TaxiMe.ca takes the guesswork out of taxi fares

Have you ever been at the far end of the city from your home and wondered just how much a taxi ride home would cost you? It’s always nice to know the price of something before we decide to buy it. Taxi rides are one of those things that you can’t really estimate until the meter is running. Until now.

One of people I work with at 76design, Jordan Boesch, came up with the idea for TaxiMe – a Website widget that uses Google maps and the taxi fare rate structure to estimate the cost of a taxi ride from any place to any other place. An elegant idea. A simple idea. A useful idea.

Jordan initially developed the site using thetaxi fares for Ottawa, where the 76design office is. But he also included a straightforward way that anyone can customize it to calculate fares based on the city you live in.

This past week, TaxiMe has become a particularly useful site for people in Ottawa. We’re in the grips of a transit strike. So, many people who usually would take transit are finding they must call a taxi. And TaxiMe lets them figure out how much the trip will cost before they place the call. Neat.

Oh, and did I mention it’s free? Like FriendsRoll and TopLinks and a lot of other Web 2.0 apps, TaxiMe has been developed in the spirit of exploration and the culture of generosity.

Use it and enjoy.

Managing through the recession – One Win at a Time

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about my thoughts on what Thornley Fallis and 76design and companies like us should be doing to survive the recession. In that post, I pointed out that retaining existing clients is a critical first step to keeping your business healthy. Now more than ever.

Well, this past weekend, I received some great news. One of our senior account managers had just succeeded in renewing two client relationships. Not only did he renew them. But  he expanded the scope of each one with a modest budget increase.

That’s great news to be receiving. It reflects hard work on the part of the account manager and our team. And it provides evidence that we may be on the right track to not only survive the recession, but to emerge stronger.

Here’s the email that I wrote to the manager. I also copied it to the other managers in the firm.

One win at a time … that’s how we’ll not only survive but thrive in the recession.

I’ve just learned that you are on the verge of getting an additional assignment from [an existing client].

Last month, you won us a renewal and budget increase from [another existing] client.

One win at a time.

It’s also about picking and choosing. Retaining and growing the clients we have is SO much more efficient and effective than the competitive pitch. And if we hang on to all our existing clients, then we can be choosy in the new pitches we do, picking the ones that are blue chip (they will actually pay their bills) and want us because they’ve come to us.

One win at a time.

Keep going in this direction please.

Why am I writing this series of “Managing through the recession” posts? Not to boast about how well we are doing. It’s way to early to be that smug. I hope with these posts to share the lessons I’ve learned through my experience in the last downturn. Hopefully, that will help you and managers in other companies. Of course, I also hope that the people in my own companies will read and consider what I am suggesting.

So far so good.

Memo to Jim Flaherty: Please don't make it harder to manage through this recession

At Thornley Fallis and 76design, our payroll costs routinely run at about 60% of our topline revenues. That means that 60 cents of every dollar we receive for our services goes directly to create jobs. Good jobs. Jobs that employ creative people. Jobs that employ knowledge workers. Workers who help companies – and government – use the new social media to create communities of interest, accelerate knowledge sharing and get closer to the people they serve.

So, I was dismayed to read the following section in Finance Minister James Flaherty’s November 27 Economic Statement:

“There will be no free ride for anyone else in government either.

“We are directing government ministers and deputy ministers from every single department and agency of the Government to rein in their spending on travel, hospitality, conferences, exchanges and professional services.

“This includes polling, consultants and external legal services.”

Consulting. That’s me and my industry. The government contracts with knowledge workers as consultants. So, are we about to be on the chopping block? Does Minister Flaherty think that we are some kind of bureaucratic boondoggle?

When I read Finance Minister Flaherty’s statement, I fear that he and the government are failing to see the value of the economic activity our industry generates.

Clearly, he doesn’t understand:

  • the economic efficiency of our industry in creating jobs,
  • how important government is to our industry as one of the largest communicators in the country,
  • how communicating with Canadians to restore confidence is essential to the economic recovery, and
  • how government spending on communications not only is part of the solution in getting past the recession panic, but will also enable our industry to maintain employment levels.

Does Minister Flaherty understand that if he takes a broadsword to consulting contracts, he will be killing jobs – lots of jobs – at a time when we should be trying to sustain employment?

The Department of Finance announced last Thursday that it is conducting online consultations in advance of the January 26 budget.

This is my submission.

Mr. Flaherty, please don’t pull the rug out from under knowledge workers with one hand while with the other you are seeking to build up infrastructure.

Yes, please do invest in extending broadband Internet access so that more people can have access to the benefits of the Net. (And while you’re at it, please encourage innovation by supporting net neutrality.)

But while you are pouring dollars into building roads, bridges, buildings and bandwidth, please don’t undercut the knowledge workers whom you are counting on to use that infrastructure to create jobs in the future.

People like me are trying to preserve jobs for knowledge workers.

We aren’t getting any free ride. We help government to connect with Canadians. And we also help you to listen to what Canadians are saying. We are also very efficient at creating jobs. Jobs right here in Canada.

We count on you and our government to be wise and to legislate in the public interest. So, please take a closer look at small business and industries like mine before you act. I think you’ll find that it makes sense to provide us with stability, not the back of your hand.

