Newsjacking, Greed, Guns and Football is Good – Plus 9 Other Big Lies PR People Tell Themselves
Two very powerful things happened in our society this last week - specifically, a theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado that left 12 dead and over 60 injured at a Batman movie opening and the Penn State NCAA penalty announcement for apparent pedophile abuses against children (and subsequent apparent coverup by University personnel).
Where do I start? Let’s start at the beginning…
I want to touch on some of the lines I read, hear, and otherwise experience when discussing media, PR, journalism, advertising, and social media. I rarely agree with these statements but I certainly understand, a little bit at least, why people say them. I stand here, my heart in my hand, pleading with you to reconsider your approach if these truisms pass over your lips any time soon.
#1 – Newsjacking (greed, guns, football, insert X) is good – as an unquestionable article of faith
I follow (and write about) headlines, I work toward my own personal financial enrichment, I own a 12 gauge Remington 1100 shotgun, and I watch the Superbowl. I am not saying that any of that is wrong.
What I am saying is that we can overdo this all in the name of our own egos and agendas. The flood of PR articles (and other industry commenting) immediately and aggressively piggybacking on to the Aurora theater shootings and the Penn State penalty announcement maelstrom is just too much.
It’s one thing to offer instructional industry commentary that is a relevant analysis and thoughtful review after a respectful pause for emotional reflection, but the pile on effect of immediate newsjacking is nasty. Hell, even the entertainment industry – an industry not particularly known for demonstrated restraint – held off on Dark Knight opening festivities to show some respect for the lives directly affected by this horrific event. Can we? Should we?
#2 – Everybody’s doing it – why shouldn’t we?
My mother’s face flashes in front of my eyes when I see this, with her mouth whispering something about “If Johnny jumped off a cliff, would you?”. Doesn’t yours? Do I actually need to say anything else here?
#3 – It’s “human nature” to crave violence, enjoy others’ pain, rubberneck at disasters – we’re giving the people what they want
I call total BS on this one and it’s one that especially irks me. First, most people’s sample size (across modern cultures but also through time across the entire swath of human existence) is too darned small to even come close to scientific proof levels to determine an anecdote is true for everyone. Second, the whole point of being civilized is to work past our basest nature and be better. Third, science has disproven many of the social truisms that conventional minded people (know any of those in PR and journalism?) spout as fact. Last, that is just not a sufficient reason to do something stupid or mean.
#4 – If they are that stupid, they deserve to be screwed (manipulated, fooled, hoodwinked)
Speaking of stupid, here ya go. Deserve? No, they don’t. The less educated, ignorant, gullible, and disadvantaged deserve special care, not neglect and disdain. When we pander to stupidity, we reinforce it. When we take advantage of our position and power, we are bound to step on someone. We are likely to release information prematurely about a suspect that isn’t accurate. We will wander painfully close to making up a story under the guise of breaking news. Not cool, IMO.
Face it – we are ninja skilled at persuasion and verbal slight of hand. We know how to pull heart strings. We know how to spin a story. When we use the Force for good, we accomplish a lot. We can also wreck havoc when we go to the Dark Side (I mean the Star Wars version, not the comic satire one). Meaning to mislead and then condemning the “morons” who bought your story hook, line, and sinker is more than a little duplicitous. Loathing your “publics” is not a professional position worth defending.
But, more importantly, ultimately we are also our brother’s keeper. A juicy media feeding frenzy does not change that. No one deserves to be screwed, especially the ones who can’t defend themselves. We can do better than that.
#5 – Reporting it doesn’t make it happen
In this day and age, media and PR must own up to their role in stoking the flames. How and when you report things does, in fact, influence what happens. You are not an objective bystander and you don’t get to pretend you are. Cut it out.
#6 – It’s not our place to say what’s right or wrong
In a self-regulated industry, that is exactly our place. What we speak up about, what we stand for, what we teach our interns, what we behaviorally model to our clients and colleagues, and what we do when we walk our walk directly influences the state of our industry. Tag, you’re it – you’re responsible.
#7 – If we didn’t report it, someone else would, so we might as well
So what? Public shunning is a viable answer to uncivilized behavior. I am not convinced terrorism, in its modern reiteration, would even exist if we weren’t so darned compulsive about keeping up with the Jones. A fire without fuel burns out. There are some circumstances where sucking the oxygen out of the room is the best choice. This week highlighted some of those circumstances.
#8 – Why should the fans suffer?
First, “the fans” are not necessarily innocent, if you take a holistic look at an eco-system. Every moving piece contributes to the problem. In the Penn State situation, the rabid environment that fans supported was part of what drove the university to want to cover up what was going on. No, fans might not be personally responsible, but they aren’t innocent.
Why else could we reason that it’s ok for fans to suffer? Two simple words – peer pressure. If the people who enjoy the benefits of an organization have to suffer through the missteps of them, they will take action to ensure it doesn’t happen again. Integrity doesn’t happen because nobody gives a flip – it happens because they care a lot. Fans can fix this and they should (see #6).
#9 – It’s how it’s always been – I’m just following orders, doing my job, just a cog in the Wheel, a squirrel chasing a nut, a…whatever…
Always? Really? And, even if it has, is that reason enough to continue? Me thinks not. Following orders does not remove personal responsibility.
#10 – Lighten up – 100 years from now, who cares – none of this will matter
The grandkids of our grandkids’ grandkids are here right now – they are in the faces of the youth who watch what we do day in, day out. For every time you’ve condemned “kids these days” for their lack of morals and sense of entitlement, there is someone waiting in the mirror culpable for the situation that needs to answer back – YOU.
Our priorities come alive in our children and these children will bring forward what we teach them. If you don’t think the future begins now, you haven’t been paying attention.
So, what do you think? Can we simply say that greed for profit – the speed at which we rush to report news, the hyperbole we use to garner our piece of the attention, the share we feverishly work to grab in the marketplace – is a sufficient reason to always push ahead with a story? Is winning a football game really so important that we ignore the abuse of children and remain silent (or pretend that our own motivations had no play in it)? Does having a gun mean we have to take aim and pull the trigger? Is chasing the headlines and popping out stories at lightening speed to squeeze every little drop of publicity out of social disasters and tragedies an honorable pursuit? Are we able to sleep at night knowing that we gave it our all for a scoop, without regard to our behavior’s impact on the impressionable minds that surround us?
What say ye?