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Category Archives: Journalism

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Radio Boston’s Meghna Chakrabarti on Difficult Stories, Great Questions and the Art of Listening

The day I decided I wanted to meet Meghna Chakrabarti, co-host of WBUR’s Radio Boston, I was driving home while we awaited the Tsarnaev verdict. Meghna was interviewing Tina Packer, author of “Women of Will,” a new book about the women in Shakespeare. Near the end of the piece, Tina was describing how Shakespeare found a way to communicate the complex range of human experience through his female characters. She said of emotion, “…Unless you can get out of linear revenge thinking, unless you can actually shift this idea of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, but you really can shift it and say I will not be the same as the person who perpetrated these horrors on me. And that means creative thinking and love.”

Tina paused a bit here (around 12:10 on the audio). I was sitting in my car at a red light in front of Whole Foods and all of the sudden I was paying close attention as Meghna asked, “Tina Packer, if I may say, you caught me off guard just now. You have some profound feelings about this…Why the tears?” To this Tina responded, “I was just thinking of the trial that’s going on in Boston right now and how it’s about revenge – what they did is about revenge and what we’re about to do is revenge – and how do we get out of it?”

As my own tears flowed and I moved through the light that had turned green without me noticing, I kept wondering why Meghna decided to ask Tina that all-important question that got to the heart – the complexity – of the issue on everyone’s minds even though it was disconnected from the story. I wanted to learn more about how Meghna brings out the complex emotions that transform news stories into human stories, so I asked her to meet up. And she graciously agreed. What follows is an edited version of our conversation.

InkHouse: What made you ask Tina Packer about what choked her up?

Meghna: Tina was in the studio and I could see that she was feeling something deeply emotional. She took a deep breath and looked up as she was trying to speak. And I thought, I’m going to go for it because something is happening. So I asked why the tears.


InkHouse: Yes, but not everyone is capable of leaning into something like that in the moment. How do you make yourself present enough to get to the good story?

Meghna: We try to get as many interviewees into the studio as possible.

Nothing replaces being in the same space as the person. Then it’s about focused listening. It’s about paying attention. An interview is only as good as the effort and energy that the interviewer puts into actually listening.


InkHouse: During times like this, how do you make a judgment call about when to throw out all of the prepared questions and go with the moment?

Meghna: The studio is very busy. Every host has two screens and lots of papers. On one screen I have Twitter going and on another my internal scripting system. When we’re taking phone calls there is another screen with the incoming calls. In other words, there is a lot of visual distraction, along with the production staff talking in your ear. It’s the worst possible environment for paying attention.

Of the conversations that have really mattered, I stopped looking at the other stuff. The key for the true professionals and masters in the craft is to prepare, prepare, prepare. You must organize your questions and do the background research. Then you put it in your brain and you have to find the confidence that it will be in your soul and your mind so you can put all of the paper down.


InkHouse: How do you center yourself enough to get into that place in the middle of so many distractions?

Meghna: I’m a big believer in mindfulness and walking. I get out of the office I take a coffee walk at 10 a.m. and around 2 p.m. for 10 minutes on most days. Just the physical engagement of my body moving and walking is clearing.


InkHouse: How do you find the stories you want to air?

Meghna: We have a multi-pronged mission so if something’s in the news we have to cover it, but it’s also about people, ideas and conversation. On the people front, we look for those with the unique ideas. The person might have one tiny quote in a Boston Globe story and we’ll call them and see if they have other interesting things to say. Books are also a major driver. Also with more frequency, it’s that I was somewhere and met someone and asked them to come on. You need to be part of your community.


InkHouse: How do you manage to dig through the chaos of social media?

Meghna: As technology becomes a force, it becomes the journalist’s job to think like a detective and researcher. It’s content curation: applying editorial standards to cut through the noise. The answer to these issues is still old-fashioned journalism. You get on the phone. Google does not have everything. Technology is just the tool.


InkHouse: In this so-called “attention economy,” how do you navigate the needs for clicks with the needs for quality reporting?

Meghna: We’re seeing the merging of value between two different poles. There are two types of news for us. On one hand, there is breaking news like the Supreme Court legalizing gay marriage. On the other is timeless content: that’s the Tina Packer conversation.

You have to do both. We’re seeing consumers of the media being savvy enough to switch between these two poles. They take the now when they want it and they take the timeless when they want it. It’s the vast middle ground where it’s tough.

The grab for attention from the BuzzFeeds of the world does have an impact. We’re in competition for people’s attention. First, how do we grab it and then how do we hold it? BuzzFeed does a good job at grabbing it. The gold standard will be for those who can grab it and hold it. On the grabbing part, we’ve had to rethink headlines and lead-ins in a very beneficial way. Technology is really helping us now though. Radio has always had a metrics problem and for the first time we can measure when people leave a program.