And if you provide us with a stable environment, I’m sure you’ll find that we do our part. And isn’t that really how we’ll get through the recession? If everyone does their part?

Ira Basen's presentation to the Canadian Institute Conference on Social Media

On Monday, I wrote a post about the conversation that had started around Ira Basen‘s presentation to the Canadian Institute Conference on Social Media.

Ira has provided me with his speaking notes and agreed that I can publish them on ProPR.

I found a lot of value in Ira’s remarks. I also found a lot I disagreed with. Regardless of whether you agree with everything he has to say, his presentation is well worth reading and considering.

———————

Ira BasenIra Basen’s Canadian Institute speech

Dec. 3 2008

I know that you have spent most of the past two days dealing in very practical
suggestions about using social media.  But I’m not a PR person, and I have often be
accused of being not very practical, so for the next little while, while you’re digesting
your lunch, I’m going to offer you something a bit different.  I’d like to try to put some of
the practical lessons you’ve learned into a larger framework, to see where what you do as
communicators, and what I do as a journalist, fit in this brave new world that I like to call
World 2.0.

There will probably be no practical lessons learned in the next half hour or so, but I’m
hoping that at the end of it, you will at least understand what I think some of the big
questions are that we need to ask.  Sometimes I think we can get swept up in the tide of
technological change which is coming at us so rapidly that we don’t have time to think
about what it will all mean.

For example, as some of you may know, last week Steve Rubel was in town.  He is the
digital guru at Edelman’s in New York.  And he recently predicted that by 2014, there
will be no more of what he calls “tangible media” – meaning no more books,
newspapers, magazines, CDs, DVDs, nothing.  It will all be online.  And when I
interviewed him, he described how he himself had already cut out all tangible media in
his own life, how he basically lived his life off his I-Phone screen.  He called it being
“media green”, because of course, from an environmental point of view, what he is doing
makes a lot of sense.

And maybe Steve Rubel is right.  I kind of hope not.   His digital dream sounds like
a nightmare to me.  But here’s the thing.  We already have lots of
studies that suggest that we don’t read words on screens the same way we read them on
paper, and our brains don’t process information in the same way.  So trading paper for
screens represents something much more fundamental than just simply switching delivery
systems.

So we need to think about the implications of all this stuff.  We can’t simply accept that
the changes that technology brings are inevitable.  That is often the impression you get
when you listen to the true believers.  But I think we can’t surrender to the machine that
easily, at least not before we ask some questions and understand something about the
road we are going down.  Just because we can do something, doesn’t mean we should do
it.  See, I told you I wasn’t very practical.

So this is a very idiosyncratic perspective. I’m not saying I have all the answers, or even
any answers, and you’re certainly welcome to disagree with me and raise those
disagreements after I’m finished here.

I’m currently exploring some of these ideas for a new CBC Radio series I’m working on.
As some of you know, a couple of years ago, I did a series called Spin Cycles which
essentially explored the nexus between public relations and the press.  And since then,
I’ve continued to examine that nexus as it evolves.

And what I find most interesting about that evolution is how social media has helped
erode the power and influence of the press by reducing, and in some cases, eliminating,
the gatekeeping or filtering role that we have traditionally played.  Social media is not the
only factor.  There are others that I will get to in as minute, but the fact is, this decline of
the gatekeeper is a reality.   And I think that has implications that need to be explored
before we fully embrace the new order.  And that is what I’m planning to do in this
new radio series I’m working on, and what I want to talk to you about today.

So today, we’re going on a trip to a place I call World 2.0.  It’s a place where
it’s okay to talk to strangers, where everybody is somebody’s friend, and where the
national past-times include blogging and flickering and twittering and digging.
Now World 2.0 is a big place, and we can’t visit all of it today, so we’re going to confine
our travels to just two places that I hope you’ll find interesting.  And I’ve chosen them
because they are places where your world as public relations people, and my world
as a journalist intersect.. And they are called Journalism 2.0,  and PR 2.0.

But I suppose before we depart we should just take a moment to review how this whole
2.0 world came about.  Let’s look at the work that you do.  Public relations is a big and
complex field, and I realize you do lots of things, and PR people get upset when I focus
on just one aspect of it, namely media relations.  But the fact is for most of the past
hundred years, your main vehicle for communicating with the public has been us, in the
press. And the weapon of choice has, more often than not, been the press release.   You
write them, we receive them, and then we decide if there’s anything in there we want to
share with our readers, viewers and listeners.

And that’s pretty much the way it was until the mid-1990’s, when we all got introduced
to something called the world wide web.  Specifically, I’m talking about what we today
refer to as Web 1.0 applications.  And by that I mean things like e-mail, and websites and
search engines.

And for people in my business, and for people in your business, Web 1.0 was an amazing
breakthrough.  Suddenly, we had access to a world of information with just the click of a
mouse.  We could write to each other and send documents without having to go to a post
office, and if we knew how, we could create a web page and post as much information as
we wanted, and the whole world was our potential audience.  How did we ever live
without it?

It was fantastic, and we thought the world had changed.   But in retrospect, it is now clear
that we were wrong.  Web 1.0 allowed people like us, in the communications business, to
do our jobs better and easier, but it did not fundamentally change the nature of the job we
do.  We were still the masters of our respective universes.

