How win free media for your business – Part THREE (Press Releases)

In the THIRD post in this series on ‘how to win free media for your business’, we look at press releases.

Earlier we looked at the importance of thinking like the media, and there were also 15 pieces of advice to bear in mind when contacting the media.

A well written and target media release can be worth its weight in gold in terms of the free publicity and promotion it can provide for your business brand.

Be aware though that journalists may receive hundreds of media releases a week by email, so it’s important your message follows a recognisable structure and is easy to read (layout easy and clear with no typos and grammatical errors).

When I worked at Business News – a relatively small media business in the grand scheme of things – we received 1000 press releases a week, and very few (less than 10) probably ended up being a story.

Now, in my role running Startup News – an even smaller, niche publisher – I can tell you we receive several press releases a day, perhaps 50 a week, and only 2 or 3 become stories.

That’s because many of them are pretty rudimentary (this person has been appointed here or done that deal there) or are not targetted at the publication in mind (for example, Startup News only publishes stories on WA startups, so there’s no point sending us a press release about a Melbourne tech business with no connection to WA).

Faced with these odds, your media release needs to get to the point quickly, and have some degree of urgency.

The best ones will leave the impression that the media outlet needs to READ THIS NOW without resorting to click baity techniques like actually putting ‘READ ME NOW’ in the heading or subject line of course (!).

It’s fine line between appear authentic and having something to say without coming across as desperate.

Generally, an effective press release will have several elements to it:

  1. Inverted Pyramid – the most important information is at the top, in the headline, and first paragraph with supporting detail below. This will also be on the subject line of the email.
  2. First Impressions matter – most journos and editors do not read beyond the title (or the email’s subject line) and the first paragraph before they have decided to publish or not. It needs to be newsworthy. What’s new and interesting for their audience?
  3. Send by email – the universally accepted method of reaching media. The email itself should be short (no more than 2 paras with the main gist of the story and who is available for interviews and photos). The press release and photos (or links to photos) are an attachment to the email, in word format, not pdf, so the text can be copied and pasted. Ideally, the media could simply lift your release and publish it as is, or with minimal changes (except perhaps to make it even better.)
  4. Title your release ‘FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE’ in block capitals.
  5. An attention-grabbing HEADLINE then follows, with the BODY of the press release and CONTACT & ABOUT ‘XYZ Pty Ltd’ on the company at the bottom.
  6. Include QUOTATIONS from someone knowledgeable and authoritative (e.g. the CEO). It might be why this novel product is going to be useful to the industry.
  7. Clearly mark the end of the release with ‘ENDS’.
  8. Make the release no more than one page. Sentences should be no longer than 25 words. Every sentence starts a new paragraph. Make it as SHORT as possible to get the story across.

Here’s an example of a recent press release sent to Startup News…

PR1

Structure of a well laid out media release

Notice how the various elements of the release are clear and it has made it easy for the media to follow. This release has followed good practice to the letter, and it was no surprise that Startup News duly published the article, almost exactly as per the release. The main photo had also been supplied…

PR2

The resultant article mirrors the original release, almost word for word, including the headline and opening para.

What was then interesting was in follow up social media posting, there was acknowledgement of the article, from the person mentioned, and his friends, so the information reached an even broader audience…

PR3

Flow on effects of social media add to the reach.

That’s how to do it.

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How win free media for your business – Part TWO

In the first post, we set the scene. Media is a tough business and you have to put yourself in their shoes if you are going to understand how to approach them.

Below, there are 15 pieces of advice, that will help you win a nice steady stream of free media attention, which will strengthen your brand with your current and prospective clients, staff and investors…

Most media organisations like to post positive stories – not all journalists are looking for an axe to grind, but some are, so stay away from them.

There are some easy things you can do to increase the chances of your business being covered in a positive light, consistently…