However, there are story-telling tenets that hold. Once you grab people with a BuzzFeed-like list, a great story, powerful narrative, or tough, courageous, and insightful interview will hold people. That’s always been true, and it remains true today.


InkHouse: What was the most difficult or interesting story you’ve told recently?

Meghna: I’ll give you two.

1. Before the Tsanaev jury chose the death penalty we talked to a juror from the Timothy McVey trial (he was on trial for the attack that killed 168 people, including 19 children). McVey’s was the last federal jury to give the death penalty until now. We looked back at the history of how the government’s approach to terrorism trials has changed. It was difficult because I wanted him to tell us what it was like sitting on that jury. I wanted to know what questions he asked himself and what went through his mind when he considered this ultimate punishment that he had to choose on behalf of the people. The closest he came was to say that it should stay behind closed doors. He said that he’d been in Vietnam and never thought he’d see anything worse, and he had in that courtroom.

2.  Every conversation with a politician is hard. No matter what you do, it’s difficult to have an honest and meaningful conversation. Even politicians who are generally open and honest can suddenly find themselves held back by institutional barriers to transparency.


I could have spoken to Meghna for a few more hours, but the Supreme Court had just announced its ruling on marriage equality. We walked back toward the WBUR studio and as she turned to walk up to the business of reporting on a day that would turn into one of the most newsworthy of the year – marriage equality, Obama’s eulogy in Charleston and a manhunt for escaped convicts – one takeaway from our discussion stayed in my mind. At some point in our discussion, she stopped and said this, “Mindfulness is the answer to every question you could ask me.”

Listen to Meghna daily at 3 p.m. on Radio Boston and online anytime.

Read more from Beth Monaghan

InkHouse Journalists Corner: Andrew Ryan of the Boston Globe on Whitey Bulger and the Best PR People

We had a welcome visitor to InkHouse recently – Boston Globe City Hall reporter Andrew Ryan. Ryan, who’s worked at the Globe since 2006, was one of the first online-only reporters at the Globe when it was transitioning from print-only to the digital-print hybrid that it is today. Before joining the Globe, Ryan wrote for the Associated Press in Boston, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale, The Day in New London, Conn., and the Highbridge Horizon in the Bronx.

Ryan talked with InkHouse in our offices about the competitive news landscape in Boston, what makes a good PR person, and that time he tweeted from the courtroom about fugitive gangster Whitey Bulger. (The responses are edited for brevity)

Who are your biggest news competitors? In the past, the Globe’s competition was more cut-and-dried: we competed mainly against the Boston Herald. Nowadays, it’s a fractured news landscape and the Globe and compete against many other outlets including the Herald, the New York Times, Statehouse News, public radio stations such as WBUR and WGBH, and even Twitter.

How useful is Twitter in your job? Twitter can very useful. When Whitey Bulger was arrested and brought back to federal court in Massachusetts, there were no cameras or microphones or phone calls allowed so my job was to report the court proceedings as they happened on Twitter. The downside is, Twitter can be an echo chamber. Just a few people can make a lot of noise and it can be hard to measure what the popular sentiment really is. So it can be misleading.

What impact is video having? It’s interesting. Some newsmakers now try and bypass the media completely by producing their own high-production-value videos and sharing them directly with their audiences. It’s an attempt to control their message and not let the media control it.

What makes a good PR person? Responsiveness. If a reporter calls, be available quickly. Tailor your pitch to the person you’re covering and the type of story that the outlet covers – even the section of the paper that you’re trying to get into. That’s much better than sending mass, generic pitches that look like you’re throwing ideas against a wall to see what sticks. And if you want to be included in the story, don’t send long, formal comments by email. They make for boring copy and are likely to be left out.

How do you like to be pitched? Email and by phone are the best way to send me story ideas. The mornings are best when I have more time to talk and to think about a story. The afternoon especially after 4 p.m. is a “pinch point” for us news reporters. That’s the worst time when we’re on deadline and finishing stories.

How are headlines written? On, headlines are written to optimize stories for search results. In the print edition of the Globe, headlines are written to make you stop and think and draw you into the story. It’s a different perspective.

What do you love about reporting? I like my job because it’s different every day. I can explore and dig in and learn about things. I can witness things firsthand that few people get to see.



Read more from John McElhenny

Five New Updates to the 2015 Associated Press Stylebook

The 2015 Associated Press Stylebook is now available, filled with more than 500 pages of journalistic style, basic rules of grammar, punctuation and usage. Once originally published as a 60-page document for newswriting, the stylebook is now a comprehensive reference manual published also in Spanish and across digital platforms, including online and mobile.

To help master the book as quickly as mastering press-release writing, here are the five most important updates for communications professionals:

New index: Replacing the old Quick Reference Guide, a new 85-page index for terms with page listings has been incorporated to ease searching for entries.