We still pumped out information to our audiences, and they received it.  Yes, it
was more information, and we could reach more people more quickly, but those people,
our audiences, were still mostly passive receivers of that information.  We talked to them.
And thanks to e-mail, their ability to talk back to us had gotten a bit easier, but it
was still fundamentally a one way conversation.  And this is important, we could talk
to them, but they couldn’t talk to each other.

And then, about 5 or 6 years ago, it all began to change.  Actually, the first big
breakthrough happened  ten years ago with the development of software that allowed
everyone to publish on the web.  You no longer needed to be an IT genius to convey your
thoughts to the world.

And these new creatures were called weblogs, or blogs, and they were the first shots in
the Web 2.0 Revolution.  And they were followed, over the past few years, by video
sharing sites like YouTube, and social networks like Facebook, and podcasts, and open-
source sites like Wikipedia.

And these social media applications really are a game changer for those of us who
communicate for a living.  Why?  Because unlike Web 1.0, the relationship between us
and our audience has now fundamentally changed.   In fact, it has been turned on
its head.   The wall that has historically separated journalists from their readers, viewers
and listeners has broken down.  The balance has shifted away from journalists and into
the hands of what American media critic Jay Rosen very cleverly calls “the people
formerly known as the audience.”, the people that Time magazine named as the Persons
of the Year a couple of years ago…”you”.

The conversation is no longer one way.  They can respond to us as easily as we can talk
to them, and they can also talk to each other after we’ve left the room.  That’s why it’s
called “social media”.

Now for those of you who have studied public relations theory, this is supposed to be a
good thing.  Way back in the 1920’s, PR pioneer Edward Bernays was talking about PR
as a two-way street.  And in the different models of public relations that people study in
university, the ideal model is supposed to be symmetrical PR, meaning that you talk to
the public, the public talks back, and you adapt your behaviour according to what
they’re telling you.

But of course, it hasn’t really ever worked that way.  PR has mostly been a one way
street, the communication has been asymmetrical.   Public relations has mostly been
about pushing out messages in one direction only, trying to sell the public more than
actually communicate with it.

And the media has been the same, maybe even more so.  Yes readers can talk back to
their newspaper by writing a letter to the editor, but there’s no guarantee your letter will
be one of the lucky few the editor chooses to publish that day.   Media owners profess to
care what their readers and viewers and listeners think, but that’s mostly because they are
trying to deliver those people to advertisers.

The modern mass media is a product of an age of scarcity.  There are only so many
inches on the page, and so many hours in a broadcast day.  Since the 1890’s, the front
page of the New York Times has boasted, “All the News That’s Fit to Print.

And one of the consequences of that economy of scarcity is that the media assumed the role of society’s gatekeeper when it came to information.  After all, somebody has to make decisions about what is important enough to get into the newspaper or on the air.  Somebody has to determine what’s “fit to print”. Many years ago, the American journalist and press critic A. J. Liebling rightly declared that “freedom of the press belongs to those who own one.”

Well no more.  Don’t like the media you’re getting?   Become your own
media .  Welcome to what I call Journalism 2.0, where you no longer need to be a
billionaire media mogul to start your own online newspaper, and where the tools of
journalistic production now belong to just about everyone, where there are no limitations
on time and space; and where the motto for a world based on the economics of abundance
rather than scarcity, might simply be “all the news”.

It used to be said that journalists wrote the first draft of history.  Well, now that more than
a billion people in the world have video equipped cell phones, the odds that a
professional journalist will be the first person to stumble upon a big story like a natural or
man made disaster are pretty slim.  You just have to think of where the first images of the
tragedy in Mumbai came from last week, to realize how much has changed.

The first people to report on that story were people on the scene, sometimes even people
who were actually under attack.   And they posted their stories, pictures, and videos on
blogs, or on YouTube or Facebook, or sent messages on Twitter. Or, they may have sent
them to any one of the many of so-called citizen journalism sites that have sprung up in
recent years; sites like NowPublic in Vancouver or Digitaljournal here in Toronto.  Or
they might have gone someplace like CNN’s I-Reports, created by a mainstream media
outlet in order to get into the citizen journalism game.   .

And what these citizen journalism sites have in common, is that they are all about
building a community with their audiences by allowing readers to determine which
stories are worth paying attention to.  Got something to say, pictures or videos to share,
go ahead and post them on our site.  It’s crowd-powered news.

We used to call those people in India “eyewitnesses”, and their evidence would be
aggregated and filtered by journalists, who would then produce what they considered,
based on their skills and experience, to be the best available version of the truth.

But it’s not like that anymore.  The eyewitness has become a “citizen journalist”.  And
there’s no editor telling that citizen journalist that their story’s not interesting or
correcting their grammar, or ordering them to lose a few hundred words, or asking who
their sources are, and there’s no lawyer warning them against possible libel suits.

In the mainstream media, we have to worry about all of that.  It’s one of the things
that slows us down.  We try to make sure we get the story right before we publish it.  In
Journalism 2.0, it’s the other way around. If you make a mistake, your community will
supposedly tell you about it, but not until after it’s already out there.  There are no
“gatekeepers” making decisions on what readers can or cannot see.

