Monday, November 30, 2009

Content and Credibility Platform for Business Writing?

Two “C” Framework: Content and Credibility
This essay is built upon a relatively parsimonious model to explain the opportunity for the strengthening and advancement of professional communications education. It has been prepared, in part, for a course taught at the graduate level, to integrated marketing students. The objective of the essay is to engage the students in a dialogue on why communications is a critical factor in business and other organizations.

The model is offered to create a possible new “unique strategic position” (new USP) for that would integrate the best traditions of the School toward a newer substantive educational future.
The report asks the general question: Can the unique values and skills of academic journalism developed nearly 100 years ago be established, sustained and celebrated more formally in non-journalism based or non-news organizations?
The model shows what unique value journalism can offer by demonstrating its ability to produce viable content in all forms of new media channels. It also demonstrates how to produce credible content that will appeal to students and to the managers of their hiring organizations.
The essay examines the decline in traditional journalism content sources and explores how content can be provided to serve the public through an increasing number of non-journalism channels and organizations. The report notes the recent research surveys from the Pew Foundation and Edelman Communications and others that demonstrate the fluctuating and nearly incredible loss of credibility over the past decade in public and private institutions.
The report asks three specific, researchable questions:
1. Can the large volume of information content formerly produced by journalists be created by a new generation of educated professionals?
2. Can future information content strengthened with journalistic standards be offered in non-journalism/press organizations?
3. Can “credible content” become an educational goal for a non-news degree?

The logic for new journalistic laws applied in non-journalistic organizations derives from Sir Isaac Asminov’s extraordinarily logical “First of law of Robots”. Introduced in his 1942 short story "Runaround", the “Laws”:
1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2. A robot must obey any orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

An alternative set of laws may be established:

Now, the First Law of the New Degree (with apologies to Isaac Asimov)
#1. An organizational journalist may not actively provide content that is not credible or through inaction allow content that is not credible to be communicated.
#2. An organizational journalist must adhere to the policies of their organization and orders except where such policies and orders would conflict with the first law.
#3. An organizational journalist must protect his or her own journalistic reputation as long as such protection does not conflict with the first or second law
First “C”: Content
The first issue of “who will provide content” is a contemporary issue that is argued by surviving members of the press, by researchers in the automated delivery of journalism, by journalism educators and by investors in new media systems.
For example, the well publicized “test” announced October 16 2009 by the Chicago Tribune of the value of the AP wire service, the sharing of stories and content across an Ohio network of newspapers and media as suggest that content supply and demand are in flux(Owen Youngman). If a precipitous decline in the numbers of traditional news hunters and gatherers means a relative decline in content; then new sources for news content, information and even entertainment content will have to be developed, staffed and supported.
The new content may be needed for the rapidly increasing numbers of newer channels of communications. However, while traditional journalistic channels are dying in some countries, they are growing rapidly in others such as China. The growth and demand for content includes the growth of advertising and public relations to feed the dragon...
Whether traditional journalism is dying or just changing in some economies, the demand for original content and new communication pipelines may be expected to outstrip the ability of even traditional journalistic content providers to have created and disseminated information. Journalism has always adapted to the demand for information by expanding it sources, using websites as sources and relying on other professionals for information.