  1. Have a MEDIA page on your website – here you will post your latest press releases, published news stories, clear links to people (or the person) inside your organisation that deals with media enquiries, and a library of logos, photos and images (in various media-friendly versions). Have press kits, backgrounders and case stories on your business. A good example of this is here: http://www.boundlss.com/press/ (simple, small AI business) or https://about.canva.com/press/ (large, well known business).
  2. Be AVAILABLE! Make yourself available to be interviewed over the phone or in person. Respond to media interviews, and act in a professional manner. (Treat journalists like clients, not pests!)
  3. Learn how to produce a well written professional MEDIA RELEASE. (The 3rd post in this series will deal with this.)
  4. Grab ATTENTION! There is a lot of clutter and too much information around, especially in media organisations under time pressure and with thin staffing levels. Cut through the clutter with a great headline and first paragraph. If you are talking about something very topical (war on waste, blockchain, AI, data analytics … ) then use that as your way in. Piggyback on existing stories that are already running well in media.
  5. Be INTERESTING! What’s unusual about your business or what you are doing? Give stats and trends. Give context.
  6. TEACH! Give something away in your story, something that people can take away and learn from. Something you have learned. Give in order to receive.
  7. Try to be real and HUMAN, and not overly rehearsed. You can be too media-trained. Think about what you are saying, but talk in a normal conversational way. Think about some nice snippy sound bites that the media could use and quote you on.
  8. Do your RESEARCH. Find out which journalists and online influencers write about your area, and get to know them. Reach out to them. Buy them a coffee. Show them what you are doing. Discover what stories they like to write about, their interests, and then feed them relevant stories over time. Listen to them. Thank them after the piece is published. Tweet the resultant article out mentioning their twitter handle.
  9. CUSTOMISE your message to the relevant media; in that way you can use the same basic story with more than one media outlet. Sometimes. But be careful, if you hock the exact same story around to all media, don’t be surprised if no one picks it up. Each media has their own audience, so you can change the message accordingly. Or sprinkle stories around different media over time (better).
  10. Become an AUTHORITY in your specialist area. Once you have had some media coverage, you may find the media comes to you for your thoughts. Great! This is free media you don’t even have to arrange beforehand, and it’s wonderful branding.
  11. FOLLOW UP! Just like the best sales people do. Don’t just smash out some press releases and hope events will take their course. They invariably won’t. You need to ring up and ask the journalist ‘Are you going to use the story? Would you like to arrange a time for a photo and interview?’ Get on the phone. Don’t hide behind a keyboard and just spam journos with emails. (The basic rule is: if you already have a good relationship with someone, email; if you don’t yet, pick up the phone.)
  12. Be REALISTIC. You may think you have the best thing since sliced bread, but the journo may not know you at all, or appreciate what you have developed. Building a media profile can take months and years. Not everything works. But if you persist, listen and learn, it will happen. Don’t be put off if you don’t get any media attention for a while.
  13. Use SOCIAL MEDIA. Be savvy. Pithy headlines that can be tweeted. If they are a play on words they may be shared well beyond your own networks. Think creatively. Follow journos on social media, twitter and LinkedIn especially. Remember to copy them in if the publish you.
  14. MULTIMEDIA. Can you do a 60 second video? A 10 second meme? Learning how to do this can make your message multiply many-fold.
  15. SHARE the coverage far and wide. When you do get covered, make sure you share this with all your networks. Print the article and frame it, display it in your boardroom or entry foyer for all to see (current and potential staff, clients, media, board members and investors…).

As in all things, persistence and patience wins.

Don’t do the above, and very little (if anything) will come to you. So don’t whinge that the media is ignoring if you do little yourself to make it happen.

The THIRD POST in this series will deal with Press Releases.

How to win free media for your business – Part ONE

These days we are faced with a wide range of media channels. More than ever before. It’s a minefield. But there are ways to cut through…

It’s a tough old business

Firstly, perception switch.

Think of things from the media’s point of view. Media has become a very tough business over the past decade or so, having undergone immense disruption and change. Many media organisations are running very thin indeed with very few resources.  Barely clinging on in fact. No one has been immune – everyone from the local newspaper, magazine, TV station, radio channels and every other form of media has been struggling for a shrinking pie.

If you want to get your message out via the media, you have to be far more subtle than merely bashing out a press release to the local paper (although that can still work, to a degree, if done correctly).

Some business owners are (understandably) a bit shy or nervous about gaining media attention, but if you research and then select the most appropriate journalists, control the interaction between yourselves and the media channel, and have a clear goal in mind, things need not be problematical.

It is fairly easy these days to gain positive media coverage if you know a few ‘tricks of the trade’. The ideal is to have a drip feed of positive stories about your business over time. This all adds to your brand and name recognition, which can be helpful in all kinds of ways.

Having an editorial about your business has about four times the value than a paid for promotional ad of the same size.

Remember, the media is not there to give you free promotion though.

Most of their business models rely on them gaining a significant readership in their local area or niche, then charging advertisers for publishing promotional messages to that audience.

The media understands all too well that businesses would love to circumvent their advertising models and get free exposure in their online and offline media, and at their events.

Therefore, be aware that your message should not be too ‘self-promotional’. It should be informational and targeted at the specific audience of the media in question.
Put yourself in their shoes.

Before you approach any media, make sure you have answered these questions:

  • Why is your story of interest to their readers?
  • What is the ‘angle’?
  • Is the story given exclusively to this media source, or is it for general release?
  • Why is this particular story relevant to this particular media source?
  • How can you help the media organisation towards their own goals?

Treat journalists like clients

With a little research, you can find out which writers, journalists and online influencers are relevant in each local media source (the daily newspaper, the business journal, the local free paper, various online news sites and blogs…)

Think about your local media contacts as if they are clients of yours. Contact them, take them out for a coffee or lunch. Send them a personally written Christmas card each year (yes, really.)

Ask them what kinds of stories they like to write about, and then, when the time is right, feed them this story. Don’t overdo it, but have enough stories and writers to keep you in the lime light over time.

A steady drip of positive news stories does wonders for your company’s credibility, brand awareness and positioning.

