Now that companies have less ability to control the media, they’re being forced to be more forthright about bad news. Mass firings, for example:
New York Times: Elon Musk, chief executive of the electric-car company Tesla Motors in San Carlos, Calif., said that he had no choice other than to blog about the Oct. 15 layoffs at the closely watched company — even though some employees had not yet been told they were losing their jobs.
Valleywag, a Silicon Valley gossip blog owned by Gawker Media, had already published the news, and it was being picked up by traditional media reporters, Mr. Musk said. “We had to say something to prevent articles being written that were not accurate.”
Elon’s diss aside, what’s really going on here is that the proliferation of alternative news sources and ways to get the word out have reduced the power of traditional media organisations and PR executives. Far from the death of newspapers being the death of journalism, we’ve actually moved to a world in which information flows more freely, without traditional “gatekeepers.” This is why, at SAI, we remain adamant about reporting things like exit polls and credible industry scuttlebutt: Our readers are adults, and we trust that they, like us, can make their own decisions about how to weight the information.
(In this vein, it was high comedy last night to watch the CNN analysts make refererences all night long to “the exit polls” while steadfastedly refusing to share them with viewers. The exit polls clearly informed the CNN analysts’ views of the proceedings–so why weren’t viewers given the same opportunity?).
At SAI, by the way, it has been interesting to watch companies go through the traditional PR steps to try to shape our coverage:
- Ignore us
- Be nice to us
- Threaten us
- Accuse us of stabbing them in the back (“We gave you access, and this is how you repay us??”)
These tactics work with traditional media and traditional source-channels, because access to top management is so critical to a news organisation’s gaining a competitive advantage over a handful of other competitors. In the new world, however, where there are thousands of potential outlets, some of the most valuable information we get comes from mid-level employees, who often pick up scuttlebutt long before the companies’ formal communications teams do.
We’re always happy to have relationships with senior managers: They make our coverage and analysis smarter and more complete. But if senior management refuses to talk to us, that’s fine, too. We’re doing just fine hearing from everyone else.
We’re glad to see companies waving the white flag and delivering the bad news themselves. Transparency is good. And we’re glad to see that–despite the anguished cries from newspapers about how, if they die, society will go down with them–journalism remains alive and well.
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