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?


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.


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


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.


What do you think?

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

  • Thanks for sharing this debate, Joe. I have to say that I guess I come down somwhere in the middle, as most people probably do.

    I tend to agree with what I take to be Ira’s underlying argument – mainstream press has the responsibility to check facts and subject information, for better or worse, to an editorial vetting process before it’s published. That is a vitally important function and I fear it is being lost to the demands of a 24-hour news cycle, where posting first is more important than posting best.

    Social media advocates (and I count myself in that group) do tend towards a certain smugness; as though it’s Ira’s fault that he isn’t on Twitter and didn’t have a chance to join the conversation there. Just as we dogpile the closed nature of the mainstream press, though, aren’t we equally guilty of shouting in the echo chamber? One might argue that if Ira was saying provocative things without quoting sources, the same could be said for people on Twitter, who don’t suffer from the same burden of proof we place upon conference speakers and mainstream journalists.

    In the end, this is a debate that’s always worth having and kudos to both of you for agreeing to have these emails posted. There is still way too much grey area for anyone to claim victory though.

  • Excellent discussion. We’re all going through a learning curve right now and this discussion reflects the growing pains of changing the dynamics of the game. It’s becoming more the rule than the exception having a flurry of twitter activity in conferences. In order to level the playing field, some conferences now show a screen following the hashtag for the event, so that both the speaker and the audience can be aware of what’s been discussed in the backchannel. It may make speakers feel uncomfortable now, but over time this will lead to a more balanced communication between those with the mike and those with the keyboard.

  • Thanks for posting this, Joe. I think what might be at stake is the character of Twitter. I see it as a “backchannel” where people can snark about speakers, etc., but because it’s exposed to so many people, it’s probably better not to use it that way. IM works for that. Certainly bringing up important issues during a presentation is good, but the 140 character limit does tend to limit any real conversations that can happen.

    So, is it just that you were using the wrong tool? I certainly think a blog is a better forum for these kinds of discussions, and I’m glad that Ira has responded. I think the discussion started is a valuable one, and I hope it spills over into some of the real-life get-togethers the social media community has been having. As nice as the tools we have are, sometimes you just have to have what Michael O’Connor Clarke calls the “ten-beer conversation.” Maybe Ira and you could talk about this at a Third Tuesday event?

  • Hi Joe – very interesting discussion, and I’m glad you’ve opened this up.

    I wonder if the immediacy and intimacy of Twitter is at least part of the source of distress here? Would Mr. Basen have seen this differently if, say, you had written your thoughts up as a blog post the day after the event, where perhaps there would be the perception of a bit more reflection and synthesis of what his talk provoked?

    I’m fascinated not so much by what happened there, live, but what happens here, now.

    Mr. Basen also said:
    “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.”

    I think to dismiss a tool or concept that is still in its infancy as nothing more than a tool for making dinner plans is also seriously misguided. If he’s not on Twitter, I’m curious to know exactly what frames this statement. Certainly, if he saw Twitter streams from a conference, there tends to be a plethora of dinner planning discussions — and that is part of its utility. But I don’t quite understand how he can say it can’t be a “useful springboard for meaningful communications about important and difficult questions.” After all, isn’t it part of the springboard that is leading to your discussions with him via email, and now here?

  • This is a very interesting exchange and you did a great job framing the entire situation.

    I recently wrote several posts on my blog about the impact social media is having on public relations and believe the business is changing before our eyes. This shift offers both opportunities and challenges.

    In addition to public relations, social media is disrupting the mainstream media business. Tools like Twitter can empower just about anyone to capture and broadcast real-time events using text, photos or video. As described in your post, it offers a bottom-up approach instead of the traditional, top-down gatekeeper model.

    Ira raises some concerns about how “fair and balanced” this new model is, especially within the context of 140-character snippets. There is certainly a trade-off between immediacy and articulating an informed opinion.

    I believe tools like Twitter will be integrated into the journalism process for both production and consumption of news. Check out the New York Times article on this at:

    Readers (audiences) will ultimately seek the editorial truth from their own research of multiple sources. With social media, blogs and news portals, they certainly have the capability to find information and perspective necessary to make their own judgment.