Plus your staff, shareholders, board, management team and clients will love it too. You will also find that this reputation will precede you, so that it will easier to attract higher quality staff, clients and investors as well.

It’s all ‘hidden’ to some degree, but it adds up and it is real.

Imagine someone (a potential client or employee or investor) researching your business online. What will they fund? If they discover a good deal of positive news stories written by independent media, this will only enhance your brand in their eyes.

Part Two in this series gives you 15 pieces of advice for approaching the media.

How Unlikely Squared Became the Norm

Sunshine and Roses: Hampton Court gardens last week.

It’s almost 30 years since I left the UK, and for the past 3 weeks I have visited family, friends, old haunts and new places while two unlikely events happened simultaneously – a heat wave that lasted two months (and counting) and a strong run by the plucky young English football team in the World Cup.

I had to remind my fellow travellers that England rarely has weather like this. The last time was 1976. England had not seen rain since May and there’d been over a month of temperatures in the high 20s and early 30s, which seemed hotter due to the perpetual mugginess.

Arriving from Australia, where no rain for months is the norm, you had to pinch yourself that this was England, not Perth, WA. English houses are simply not built for this heat – as it is so unusual – and the nights were quite uncomfortable. We were relieved when the gauge dropped to the early to mid-20s in our final week so we could sleep easier. Opening the window was the only answer as homes do not have air conditioning, but when it’s a muggy 24 degrees all night long there is no respite.

As the sun was up til 9.30 at night, it meant the days grew hotter as the afternoon wore on, with relative cool mornings making way to searing evenings.

Still, we were blessed. The parched parks and ovals were a reminder of the continual heat, and we could do anything and go anywhere.

A T20 game, whose tickets we had purchased months earlier in a fit of positive pique, was one of the highlights and a run feast took place before our eyes in a small county ground rock solid and perfect for batting. Who’d be a bowler? The team batting first put up a reasonable total, but the home team knocked it off with consummate ease and 19 balls to spare. In any normal summer, it would have been an even bet that the match would be affected by rain, if not abandoned altogether.

Once, back in the 1980s I organised 4 cricket matches in different parts of the country on consecutive days. Each one was rained off without a ball being bowled.

While this amazing weather was going on, and on, and on (we did not see a drop of rain, nay rarely a bank of clouds while we were there), the oft-maligned English football team had a strong run in the World Cup, which was being played in Russia.

By the time we landed in England from France, the team was in the knock out stages, but hadn’t won such a game in 12 years. Yet, they won two in a row, won their first ever penalty shoot-out, scored more goals than the 1966 winning team, with the captain scoring a hat trick in one game and securing the Golden Boot (scoring more goals than any other player in the tournament – one that included the likes of Neymar, Ronaldo and Messi).

The refreshing part was the team was one of the youngest and least experienced in the competition, and perennial defeats to the likes of Germany, Argentina or Brazil did not eventuate. In fact those teams did not make it past the group stages, round of 16 or quarter finals respectively. Italy and the Netherlands did not even qualify. It all had a weird unusual ring to it. Can this actually be happening?

England got to the semis and the final 4. Not bad for the 12th rated team in the world, and one whose names few of us knew when we landed. When we took off a few weeks later, we could name the entire team.

Despite scoring first, they were knocked out by the latest goal they had ever conceded in a World Cup game, towards the end of extra time. Their victors were the plucky, savvy and more experienced Croatia, itself a tiny nation of 4 million. A country that did not exist that last time England made the semis 28 years ago.

Meanwhile France – with the youngest squad – went on to win the thing. A team built on strong defence and incisive counter attack, with a 19 year old superstar, not even born when France last won in 1998. A team full of immigrants and different backgrounds. Vive la France! Liberté, égalité, fraternité. If ever we needed a team like this, the time was now.

During our holiday we also stayed in Paris and northern France. Walking around a small village one evening, we could hear the whoops of joy as their national team knocked the might of Argentina 4-3.

We were exiting a west end show in London at 10pm a week or so later when French supporters took over the Piccadilly Circus chanting about that night’s semi final win over close rivals Belgium.

Unlikely… Squared

And so two unlikely events – a sustained heatwave and World Cup run – occurred together and book ended our visit. It made for a quite barmy – and balmy – visit.

The combination of both did something else too…

Amid all the Brexit shenanigans and political divisiveness, England seemed to pull together. You could sense the pride of the country around their young football team. 28 million people – 84% of all those watching TV – tuned in to see the semi-final.

As the knock out stages stretched on for almost two weeks, there was plenty of time to get excited and positive about what the team was doing. English flags flew in every town we visited and hung out of car windows as we passed. The good weather seemed to add to people’s smiles and refreshing positivism.

A mate of mine managed to buy a ticket to the quarter final, and took his teenage son. The game was a 5 hour flight east of Moscow, itself a 3 hour flight from London. It was quite a trek, yet he was there Saturday night and back at work Monday morning.