Expanded social media entries: New terms include favorite, meme and Swarm, as the social diction continues becoming common speak.

Global warming: The term can now be used interchangeably with climate change (though climate change is more accurate scientifically to describe the effects of greenhouse gases on the environment, according to the stylebook).

More fashion and food: For style and cuisine lovers, both the fashion and food chapters have been updated with dozens of new terms, including writing bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich as BLT, avoiding the term preheat (and using heat instead) and spelling short-sleeved with a hyphen.

Simply sports: With more than 60 updates or revisions, the sports guide now packs listings such as baseball playoffs, basketball’s NCAA Tournament, horse racing, Olympic Games and more.

For real-time updates and answers to pressing grammar and style questions, follow @APStylebook. For more writing tips, check out ways to polish your prose.

Read more from Steve Vittorioso

Q&A with Sam Whitmore: The Attention Economy

We are living in the attention economy. Everyone and every company is beckoning to us look here, no here, no over there! No one follows this trend more closely than Sam Whitmore, founder and editor of the Sam Whitmore Media Survey and veteran journalist. He sat down with me to answer a few questions for InkHouse about what he is seeing in the media as it searches for a new business model and responds to the preferences of a changing audience.

Sam Whitmore

InkHouse: Last year, long before Facebook rolled out Instant Articles, you told me about the impending transformation of the home page – a move toward social media platforms taking over the territory of the traditional home page for news organizations. What are you seeing?

SW: Media brands are seeking traffic sources in new ways. A growing part of their audience will never come to their sites because they won’t leave the social platform. Think of the on-site facilities of a property like Sandals in Jamaica. You never need to leave the resort.

Last fall Vox Media (publisher of SB Nation and The Verge) raised $46 million, some of which is earmarked to explore publishing on Facebook and LinkedIn (and in May it acquired Re/code). Right now publishers are already talking to Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and LinkedIn about their analytics and content management systems. Social platforms want media brands to publish on social. Social media will become a parallel publishing world. By no means are websites dead, but it’s going to be a parallel universe.

InkHouse: We are living in an “attention economy” as you call it, which has meant that many voices are vying for our attention in louder ways. Yet, at the same time, is long-form content is making a comeback?

SW: A lot of the stories that used to get printed in previous generations at publications like The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times don’t get run anymore because the traffic isn’t there. Yet, there is still an appetite for those kinds of stories. Take The Information, where Jessica Lessin looks at stories she knew the WSJ would want to report, but couldn’t because velocity mattered more than depth. So she opened her own shop to do the kind of work that she knew could be done and she is using the subscription model, which is doing very well. Other examples of long-form content platforms include Medium, although Medium is moving to shorter form content too. Overall, the existence of these publications and platforms has been a reaction to the failure of the titles of our generation and our parents’ generation, which are exiting the business of planting intellectual flags and saying, “these are the truths of our day.” These new properties are filling the void.

InkHouse: What is the impact of engagement science on the news?

SM: As the demise of the home page accelerates, media properties will have to rethink what goes on their home pages. They will become more like real-time newsrooms. Physically, they will turn into cockpits with gauges and charts. Those real-time instruments will be the reason you go there and the home page will cease to be a white board of their best words on pages.

What does that mean for coverage? Some will say we have to take trend-jacking to a new level, but I think PR people should fight data with data. PR agencies need to capture as much data exhaust as they can – the analytics about what type of content attracts and keeps audiences. PR people will need to mirror what the news media are doing. In the early days the audience development people worked in sales. In the 2.0 phase that skill set crept into editorial. That’s how you win that game, or how you break even. You need to understand empirically the behavior of audiences and what motivates them.

InkHouse: What about BuzzFeed’s Impact on Journalism?

SW: I don’t think we’ve seen what BuzzFeed is going to be when it grows up. What has yet to unfold are BuzzFeed Motion Pictures and the effort to take on the kind of reporting that Nick Bilton does, such as “Do You Really Need to Shut Your Smartphone off on Airplanes?” He ran that story enough that the FAA finally caved. I think people will be surprised when BuzzFeed starts being considered for Pulitzers. They’re going to make so much money that they will be able to hire away a lot of reporters that you’d never imagine working for BuzzFeed. They’re going to understand engagement science. They’re going to take a bite out of Hollywood and capitalize on over the top TV and the YouTube stars who are being fomented. Then they will have the Edward R Murrow aspirations and we’ll see some important journalism taking place on BuzzFeed. However, that kind of reporting will be ornamental to the core business, which is to aggregate attention and capture stream.


Note: The New York Times International Managing Editor acknowledged the BuzzFeed presence in a tweet on December 15, 2014.


InkHouse: How has audience segmenting evolved?

