Media In the Information Age Operates Under Different Rules
When Horace Mann spoke about education as the great equalizer, the 19th-century educational reformer dreamed of children of different backgrounds sitting side-by-side in classrooms across America. Though Mann’s vision still has a ways to go, the Internet has helped to deliver on his dream.
After all, what’s more egalitarian than the Internet?
When I was growing up, information was far more difficult to come by, not to mention way more expensive! A set of encyclopedias alone cost more than $1,000, which was certainly out of reach for many middle- and working-class families. Nowadays, you can’t even order a printed set. Encyclopedia Britannica stopped printing volumes in 2012.
But, for no more than the cost of a broadband connection, a student can go onto Wikipedia (or even the Encyclopedia Britannica website) and learn about turtles or Texas or Tutankhamun. The world’s information is, virtually. at everyone’s fingertips, and mostly for free. That’s a good thing.
However, with greater access to information comes added responsibility. Most of us know that you can’t just pull up an article on the web and trust its accuracy in the same way you’d trust an entry in one of those dusty encyclopedias.
Before the word “blogging” entered the American vocabulary, the media played with a fairly standard set of rules. Facts needed to be checked and rechecked, and forget about passing along rumors or half-truths. If a bad fact somehow slipped into a story, there were layers of oversight – editors, copy editors and fact checkers whose job was to weed out the good from the bad. Opinion and editorializing were limited to their own sections of the newspaper.
Of course, blogging is an entirely different animal. Some blogs are part of established media brands, essentially operating as an extension of the outlet. Other online-only sites have grown, admirably, into their own media empires – think Huffington Post or Gawker – and many more are the sole viewpoint and passion of the owner/writer/editor. If you can name it, there is a blog for it: food, parenting, politics, technology, real estate, music, fashion, gossip, travel…there is even a blog devoted to what people carry in their pockets.
Some blogs follow traditional journalistic standards while others have less stringent rules and are more apt to publish stories based on anonymous sources, unverified facts and rumors. Given the immediacy of blogging, these sites often have limited layers of oversight -- fewer editors to call foul. That’s not necessarily a bad thing if what you’re looking for is information on the fly, or opinions in real time.
But the crossover of standards between new media and old sometimes leads to murky waters. An established newspaper may decline to write a story due to lack of verifiable facts, but will cover it if a blog picks up first. The blog’s reporting becomes the news, rather than the event itself. Whether the intent is to bypass traditional gatekeepers or not, the information is being presented as credible.
For the most part, bloggers -- like traditional journalists -- are smart, savvy writers and reporters who take their jobs seriously. In today’s fast-moving media landscape, there is often no clear demarcation between a blogger and journalist. Someone who is blogging on Monday can become a journalist on Tuesday, and vice versa.
Like many journalists, bloggers carry a great deal of influence – think Perez Hilton, Lifehacker CEO/founder Gina Trapani and penny-stock trader Timothy Sykes.
Here are some important tips for working with bloggers, which fortunately also apply to pitching traditional reporters, editors and producers:
1. Research. Get to know the blogger. Do your research before reaching out. Read several of his or her posts to get to know the person’s writing style, area of coverage and interests.
2. Leverage social media. Connect with the blogger on various social media platforms such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram. Start a conversation, don’t just dive right into your pitch
3. Reference the blogger’s work. All reporters and bloggers appreciate when you reference their work when reaching out to them. It shows you are thoughtful and have allocated time to get to know who they are, what they cover, etc.
4. Look for a possible connection. Do you know anyone who is somehow connected to the blogger? Sometimes mentioning a common connection can be a help if you are making a request of a blogger.
5. Be upfront and straightforward. If you have a problem with a blog post, inform the blogger in a courteous and professional way. Typically, bloggers will take your request seriously and make a correction or retraction, if appropriate.
The way we get our news and information has changed a lot in the past 20 years. It’s important to know the rules, and the players, if you want to come out on top.
Related: Dealing With Bad Press