While driving to a work site that morning, he pulled over from the road and somehow secured semi-final tickets for the Wednesday semi. So he left for Moscow again the next day. Thousands of people like him, who’d never been to – or thought of visiting – Russia found themselves there twice in one week, on a whim and a crazy once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

As England scored goals in those knockout games, beers were thrown sky high in a swirling sea of crazed excitement at public screens across the land. Walking through towns and villages, through market stalls and pubs, there was only one topic of conversation. People were humming the perennial fan tune ‘It’s Coming Home’, and everyone was discussing the manager’s waistcoats and steely reserve, or the relative merits of Kane, Alli or Sterling.

It’s great that something as simple as a spell of great weather and some soccer victories can pull a divided nation together, yet it can, and it felt great to – by more luck than judgement – be there amidst it all. I wonder what it would take to make this can happen a little more often.

The 3 drivers of digital marketing success, that most businesses don’t have

With Australian companies feeling the pressure of digital disruption – a ‘damburst‘ if you will – new research has found three key areas that companies successful at digital marketing have in common.

The research indicates that a clear strategy, team-wide digital literacy, and using data to shape narratives inside a company correlated strongly with the digital success of Australia’s highest-achieving brands.

According to the research…

  • 85% of Australian companies believe their organisation has been disrupted by digital;
  • 51% are “somewhat confident” in their ability to execute their digital marketing strategy;
  • Only 29% of companies were “highly confident” in their ability to execute their digital marketing strategy.

The most confident companies — labelled “Digital Achievers” in the report — are on average 59% more likely to have seen 20%+ revenue growth in the past 12 months, and 6.5 times less likely to have seen a headcount decline over the last 12 months.

Although the “Achievers” said they had more people and time to execute their strategy, there was no correlation with company size — meaning the key difference was that resources and time were being used more effectively.

As far as individual skills, the marketers surveyed feel the most confident in social media and email marketing and gave themselves the lowest marks in marketing automation and SEO.

The independent research was commissioned by the Australian-owned digital strategy agency, ntegrity, in partnership with McCrindle Research, as part of their annual research into the Australian digital marketing ecosystem. Researchers surveyed 319 Australian marketing professionals between January and April 2018.

It’s incredible isn’t it that the things that are most important to the success of an Australian business are the very factors that businesses are weak at. The tsunami of disruption that is coming down the pipe at all businesses is only growing in pace and veracity, yet people seem to be looking in the wrong direction. Heads in the sand.

Once the wave hits, as it will, and is, often you hear complaints from business sectors about how ‘unfair’ the competition is, or totally unrelated things are blamed, such as immigrants or trade deals or the number of seagulls on the pitch walking clockwise.

I suppose this breeds an industry of digital marketing agencies. Certainly, all those I know in this industry – who know what they are doing – are doing very well, thank you.

It’s going to be be interesting to see how this all pans out.

Leadership means leading, not turning a blind eye

A leader asks not commands, says ‘let’s go’ not ‘go’, develops people rather than orders people… a leader sets the tone, the culture, demonstrates the core values, which begets behaviour.

A leader can’t be everywhere, do everything. So it’s crucial that they communicate clearly what they want the organisation or team to do, what the goals are, how we are going to get there, while also listening and learning.

Perhaps their most important job is to select the best people and let them get on with it. Which does not mean you turn a blind eye to things, nor have no control. Quite the opposite.

Effective leaders know what’s going on, what’s happening, and how to judge and analyze. They walk around and listen. They engage. They are open and approachable. They ask good questions.

Bad culture

So when analyzing the recent failure of leadership among the Australian cricket team, one might ask how did it come to the point that they felt cheating was the answer?

When the “leadership group” (which seemed to be code for David Warner) decided to cheat, gets his young opening batsman colleague to cheat; when the captain asks ‘what are you two up to?’ (knowing its nefarious) and then says ‘I don’t wanna know’ then the culture has become one where winning (or the fear and perceived humiliation of losing) seems greater than the importance of playing the game within the rules.

There’s never any disgrace in playing hard and fair, and knowing you’ve done your best, yet always have things to improve on. Sometimes the opposition plays better as a team. You can’t win everything. No one does. Losing provides valuable lessons. Failure is knowing you could have performed better, and didn’t. That’s when you go away and put in the hard work.

Events like we have seen recently are not one off isolated incidents. It’s the result of a build up of an organizational and team culture. Many have argued that it stems from a humiliating defeat in Nov 2016 in Hobart against South Africa. Incidents and issues have grown since. The snarling and sledging have been on the rise.

Pushing the line between right and wrong, bending the rules as far as they can go, to get an edge, means that, unchecked, an event like this becomes inevitable.

When the leadership is so bereft of ideas that they resort to cheating to turn around a game, then the leadership has given up on leading.

Reap what you sow

And so the leaders and those directly involved have been stepped down. National disgrace has resulted. Tears of shame have been shed. The public humiliation has perhaps been far worse than losing a game of cricket. They have lost lucrative overseas contracts including the riches of the IPL. They will forever be known as cheats. It’s been a very public, global story.

