. That comes from common sense. And that, my friends, is incredibly hard to teach.


My first week of school, or How I learned to stop wor­ry­ing and love the blog


It is the end of the first week of school and I have survived. No wedgies, no Uggs, no sea of laptops in class.

The fears I laid out in my first post were all for naught. The benefit of a post-grad winter program is the variety of people enrolled in it. There are a few students fresh out of their undergrad term at university but the majority, like me, came from the workforce. We all bring different perspectives to the table and there has already been a good exchange of ideas and opinions. The size of our class (31) also allows for a feeling of closeness and solidarity – we even started our own Facebook group!

The funny thing is, we take the same classes together. Coupled with the fact that our campus served as Degrassi High, at times it feels like I’m back in high school. (I think my locker is near Joey Jeremiah’s but I haven’t been able to confirm it.) And like high school, the cafeteria food leaves a lot to be desired. Thankfully, the Danforth is just a 10-minute walk away.

I have an advantage over most of my fellow students when it comes to corporate communications and P.R. But I’ve discovered there is a lot more I need to learn. Like how to write, for example. As I mentioned in my first post, it has been a long time since I wrote anything beyond a client proposal or an e-mail. Back then, I had a tendency toward the verbose and the thesaurus was my bible. Since there is no demand for 2,000-word news releases, I will strive to learn the seven C’s of good writing: clear, concise, correct, coherent, complete, consistent and creative. The CP Style Guide will become my new bible.

Another tidbit I picked up was how to read newspapers. I mean, REALLY read newspapers. I subscribe to the Toronto Star and read it religiously every morning. But I tend to skim over most of the articles, reading only the first two and last paragraphs to get the gist of the article. But after my first Media Relations class I began to analyze the paper and noticed something: Every journalist has a bias. It tends to be obvious and expected with columnists like Rosie DiManno of the Star and Margaret Wente of The Globe and Mail. But the bias of other reporters tends to creep in “hard” news stories. For example, take this article in last Thursday’s National Post:

’09 Afghan pullout too soon, experts say

It is already too late for Canada to withdraw from combat in southern Afghanistan when the mission expires in 2009, military analysts said yesterday.

The federal Liberal party made a submission this week to the panel studying Canada’s future role in Afghanistan, headed by former finance minister John Manley.

In it, the party insisted Ottawa should formally notify NATO now of Canada’s intention to end its combat mission in Kandahar next year, contending it would be a “travesty” if the mission continued beyond February, 2009.

But experts warned yesterday that there is not enough time to safely replace the 2,500 Canadian troops in the region with soldiers from other NATO countries.

This “news” item is about a submission the federal Liberals made to a panel studying Canada’s role in Afghanistan. The Post reporter chose to focus on the opinion of “experts” who believe it is too soon to withdraw our troops. This jibes with the Conservative government’s view that Canada’s should keep its troops in Afghanistan until progress is made, no matter how long it takes. And we all know how “right” the Post is.

Now take a look at how the Toronto Star reported on the same item:

`Travesty’ to extend combat role: Liberals

Canada should remain committed to Afghanistan but the current combat mission in Kandahar must end in just over a year, federal Liberals say.

Canada should instead look at other roles for the military, such as training the Afghan National Army and police, protecting Afghan civilians or leading reconstruction efforts, the party said in a paper released yesterday.

“We believe Canada and the rest of the world have an obligation to the people of Afghanistan,” the Liberal party says in its submission to the federal panel now studying the future of Canada’s Afghan mission.

And in a news release accompanying the document, Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion said he’s open to “other possible military roles in Afghanistan.”

But the party says it would be a “travesty” to continue the current military role in Kandahar under the guise of a “training mission.”

Instead, the Liberals say, the Conservatives must immediately inform NATO that Canada will end its Kandahar mission in February 2009, adding that as long as allies believe the mission is “open-ended, they will never prepare for our departure.”

The Star focused on the viewpoint of the Liberals, who want an early withdrawl of our troops. This isn’t surprising, given the Star‘s leftist/Liberal leanings. The point I am trying to make is this: there is no real objectivity in the media. While this is hardly new information it has made me think of how obvious it is and how it doesn’t matter anymore. With the technology available to us, we have access to raw information and can arrive at our own conclusions instead of having it spoon-fed to us. We can also draw from a huge pool of opinions regarding the latest issues and decide which ones appeal to us. (For the record, I like mine with a little satire and Jon Stewart’s snarky, sexy grin.)