I like to call this new world Media Nation.  It’s a place where almost anyone can “own”
their own press, where the power of elites has been diminished, where the voiceless have
found a voice, and where “the wisdom of the crowd” can prevail. Its potential impact has
been compared to the invention of the printing press in the 15th century.

And by and large, I think I think this is a good idea.  How can you not be in favour of democratizing the media? But as someone who has been a gatekeeper in the mainstream press for more than two decades, I do have some reservations about Journalism 2.0.  I think journalism is, by definition, a collaborative process that requires editorial input.

Somebody has to ask the question, “how do you know this is true”?  In the absence of that, I’m not sure citizen journalism is actually journalism. And I worry about all that unfiltered, unmediated, unedited crowd-powered “news” that is floating around out there.  How do we know what and whom to believe, and what is important? And who really benefits when the journalistic filter is weakened or removed entirely?

Have we as citizens and consumers become sufficiently sophisticated that we no longer need anyone to help us separate truth from spin in the marketplace or at the polling booth?  Do we have the time and the energy to do that?  Are we really entering an era of citizen empowerment, or will savvy corporate and political marketers simply find a way to co-opt these new tools, to shape the “conversation” to their own ends?

Now personally, I don’t believe the gatekeeper model will ever completely disappear.  Many people, maybe even an increasing number of people, will want to get their news from these new non-traditional sources.  A growing number of young people especially, now believe that the information they get on blogs and other online sources is just as reliable as what they get from the mainstream press, or at least, reliable enough.

But there will always be people who are looking for the kind of expert guidance through
the forest of information that only mainstream media can provide.  And there will always
be a demand for the kind of investigative journalism that is critical for our democracy to

survive, but which is expensive and time-consuming. The challenge will lie in finding
new models to fund all of that.

And that’s a critical issue at the moment because the emergence of Media Nation is
occurring at a time when the business model for old school media appears to be broken,
perhaps irrevocably. That’s especially true for newspapers, especially in the United
States.  Circulation, profits, revenue, employment, share price – have all been heading
downward for the past few years, but the pace over the past year or two has accelerated
dramatically.

And that’s even before the recent economic meltdown, whose impact on advertising
revenue we are just beginning to see.   Just a couple of days ago it was announced that
newspaper ad revenue in the U.S. fell almost $2 billion or 18.1% in the third quarter.
Advertising dollars from the auto industry alone to all U.S. media outlets is expected to
decline by about $3 billion this year.

For those of us who are in the business, the rate of job loss is particularly troubling.
Twenty four hundred newspaper jobs were lost in the U.S. in 2007.  In Canada, it seems
as if hardly a week goes by without some news of further lay-offs.  This week it’s Rogers
Last week, 105 people at CTV.  The week before, 560 at CanWest Global.

Now some of this decline can be linked directly to the rise of social media. Classified
advertising is clearly being lost to sites like Craigslist, where members of that community
can advertise for free.  This has caused huge problems for newspapers.  Classified
advertising revenue, which typically makes up about 30-40% of a newspaper’s ad base,
plunged more than 16% in the U.S. in 2007.

And there is no doubt that that’s a very serious problem, but I think only a cockeyed
optimist would believe that the solution to the woes currently besetting mainstream media
in general, and newspapers in particular, can be solved by selling more banner ads or
somehow “monetizing” more of their online content.

Because there are problems with mainstream media that are fundamentally non-economic
in nature that also need to be confronted.  And among the most important of those are
issues of trust and confidence.  We used to have it, now we don’t.  Poll after poll has
found that people find media less credible, less honest, less fair, more biased, more prone
to errors, and less likely to admit making those errors, than even just a few years ago.

This is clearly a problem for an institution whose credibility is its only real currency.  And in the days before Journalism 2.0, this would not have been a really serious problem.
So people didn’t like us, so what?  What else were they going to do?  Where else would
they go?

But now it does matter, because they can go to Media Nation where the rules of the game
have changed.  Audiences there are no longer content to be passive consumers of news.

They want to be part of a “community” of journalists and other readers.   And they are
much less willing to accept what they have been told by someone whose authority derives
solely from the fact that they happen to be employed by a mainstream media outlet.

As you know, over the past few years, as the popularity of social networking has
exploded, surveys have consistently shown that people are much more inclined to trust
members of their “community”, whether real or virtual, than they are people who have
traditionally worn the mantle of “expert”.

More and more, the professional filter is giving way to the social filter.  In the 2007
version of their annual “Trust Survey” Edelman Public Relations discovered that the
answer to the question “who do you trust?” is increasingly, “people like me”.  These are
the people whom the author Paul Gillin terms “the new influencers” –friends, neighbours,
and perhaps most importantly these days, members of various online communities.

Now these online communities can spring up anywhere.  Trying to find them, let alone
being able to monitor them and communicate with them is a very difficult job, as you
know.  It is perhaps the biggest challenge for what many people label PR 2.0 – public
relations in the age of social media.  And what PR 2.0 has in common with Journalism
2.0 is that in both cases, the gatekeeper has been relegated to the back seat.