  • Fascinating debate.

    Anyone who has presented at a social media conference has experienced Twitter-critiques and even Twitter-heckles. For those who don’t live inside the social media bubble, these instant reviews seem surprisingly harsh.

    In my mind it’s all good – provided the critic/heckler doesn’t say anything on Twitter that he or she wouldn’t be willing to say directly to the person.

  • Joe, Aaron, James, Derek and Domenick, Thank you for your thoughtful comments. They are worth reading and considering.

    James, I think that Twitter is a good tool for covering conferences. it allows participants to get to the point and it supports fluid, immediate conversation. It also allows people to post links to primary sources during the conversation. And as it does this, it helps people to ask better questions – eliminating the “this may already have been answered” placeholders.

    Derek, you raise good questions about the relationship between twitter and the more leisurely conversation that is now taking place. I think that Twitter provides raw material, the “I saw this” element of first hand conversation. I never intend the conversation to end there. I usually review the twitter stream after a conference to find the gems that I should reflect on at greater length.

    Finally, Domenick, thank you for raising the “fair and balanced” point. Twitter conveys human voices and the views of the people behind them. I try to be accurate in describing facts. But that then provides me with a platform to express viewpoints. I can and do mix the two together. In a way, my tweets should be compared not to the news pages, but more to the columnists writings. I offer opinion based on first hand experience. Hopefully, some people find that I provide them with an interesting viewpoint that sparks further thought and conversation. These tweets sure accomplished that objective. 🙂

  • Wow – who knew the discussion would continue to bubble and squeak so much.
    I’ll confess to knowing Ira as a journalist long before I got into PR and have worked both sides of the fence now so might be able to offer a unique perspective. I might also add that I was a SysOp for CompuServe and first got on the ‘net when there was no WWW in front of anything – let alone Facebook or Twitter !
    First off there seems to be an underlying assumption that Citizen Journalism is somehow more accurate, less biased and less prone to filtering than the mainstream because after all the mainstream is under some sort of control. Highly unlikely because everyone has a bias whether it is me, Ira, or Joseph – its what makes the world an interesting place. I might also add that in my entire career as a journalist, only once did I ever receive significant pressure from management to change a story. ‘Citizens’ on the other hand mounted major and sometimes ugly campaigns to change things.
    Secondly there are very different stakes. Journalists don’t set out to get it wrong or to introduce a bias. The difference is that a media outlet has a lot at stake if they screw up, a citizen journalist, twitterer or Facebook posting far less so.
    Thirdly, I don’t think Ira really meant to send the room into ‘either-or’ country. He was introducing a different point of view to a room that was there because they had already or were about to embrace social media. On that pont Joe, yes I thnk you were a little closed. Ira is representative of a pretty broad spectrum which makes him neither evil, wrong, or even 100% right. Listen to what he has to say.
    Finally when I first got onto the Internet many, many, years ago and likely pre-dating anyone reading this posting, we envisioned TWO Internets. One, an Internet for commercial transactions. Internet 2 ( gee sound familliar !?) would be for social interaction and the betterment of the world. Seems that everything old is new again in an odd kind of way.
    What we’re dealing with today are new tools. Many of the basics of human interaction and probably business interaction haven’t changed all that much. The tools are changing how it is done, increasing speed and immediacy, and making it possible for like-minded people to get together without the constraints of geography. But motivations haven’t changed too terribly much.
    There are no single answers or tools.
    Open yourself up to the possibilities, the pros and the cons.
    Who know what may come of it all.



  • I can’t wait till this idea of “live blogging” is dead and buried! As a conference organizer I want to see as much participation as possible between key stake holders (attendees & speakers).
    Hearing the clicking of a keyboard is going to be a distraction to others in the room, now multiple that by 10 or 20 people – noise!

    Speakers take time (ok, some take time) to put together a great presentation and if you are not giving them your full attention when they deserve it then you are probably not respecting their time.

    Lastely, it disrespects the organizers time that they have put into organizing the event.

    No one is going to win an award for “Best Live Blogger.”

  • Hi Mike,

    Thanks for pitching into the discussion.

