Flacks ‘n Hacks_ Re-Establishing Trust Between Journalists, Corporate Storytellers, and News Consumers
7:07PM Jun 23, 2021
Everyone welcome to our session. We'll be talking about reestablishing trust in the media ecosystem. My name is Jon Amar, I'm the founder and CEO of Vetted. We are an online directory of experts that journalists use to book interviews for their stories. We're joined by some really great PR pros and PR technologists in the industry. First up, we have Shandra Naegle, from PRophet.
Hi Jon. Thanks so much for the introduction and thanks for having me today. My name is Shandra Naegle. And I'm the head of product for PRophet, which is an AI driven software platform that helps predict media coverage, interest, sentiment and spread before a story is pitched.
Hey, we have Gregg Castano, at News Direct.
Hi, I'm the CEO and founder of News Direct. I spend most of my career in the news wire industry with one of our competitors. And I found a News Direct in 2019, sort of as the 21st century, next generation news wire using digital technology to disrupt and improve what we felt was a model that needed that kind of transformation. And thank you for having me.
Yeah, of course. Thanks. Thank you both for for joining. So, you know, we're here, as PR technologists and people who've been intimately familiar with the PR industry for a number of years, to really talk about what's next, for relationships in the PR and media world. You know, PR pros outnumber journalists, six to one. Media mistrust is at an all time high, misinformation and fake news are, they appear to be rampant and have infiltrated the mainstream media. So as PR technologists, we're all working on ways to solve those issues and really looking towards towards the future, and what what can be done to increase trust on both sides of this of this media ecosystem. My question, starting with with Shandra is, you know, what's your view on the state of the media ecosystem?
I think that originally, there was a tremendous optimism around media and technology and it really empowered people to have a voice. We're kind of in a different stage right now, where people, like you said, seem much more fearful. And there's this negative emotion because of all the disinformation and you're trying to identify what's real versus fake. And so I think most of the distrust too, is because of data and privacy, right. And while we're starting to have more control of that, we don't quite know where some of our data and information is being used. And so I think that can kind of contribute to just the overall distrust in the entire ecosystem as well. And so I think we kind of parallel that with what media and technology is arousing the public side. And so technologies become much more democratic, I guess, you say, but we're given more control. And as we pivot towards tech for good, then we can kind of take some of those principles and apply it to trust, I think.
Right. Right. And I think transparency plays a huge role there. I think people expect a certain level of transparency, both with their data and with the reporting that they're that they're reading. Gregg, what do you what are you seeing?
Well, I think first of all, the technology plays a part in this in the sense that everything is very fragmented, right? There's a lot of different ways to get news now. Used to be the old days, you used to read a newspaper, or you watched the evening news. Now, I mean, you basically have your phone with you at all times. So you're always have you always have access to information. So that I think is part of the problem because it used to be a 24/7 news cycle when CNN started, but now it's basically a minute by minute news cycle. So I think as a result, journalists feel like they need to fill that void constantly, which I think encourages PR people to sort of bombard them with information, I think that causes a lot of friction between the two groups.
Journalists feel as though they're getting bombarded with a lot of information that they can't use. I think that those two things are the kind of the primary drivers, I think, towards the kind of distrust and some of the bad relationships that exist. I also think that journalism, at least in the eyes of the public, the general public, has become sort of biased, whether whichever side of the spectrum you're on. It seems that people tend to, in terms of information consumers, they tend to go and drift and migrate towards the people with whose opinion they agree with. And I think on the PR side, journalists have started to feel the way people feel, which is that there's an agenda for journalists, beyond just reporting the straight news. I'm not saying this right or wrong or true or false. Just saying I believe that's the perception.
Yeah, I agree. And I think a lot of news, consumers have a hard time being you know, distinguishing between like real news and opinion news, you know, and then we can get into things about like bias, and you know, the reputation, and there are services, that services, but there's this great public benefit corporation out there called Dante Media, and they have a media bias graph that shows you that they analyzed so many articles across the Web, and they show you which ones have the most amount of bias, least amount of bias, and ones that have the most accurate information versus more, you know, commentary. Perhaps news, consumers will will start to see more of that, or will, maybe they will, they will start to demand some some level of that understanding, as they're consuming news on a daily basis.
And I think the media is just a reflection of how the world is operating now, right? Particularly in this country, there's a pretty big divide between, you know, the right and the left, and so forth, whereas, and the media, I think, tend to take one side or the other, or at least, perception wise, it seems that way. And most people I think, are not that way, most people are down the middle. So as a result, they're seeing, even if even if you're watching or listening to or reading someone whose opinion you agree with in terms of their politics or whatever, you tend not to trust them, because you know, that they're speaking from a point of view that is not kind of just fact based.