In PR 2.0, you can talk to your audiences directly, and they can talk back to you, and
perhaps most importantly, they can talk to each other.  Say good-bye to that one way
street.  And all these conversations can happen without having to go through the pesky
filter of the media.

The fact is that when you can talk to your audience directly, on their blogs, on Facebook,
on YouTube, on other social media, then you don’t need us as much as you used to.  For
more than a hundred years, we decided what would get promoted and what wouldn’t,
what press release would get picked up, which photo opp. we’d cover, what product or
service we would give our third party endorsement to.  You had to go through us to reach
your audience, and now, increasingly, you don’t have to.  For years, PR has really been
about media relations.   Now, more and more, it will actually have to be about public
relations.

Talk about transformative change!  Let’s look at that staple of the PR industry –
the humble press release.  As I mentioned earlier, for more than a hundred years, it has
been the main channel of communication between you and us.  And it won’t be
disappearing anytime soon.

But here’s the thing about press releases.  They are the ultimate symbol of PR’s one way
street.    They are not designed to spark a conversation between an organization and its
public.  They are a monologue, not a dialogue.  So it’s not surprising that in an age of
social media, there are many people  out there gunning for them.

The big buzz, as you know, is now around SMR’s – social media releases – designed to
get the conversation going, allowing readers  to disseminate information, use multimedia tools,  share the content, and spark other conversations.  Today, about half of all online releases are read directly by the general public, thanks to online newsrooms, search engines and tools such as RSS.

And as with Journalism 2.0, there is much to like about PR 2.0.  Why shouldn’t you be
able to talk directly to your audiences, and why shouldn’t they be able to hold you more
accountable?  You are no doubt already aware of the challenges this poses.  You know
that online communities are notoriously uninterested in being told what to think or what
to buy.

You know that companies and organizations no longer have as much control over their
corporate and brand reputations as they used to.  You know that the social web is an
uncontrolled forum for the exchange of ideas and opinions.  Anyone can write anything
they want about a company or a brand, any time they want.  And if you’re not paying
attention, those comments can be picked up and spread around the world before you even
know they’re out there.

In the days of PR 1.0 it was largely true that brands were defined by what companies said
about themselves in their advertising, on their websites and in their press releases.   Now
brands are in part defined by what others say in private, usually after the company and
their PR people have left the room.

And what those people have to say can be dangerous and unpredictable.  The social web
audience is the toughest, most demanding, most unforgiving audience there is. You
ignore their opinions at your peril.   They’re always on the lookout for signs that someone
is being less than transparent, less than authentic.  Try pulling a fast one on them, as
WalMart famously did with their fake WalMarting Across America blog, and you will
pay a steep price.

On the plus side, a whole new world of opportunities can open up for clients prepared
to have meaningful conversations with online communities.  But those clients will have
to be genuinely interested in learning what customers really think about them, their
products and their services, and then be prepared to do something to fix the problems.

Is PR capable of pulling this off?  There are many skeptics.  Jay Rosen, whom I
mentioned earlier, told a conference organized by Edelmans last year, that for PR to truly
embrace the potential offered by social media would be tantamount to asking it to change
it’s DNA.  In other words, it’s not likely to happen.

And that skepticism is not just coming from the usual cast of the industry’s critics.
It’s not hard to find PR practitioners, writing on some of the very good PR blogs that are
out there, who aren’t sure that public relations is capable of listening and engaging the
public, of sparking conversations rather than simply pushing messages.

One British PR blogger wrote that the main problem is that PR’s priority will always be
to protect the interests of those paying the bill.   Since PR has historically been part of the
problem, in the sense that it has helped create the distrust and suspicion that many people
feel towards business and government – how can it now be credibly seen as part of the
solution?  She asks, “should PR not just accept that it is part of the bling put out by
organizations – it is just one sided publicity, spin, and propaganda?”

I know in earlier sessions here you’ve talked about the importance of establishing
relationships with bloggers.  And I think that’s great.  But let’s be honest about what is
really going on.  At the end of the day, the question the CEO will be asking his or her
communications team is not how many online conversations they’ve been able to spark,
but how many bottles of beer, or cell phones, or computers they’ve helped to sell.

So I find it hard sometimes not to share the skepticism of the industry’s critics as we
move forward into a PR 2.0 world.  As many writers have pointed out, social media is
about respect, engagement and transparency, and these have historically not been
qualities that PR has either embraced or practiced.  I think the great worry is that the sins
of the old media will be visited on the new, that the tools of social media will be used to
accomplish some very old fashioned objectives.

And I’m not just talking about the very obvious ethical sins like setting up fake blogs or
using the anonymity of social networks to push messages, or paying bloggers for
postings.  To be honest, I even get nervous when I see PR groups advertise workshops in
search engine optimization.  Google, for example, was supposed to be based on the idea
of the wisdom of the crowd.  You got ranked high on Google because members of that
community thought you belonged there, not because some clever people had figured out
ways to get you to the top.

One of those advertisements I saw recently proclaimed ..”the potential for
communicators seeking to reach audiences directly is staggering. If you can master SEO
and keyword usage, your news could go viral with the push of a button—especially if
you’re savvy about how you distribute your announcements.”

As I said, I understand that that is the business you’re in, and maybe I’m being paranoid,
but that kind of talk makes me nervous.  To me, it speaks to the reason why we had
gatekeepers in the first place, and why I think they still have a useful role to play.