    You suggest that “there seems to be an underlying assumption that Citizen Journalism is somehow more accurate, less biased and less prone to filtering than the mainstream because after all the mainstream is under some sort of control.” I don’t share this view. In fact, I think that Ira was making just the opposite charge – that content generated through social media is less reliable because people post and are corrected, if that is necessary, by the community after the fact.

    Anyone who has ever had to seek a correction from a mainstream media outlet would be able to testify that mistakes are made in mainstream media as well.

    Second, you suggest that “a media outlet has a lot at stake if they screw up, a citizen journalist, twitterer or Facebook posting far less so.” I disagree. My credibility and my reputation as an individual are every bit as important to me as a mainstream media’s reputation is to it. And I try to write in a fashion that will preserve and strengthen that reputation.h

    Finally, I agree with you that we should open ourselves to the possibilities – the pros and the cons. I hope through this discussion that we can break down some of the resistance to the evolving role of social media and set aside the notion that one person’s views are somehow of greater value because they work for a traditional news outlet.

  • Hi Dave,

    Thanks for commenting. I appreciate that you added your voice to the discussion.

    You suggest that people who are tweeting are paying less than total attention to the presenter at the front of the room. That may be the case for some people who start to daydream, surf the Web or tweet about where they want to go for dinner. That can say something about the person doing the tweeting. It can also say something about the person doing the presentation, who may have failed to hold his audience’s attention.

    On the other hand, I’d argue that the people who participated in this twitter stream were very engaged with what the speaker had to say. We were not only paying passive attention. We were actively engaged in his presentation. Sometimes reporting what he was saying. Sometimes commenting on it. Sometimes challenging either the speaker or other commenters.

    To my way of thinking, that’s deriving maximum benefit from a presentation. When I make a presentation, I always assume that the participants (not I didn’t say audience) know as much as me about related topics. And I look for their body language, facial expressions and attention. I will stop in a presentation and ask a question to draw out the participants if I sense that I am losing them. So, as a presenter I also benefit from the back channel discussion. I hope that all presenters will become more willing to embrace the people in the room as participants in the presentations, not just as a passive audience.

  • I think this is the longest blog post I’ve seen in a while, and that I’ll save it for later when I have time to read it carefully.

    Without reading beyond the first few paragraphs, I’d like to bet you’re both on the mark, but you each see things from different perspectives.

    I’m glad there’s a conversation taking place. It’s just too bad that the people like myself have to find out about those conversations after the fact because the Canadian Institute puts on extremely pricey events.

  • Hi Joe,

    I think this debate is extremely interesting and will only get more relevant as time goes on. I can appreciate where both you and Ira are coming from. I have a journalism degree from Carleton University, and I spent the last year working at a Toronto PR agency (I am now a community manager and heavily involved with social media).
    While I was at Carleton a lot of the discussion centred around the future of traditional journalism and the increase in online and citizen journalism. Many people were concerned that new media would threaten the strong ethical standards and objectivity of traditional media – a concern that still resonates strongly today.

    As someone who is immersed in the online community it becomes apparent that there are ups and downs to both traditional and new forms of journalism. I agree with you when you say that it is hard to have your voice heard in traditional media unless you write a letter to the editor, and that platforms like Twitter allow you to have a more open and engaged dialogue about a topic.

    I should also note that Ira presented to my former agency in the fall of 2007. While I didn’t always agree with his opinions, I found him to be interesting and well educated about PR.


  • Angela MacIsaac

    “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.”

    Mr. Basen’s comment regarding Twitter goes against everything we, as marketing and public relations professionals, learned at the Canadian Institute’s conference: listening to the conversation.

    Until the Twitter stream was brought to his attention, he remained unaware that lively discussion had been taking place about his presentation.

    How many times was it driven home to us to listen, engage, and participate–even though we may not like what is being said.

    I completely agree with the Spider-Man statement, ‘with great power comes great responsibility.’ But I hardly think many of us are going into this great new world all willy-nilly. More than anything, there is a terrific amount of trepidation, thoughtfulness, and care going into the social media strategy of any organization or institution.

    As a former journalist myself, I have long believed there is a certain arrogance clouding the current mainstream media–an arrogance that they are the only true and valid sources of information.