SM: There are two core hemispheres for audiences today. In one there are what I call the Angry Vs –Vice, Vox, Vocativ (and the honorary V, Fusion) – and attention products. This media marketplace has the passive hemisphere. It’s the continuum of amateur to professional amusement around shared culture and shared understanding and it will map to the real-time newsroom. This group of media properties will run in a semi-automated way by taking what Reddit does and amplifying it.

The other hemisphere will focus on the audience that Steve Jobs called “pro-sumers.” These are people who produce and consume. They read Medium and are intellectually hungry. They engage in the idea marketplace. They are much less swayed by the instrumented front page. It’s the difference between Quora and Quibb, LinkedIn is middlebrow, and then Tinder at the bottom.

There’s nothing wrong with either approach. It’s just vanilla and chocolate and it’s becoming the way we segment the world of new media.

InkHouse: Is the opportunity for contributed content still gaining momentum?

SM: There is still a great opportunity out there. Publications that really understand the search game and engagement science know that volume is better. They are less concerned about whether a 3-digit IQ 20-year veteran connects, because if the content is shared, it worked. Lots of publications are looking for multiple ideas on a topic than just a one-off. It’s like crowd-sourcing your beat system. These media properties pay 10 people to cover some of the landscape and then contributors will fill in the rest. Inc is about to do it. Recently they published 60 contributed pieces in one day. Inc is hiring a small number of editors to do editing once pieces are posted. They are giving writers the keys to post, which gives them velocity and the ability of their brand to be in more streams. That is the prevailing trend. On the other hand, places like CIO Journal and Harvard Business Review are tightening their criteria. That doesn’t scale though, but that is not their goal.

Outside of written content, there is also the evolution of b-roll. Organizations and PR agencies can become sources of content that is captured at the source of news – conferences, customer events, etc. Podcasts and videos are great ways for PR people to provide assets that would add veracity to their news.

InkHouse: Thank you so much, Sam!

Read more from Beth Monaghan
Elections Ahead

Snapchat gets serious – starting with the 2016 election and a CNN heavyweight

Snapchat, the same app that is popular with young adults for sending disappearing selfies and videos, is growing up. Following in the footsteps of BuzzFeed, which wants to pivot from a publisher of listicles to a serious news publisher, Snapchat too is going after news and media legitimacy, and it’s not messing around. Recently, it hired Peter Hamby, national political reporter from CNN, to lead its editorial content.

A few days later, the New York Times dove into what we all were thinking: Snapchat is taking on news in a big way starting with the 2016 presidential election. Snapchat hasn’t confirmed this in so many words but we should have seen this coming, really. In January, Snapchat introduced its “Discover” section (read Danielle’s blog about Discover here), an area inside the app that showcases original content from about a dozen established publishers including ESPN, National Geographic and CNN.

Why the election? Well, whenever an election comes around, the topic of how to attract and appeal to young people comes into play. Politico targeted young voters in 2008, BuzzFeed in 2012, and now Snapchat slated for 2016. When you think about it, it really is the perfect match. The company told Bloomberg Business more than 60 percent of 13- to 34-year-old smartphone users in the U.S. are active on the service and together view more than 2 billion videos a day. That’s already about half the number of videos people watch on Facebook, which is seven years older and has 10 times as many members.

Why Peter Hamby? Besides being a national political reporter, Hamby has been a huge supporter of pushing CNN ahead in the digital era, encouraging his colleagues to share their work via social media. In fact in 2013, he wrote a 95-page report for Harvard’s Shorenstein Center that criticized how campaigns were covered in the digital era.

It has also been reported that Snapchat will be creating its own original content as opposed what they’ve been doing with the “Live” feature. Essentially users within the boundary of an event – such as the Kentucky Derby or the Pacquiao vs. Mayweather fight – could upload their personal snaps to the story and it would play for anyone clicking on that live event. Creating their own content is a big investment for Snapchat, something that most social platforms have stayed away from, because it’s very expensive. But don’t worry, Snapchat can afford it. The app is currently valued at $15 billion.

Like the way this is shaping up? That’s exactly what the man at the helm of Snapchat’s ship, Evan Spiegel, is working towards. There are growing signs Snapchat is evolving into a media firm, one that given its appeal to young and diverse audiences could be a formidable competitor to both traditional media companies and other social media outlets.

I’m interested to see how they tell the election story from the social media platform and if they really can influence that key young voter demographic. I guess only time will tell if whether it will pay off at the polls.