Where does that leave us as PR pros. We've all been hired at one point or another or another by a company to get their, you know, announcement into the news. and we're pitching journalists. and we're a part of that like six to one ratio, we are the ones bombarding journalists with content and trying to get their get their attention. And, you know, the journalists, I like to say PR pros and journalists have a bit of a love hate relationship. They need us, we need them. We probably need them more than they need us but what, what can we do to help them earn more trust from the readers because we play a huge role in the type of content that they write about?
It's the start. Well informed PR professional knows what the reporter is writing about, right? And what context they may be writing in. And so it all comes down to really things like content and context. And since journalists are so swamped, the better context and insights that a PR professional can gather, you know, by using all these tools, then that'll really create, I think, a richer engagement with journalists that'll benefit everyone, just maybe even by thinking about a story from a different angle.
Yeah, I agree.
From my perspective on what my company does, obviously, is distribute that content to those journalists. So on one hand, I guess you could say that we're sort of responsible in one way for bombarding them with that kind of information. So what we try to do, and we try very hard to do this is to encourage our clients and our users to send out real information, not send out fluff and not send out stuff that's not really newsworthy.
It's not always easy to control but we do make an effort, particularly at the beginning of the process, when when they become users to educate them on sort of what the ground rules are of sending out content. I think journalists will begin to trust PR people more when they start getting a majority of content that's at least newsworthy, even if they don't want to cover it. They realize that some news value for somebody in there.
Yeah, and I think the word that comes up, pops into my head is relevancy, like PR pros need to be relevant so the journalists have better and better content. They are able to trust us more and their news readers are able to just get better quality stories and articles. I know that Shandra at PRophet
that's that's like what they do they they work on creating, you know, helping their clients figure out what's going to be the most relevant thing to talk about who's being the most relevant person to talk about, or excuse me to reach out to. And that seems like a pretty, pretty good way for these for companies and brands to achieve this relevancy that will help bridge that trust gap. Is that is that right Shandra?
Yeah, definitely. And that's where tech, I think, in general, too, can help a PR pro just build that relationship by providing that relevant supporting content too and then earning trust from the readers.
I think also, this past year was very, very, was an aberration, you know, a year different from pretty much any year that any of us have lived through. As a result of that, because of the pandemic, and because of the social unrest, those are really the that kind of sucked all the air out of the room right. There was really nothing else that journalists were writing about if, you know, besides one or the other of those things. So it became very difficult, more difficult for PR people to break through, because unless their their content was in relation to one of those two things, it was very hard to get any attention from journalists.
Right. Right. Yeah, I mean, what what we've done at Vetted is we've kind of like flipped, flipped the table a little bit. We help journalists find sources and news, basically, you know, based on the keywords associated with their profile. It's less of a push sort of marketing approach, and more of a more of a more of a pull. And, you know, the theory is journalists and those who are in the media industry will like having that as an as an option to find these, you know, hyper relevant sources and stories.
So I think we're all we're all kind of in that space, helping everyone be relevant as a vehicle for trust. And I wonder if we'll see, we'll see more of that going forward. And, you know, so, on the other side of that we have we have journalists, right. So, what should journalists be doing to help PR pros, as we are on this path to becoming more transparent and relevant and trustworthy?
Well, to me, I think first of all, become kind of a very basic thing is that they need to understand that PR people have a job to do as well. Most of them, I think, try to do that job as professionally as they possibly can. And I think they have to start off with a level of respect, kind of like innocent until proven guilty, right. Start off assuming that this person is professional and going to respect your time and what you're covering. If they prove otherwise, then you kind of categorize them in that sense. But, you know, at least start off that way and I think it'll eliminate a lot of the tension that exists between the two.
Yeah, I agree. And I think writing too from a position of having like real access to companies to be able to tell a deeper story with all the details that would require, ensure credibility would help as well.
Yeah, I'm sure you see this on on Twitter as much as I do. I follow a bunch of journalists and freelancers. And they love to call out PR pros who send them like irrelevant pitches, or it'll be like, dear, you know, name code, like, they'll just, they'll do a mail merge and put either the wrong name or they'll have HTML code in there. And I think it's PR or people like that who kind of make make our jobs even even harder. They give us a bit of a bad reputation. I wonder, is there anything that we could do to help those PR pros, you know, not do that anymore? Or who's responsible for that?
Well, I think, you know, from from this perspective that I sit in from News Direct side, again, it gets down to making sure that the content has value. The good thing about a news wire service, and not just us, but all the other news wire services is that they're not really spamming people, at least not spamming individuals, right? They're sending content out over a an approved channel that the end user has agreed to accept. And they have sort of a trusted source.
Whereas I think this is where technology goes a little bit kind of overboard with these mass faxing systems and so forth. Sorry faxing, email systems. Tells you, I just aged myself a little bit. Systems where you can, you know, basically blast out in the same exact press release or whatever, to literally 1000s of people at the same time. And, you know, journalists know that. They see that they get it and it's sort of anonymously, even though their name might be on it, they know that it's been replicated, you know, 1000 times with other journalists. It's very unlikely that they're going to want to write about it unless there's something incredibly interesting about it, because they just feel like they're going to be doing what all the other journalists are doing. And of course, journalists live off of, you know, the scoop and getting a different angle on things. So, I think when you do that, you've kind of inviting negative press, if you get any press at all.