    With belts tightening, layoffs in the media industry coming at whirlwind pace in both the U.S. and Canada, and readership and advertising dollars dropping off, it is time for mainstream media to embrace the new platforms and learn to use them … just as we are.

  • Wow. I think Basen’s comments are sincerely valid – not to mention delightfully constructed – but I also am unsure about how a solution might evolve. I’ve actually found myself wondering about this type of situation many times over the last year, and while we all hear the claims that the web is somehow self-correcting via critical mass, crowdsourcing, etc., the reality is that the incentive system is not consistent across humankind, as evidenced in basic economics. One person might find providing accurate information an incentive in and of itself, while another might find humour to be a higher-level incentive, and others still choose drama and provocation above all else. While, yes, the information-corrector may indeed come and fix what the provocateur had incorrectly stated, the provocateur has already diffused that information through his or her own networks, and if the information is provacative enough, the diffusion has likely extended through multiple networks. And, let’s face it, we’re as unlikely to share the modified information as we are to pay attention to the editor’s next-issue corrections in a magazine…

    Interesting question, indeed!

  • This is an interesting discussion indeed, glad it’s out here for people to discuss and expand on, thanks to both Joe and Ira for opening it up.

    While I wasn’t at the event, I did follow along on the Twitter stream, and can understand where Ira’s remarks are coming from to whatever extent I can based on the 140-character limitations of Twitter.

    While the tweets themselves of the substance of some of his remarks were informative, where Twitter falls down for me is the full context of the presentation/ speaker intent. All we have to rely on is the intent of the person making the Twitter update and, if we know them well, what their bias may be while covering it.

    To be fair to Ira, I don’t think he is upset about the back-and-forth of the coverage, but is making a point about reflection and insight, and yes, the ability to snark or jab without context. If there had been just discussion about his perspective, his take on Twitter may have been slightly different for all we know, and he doesn’t dismiss social media and two-way conversations out of hand, but he does bring up some valid points about the nature of the communications and the limitations.

    Joe, while you may not have had malicious intent, you definitely took some shots at him and to be fair to him, he was on stage and not on Twitter defending himself while those messages were being broadcast to the general Twitter-public. What I believe provoked you, and what actually would have been an interesting discussion to have in my opinion, was this statement by Ira:

    Thornley: *Ira Basen “PR’s interest will always be to protect the interests of those who pay the bills.” *

    This point, to me, is an interesting one: Is this necessarily an inaccurate statement? Is the job of PR not to protect client interests? Yes, you may internally challenge them and provide guidance, but at the end of the day no one at a PR firm who is being paid by a client would join a public piling on or pass on contradictory confidential information would they? Now, I have no idea what the context of that remark of Ira’s actually was, only that you tweeted it as part of your coverage. I also take away from that statement that he is saying that a journalists role is to separate what is “crisis management” or “spin” because of the nature of the client/ consultant relationship, and provide as accurate information to the general public as possible. Perhaps he meant something completely different than I’ve inferred, but I have no way of knowing that as I wasn’t at the event and it wasn’t live streamed.

    What followed from that and what I believe Ira is taking offense to, are your two subsequent tweets that take shots at his style and the substance of his remarks, without the benefit of full context for *your* audience and that allegedly you didn’t raise these thoughts during the Q&A with him directly:

    Thornley: *Ira Basen is a great entertainer. He puts his head down. Ignores the audience, says provocative things without quoting sources.*

    Thornley: *It would be easy to get angry at the odious caricature of public relations Ira Basen presents. But it’s too extreme to be credible*

    Personally, I would love to have seen this exchange and to have participated in a conversation about how MSM is, or is not, integrating with the new realities of the social web, but it feels a bit muddied in terms of what both of your positions are based on some of the personal hard feelings. Although it does take the premise in an interesting direction nonetheless, so is a valuable addition to the on-going conversation!

  • Malcolm Gladwell didn’t object to Boyd Neil of H&K’s live Twittering of his recent talk at the Rotman School of Business. Boyd later posted a link to the videotaped conference – and despite being very interested in what Gladwell had to say, I couldn’t get through the intro. Nor was Gladwell’s interview on The Hour compelling television. I just gave up and bought the book instead – as a fast reader it’s a far more productive use of my time.