Something tells me they are more ashamed of being caught out, than the actual things they did. This speaks volumes in itself.

Naturally, there’s been a backlash from supporters and those who cannot accept the sentences handed down. Or feel it’s a bit over the top. Mainly this has come from former players. QED.

No doubt, authorities wanted to stamp down on this and be seen to do so. They had to be seen to be doing something dramatic. A 12 month ban seems harsh, except there is little international cricket in the next 6 months anyway, and so all they miss is next summer’s home internationals. They will all be available for next year’s World Cup and Ashes in England. If they’d been made to miss that as well, then perhaps you could argue it was a strong punishment. But something tells me, Cricket Australia would like to be competitive in what are the two major prizes that only come around every 4 years – a world cup and winning the Ashes in England (the latter being something they’ve not done for what will be 18 years).

‘A little cheating’ is still cheating

While part of me sympathizes with the players involved, and the situation that drove them to take this action, I am someone who firmly believes that when you know you’ve edged the balled to the keeper, you walk. In the same way if you knocked the ball to any other fielder and they caught it, you’d walk.

I was stooped in the spirit of the game being as important as the laws of the game. HOW you played the game was the appeal, as much as winning or losing. Losing graciously, and winning graciously for that matter, was a life lesson.

I think everyone would agree that you’d look a bit stupid standing your ground if you smacked the ball directly to a fielder, who caught it, so why is a little nick (that you know happened) any different? Because you might get away with the latter, that’s why.

Exactly.

Push the boundaries between fairness, justice and law and you will then look to push them a little more, and a little more. The end result is sandpaper being taken onto the ground and being used to tamper with the ball to effect that damned illusive reverse swing, and who knows what else happened in the lead up to this that we don’t know about?

To me, not walking and ball tampering are both cheating, plain and simple. You are trying to get an illegal edge over the opposition, and cheat. It’s got nothing to do with how skillful you are with bat and ball.

A little cheating is still cheating. In the same way you can’t be ‘a little pregnant’ (you are either pregnant or not) it’s no defence to say it’s just a ‘little cheating’.

I also loathe sledging (repeated personal abuse of the opposition). Let the bat and ball do the talking. If you’re not winning with that, acknowledge the opposition played better. Shake their hand and have a beer with them after the game. Then go away and learn how to get better.

Aussie cricketing friends of mine cannot fathom my belief on walking (or sledging). They never walk, and if you do walk, you are weak. It’s part of the culture.

Precisely.

~~

“The Spirit of Cricket (from the MCC)

Cricket is a game that owes much of its unique appeal to the fact that it should be played not only within its Laws but also within the Spirit of the Game.

Any action which is seen to abuse this spirit causes injury to the game itself.

The major responsibility for ensuring the spirit of fair play rests with the captains…”

(Emphasis added.)

The fake fake news debate

Rather than put up an informed debate, all you need now do is roar ‘fake news!’ at anything you don’t like. How has it come to this?

Right off the bat let’s be clear what ‘fake news‘ is. It’s pure fabrication, invention and lies dressed up as a news story. It is intended to deceive. Anyone doing rudimentary fact-checking could expose the lies fairly easily.

Two things fake news is NOT…

  1. It’s not a new phenomenon. There are examples stretching back to Roman times and before. It is said Mark Anthony killed himself due misinformation spread about him by his opponents.
  2. It’s not news you don’t like. News you don’t like may make you feel uncomfortable. That’s OK. That’s how you learn new things. But that don’t make it fake.

New vs Opinion

It’s also important to distinguish between news and opinion.

The mainstream media publishes news (well researched and balanced facts) as well as opinion pieces (the author’s viewpoint).

Basically put, anyone is entitled to their own opinion, but no one is entitled to their own facts.

Facts are facts.

Put it another way, opinions are cheap, facts are expensive. Facts need checking. The truth is not always obvious.

Thank goodness for real journalists. I have worked with them. I know one when I see one. I can also spot a charlatan, dressing up their opinions as facts.

When we employ journalists, we are not interested in their opinion. We are interested in consuming a well thought out, clear statement of fact. The story. The main headline, the actors involved, and how it might impact on us and others.

At the same time, we are entertained by opinion writers. We are interested in their views. They present facts, but line up an argument, usually one way or the other. We may disagree, we may be convinced, we may already concur. But we should be made to think.

In life, we need facts in order to make decisions: where and whether to buy or sell a property and what type, or whether to start or sell or invest in a certain type of business or even who to vote for… perhaps our most important act.

Fundamentally, we need to distinguish what is fact, and what is opinion. In order to trust our media organisations, on which we base these decisions, we need to be comfortable that they are telling us the truth, as best they see it.

If we are reading opinion, this needs to be clear. We need to know the difference between this and news.

Authors should also provide disclaimers if their ‘news’ story was paid for by an interest group. That makes it an advertisement, not a news story. Not even an opinion.