Journalism has always been an experimenter in new media as has public relationsTechnology Shifts
• From broadsheets, to tabloid to newspapers and back to tabloid
• From paper to computer screens to digital readers
• From print to electronic to digital
• From print to sound to video to digital forms
• From community to national to global and back to community
A somewhat useful search of Google for November 4, 2009 locates 167,000 searches for the phrase “who will provide content”. The more serious uses of the phrase and the concept of content are identified in two following examples that 1. "operationalize" journalism as the professional provider of content and 2. "operationalize" public relations and corporate communications as professional careers providing content for multiple stakeholder organizations. . From a mirror perspective both fields have served the public and their audiences with credible communication standards.
Paul Gillin wrote about the future of journalism in a world the role of journalists will be substantially pared: “For one thing, the craft of journalism will evolve to include far more aggregation and organization than it has in the past. Editors will assemble their reports from a vast library of resources located across the Internet. Information will come from paid staff writers, others from freelancers and still more from reports and opinions published by independent third parties. Editors will still have a critical role, but their value will increasingly be in assembling and organizing information for readers who don’t have the time to sort through the vast Web”.
The future of the creation and dissemination of content was also described by Gillian under the title which parallels the work of this report as “How the Coming Newspaper Industry Collapse Will Reinvent Journalism”
Gillian wrote that “Editorial content is outsourced to an army of individual enthusiasts, former journalists working for a wide range of organizations and bloggers who find interesting information on the Web or original information from organizations and feed it to the site operators. Editorial expenses, which account for about a third of the operating costs of a daily newspaper, are practically zero”.
What Gillian misses in both his creative predictions is the logical placement of traditional journalists and new journalists into a wide range of organizations from hospitals, to NGOs, to churches, to government and politics to the largest potential content provider - business. His “third party” journalists may be former journalists and new crops of young journalist able and willing to deliver content from their catbird seat in many legitimate organizations with huge quantities of digital information to share for free. His editors in surviving journalistic pipelines may be charged with determining the credibility of the content of the wider and wider range of content providers (rather than simply tossing the past high percent of public relations generated content.
The content provider issue is on-going. Even the decline of reporting on business by the press was illustrated by David Carr’s November 1 and 2, 2009 stories in the New York Times:
“Fortune magazine had already cut back to 18 issues a year from 25 and this week will be whacking anew at staff along with other Time Inc. magazines. BusinessWeek was sold for parts to Bloomberg a few weeks ago.”
“Instead, Forbes, a magazine that sells a beau idéal of capitalism, announced last week that it was cutting a quarter of its already decimated staff. The Wall Street Journal’s Boston bureau — historically a hothouse of game-changing business coverage — is being closed.”,
A practical example may also suggest that “assisted” traditional media 2009 is an important trend for public relations. . Lindsey Miller reporting for a PR newsletter (Ragan) notes that the shortage of journalists in traditional media may have opened opportunities for PR:
‘While you’ve been off discovering the latest trends in social media, your local newspapers, TV, and radio stations have been laying people off. That puts you, the corporate communicator, in line to give them an extra hand while getting the exposure you need.
“They (TV and newspapers) don't have any reporters anymore,” said Rhonda Mann, Beth Israel’s director of marketing communications, at the recent Mayo Clinic-Ragan Social Media Summit. “In Boston, everyone has laid off writing staff, but they still have columns to fill or airtime to fill, and they need content.”
Mann has used that reality to her advantage: She’s given stations much-needed health content in return for the hospital’s name mentioned on the show. Mann knew that Boston’s Fox affiliate cut almost all of its morning show writers but still had a four-hour morning show to fill… “They’re looking for good health content. There’s a need for health because a lot of the first people laid off covered a beat, health in particular,” Mann said.’
The diminished source of traditional journalism content could be augmented with content information from NGOs, healthcare, government, business, religion, military, education, investors, communities, and many serious issue related organizations. The challenge does not appear to be our society’s ability to simply provide content. The credibility of organizational content may be a greater challenge.
It is clear that content is of important value to the future of our society. The source of the content may widely fluctuate from traditional sources lead by the press and journalists, but providing content is not enough.
The future of meaningful content provided by professional sources depends not just on its distribution but its credibility. It may be clear that journalism can provide content. The challenge that the Asimovian rules state at the beginning of the report is to provide both content and credibility