    Hard not to agree with Basen’s comments re his interest in focus on PR (although it’s rather overweening to insist he knows more about the industry than many of its practitioners). I’m not sure that anyone who hasn’t worked both for an agency and as part of a corporate PR team really does understand what it’s like to have a journalist announce he’s driving to your office to pick up a press release you haven’t yet written regarding an incident you first heard of five minutes earlier.

    He obviously doesn’t know much about social media in general and Twitter in particular. Has he not read Paul Gillin’s The New Influencers? Even mainstream media’s online corrections are buried at the end of the story; a correction regarding something as fundamental as a company and its CEO’s name appears four days later in print and is probably not read by any of the people who read the original article.

    I’d love to read the full text of his remarks and am wondering why the delay in sending those remarks to you when Mr. Basen is obviously quite hot on the email trail. Does he need training in how to attach a document to an email? If he indeed wants to have a conversation, having you post his speech would further informed debate.

    Seriously though, his reaction to your Twittering of his presentation is really an ‘expectation of privacy’ issue – and having agreed to present to a group of people at a Canadian Institute Conference, he had no expectation of privacy whatsoever. As for his demand that you raise your objections/make your comments with/to him at the time – come off it. That would have turned you into a heckler. I am sure there are times in Mr. Basen’s journalistic career when he has been neither willing nor able (due to time constraints) to listen to everything someone he’s been interviewing has wanted to say.

  • I think Twitter can enhance your conference, especially if you follow somebody tweeting whilst being far away. For instance, I was watching the webcast while following the tweets marked with the conference hashtags. I explained this a while back here:

    Possibly you and I got it wrong. Maybe Ira Basen does not yet know Twitter or the microblogging technology so well. It does not give one the chance to develop one’s thoughts with as many words as a newspaper or blog might.

    Nevertheless, pr is not all bad and journalists often forget to tell us that much of their information came from a press release in the first place. On what basis/resource, facts or better research does Mr Basen base this claim:

    “… 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…”

    Neither citing research nor having first-hand user experience about microblogging but feeling qualified to publish such an opinion?

    Worst, it does not advance our dicussions.

    I am not amused, I had expected a bit more depth and substance.

  • I’m ready to declare a winner.


    Why am I coming out ahead? Because I wasn’t at the CndInst Conference. I wasn’t even paying attention to all the chatter on Twitter at the time. But when I got on the bus this morning, one of Joe’s tweets pointed me to this discussion, and a few hours later here it is, still awaiting my comment. And what a lively and valid discussion it is.

    All this MSM vs. social media nonsense is silly. Let’s everyone get over ourselves and move on. Neither are going away soon, and there is still plenty of potential for both if we stop thinking of them as enemies.

    “Journalists” have their processes, ethics and oversight, but media companies still have their bias too. As a consumer of information, I’m always making my own decisions about whether to trust the source, regardless of the media in question. Along the way, I’ve come to trust and respect many a blogger and journalist alike, and lost faith in many as well. The important thing is that now I have plenty of choice, and plenty of avenues to express my opinion as well. And I do. When I do, I understand that I leave myself open to being challenged, and as a responsible “social media guy,” I invite that debate.

    Joe, you were obviously well within your rights to challenge Mr. Basen’s statements, and the two of you are to be commended for airing it all out here. The fact that such discussion has occurred should serve as proof that you are indeed onto something with this whole idea of social media.

    Speaking directly to journalists: We understand that your competitive advantage is your ethical code, your research and your accurately cited sources. People respect what you do, and some still even consume your information through the traditional channels. For your own good though, you’d do well to open your eyes to the way information is currently exchanged, and focus your considerable professionalism and influence to join (and dominate!) that space while you still can. Railing against it will only bring your untimely demise.

  • They cant get along because there are no translators.

    MSM are traditional, old school, older, defined, doing things the way they’ve always been done. SocMed are flighty, aggressive, excited and easily distracted chasing the next new shiny tweet.

    Nobody can build a bridge to negotiate between the two. MSM is looking backwards, SocMed looking forward. They don’t even see each other.

    Until a generation has grown into MSM that was bred on SocMed enters the workforce and can act as a translator things wont change.