Writers should also declare a personal interest. If they are writing about Telstra, they should mention they own Telstra shares if they do.

Why publish fake news?

Due to the long standing ‘trust’ in our mainstream news organisations, and their behaviour hitherto (exposing lying politicians, or scandals in the Church, or whatever) we take information written about someone or some issue in an editorial context as being more powerful than advertising (that is known to be ‘paid-for’ communication).

News has the whiff of gravitas (‘it’s there in black and white‘). It has been considered considered, prudent, weighty. Certain laws exist to protect someone being libelled in the press, and news organisations are careful to check facts before committing to pushing the publish button.

So, if you can dress up biassed opinion – or even downright lies – as news, you might be able to persuade people. If a story says something bad about a politician you don’t like, it can confirm your opinion. If it’s about someone you don’t like, you may find a way to ignore it, or even attack the source.

What if that story was totally bogus? A few years ago, the self-defense mechanisms in our democracy may have corrected the situation. The media organisation could be sued, or challenged to print a retraction, or provide compensation.

Times have changed. Fundamentally, and possibly irrevocably.

Over the past decade or so, journalism has been under attack. The business model of the news media companies has been disrupted. Many editors, journalists, sub editors and photo journalists have lost their jobs. A whole industry has been run almost to ground.

Few media organisations have found “the way” forward.

Maybe NY Times (which has put on 1M+ new subscribers since the last election), Financial Times and, locally, Business News have found a way forward by persuading subscribers to pay for their news and data content through paywalls. In this way they have aligned their information with their readers.

It’s a brave path forward, but perhaps the only one if we are to protect good journalism. If people value it, they’ll pay, If they pay, the media businesses survive. Trust is paramount. If paying subscribers feel they are being dished rubbish, they’ll not pay.

By the same token, if we expect news to be free, then that’s what we’ll end up with –  opinionistas who tell us what we want to hear. I’m a blogger, after all – this is my opinion. It ain’t news!

Faced with depleting revenues, some ad-model news media have had to run sensationalist headlines to cut through and make money. It’s a race to the bottom. Clickbait. A mug’s game. They are failing. It’s not the way forward. (In my opinion!)

Meanwhile, people get their news in all kinds of ways, many of them highly dubious. Few of them are actual news organisations.

Taking advantage of the situation

Among all this maelstrom you have politicians who now seem to get away with telling lies, knowingly, for effect. (‘He/she tell sit like it is. Says what we’re thinking.‘) I’m not going to name them, but you can guess to whom this refers.

[By the way, since when should we only listen to people who tell us what we are thinking? What’s the blooming point of that?!!]

Debate has now been dumbed down to Twitter rants and trolling. Sound bytes. Pre-staged photo opps and ‘door stops’. Lies, exposed fairly quickly by an exasperated media, are ignored as the entertainment moves on to the next distraction. No one takes responsibility, and political discourse has been damaged.

Worse still, our democracy is weakened. For if the people cannot gauge easily what is fact and what is plainly made up, as it whizzes past them on their Facebook feed (which itself is manipulated based on what you already like to see) then those same people can’t make informed decisions. People get elected on lies. And worse, the worst people could get elected to high office.

How should we respond?

The media has to call lies out, shine the light and expose lies when they are there. It’s their job, in a democracy, to do so. They speak truth to power. They clarify and explain.

But that’s not enoogh. They also have do a better job of getting people to pay for news. To subscribe. To make the case for this. And we, the consumers, need to front up and pay. Yes, I know you can get free news anywhere, but in the same way you have to pay for your shoes, food, water and shelter, you need to pay for your news.

The alternative? We’re living it everyday.

I’d prefer ‘power to the people’. Which is literally what the Greek word ‘democracy’ means.

The most important skill? Perception switch.

You’re rushing to a city meeting. You hate being late. The traffic lining up to enter the freeway this morning is particularly heavy, and cars are inching their way, preserving their position, as you all shuffle forwards.

At a traffic light, on red, you all stop. To your left side is a petrol station, from which some people are trying to exit and join the queue cityward or cross our lane to travel in the other direction. You pull up allowing plenty of space in front for the line of cars to cross over your two lanes or to move in front. The car on your inside lane decides to jump forward and claim its position ahead, lest anyone get in front, presumably. This actually gets the car no closer in time, as the light is still on red. All it does is make it harder for the line of cars trying to get out of the garage. Some of them manage to sneak around carefully, and then out past you to the other side, and away. A few minutes later, you are on green, and you all move forward together.

After traversing the city and finding the last available nearby car park spot, you realise why it’s still free – two tradie vans on each side of the spot have parked near or over the white line, leaving a sliver of space for your car.

‘Can I get my car in there?‘ you ponder, as you size it up. ‘If I don’t take this one, I’ll be late for my meeting.‘ So you try very carefully to squeeze in, and make it. Getting out of the car is hard. The driver door just about opens enough to extricate yourself, and as you rush to the ticketing machine you glance back and wonder if it was such a good idea taking that spot in the first place.