Yeah, I completely agree with you. And, you know, I personally think that there should be more of a conversation. It's a shame, we weren't able to get a journalist to join us for this, this panel. All the ones I reached out to were incredibly busy, which kind of speaks to like the state of journalism. But I would I would love to involve more journalists in a conversation like this and get their thoughts on, like, you know, not just like, what kind of content are looking for? There are studies like that out there, and the studies about polls and surveys about how they like to be pitched. But like, what do they want to see from the modern day PR pro? Like, do they want to be pitched at all? Do they just want to receive a press release? Do they want to just get a photo or a graphic? Or, you know, what is it exactly that they're looking for, that can help them earn more trust from their readers at an organizational level, not just at an individual reporter reporter level?
You mentioned press release, right. And I would say that many of them, they don't want the press release, right, they want to be able to get content you mentioned, whether they wanted a graphic or video or photo. I think they prefer that kind of content. Because that's what their readers want.
Most of them are both online, and, you know, in print or, you know, just textual online, but also need to provide multimedia content, so that it draws readers. I think that's how PR people can help themselves and their customers and clients by providing that kind of content that is visual, interactive, you know, sensory, and just sending a press release, I think, doesn't really cut off most journalists anymore.
I think there's so many options of people to contact, right and so that's why they take that approach initially. But that's where we can start using some of the data that we're collecting and whatnot to target PR professionals efforts more so that they can spend more time maybe writing something that's more targeted, that's more applicable to whatever journalist they're contacting, rather than just reaching out to all of them at the same time.
Right. Or, like you said earlier, Greg, or I think you said this, like, you know, they're filing so many stories a day, they're under a lot of pressure to do that. And they're they could be missing out on higher quality stories, and instead going with these lower quality ones that may damage the trust factor. They contribute to the levels of mistrust.
I want to pose this question to the group here, and then eventually to the audience, but, you know, it will start with you Shandra, where do you see the PR journalist relationship in the next, what does it look like to you in the next five years? 2026? What does it look like? Same, different, new?
I think that AI is improving the media ecosystem as we know it. And so it is helping to empower those better relationships between journalists and PR pros. And hopefully, it continues to do that. And so that, you know, the outcome can become richer and deeper and provide the ability really for better storytelling, I think that's what we're all after, at the end of the day, right is to be able to make sure that both sides are giving the public what they want, and telling a story the way that it can improve the trust
Like everything else in life, right, the pendulum and when it swings too far to one side, it eventually swings back the other way. And I think what's happening in journalism, as we know, and journalists know, all too well is that there are fewer and fewer of them every year and there are fewer and fewer publications. There's more online stuff, but as I said before, it's very fragmented. So it's, it's very difficult on both sides to get to get heard and to and to have access to content that's quality content.
So I so I think this depends on multiple reasons swing back in the direction of more interpersonal interactions. People are going to get just, you know, they're going to, it's almost going to be a unique thing to you know, meet with a journalist or speak with him on the phone or something like that. It's almost like now you send something by mail, because it'll get someone's attention because no one sends anything by mail anymore. Right? So it's kind of kind of reverse psychology. Right. And I think that's gonna start bringing kind of the the human aspect back into the relationships. And I think that can only help the trusting, you know, between the two.
Yeah. And for me, I think that transparency is going to play a huge role. And that's what we're doing at Vetted we're just going all in on transparency. You know, what I think would be cool to see in the future is, you know, when you're reading an article on CNN, or Bloomberg or whatever, and you see someone that's quoted, and you're able to hover over that person, and see previous interviews that they've given, you're able to see their biography, and maybe even you're able to see who represented them like, well, who was the PR firm that got them in about news article, that I think that sort of radical transparency can play a huge role in bridging that trust gap. But I don't know how, I don't know too many PR people, PR pros, who would be would be down with that. But we'll see. We have five years, right?
Basically, I think it gets down to be honest, right? doesn't mean you have to tell every single aspect of what you know what you're trying to get across. But just be straightforward, right. And I think journalists feel like a PR people are not in many cases. And the ones that are those are the ones that have the access.
So I think that should become sort of the should be an epidemic of honesty. Right? And I think journalists, if they see that tide turning, I think they'll have a much more favorable view view of what PR people are bringing to them.
Well, Shandra and Greg, thank you so much for for being on this panel. Really enjoyed it. And I hope the audience did too. And you know, for the audience I would love to know your thoughts. You know, what do you think the journalist PR pro relationship will look like in the next five years? You know, come join us in the Q&A afterwards and we could all discuss together and if not, thanks for joining