    Until SocMed slows down, picks a platform and looks over it’s shoulder to lend a hand, and MSM turns around to face the future and they work together, things won’t change.

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  • Of course the information produced by journalists ends up being of better quality than what you can find on most blogs and twitter feeds. Their advantages are considerable: resources, training, coherent ethics. That and the fact that this is their full-time job. I’m always uncomfortable when somebody comes up with the notion that “social media practitioners” can consistently compete with major media outlets. That only works if you think about journalism as being only eyewitness accounts or that media outlets are in fact propaganda machines for the rich and powerful. As PR professionals, we all know neither is true.

    Journalism provides the broad canvas influencing public opinion. Social media adds experiences, relationships, case studies, connectivity, and unverified anecdotes. To ignore one is to really miss out on something. I’m not sure it’s wise to try to make one too much like the other. Putting racing tires on a Volvo is not understanding what a Volvo is supposed to accomplish. Maybe trying to make the mainstream media more like social media is a mistake. It does feel at times that this whole ‘the media needs to change’ rant is only to make the point that the NYT is a dinosaur, while us agile mammals are the future.

    More ethics for bloggers and other social media? Sure, but since they (we?) don’t have the organizational cohesion journalists have, it remains a personal responsibility. Less effective.

    Sorry for the anonymity. Can’t be helped.

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  • MichelleCliffe

    I too come somewhere in the middle of this fascinating debate. For me, it comes down to etiquette and, like Ira, I am somewhat old fashioned in this regard. The tone of comments about Ira’s presentation was, in my mind, a little offside. They would have been framed differently and said differently if they were said to his face. Positive criticism is all good, so long as it is positive.

  • Hope you don’t mind if I add another comment here.
    For those of you who haven’t heard Ira’s Spin Cycle series you should know that it is pretty critical of mainstream media and wasn’t a PR bashing exercise. That is kind of an important point given some of critcism being unloaded on mainstream media by social media evangalists over the last few days.
    I also really have to take issue with the ongoing suggestions that the media mainstream is old school, older and somehow wedded to doing things the way they’ve always done. Gawd, far from it.
    Media may have been slow to use social media but only because they actually have to turn a profit. When a media outlet goes out of business people lose jobs. When a blogger packs up his keyboard the local economy doesn’t really notice too terribly much.
    However where they have found a way to maintain some profit margins, media is posting and broadcasting user generated comment, opened up forums, cruises Facebook for contacts and uses SM tools such as to get the job done.
    As for broadcast and print media being older , try to tell that to the senior staff now out of work in favour of cheaper younger staff. And while you don’t see the 21 year olds reporting from D.C , Ottawa or Iraq that isn’t an inherent bias – it just plain makes sense to put the experienced ones on the front line.
    As one of the other comment notes we all have our biases. Doesn’t matter where we are on the ‘net, in the media, or in PR. So get over ’em and listen to what everyone has to say.
    From where I sat at the conference what appeared to spark this was Ira being blunt about biases and that some social media was well, a bit useless. I also noted that his lack of PowerPoint was immediately branded ‘old school’. Really – I get PPeed to death at some conferences and don’t see PowerPoint as an indication of being part of the cutting edge. While it was suggested Ira was in lecture mode, some presentations are simply lectures with pictures.
    When presented with a well respected thoughtful and well travelled mainstream journalist I got the distinct impression that rather than try to bridge the gap, some people simply raised the drawbridge.
    As PR people ( which is who the conference was directed at after all ) we need to find a way to use ALL the tools at our disposal and show the money invested in all of those media is money well spent. Asking a CEO, Board, or people who donated to the charity to simply trust us , we know what we’re doing isn’t good enough.
    Yay for all points of view and yay for everyone who took time to comment here.

  • wow…gotta love the conversation that has unfolded here…firstly between Joe and Ira…and then all that of added to the stream. Let me say up front that I have a great deal of respect for Joe and Ira. As important I respect their opinions and the positions that they are putting forth. I don’t necessarily agree…but do respect.