‘Will one of those vans scratch my car getting out? What if they leave and then someone else comes along and presumes I’m the guilty party in the way I parked?’

The sun is shining off the grey ticket machine window making it really hard to read the instructions. You see that it’s $4/hour, and the meeting is going to be 2 hours. The maximum for the day is $13, so you flick the time forward to the end of the meeting, plus 10 minutes or so, and the reading shows $21. This does not make sense, the maximum should be $13. ‘Agh well‘, you think, ‘No time to argue with a machine’. You tap the credit card, get out of there and up to the meeting. You make it just in time. Next time, leave earlier!

A few minutes into the meeting you realise you must have paid til 10.40pm at night, not morning, and that’s probably why you’ve overpaid. In a rush, and with the sun glare, you’d not noticed the PM on the display. And anyway, you made the meeting on time. Next time, breathe.

The meeting is now in full swing. 15 minutes in, the doors open and a latecomer enters. With a mumbled apology and sympathetic smiles around the room, they sit down, and the meeting continues. A few people have laptops open, but can be seen reading the agenda or relevant papers on them. Our latecomer fires up their laptop, and with cursory acknowledgement of the meeting itself and those speaking, begins to tap loudly on the keyboard. Why the tapping? Surely they are not just replying to emails or scanning social media. This same person continues to interject, talk at every opportunity, too long in most cases, and certainly too often. When they are not talking, they are tapping away loudly. It’s as if they are the only important person in the room, and only their time is valuable.

Towards the end of the meeting, in which 20 or so are in attendance, this person has probably spoken for about 40% of total airtime. They are oblivious to the chair who is trying to give everyone a turn, or the few with their fingers up looking to talk next. The latecomer butts in whenever they like ignoring the hints and quiet reprimands over their ever growing answers. Everyone else is too nice or self controlled to behave like this, and endures it. In a 2-hour meeting, each person speaks once, or maybe twice. You know who has spoken about 20 times.

The meeting ends, and you escape back to your car and a busy day of catch up. The car is unscathed. You had paid til 10.40pm after all. ‘Stupid boy‘, you think. Smiling ruefully you drive away, amazed at some peoples’ lack of self awareness, and inability to put themselves into the shoes of others.

Freedom means a free press that you pay for

Have a look around the world at the less democratic countries, and there you will see a neutered or government-controlled press.

I was in a South-East Asian country last year on assignment, and the ruling government managed to put one of the main independent newspapers out of business declaring it had not paid its correct amount of tax. Within days, the owners had either fled the country or were in police hands. The paper was duly shut down. All staff were out of work. Within a few more weeks, the same government ruled the opposition party was illegal, and it was duly shut down. There are elections this year, it’s a slam dunk for the ruling party. It’s a sham for democracy and the people.

Having worked at a media company, I know what it is like to be inside a news operation, striving every day to ensure the correct facts are published. Readers have a right to know what is going on, which is why they are drawn to news media. Often the ‘truth’ is ambiguous, out of reach, fuzzy. It takes hard work and time to uncover it, especially when some people would prefer it left uncovered.

Opinion is cheap. Truth is expensive.

News media, run well, will hold the government and powerful of the day to account, lest they run amok. Politicians may not like the freedoms and protections of the press, the intrusions into their lives this entails, but they understand in their hearts that this is important in a democracy.

Great travesties of justice have been exposed by a free press, be it the Vietnam War (so beautifully portrayed in ‘The Post’ movie), or Catholic abuses of children (2015’s ‘Spotlight’ movie), or Watergate (‘All the Presidents’ Men’). In fact, it is interesting that these David and Goliath investigatory battles all make for dramatic movies.

In many ways, the press has it hard. Not only can information be blurry, but with the leach of classified ad income to the internet, the newspaper industry has also lost its ‘rivers of gold’ revenue. Faced with declining income, they have been forced to cut back on editorial staff, the very life blood of any upstanding news organisation. The rush to ‘click bait’ and hits has seen a rush to the bottom, allied to the polarisation of media such that viewers only switch on to – or read stuff – that affirms their preconceived ideas. The ‘truth’ is now not so important. Readership, and holding on to your readers come what may, is all that matters.

Thomas Jefferson once famously said:  “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.

Or, as the supreme court famously ruled on the Pentagon Papers case, “The press is to serve the governed, not the governors.”

No wonder dictactors and coup leaders take over the TV and news organisations first. Putin has Russia Today, and Trump has Fox News. Anything else, is fake news.

With a weakened press (around the world), the splintering of media and consumers just seeking what they want to hear, media is in about as weak position as it as ever been.

In order to grab attention, media organisations scream sensationalist headlines in order to cut through the noise. The rush to publish, by less trained and lower paid  juniors, means the ‘lie is half way around the world before the truth has got its pants on‘ (as Winston Churchill once opined).

As one Congressman said a few years ago, “You are welcome to your own opinion, but you are not welcome to your own facts.