Read more from Kristen Zemeitus

Dennis Keohane of PandoDaily Talks Tech Journalism and His Favorite Stories

Dennis Keohane

Dennis Keohane joined Silicon Valley’s PandoDaily in April to cover startups and venture capital nationally. Keohane joined from BetaBoston, where he was part of the original team of writers who launched the Boston Globe’s tech blog last year. Dennis recently discussed with InkHouse his move to Pando and what types of stories he’s most interested in covering, among other thing 

Q. You cover startups and venture capital for Pando – that’s a huge beat! How do you manage such a large coverage area?

A. It is massive and doing it in Boston was one challenge – but now it’s massive on a national scale. The hardest part is trying to figure what is a Pando story – what fits into the structure of our mission.

Q. What is Pando’s mission?

A. Our mission is covering power players and keeping them in check – and making sure they’re not using their power in the wrong way. And promoting the little guys, who no one’s heard of.

Q. What are your favorite types of stories to do?

A. I like telling the story of the company that nobody knows, the founder who has struggled. Personally, I like the human side of the story. The best stories I’ve done are when people have let down their guard. Those are my favorites and I think people like reading those stories.

Q. How do you find your stories?

A. I try to build as many solid connections as I can, usually by in person meetings. I understand that the way the tech industry works, every meeting needs to have some value-add, but that’s not the case with good writers. You might meet with someone for 45 minutes and get nothing out of them that is worthy of a story. However, if you’ve started to foster a relationship with them, you might connect with them somewhere in Boston for 10 minutes and then they may tell you something newsworthy.

Q. What does Boston bring to the innovation/startup world?

A. Boston VCs get less credit than West coast VCs. West Coast VC’s get the glory round. Also, there is so much innovation around MIT and Harvard and the other schools that no one else can compare. The difficult thing is keeping [the talent] here. There are companies that are doing well but they’re not Facebook. Wayfair, TripAdvisor, and HubSpot are all doing well.  Drizly, Jana Mobile and DraftKings are some of the hottest startups in Boston right now.

Q. In terms of tech publications, which are Pando’s biggest competitors? Who’s doing a good job?

A. Re/code is a major competitor.  We’ve grown up together. I think Re/code more than anything has similar numbers to us in terms of page views. [Pando Founder] Sarah Lacy’s thing is that the people who read us are the influencers. … It’s going to be interesting to see what happens to Re/code, post-acquisition.

Q. What prompted your move from BetaBoston to Pando?

A. Before the Pando thing came to fruition I was looking at a few different options, including going inside a company, but I wasn’t really excited about it. I reached out to Sarah… and she said ‘we have a job opening.’ For me I love to meet new people and learn new things – so at Pando I get a better understanding of what’s happening on a national tech level and learn about the world of VC. That was really appealing about the job.

Q. What’s your biggest challenge as a journalist today?

A. Figuring out what to write every day. There are so many good companies. I have to ask: is it worthy of the coverage and what we’re trying to build with Pando? We’re evolving … so, it’s going to be more like we’re going to cover a few small stories really well … and really get away from the TechCrunch press release model. On a day-to-day basis it’s hard to figure out how to do that. I look at, what’s the angle, what’s the issue? The challenge is taking business stories and making them interesting and sexy.

Q. How much are you actually thinking about clicks and SEO when you’re crafting stories?

A. Very little. At Pando it’s more about what’s the impact of the story? I’ve been able to see what goes on at BetaBoston, but Sarah holds the controls  and so I have no idea how any of my stories do. I think that’s a good thing.

Q. How do you measure impact at Pando? Social media traction?

A. Definitely measure social media, at least I watch how many clicks something gets on Twitter or Facebook.

Q. Biggest PR pet peeves?

A. I don’t even acknowledge [embargoes]. If I’m going to write the best story about this, the time shouldn’t matter …  let’s do this the right way. I love exclusives if I can get them but it’s not necessary. I just want to have a good story that has something that people will generally care about on a large scale.

Read more from Lisa van der Pool
Code Conference

Four PR Takeaways from the Code Conference: Internet Trends 2015 Report

Last week at the Code Conference, Mary Meeker issued her annual Internet Trends Report. The report, as always, covered macro trends, which are crucial to understanding the future of almost every industry, and PR is no exception. I’ve bubbled up the four key insights for PR people from the Internet Trends 2015 report below.

1. Content Discovery is in the User’s Control. This is important because it means it’s harder to attract attention. Accidental discovery is more rare these days, going the way of browsing bookshelves and magazine stands. Today, content discovery is about setting up the alerts we want, connecting with the people we like and admire and focusing our content through those lenses. To reach audiences, communications professionals must be more authentic, more relevant and more present. See more specifics about our recommendations here from the recent Pew State of the News Media report.