    At #cdninst Molson presented on day one and we had an opportunity to listen and learn with members of the audience and other panelists. It was a great experience, thanks for everyone’s input. Ira’s presentation on the second day was a bit of a shift in context. He challenged the meaning and validity of social media (my word). It is obvious from his response to my question on whether PR pros and Journalists are equally as “threatened” that perhaps journalists are still seeing a greater threat to their livelihoods from social media than PR pros and practitioners who actually see social media as an opportunity to tell their story. Through telling this story we can build community, dialogue, relationships, connections, networks, referrals…and the list goes on. How many times in the past have you pitched stories to the media and have something quite different than your intended story show up ? Not that this is wrong…journalists are not there to tell our story word for word, they are there to spread a balanced portrayal of the news of the day with verified and validated facts and non biased. Ok…got that…so social media is really an opportunity for us to tell our story, in our words and if people are willing to engage and follow…great.

    Molson has also attempted to reach out to bloggers through two Brew 2.0 events. These events were intended to build relationships with bloggers. As Ira pointed out, this is no different that media relations that we have done with journalists in the past (and still do today). Ira did point out that there we a response to our Brew 2.0 event in Toronto. I have added more links below to other posts reviewing and reflecting on what Molson did with Brew 2.0. In fact we’re proud that the Society for New Communications Research actually awarded us and K&K an award for the blogger relations model that we have undertaken.

    What I really appreciate about social media is that we can engage in dialogue and conversation. There is an opportunity to monitor conversations relevant to each person’s or business’s own interest and engage in dialogue. This is a far cry from years ago when the article was written in the paper, spoken on the radio or TV and your only recourse was a letter to the editor. Social media allows open candid conversations. I have also found that when confronted on facts, people appreciate receiving a build on their story and welcome comments on their posts. Remembering of course that some people do have opinions and are can be somewhat inflexible or dug in on those opinions…surprise…our democratic right.

    Social media, and all that is offers in generating listening and conversation is core to one key pillar of our business model that Molson has embraced for over 222 years…”community”…and proud to play our part.

    OK…that’s it. Here’s what Tonia posted on Brew 2.0:

    Here’s what some others had to say about Brew 2.0. To be clear, these are the postive reflections…I can’t think of many negative ones other than what Ira pointed out…but love to hear of more if you find some:

    Cheers !

  • What an extraordinary conversation! This post and the subsequent comments reflect the very best qualities of social media. A discussion like this among so many informed people simply would not have been possible B.S.M. (Before Social Media). Ira is very persuasive on many points and so too are you Joe. In the end, traditional journalism’s conventions, rules, guidelines, editorial oversight etc. do give readers/viewers/listeners some comfort that a reporter’s story honours important principles intended to ensure some semblance of balance and perspective. Yet examples of biased, ill-informed, inaccurate, and distorted stories abound, either through ignorance or design. While citizen journalism is not governed by such time-honoured tenets, when we sift through the chaff in the blogosphere to get to the wheat, we’re rewarded by thoughtful, informed, and yes opinionated posts that spark conversation and deepen understanding. The difference is, we know in the social media space that we need to apply our own judgment, analysis and experience to what we read rather than just accepting it wholesale as the gospel. But I fear that consumers of mainstream media, often myself included, tend to embrace stories automatically as fair, accurate, complete and balanced, when often they are not. Provided consumers understand the pitfalls in this changing landscape and view stories through the appropriate lens, we have access to a much richer media environment filled with opportunities. Who knows what 2009 holds…

  • Elisa Wegenast

    This is an interesting discussion. As a current post-graduate PR student, the importance of getting into social media has become a hot topic in the classroom. I think sites like twitter can be very valuable for companies as a way to keep their “ear to the ground” on how their company, brand, products, etc. is being talked about. The point is the discussion will go on whether executives are paying attention or not. Better to tap into this potentially valuable resource. At least on twitter companies are given the opportunity to respond and interact with their consumers. This could result in audiences feeling more connected to the brand and company, knowing that they are tuned in and listening. I see it as a win-win.

    As I am still a student and not yet in the PR work world, I am keen to see how this debate will continue, and where we will be when I graduate. What I can say however is that from a student perspective we are being taught that if you’re not tapped into social media then you are falling behind. For myself, I understand that not everyone on twitter or other forms of social media always have something thought provoking to say. However, I do find it to be useful for such discussions as we are having now! It’s all about who you follow, if you want to be on it for dinner plans that is fine and totally possible. I find that it is useful for much more than that.