In a world without gatekeepers, we are required to make two assumptions.  One is that
the people pushing their messages directly to the public will be honest and
straightforward about it, and two, that if they are not, the public will be savvy
enough, and engaged enough, to call them on it.  I know that the true believers of World
2.0 believe we can count on that happening.  I’m not so sure.

I said at the beginning that it is important to recognize that technological change is not
inevitable, but that’s not exactly true.  PR 1.0 and Journalism 1.0 will not disappear, but
they are not the only game in town anymore, and they never will be again.  And there are
lots of reasons why we should celebrate that fact.  But I also said we need to understand
the implications of the road we are going down. And in a world without gatekeepers, it is
important that everyone involved understand that with great power comes great
responsibility.

And so what have we learned from our little tour of World 2.0?  I think it would be fair to
conclude that it can be a pretty scary place.  It’s scary for mainstream journalists like
myself to see the gatekeeping role that we have so long cherished and protected begin to
evaporate in the wake of this thing called Journalism 2.0.

And it can be scary for people who work in communications too.  Driving on a one way
street is always easier than driving when traffic is moving both ways.  And it’s always
easier to control messages then to open them up for comment and criticism.

But World 2.0 is also a very exciting place, filled with incredible possibilities.  I’m excited by some of the experiments now underway that have professional and amateur journalists working together in collaborative projects that have the potential to produce excellent journalism. And smart people are thinking of new business models to replace the old one that is clearly no longer working.

And the potential for social media to bring people together and empower them
is enormously exciting.  Look at how Barack Obama was able to use social networks to
create an online army of several million people in this year’s election campaign.

I know that many of you here today work in government communications, and I would
suggest you keep a close eye on the Obama administration’s plans to use social
media to ensure that both the quantity and the quality of communications between the
government and its citizens is richer and more meaningful than ever before.     If they
succeed, it would be revolutionary

So whether you work in journalism or public relations, we are clearly at the beginning of
something very important and very exciting.  The pace of change can sometimes be
dizzying.  Just when we get used to everyone blogging, they start twittering, and who
knows what will be next. We need to go into it this with our eyes open, with an
understanding of how our behaviour has to change, and fully aware of where the potential
pitfalls lay.  But there is no turning back.  As we like to say here in Ontario:  World 2.0:
yours to discover.

ProPR turns 3 – Should I stay or should I go?

ProPR quietly turned 3 years old in mid November. As I do every year at this time, I look back at my first post to ask myself whether my stated purpose is still valid.

Why did I start blogging?

I wrote in my first post

Through this blog, I hope to have a voice in the discussion surrounding new developments in public relations, communications and marketing.

At my firm, we encourage people to develop to their maximum potential.

Thought leadership is an important goal for all professionals. With this blog, I hope to stimulate others to think about these issues and advance their own thinking.

Comments are an important means of contributing to the discussion. I encourage any who read this blog to offer their comments on my entries.

I don’t kid myself about being a thought leader. But I am happy to be able to contribute my perspective on issues. And I’m even happier that people have commented on the posts they have found interesting or thought provoking.

So, will I keep going?

Blogging has become part of my life. I cannot imagine ever going back to reading a book without being able to make a note in the margin, “Post about this on ProPR.” Or to reading an online article without being able to tag it to delicious with the intention of linking to it in a post. Blogging provides me with motivation and occasion to think twice about things and to find connections and patterns. It changes me from passive reader to active thinker.

So, let’s end the suspense. Will I keep going? You bet.

Thank you to my community!

Since I started, you have been my constant companion. I have posted 566 times. For every post, you have written on average three comments. So, in a very real way, this blog is a truly collaborative creation. And I thank you for this.

As I keep writing for ProPR, I hope that you will continue to find content here that entices you to read and, even better, comment.

Here’s looking forward to another year of posting on Pro PR and having great conversations with you, my community.

Mainstream Media challenges Social Media

Ira Basen objects to the way I covered his presentation last week in Toronto to the Canadian Institute Conference on Social Media.

Ira BasenIra is a smart, respected senior producer who has had a distinguished career at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

He is also a highly opinionated person who knows how to use the pen and the editing room to make his points in a way that causes people to sit up and take notice. He does this by adopting a distinct point of view. He also is unafraid to make broad declarative statements that make a strong point. Most recently, he attracted attention and sparked debate with his six part radio series, Spin Cycle.

I definitely did not agree with many of the sweeping statements he made about public relations and social media when he spoke last week at the Canadian Institute Conference on Social Media in Toronto

I voiced my thoughts on Basen’s presentation in my Twitters from the conference. Ira was offended by my tweets. And he sent me an email to tell me so. The first paragraph in his email framed his complaint to me:

I guess it’s fashionable these days to slag speakers online while they are still on the podium.  Why wait until after they are finished so you might have an opportunity to actually reflect on what they had to say?  This way, you can impress your friends by how clever you are, as opposed to how insightful.  And besides, who has time for reflection in this busy world?

Ouch.

I don’t think of myself as someone who slags people. Nor do I tweet “to impress my friends.” My hope is that I can provide people with information and a chance to know what is being said at events they aren’t able to attend. And along the way, it gives me a chance to test my perceptions against those of others in real time.