Facts are facts. Proven. Scientific. Sourced. Part of history. Full stop.

People are switching off ‘The News’ as it’s always about bombs and deaths and disasters (fear). Fear sells. But it also puts the audience off, who want to be informed without being alarmed all the time.

In many ways, our world is safer than ever. There are less wars, less deaths, less die from disease and hunger, yet you would not know this from the TV news.

Something has to be done to save media (real media, one that seeks truth and holds truth to power) before it goes down the gurgler forever. For that’s where it’s heading. Slowly, but surely, the news industry is dying. Journalist jobs are disappearing, and once gone, are not coming back. It’s a race to extinction in ever decreasing circles.

One ray of hope is in the recent example the New York Times. Harangued by the US President (as the ‘failing NY Times’), the paper has actually put on an extra million paying subscribers over the past year. They now have more than 3.5M, that’s double the number of just 2 years ago. Thank goodness too, as their print ad revenue continues to decline.

What’s happened here is interesting, for the more the President rails against the ‘fake news’ media organisations it does not like, the more people flock to them and support and pay for the very same mastheads. The more the President is seen to be telling untruths (over 2000 in this first year alone, reportedly), the more people want to know the truth from a reputable source.

Asking people to PAY for news is incredibly brave, as there are thousands of web sites out there that give away news for free. So to see the NY Times do so spectacularly well behind a paywall is encouraging not only for their future, but also for the future of the medium overall.

I worked for a news organisation that made the bold step to put up a paywall way back in 2002, and erect an even stricter one in 2013. The result? Traffic to the site ROSE five-fold over the past 4 years and subscription income became the largest single revenue source (larger than advertising or events). So it can be done.

I would therefore argue that a free press is essential in a democracy (the so-called ‘Fourth Estate’), and that the only way to ensure its survival is to create content that readers value and pay for. In this way democracy flourishes. For without an informed public, how are we going to know who to elect? The US are discovering this the hard way right now it would seem…

Take it from Eddie Izzard – Quality is more important than Speed

Over the break I read Eddie Izzard’s excellent ‘Believe Me, a memoir of love, death and jazz chickens‘. Bill Gates, of all people, had recommended it as a top read, and I thought ‘now why would a serious bloke like Mr Gates be into the autobiography of an English cross-dressing comedian?’

Then I reached page 306, which I quote from heavily below.

Eddie Izzard was born a year before me, and was packed off to an English  private boarding school aged 6 after his mother died suddenly of cancer. He grew up with the same TV shows and music as I remember from the early 70s, and went to uni around the same time (although he dropped out to pursue his dream of performing).

As a teenager, while still at school, he decided one day to take a bus and a pay a visit – uninvited – to Pinewood Studios, just west of London (where they made James Bond movies and the like) walking right through the side door and exploring around all day pretending to be busy and part of things.

During his ‘lost decade’ of the 1980s he took various failed shows up to Edinburgh Fringe, then spent a few years as a street performer before finally getting into stand up. He explored and created, and slowly honed his craft. He put on shows himself, producing them from scratch and co-writing inventive nonsense with friends. Most of it simply did not work, but slowly he found his own voice and style and confidence and audience.

From the 1990s his stand up act took off and then he made it into films and TV. Now, in his mid 50s, looking back, his advice for creating new business is crystal clear …

“When I was 25, the direction of my career suddenly became shaped by my ‘Field of Dreams’ rule – if you build it, they will come. ‘It’ being quality and imaginative shows.

“Previously, this had not been my thinking. Quality was not high on my list. Speed was. But who the hell cares if you get somewhere fast? The only person who cares is you. 

“If you could get somewhere faster, then you’d just have a lot of money, a big house, a fast car and a big cat. The individual is the one who wants to get somewhere quickly. It’s what you want when you’re young. At nineteen I thought I would begin to cut through within a few years, but this was not the case. At 25 I was racing to get somewhere fast but getting nowhere.

“So I turned the plan upside down: don’t get somewhere as fast as possible. Get somewhere as good as possible.

“No one ever says, ‘This piece of creative work is crap, but it was made in a couple of weeks, so let’s go check it out.’ Contrariwise, no one ever says, ‘Now, this piece of creative work took 10 years to make and a lot of care and attention – so I must check it out because it took so long to make.’

“There is something fun about a fast trajectory, someone’s career taking off quickly. It’s all about the wind in their sails. But in the end, you want your work to last. And to do that, your work must be good…

“(My career) took 12 years to appear, and to me it felt like a bloody eternity… there was something I had to learn. It was stamina. And it was also the idea of quality over speed.

There is an eternal truth in this passage.

Do your best work, not your quickest work. It might take time. In fact, if you’re doing something new, wacky and disruptive, it will definitely take time. More time than you’d like. But in the end, only the best work wins. Keep plugging away, find your audience, keep innovating.

This experience and advice has obvious crossover to business and particularly startups. I think I can see why Bill Gates admires Mr Izzard.