User Control of Content

2. Mobile is on the Rise. Everyone knows this. If you want the data, here it is: global Internet usage is up 21% in 2014, but mobile data traffic is up 69% (it was up 81% in 2013, by the way and 70% in 2012, so it seems that we’re beginning to reach some level of saturation). What’s more? People spent 5.3 hours per day on the Internet in 2014 and 2.6 of those hours were spent on mobile devices. The impact on PR is great. On mobile, consumers generally sit back. They don’t actively search for things, but instead, they let them come to them through alerts and their social media feeds. This has ramifications for the ways in which we get our messages to target audiences. We must get into the social stream, and these days, unless we have a breakout viral success, it means that we might have to bring paid social campaigns into the PR mix. As I mentioned last week, the phenomenon of Facebook’s Instant Articles has the likes of National Geographic and The New York Times, among others, agreeing to post their content to Facebook first. (Side note: vertical viewing is up because of mobile. It’s projected that it will account for 29% of the screen viewing in 2015, which means that PR people must need to consider this format for content too.)

3. User-generated Video Drives Shares. People like to see user-generated video. It brings a personal connection to major events and gives us a more personalized way to share experiences. As Meeker reports, Snapchat saw 40 million viewers over three days for Coachella, and 37 million viewers in 24 hours for New Year’s Eve. On Facebook, in Q1 2015 alone, users viewed 4 billion videos each day, which is up four times over the past six months. By the way, 75% of those videos were viewed on mobile devices and 53% of the views came from shares. Remember what I said about getting into your audience’s social stream? Oh, and Henry Blodget has a nice presentation that shows how Facebook reaches more people than free TV. It’s also worth noting that streaming video apps, like Periscope, are also gaining traction (see our post on that here).

4. Where the Young Folks Are. We keep hearing that Facebook is for parents and Instagram is for kids. This is true, but the young folks have not fled Facebook. They just prefer Instagram, although the trend, as you can see below, is away from Facebook. Social networks are growing up and differentiating. For PR, this is a good thing because it makes reaching your target audience a bit less of an experiment. The art of this equation is in crafting the kinds of messages and content that will appeal to each audience and on each platform. Video is not such a breakout success on LinkedIn, for example, but if you’re talking Facebook and Instagram, as we saw above, video must be part of the mix.

Social Media Usage

Lots is happening to shape the new PR landscape these days. The only certainty is that more change is on the way and we’ll be keeping a close eye on it. To read more of the data cited above go to the following:


Read more from Beth Monaghan
Thumbs up made out of flour

The PR Impact of the Pew State of the News Media Report

Two words sum up the Pew Research Center’s “State of the News Media 2015” report: Facebook and mobile.

Let’s blame millennials. Why not, right? By 2020, they will account for nearly half of our workforce and we already know how they send something like 2,000 texts per month. By 2020, 80% of Americans will own smartphones.

Why resist all of this change though? As trends go, once discussion bubbles up to the mass media they tend to be well underway. Millennials are already changing the nature of our workplaces for the better, shifting them away from the hierarchical and patriarchal dictatorships of the 1950s and toward the hope of collaborative creativity in the future (see why Gloria Larson, president of Bentley University is bullish on millennials).

We also know that millennials don’t tend to read things offline and that newspaper revenues are down (4% in 2014). So what does this brave mashed up future of Facebook and mobile look like? If we believe the big data hype, we’ll all become robots passively reading the content served up to us by algorithms that intuit our deepest desires and therefore our future purchases and lifestyle choices.

Call me nostalgic, but I don’t see that all happening. Isn’t humanity reliant on the kind of independent thought that drives creativity and exploration? Let’s assume it is for the sake of our children, and if not them, at least for the sake of the Fourth Estate, the one that reports on complex stories about powerful people in dangerous places. This will find a way to thrive because we need thinkers to fuel the readers.

However, algorithms are definitely part of that future, as are mobile devices. Both of these trends are changing the way we consume information, and therefore the way PR practitioners must think about content and deliver it to their target audiences. Let’s examine some of the major shifts highlighted by the Pew report.

1. News is going mobile. We’re getting our news through mobile: of the top 50 digital news sites, 39 receive more traffic from mobile devices than desktops/laptops. Spend on mobile advertising is up nearly 80%, and it makes up 37% of all digital ad spending. Facebook alone claims 24% of all display ad spending and 37% of mobile display ad spending.

2. Facebook is becoming a news organization. Almost half of all Americans who are online say they got news about politics and government from Facebook in the last week. And just this past week, Facebook debuted Instant Articles. Five brave (and perhaps prescient) news outlets have signed up to publish news to Facebook first instead of to their own sites. This may sound crazy because while Facebook is letting the publishers in on the ad revenue, it will likely take away from their own traffic. It seems that there’s no stopping Facebook though, which has out-performed even Google in its share of digital display (Google claims 14%), followed by Yahoo at 6% and Twitter at 4%.