I wasn’t alone in disagreeing with Ira Basen’s approach. On the other hand, some found value in what he said. And that, to my way of thinking, demonstrates the value of Twittering during a presentation. We can profit from other people’s thoughts in real time, deepening our understanding and providing validation or challenge for different perspectives.

So, to be fair, I’ve decided to post the original twitter stream, Basen’s email to me, my response to him and his further response. I’ve also offered to post the complete script of his presentation if he will provide it to me so that we can all have firsthand knowledge of what he said. In the absence of this, I think the Twitter stream provides insight into what different people culled from his remarks and the discussion that took place.

What do you think?

Once you’ve had a chance to read this, please tell us what you think? What are the real issues here and where do you come down on them?

The Conference Twitter Stream

Remember, this is Twitter. So, if you read top to bottom, you are reading in reverse chronological order. I have edited the stream to capture only the tweets directly relevant to Ira’s presentation. There were some other side conversations interspersed with these tweets. I’ve removed these tweets to make the conversation regarding Ira Basen’s presentation easier to follow. You can find the complete conversation by entering “CdnInst” into Twitter Search.

Ira Basen’s Email to me

Hello Joe:

I guess it’s fashionable these days to slag speakers online while they are still on the podium.  Why wait until after they are finished so you might have an opportunity to actually reflect on what they had to say?  This way, you can impress your friends by how clever you are, as opposed to how insightful.  And besides, who has time for reflection in this busy world?

And maybe it is also considered unfashionable to respond to being twittered, and to do so using more than 140 characters, but as I probably demonstrated the other day, I’m an old fashioned guy.  I assure you that I do not regularly follow your twitters, but a friend was kind enough to send along your remarks about my presentation, and I must say, I was disappointed.  I expected better from someone who is widely considered a leading light in Canadian PR.

In the five years that I have been writing and speaking to and about the PR industry, I have observed that there are basically two sets of responses to my work.  The first group considers me to someone who needs to be closely watched, and makes the assumption that as a journalist, particularly a CBC journalist, writing about PR, I must be both negative and wrong-headed.  I find this to be an almost reflexive response since those people often don’t seem to listen very closely to what I’m actually saying.  The second response is that I might have valuable questions to raise, and so I might possibly be worth listening to.

I have been gratified that the second group seems to far outnumber the first.  In the past three weeks alone, I have spoken to a group of about a hundred government of Ontario communicators, appeared on a CPRS panel, and did the Canadian Institute speech.  [text deleted at Ira Basen's request]

I do it because I think entering into a dialogue like the one we had on Wednesday is useful for everyone.  For some reason, you mock the fact that people were actively engaged in that discussion.  “Is that a good thing?” you wonder after observing that I got people talking.  I find that to be an incredible question for someone of your stature to ask.  Frankly, I think you should be embarrassed that you even raised it.  Why would you minimize the importance of that dialogue?

My point, in case you missed it, was that we need to think about the implications of the road we are going down in social media.  I raised issues that I think journalists need to think about as we embrace “citizen journalism”, and issues raised by PR’s entry into a world of social media where the gatekeeper function has been diminished.  If you don’t think those questions are worth discussing, you should have invited one of the many social media kool-aid drinkers on the circuit, rather than me.

My sense was that people in that room wanted to engage in that debate, even if you did not.  By the way, after reading your comments on Twitter, I was surprised that you did not raise your objections at the time, or come up and speak to me afterwards. I guess that is old fashioned as well.

You made several comments about my exchange with the representatives from Molsons. Surely you must know that the points I was raising were raised first, and with much greater vigour, within the PR community when that “blogger relations” event took place last July.   In case you missed it, here’s a place you can start…..

I had been hoping to attend the Molsons presentation on the first day of the conference, but I wasn’t able to make it.  I assume that the objections raised by Heather Yaxley, Judy Gombita and other PR practitioners about that event were discussed in that session.  If they weren’t, I’m glad I was able to raise them, because I think they are rather important. I would hope you do to, but I must say, after reading your comments, I rather doubt it.

You should also know that I take all of these invitations to speak to PR groups very seriously.  If my perspective on PR is as misguided and distorted as you seem to think it is, if all I do is propagate “simplistic and misleading stereotypes”, why do I keep getting asked back to speak?  I’d like to think it’s because many PR people appreciate the fact that there is at least one journalist around who takes what they do seriously, who knows more about the history and theory of PR than most of them, and who wants to try to improve the often dysfunctional relationship between PR and the press.  Or maybe it’s just because I’ll show up for free.

I do try to tailor my remarks to be of interest to my specific audience.  So no, I don’t have a set speech that I have memorized, and I’m not a snake oil salesman with a fancy slide show.  Those people seem to thrive on the PR conference circuit.  So perhaps my “entertainment” value is not up to your standards, but I guess you get what you pay for.  Perhaps it is a legacy of my years at CBC Radio, but we tend to think audiences can rise to a challenge, and content is rather important.

This is really all I have to say.  I’m feeling better now.  Have a nice day.

Sincerely,

Ira Basen

My Email response to Ira Basen

Hi Ira,

Thank you for your email.

