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Saturday, October 22, 2005

Public Relations in the Blog Environment

Doug Davidoff of Indianapolis has a comment on his blog, Straight Talk PR, about the nature of public relations and the blogosphere. He uses the recent experience of the News-Sentinel initiated by Derick Gingery's story in the Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly as a mini-case study.

As an afternoon newspaper, the Fort Wayne(Ind.) News Sentinel is prone to being the subject of rumors. Circulation is dropping, in many ways the Internet has replaced the need for afternoon newspapers (morning newspapers, watch out!), and newsrooms rarely keep secrets well.

Stir it all together and you get a business problem that becomes the subject of intense community interest, even as the community -- by any objective standard -- is in the process of rejecting the product, no matter how good it is. When I was at the Indianapolis News and before that at the Raleigh (N.C.) Times, both now-defunct afternoon dailies, I'd tell people, "I work for the smaller but better newspaper in town." And I believed it, which made their demise hard to take.

But this post is not so much about sentimentality toward newspapers. It's about the free-wheeling nature of the Internet, especially about the rise of blogs, and how your business can be under the microscope -- if not under attack -- before you know it.

In Fort Wayne, the story started with a no-attributed-sources story by the Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly speculating that the News-Sentinel would convert to a multi-media online publication. It was picked up in the blogosphere by two blogs (click for Fort Wayne Observed - click for Indiana Parley). The editorial page editor of the News-Sentinel entered a blog entry to loudly deny the stories. His counterpart at the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, while admittedly not privy to his competitor's plans, contributed a useful post on his own blog setting the whole matter in perspective vis-a-vis the newspaper industry nationally.

Doug Davidoff is an old acquaintance from his days as a Statehouse reporter. I had already been thinking about the public relations aspect of this when I sent an earlier comment to the (so far) anonymous blogger at TRIB. My thought was that, from an objective view, the News-Sentinel had engaged in some clumsy initial public relations in regards to the Gingery story. My comment, in part, from October 16:
Part of my purpose ... is to put some issues in a larger context. I think I did that in relation to the News-Sentinel story. [In fact] I think I did a better job of relating what the News-Sentinel is going through to larger trends within the newspaper industry and within Knight-Ridder than the N-S did.
Note: Straight Talk PR has been added to the Indiana Parley link list

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