3. Podcasts are hot. Downloads of NPR podcasts grew 41% in 2014. “Serial” helped to expedite awareness of podcasts when it became the fastest to reach 5 million streams or downloads. However, podcasts have been steadily gaining in popularity. Since 2008, listenership has increased from 9% to 17% and people prefer to listen to podcasts on mobile devices (63% of 2014 downloads came from mobile requests). John McElhenny on the InkHouse team recently wrote about the personal quality of podcasts and how marketers should think about them.

4. Radio thrives on- and off-line. Although traditional radio continues to draw an audience, it’s also succeeding online. Of Americans over age 12, more than half have listened to online radio in the past month (35% of those have done so in the car), and 91% have listened to AM/FM. And let’s give NPR a hand! It gained in audience and revenue in 2014 (some due to podcasts) and its member stations also grew 11% in 2014.

5. Local news is the star of TV. Last year, we were a little surprised at InkHouse when we surveyed 1,000 consumers to find that 73% preferred to get their news from TV. It turns out this wasn’t a fluke. The Pew found that local TV is gaining in ad revenue – up to $19.7 billion in 2014, which is a 7% increase over 2013.

It’s easy to get lost in the volume of numbers in the Pew report, but viewed from afar, they tell a cohesive story. We’ve been seeing a shift away from the power of earned traction of Facebook for some time, and Instant Articles is another proof point. But Facebook traction is important (as is traction on other social platforms depending on your target audience). News organizations are realizing it and marketers need to as well. It’s one of the reasons we began a paid content amplification practice at InkHouse (for both earned and owned content).

I might start sounding like a broken record here, but PR is and should always be authentic. While you can buy eyeballs, you cannot buy fans. Sure, PR practitioners need to be savvy about the changing nature of attention so that we can win the headline game, which is often one of those “top of the marketing funnel” initiatives, but we also need to engage audiences in an authentic way or no amount of money will work.

So how do we gain that initial attention and turn it into engagement? First, we need to be in all of the places our audiences live because their path to us is much less linear than it used to be and their attention is much more easily distracted.

- Find your audience on social media. Know where your audience gathers online and be there in an authentic way. Pay for that visibility if you have to.

- Nail the headline or don’t even try. Don’t follow the crowd. While clickbait headlines work at first, they quickly die off. The HubSpot and Outbrain ebook on headlines showed that this lack of authenticity stopped working shortly after its initial traction. Once consumers catch on to the bait, they stop clicking. Right now headlines with words such as “tip,” “how to” and “magic” don’t work anymore. Lindsay Sydness on our team summarized the top headline tips from that ebook, and if you want to get angry about how clickbait headlines really work, I dug into that underworld here.

- Keep your content short. On mobile, audiences let the news come to them through Facebook feeds and alerts where their attention spans are shorter. According to the Pew, of the top news sites, anything over 3 minutes on a mobile device is nonexistent. Since Medium is so skilled at estimating read times, I took a look at a few 3-minute articles there. They came in around 500 words.

- Use visuals to break through. It’s noteworthy that National Geographic’s Instant Article on Facebook performed the best on launch day as demonstrated by News Whip (and by the way, NatGeo has 18.7 million followers for its Instagram feed). The HubSpot/Outbrain ebook showed that headlines with the word “photo(s)” perform 37% better than those without. Word to the wise!

We can’t forget the basics of finding our audiences where they live, creating messages that speak to them authentically, and repeating those messages often and in different ways until they begin to sink in. Today, we just have more types of content, more pathways and more things we can measure to hone the campaigns. In fact, we can take that wonderful New York Times story and make sure more people see it without having to hope  they’ll find their way to the NYT website or buy a newspaper. Perhaps they can just go to Facebook and stumble upon it.

Read more from Beth Monaghan
Jumbled Words (2)

Making Headlines “Clickable”

You only get one chance to make a first impression and, in the world of publishing and content marketing, that is the headline. Today, reporters are often compensated by the numbers of page views and clicks on their published stories which has led to a rash of click bait, sensationalized headlines everywhere from Buzzfeed to Facebook, designed to illicit an immediate click, such as: 15 Amazing Celebrity Diet Secrets: Your Jaw Will Drop at #7 or Someone Left This Dog Outside During a Rainstorm…Then This Happened.

In PR and social content, headlines matter enormously too – whether it’s the subject line of an email pitch, the headline of a contributed article, or the title of an infographic or video. The reality is we also need to think like reporters and editors when developing content so that our pitches are read and our content widely viewed and shared.

Just recently, I read a great report produced by Outbrain and HubSpot on the analysis of writing good headlines. It examined the three main goals of content marketers: traffic, engagement and conversion, and how headlines affect each metric.