In the early term of George W. Bush’s presidency, the traditional media was shameless in their unwavering, hyperpatriotic support of the war in Iraq (“Bush Lies, Media Swallows“, Eric Alterman, The Nation). The dearth of coverage on any opposing viewpoints and the growing savvy of the public (or more so the left-leaning intelligentsia) has led to the rise of citizen journalism (or “new media” as some call it).

It would negligent for me as a future communicator to ignore this. If the role of public relations is to “…establish and maintain mutually beneficial relationships between an organization and the various publics on whom its success or failure depend” (Center and Broom, Effective Public Relations), then giving little credence to the “new media” would be inviting disaster. There are numerous examples of how the “little guy” brought down “the man” (or anchorman, in Dan Rather’s case) and it’s not going to end, folks. All of which leads me to believe that when Time named their 2006 Person of the Year as you, they confirmed what we all know: opinions are like a–holes – everyone’s got one. And they will blog about it. And the world will notice.

Jon Stewart


Welcome to my blog.


bon mot [bon moh; Fr. bawn moh] a witty remark or comment; clever saying; witticism.

Why, hello there. Thanks for dropping by. This is my first foray into the exciting world of social media. Oooh, my extremities are already tingling. You must have many questions for me, such as “What do you have to say that is so important?” or “What do you have to say that isn’t being said by millions of other bloggers?” or “What are you wearing?” Good questions. My answer? Probably not much. (Har har.) But since I am advancing my career in the communications and p.r. industry it is on good advice from experts that I start a blog as a form of personal advertisement. Thus, I will blog.

A little about me: click on the About tab. It’s pretty much all there.

So, what can I add? Well, my mother certainly thinks I’m brilliant (smart woman, she is) and my friends tell me I’m funny (leaning heavily on the “ha ha” sort rather than the “weird” so that’s a good sign) so I’m hoping to bring a different perspective on life and its perversities. But I think my “angle” will focus on the fact that I am returning to school. What’s the big deal about that? Well, let me tell you why it’s a big deal:

  • I’m in my late thirties and just gave up a full-time job with four weeks vacation, an expense account and health benefits.
  • The last time I composed an essay it was done on a typewriter. An electric one, mind you, but there is no Spellcheck on typewriters. Actually, that is not true – I did compose an essay on a computer. In Word Perfect, DOS version.
  • I have a fear I may become Jerri Blank from Strangers with Candy, trying to fit into a world she long escaped from. Will my low-rise jeans be low enough? Should I buy the pink or baby blue Uggs? Is my crush on Zac Efron so, like, over (yes, I know he is half my age and probably gay, so shut up) or should I be pinning magazine clippings of the Gossip Girl cast to my locker?

I’m kidding, of course (well, mostly kidding). But you get my drift – I am in for a completely different experience than the one I have been living for the past 15 years in the workforce. It will be a fun and exciting time for me and I hope to regale you with tales from the (school) front. But mostly I would like to share my perspective on communications and public relations from someone who has been in the industry for the past nine years on the other (darker) side. Coming from CNW (the nation’s leader in- oops! Sorry, I sometimes forget I don’t work there anymore) I have been exposed to the needs of the communicator and the media. Will this give me a head start? Here’s hoping.

Which leads me to another reason to blog: social media is new media and acquiring membership in the web and blog community puts you far ahead of the rest. For those naysayers (and there are some in the industry, believe me) here’s a cool fact: There are now one million users on Facebook from Toronto alone (The Toronto Star, Jan. 2/08); we are the first North American city to achieve this goal.

I have several friends who post news and information on their profile – in other words, there Facebook profile is their blog. There are others who get their news and information from the web. (When is the last time you used a map instead of Google Maps, Mapquest or GPS? I thought so.) The 2008 presidential election will be run pretty much through YouTube and candidate blogs. (Of course, I prefer getting my news on U.S. politics with a side of cynicism (I miss you, The Daily Show) but I digress. Today’s journalists are not only writing for the print and electronic versions of their papers but are producing video content as well. Information is becoming more accessible than it was before. This means there are new ways to communicate outside of the standard news release and press conference and the web is the new place to look.

The web is also the new soapbox. Bloggers are people who have something to say and a powerful tool with which to shout it from the mountaintops. Case in point: Dell Hell (Jeff Jarvis vs. Dell: Blogger’s Complaint Becomes Viral Nightmare”, Online Media Daily, August 2005) and other p.r. horror stories. As a future communicator, I would be doing a disservice to myself and my future employers by not being aware of social media.

I can go on and on but my point is this: the web is not going away; it is getting stronger and more influential; and those who have embraced it will reap the rewards. Kind of like composing an essay on a laptop versus a typewriter.

Stay tuned for more…

Jerri Blank


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