Second “C”: Credibility
In the past decade most of our cherished institutions have lost their credibility as defined by trust (Edelman Trust Barometer) or according to the public view (Pew Research). There are a number of views of the importance of the survival of the same set of organizations whether they 1. challenge the public’s trust in key institutions and demand new communications and behavior, 2. open doors for Medill students and faculty to apply journalistic values and skills in a wider range of stakeholder organizations and 3. constitute a shift in the power of new “estates” beyond the simpler 4th estate model where credible content is needed to reestablish the credibility of our basic institutions. The institutions and common controversial issues include:
• Religion (Catholic priest behavior, Christian fundamentalism politics),
• Government, (sexual behavior of members of Congress and President Clinton,
• Employees (unemployment, entitlement values)
• Consumers (economic failures, housing crisis)
• Investors (Wall Street, executive compensation, fraud)
• Labor (automotive industry, retraining)
• Healthcare (national healthcare debate, fraud)
• Media (accuracy, Pew studies of trust)
• Universities (public/private school tuition raises, clout, Innocence Project)
• Arts (MCA board donation controversy in Chicago, economic failure of theaters)
• NGOs (highest ratings)
• Others

For over a decade the Edelman Communications agency has produced the Edelman Trustbarometer. The reliable research global surveys have established strong metrics for following the “ups and downs” of the public’s faith in a wide range of institutions. For example in July 2009 Edelman reported that 48% of U.S. respondents were affirmative on the question of “How much do you trust business to do what is right?” While the number suggests that there is great room to improve it was a 12% increase over the number reported only 6 months prior. The numbers for Government were 30% in January and 42% in July for the same question. NGOs, on the other hand, scored the highest with young and older members of the world public. The work is worth greater reporting detail. (see charts and

Another series of well known and substantial surveys from the Pew Research Center confirms the general premise of this report: “Americans express increasingly negative views of a wide range of major institutions, reflecting strong discontent with national conditions (October 25, 1 2005). The series of studies are naturally more policy oriented. They confirm, again, the general decline in what can be translated to represent a precipitous loss of credibility in our institutions (stakeholders).

The data (appendix) raises an important question about how to improve the public’s view of a wide range of organizations. Called by a range of terms depending on the viewer these stakeholders, organizations, institutions and even “estates” are critical to the professional career future of university students, teachers, administrators and staff.
Some observers consider the loss of credibility* or trust as merely a “PR” problem. The statement is like the proclamation of a mining official attributing a labor strike and threats of death to both the management and labor and gun shots as a “PR problem” (Fortune magazine over 30 years ago).
A more recent link to a story on Medellin Columbia was titled: Aint No Way to Go: Just a PR Problem
But Medellin isn't just any beautiful city. It is variously known as the world's "murder capital," "cocaine capital," and "kidnap capital.
Obviously, these institutions have more serious issues. It might be naïve, but even the most outspoken critic of public relations can hardly logically blame a single professional field for the errors in judgment or corruption of the leadership of many of the world’s leading institutions (so, it might be very naïve). However, academic and practitioner public relations professionals still realize that the acronym PR is not the most popular or accepted professional term. The legally required use of the words “public information” rather than PR (U.S. federal government), strategic communications (Columbia School of Continuing Education), public affairs (YUM! Brands, Abbott) is tantamount to disavowal of the term public relations (PRSA).
Not all authors or organizations in the field have denied their roots. The field of public relations is defined by Caywood as “the profitable integration of an organization’s new and continuing relationships with stakeholders including customers by managing all communication contacts with the organization that create and protect the brand and reputation of the organization:. “Caywood, 1997 (Kindle Edition 2009) and “Public relations helps an organization and its publics
adapt mutually to each other.” 2009,)...
Clearly the value that PR proffers is to build two and multiple-way relationships between key institutional stakeholders such as: consumers, NGOs, employees, investors, community, government, press, religion, labor, competitors, suppliers, education and others (See Caywood in Calder, 2008 and Caywood 1997.) The stakeholder illustration below lists the range of stakeholder organizations that may have a “stake” in the success or failure of universities' offering a new degree. The list can be expanded to include departments and many more organizations.

Public relations like marketing, law and community organizing are often criticized for their advocacy of a single (one-way) point of view. However, the research and values of modern public relations and organizational communications has established the honest broker, exchange, credible, ethical and two-way and mutual exchange nature of the relationship. (Grunig et al. 1992 Excellence).

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