For example, if your goal is to grow traffic, then clickthrough rate (CTR) is your most important metric. According to the report, these are the most important things you need to consider when writing headlines to drive CTR (plus a few to avoid):



– Use the words “photo” and “who” in the headline

– Use headlines of a moderate length (81-100 characters)

– Use bracketed clarifications included in headlines, such as: A Look Inside Mashable’s Evolution [Interview]



– Use the words: “easy,” “how to,” “cure,” “magic,” “simple,” “trick,” and “free”

– Reference the reader by using the words “you,” “your,” or “you’re”

– Include positive superlatives such as “best” and “always”

– Use words that convey a sense of urgency like “need,” and “now”


So now you know: a headline like “The Best Simple Tricks You Always Need to Know Now” just isn’t going to cut it. You can download the entire report here.

Read more from Lindsay Sydness
Keeping the house clean takes super strength!

Seven Tips to Spring Clean Your News Writing

After receiving record snowfall in Boston this winter, the season the city has been finally waiting for has arrived: Spring. While the snow melts, the Boston Red Sox gear up for another season and the countdown to the Boston Marathon turns to days, writers can refresh for spring by fine tuning their writing.

Don’t bury the lede. In news writing, the lede – or the first sentence – is the most important one because it contains the facts and the “so-what” factor that hooks readers and draws them into stories. When writing ledes, craft them by including the who, what, when, where, why and how to give readers all the pertinent information at the onset. Try keeping ledes to approximately 36-40 words at most – any longer will result in readers exhausting their eyes.

Vary your sentence length. Engaging writing contains sentences that differ in the number of words, style and structure. You might have a sentence with 10 words that describes the setting, followed by a sentence with 20 words outlining the problem. This is important because it sets the pace for readers to keep them reading line after line, word after word. There’s nothing worse than readers dismissing your content after the first couple sentences.

Deploy the active voice and trim the fat. Piggybacking on fluctuating sentence length, pair strong subjects and verbs to create powerful prose. Don’t write passively with verbs of being; for example, “Steve kicked the ball” is more engaging than “Steve was kicking the ball.” The active voice also helps trim word count to keep copy length as tight as possible. The less words to convey your message, the clearer it’ll be for readers to understand.

Show, don’t tell. The best type of news writing illustrates powerful images by incorporating descriptions that evoke readers’ senses. When describing scenes or products, for example, capture the details that matter most – size, smell, color, taste, touch, etc.; the elements readers can envision. Instead of stating that your new product is cool, visually show how and why it’s cool.

Develop compelling quotes. Quotes are essential components to press releases because they allow sources to editorialize, and writers can use them to verify their ledes. The best quotes help advance the story into the next phase by serving as transitions from the previous paragraph to the next. They’re also important opportunities to highlight color commentary and position individuals as experts.

Use Associated Press style. The de facto style of journalistic writing, AP style conforms all types of news writing, including press releases and bylined content, so that communicators and reporters write in the same language (other than plain English, of course). With entries about listing cities in datelines, incorporating proper punctuation and – my favorite – using numerals and percentages, among others, the stylebook contains more than 500 pages of tips and tricks for linguists.

Proofread and proofread again. As our fingers quickly flutter across the keyboard, it’s more common than ever to accidentally include typos in your text. Once you’re finished writing, print a copy of your writing and mark it up with a pen; you’ll find more edits on paper than reviewing on screen. For the final proof, read from the bottom up because doing so out of order will make your eyes even more attentive for any hidden blemishes.

For more writing tricks, check out seven tips for good PR writing.

Read more from Steve Vittorioso
Group of Multiethnic Busy People Working in an Office

The Impact of Engagement Science on the News

And you thought those photos of the 10 puppies you had to see before you die were all just for fun. Engagement science is transforming the news business. From Buzzfeed’s listicles to Medium’s focus on reads over clicks. It’s all about the data, which is all about engagement – and it’s increasingly all about social.

Why? The explosion of mobile is changing the way people interact with the news. When we’re sitting in front of our laptops, we search. But on mobile, we sit back. We share, but we rarely search. Consumers let information come to us on our mobile phones via push notifications and the cockpits of our favorite social media platforms.

This train’s momentum is strong. Buzzfeed reports that 71% of millennials visit social media sites daily. And mobile has “taken the lead as the primary platform for social – 60% of time spent on social is on mobile (Buzzfeed/eMarketer). Social media isn’t the only car on this mobile train. Video is driving massive usage. Check out these stats:

This behavioral shift is changing the way people read the news. Facebook is encroaching on the territory of the traditional news home page. We’ve seen media properties such as Mashable publish articles first on Facebook, and we’ve seen click bait taken to a new level by suspicious and anonymous publishers (read The Story Behind Click Bait Cluttering Your Facebook Feed). And last week, even The New York Times got into the Instagram game.

The bottom line: An article, video, infographic, blog post, you name it, is the first step, not the last. It must become social, through earned (and sometimes paid) amplification strategies that can bring the message to its audiences.

Read more from Beth Monaghan