Without doubt, your views and the way that you present them on air and in person spark discussion and tap emotions.

I used Twitter to offer comments on what you were discussing. It supplemented and informed the discussion in the room. And you will recall that during the question period, I did offer my views in the room itself (I was the person at the back of the room who suggested that social media is used to develop long term relationships with people who share interests with us, not simply to sell things.)

One of the great things about social media is that we all have a platform to offer comments to the people who are interested in the same subjects as us. Prior to the advent of social media, this ability to broadly publish comments was limited to people like you – people with access to mainstream media. And all too often, that meant that you talked at us. If we were able to comment, our comments would invariably be edited to fit into the format of a Letters to the Editor section or “Your turn” on the television news.

I think you make some good points. I only hope that you considered some of my points.

This discussion is, in my mind, all good. And I’m happy to provide you with a public opportunity to respond to the comments I offered in public on Twitter and in the room. So, I’ll publish a post with my original Twitter stream and your email reply to me. If you’d like to provide me with the script you read in the room, I’ll publish that as well.

Best regards,

Joseph Thornley

Ira Basen’s follow up response

Joe:

Thank you for your reply.

I understand the point you are making, but I really don’t believe that what you were doing on Twitter could be considered a triumph of two-way conversation, or somehow analogous to how journalism works.

For example, amongst the many unpleasant things you had to say about my speech, you accused me of tossing out “provocative things without quoting sources”.  You’re obviously entitled to your opinion, but let’s pretend that you were giving a speech and I, as a reporter, was assigned to cover it.  If I felt you were guilty of making comments that were unsourced, and by implication, untrue, journalistic convention would demand that I quote the offending statements, or at the very least, paraphrase them, before passing judgment on them.

That’s not what happened here.  You got to take a free swing.  None of the people who read your comment would have any way of making an independent assessment of whether it was fair or accurate, since, like me, they have no idea what exactly you were talking about.

And if I were a reporter covering your speech and I questioned the credibility of some of your statements, journalistic convention would also demand that I approach you and ask for further clarification before I write my story.

Again, this isn’t what happened here.  Your question to the room in no way reflected the tone or substance of your Twitter comments.  If you thought my remarks were so off base, if you truly thought I had perpetrated an “odious caricature” of public relations, why didn’t you stand up and say so, instead of sitting back and telling the world what you were unwilling to say to the room?

Here’s my point…. In my remarks on Wednesday I trotted out the old Spiderman adage that with great power comes great responsibility.  In your note you wrote that “prior to the advent of social media, this ability to broadly publish comments was limited to people like you – people with access to mainstream media”.  I agree with you, but I would add that in response to the power bestowed upon us by our monopolistic position, we adopted certain conventions, like the ones that I have referred to above, to try to ensure that we wielded that power responsibly.  We also, I might add, tried to maintain a civil and respectful tone.  I understand, of course, that we often came up well short of that ideal, but that’s not really the point here.

Social media is supposed to be a two-way street, and fairness and balance is supposedly ensured by the self-correcting capacity of the web.   But let’s look at this example.  You took some shots at me that I consider to be unsubstantiated, inaccurate, and unfair.  You were bound by no codes of conduct or ethics. I was only made aware of your comments because someone I know stumbled upon them.  You have now offered me the opportunity to reply, and I appreciate that, but that was not your original intent.  If it had been, you would have taken it upon yourself to initiate a dialogue on these issues that actually could have been quite useful to people in your business and mine.  That would have been a genuine two way street.

In the end, I think this whole incident confirms the original intent of my remarks on Wednesday.  Social media holds out great promise, but for true believers to embrace a technology without thinking through the potential pitfalls as well as the promise does a disservice to everyone.  As for Twitter, I think it is a wonderful tool for making dinner plans, but to think it can be a useful springboard for meaningful communications about important and difficult questions is, in my view, seriously misguided.

Finally, I have no problem with you posting any of this wherever you choose, but my comments in my first note about [text deleted at Ira Basen's request] is really nobody’s business, and probably unfair to the organizations involved, so I would prefer if you removed those references before posting.  I will send you a copt of my original remarks later.  Thank you.

Ira

What do you think?

So what do you think? What are the real issues here? Where do you come down on them?

Thank you for helping make a child's dream come true

5 weeks without a shave

5 weeks without a shave

After five weeks of looking increasingly seedy, I’ve completed my Mustaches for Kids fundraising campaign. And readers of this blog and followers of thornley on Twitter contributed $450 for the Make a Wish Foundation. I’ll add my own donation to that amount. So, together, we raised a total of $1,000 to make the wish of a terminally ill child come true.

I continue to be impressed with the generosity of the people I meet through social media. You had no reason to contribute. You could have remained anonymously passive. Yet you chose to contribute to this cause simply because you were asked to do so.

Thank you to the people who contributed to Mustaches for Kids and the Make a Wish Foundation: John Wiseman, Dave Fleet, Parker Mason, Francis Wooby, Michael Seaton, Terry Fallis, Eden Spodek, Shawn McCann, Aimee Deziel, Andrea Clarke, Todd Van Hoosear, David Magil, Angela Kryhul, and Shel Holtz. You’ve earned my respect.

The morning after - clean shaven again