    I guess we will all just have to wait and see how social media evolves. The soon to be PR graduates are getting prepared for it to be a major player.



  • One of the more interesting parts of the discussion to date for me, still revolves around a seeming inherent mistrust of the media.
    Of course there are “examples of biased, ill-informed, inaccurate, and distorted stories” . What business, blogger, or PR person is right 100% of the time?
    As to whether such examples abound is definitely open for discussion. Is this view born of study and empirical data or strictly anecdotal or a gut feeling ? I was fortunate enough to be a contributing author on a paper soon to appear in Nature Biotechnology that started out with a very similar premise. Namely that media took a lot of science stories and either over-hyped or plain got ’em wrong. The result of the study however was quite the opposite. Mainstream media were surprisingly accurate.

    The “blogosphere” is an incredibly big place. Technorati is tracking something like 112 million blogs according to Wikipedia so we can only hope to sort out the wheat from the chaff in one tiny corner. Even that corner is chosen based on our bias, culture, profession and circle of friends. We should be careful about making any broad assumptions or generalisations, yet many people accept what they read on the ‘net as gospel.
    At the risk of repeating myself to those that have heard me at other conferences there are a LOT of people who are not connected to social media or anything close to it. Think of MY neighbours. I live only a 1 1/4 drive from Calgary. No high speed Internet is available and I will be planted in the back of my pasture before cable comes to my door. Even on 2-way satellite internet I can seldom stream audio, YouTube is a write-off most days, graphic heavy websites are frustrating, a podcast takes considerable time to download, and the community gets its information from the TV, weekly newspapers and hard copy publications.
    I’ve always maintained that social media, traditional media or plain old door-knocking are not either-or discussions. Choose ’em, mix-and-match-em or throw ’em all out and find something new. They all have a place.
    In his presentation I don’t think Ira ever suggested that one form or another end up on the chopping block yet I don’t think I’ve ever seen quite the reaction to one of his presentations. Could it be because he was an outsider? Worse yet one who challenged some assumptions ? Yet in the heartbeat of a Twitter the social media community suggested everything from him being old school, to being upset because the audience was talking back or they resented his editorializing.
    How terribly community-minded and social of us all.

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  • This is a really interesting example of new and old worlds colliding. While Twittering during a conference is the norm in some circles, it’s not the case everywhere. It will be interesting to see where things go as the new and old worlds integrate, since personalities are sometimes better suited to one or the other model.

    It’s really about the nature of conversation.

    * When the speaker is excluded from the conversation, it really does amount to a technophilic version of talking behind someone’s back. That’s the big problem here: Ira couldn’t see the tweets…
    * …in part presumably because he hasn’t chosen to embrace technology in that form. Is he at fault for that? Really hard to say.
    * In response to Ira’s point re. journalists not being able to simply state opinions without justification vs. bloggers having no such restrictions, esp. in the case of Twitter it’s because it’s very different. Journalists have a soapbox and a megaphone: my comments and your comments don’t appear suddently in the article we disagree with. So they must be held accountable. But with Twitter, if you say something unfounded in a conversation, six other people can point it out.

  • Fascinating discussion. The relationship between PR people and journalists will always be complicated. Sometimes its too chummy, other times too adversarial, but it’s a part of the flow of information in this world and isn’t likely to change.

    I’m a PR person with a journalism degree from Ryerson. As a PR guy, I’ve had media at major dailies ask me to dictate copy to them over the phone and publish quotes from me first and then phone me to ask me if “that was something I would have said”. I’ve had media knowingly publish rumour and anonymous-sourced stories without trying to get a confirmation from my organization. Fact is, I’m sure PR people have had as many disappointing experiences with media as media have had with them. It makes the world go ’round.

    As far as social media is concerned, Ira’s got the same questions that many of us have. How do media, PR people and citizens with access to a raft of self-publishing tools co-exist and make sense of the completely unfettered, unstructured and unedited flow of information we have to deal with on a real time basis?

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  • I have to go with Ira on this one.

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