Monday, October 29, 2007

what makes a press conference real?

In use by U.S. presidents since Woodrow Wilson's day and first televised live by President John F. Kennedy, true press conferences by most folks other than administration officials have fallen by the wayside in Washington. Until last week, we'd have said you could blame that on two factors: too much information all around, and the demise of news in the news conference. Reporters have too many new duties--blogging, web reports--and too little time to come across town just to fill a room.

Then FEMA threatened to kill press conferences altogether when it staged one populated with staffers and called too late for reporters to attend, except by one-way phone line for "listening in" purposes. Decried as "dumbest" by senior agency officials and the White House, the move already has had repercussions for those involved. It's especially sad, since the federal government has more reason than most organizations to ask reporters to show up for a press conference. FEMA has come up with "new" procedures for its press conferences in a memo issued yesterday:

These changes include providing reasonable notice for press events, permitting reporters who participate in press events telephonically to ask questions, and transcribing press events when possible for public release. Finally, under no circumstances will anyone other than media be allowed to ask questions at press events.

Yes, indeed, and, we might add, reporters must be present--no matter how few--for a "press conference" to qualify as such. This week, while FEMA discovers how much more coverage you can get for a blunder than for the original announcement, make sure you don't get caught losing the forest for the trees when it comes to choosing a press conference for your next announcement. Bear in mind how rarely they're used these days. Ask yourself who's the real audience. If it's internal--and the event is just a chance for folks to feel engaged and important--find an alternative. (See our "instead of a news release" list for ideas. Trust us, you have lots of options.) Finally, consider the utility to reporters: Will it make sense for them and aid their coverage? These aren't "new procedures," or shouldn't be. Please, communicators, make sure you're not part of the erosion of a useful media relations tool.

get our blidget and see our blog on yours

"Blidgets" are widgets--small windows that display selected Web content feeds on another web page -- that encapsulate a blog, and we've developed one so you can post updated content from the don't get caught news & info blog on your website. Go here on the Widgetbox site, or click on the black button at right to add our blog to your blog or website, ensuring you and your readers don't get caught without out tips, ideas and advice. We look forward to seeing how you put this new tool to use!

Monday, October 22, 2007

blogs reach up in government, ed boards

Blogging at the top's the province of a few CEOs and university presidents, but recently, Cabinet secretaries and even the New York Times editorial board have gotten into the act.

In the federal government, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff's using his blog as many businesses do, to respond to articles and op-eds, report on speeches and highlight work of the agency; two other DHS officials also contribute to the "Leadership Journal." Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt blogs on current health legislation in Washington, but also on a University of Utah winner of this year's Nobel Prize in Medicine (Leavitt is former governor of Utah). He's vowed to write his own posts, and includes an evaluation after one month, based on reader comments ("My postings tend to be too long").

Two more government blogs -- GovGab from the General Services Administration, and DipNote at the Department of State -- take a group approach, with several career government specialists posting. GovGab focuses on consumer information you can get from the government, while DipNote -- slammed by many bloggers for its name alone -- also includes questions of debate and personal insights from career foreign service diplomats. Comments are accepted on all these government blogs, and while the pace of posting needs to increase, it's clear the government's decided to blog. (Many citizens' comments revolve around "aren't you busy? when do you have time to do this?")

At the Times, the editorial board retains its anonymity, signing most every post "The Editorial Board," though some signed posts are promised in this introduction to the blog. It takes some unusual steps, like this call to readers to lobby members of the House of Representatives who voted "no" the first time around on the State Children's Health Insurance Program, or S-CHIP--going so far as to publish the list of "naysayers" (a rather long list for a blog post) to help readers find their representative's vote the day before another vote was scheduled. That's part of the "raw material" the board promises to include, along with updates on visitors to the editorial board, more commentary on issues of the day, and personal perspectives. For ed-board-watchers, it's a useful learning tool and an easy way to gain insights on how to approach the board.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

weekly writing coach: cut it in half


We learned -- the hard way and on deadline -- the value of self-editing when an article assigned at 2,000 words needed to fit a 1,000-word space. (Given the chance to cut our own writing, we did.) This week, take one piece you've written recently and imagine you need to do the same: Cut it in half. Some options you might consider:
- Summarize rather than describe. Can lists turn into bullets? Will an added link to more information handle the detail in a word?
- Omit needless words. This famed instruction from the original version of William Strunk's The Elements of Style demands "that every word tell." We say you can start by omitting adverbs and adjectives, using active verbs and more descriptive nouns to carry the point.
- Consider the content. If you're covering more than one topic, might you limit this piece to one subject, saving another for a different format? Can your letter work as two short emails, or your article become a series of shorter pieces?
Make the pain less painful, and do this exercise in less than an hour, the editorial equivalent of pulling off a bandage quickly. Speed will help you identify repetitive patterns that can be cut.

Friday, October 12, 2007

weekly writing coach: punctuation

Sharpen that red pencil, settle those office arguments -- or discover the point you're too embarrassed to ask about -- with the help of The Associated Press Guide to Punctuation. It's organized by the marks, from commas and question marks to slashes and parentheses. Anxious about ampersands? Never! This brief guide (just 112 pages) is the type of tool we recommend to writers for a simple reason: The more you can edit your own work, the more your editor will like it. We promise...

Buy The Associated Press Guide to Punctuation.

TV with its tie loosened, for the Web

Today's New York Times takes a close look at how ABC's "World News Tonight" network broadcast is reshaping itself on the web as simply "World News" in an afternoon webcast. The article lets journalists and their sources in on the changes to come when you appear on the air, on the web. Those changes include new ways of telling stories, new methods of delivering the news, and often, far longer pieces than any network television broadcast would include -- some nearly 4 minutes long. Instead of soundbites and tight writing, there are in-depth conversations and spontaneous moments. The shifts are worth keeping in mind if you're going to be filmed for a webcast, versus a broadcast.

The story quotes Jason Samuels, digital content producer, on how one medium changes the other:
Mr. Samuels started overseeing the Webcast in April and said he has tried to push correspondents and producers to escape the package formula that dominates television news. “Do one long stand-up, do much longer sound bites, play an interview,” he said, summing up his advice to the staff. “Produce a story in any way you think is engaging — there are no rules.”
"World News Sunday" anchor Dan Harris also weighs in:
“I feel less pressure to wear a tie, sit up straight, and make sure everything I say is perfectly enunciated,” Mr. Harris said. “I have an opportunity to be much closer to who I actually am, instead of the TV version of myself.”
If you're a source for television news, start thinking about how you can get creative: What resources do you have that might work better for webcasts than for traditional broadcast? If you have more time to demonstrate something, how will you use it?And how will this change the ways you prepare for a webcast interview versus a broadcast interview?

Thursday, October 11, 2007

welcome the eloquent woman blog

We've launched a sister blog, so to speak, at The Eloquent Woman, with "Inspiration, ideas and information to help women speak in public settings, from a conference room to a convention." On it, you'll find such features as:
- a poll to gauge readers' views on issues related to women and public speaking. The inaugural poll quizzes you about your public speaking fears.

- a newsfeed on eloquent women, and women and public speaking, so you can keep up with the latest headlines--it goes well beyond a woman candidate for US President, trust us.

- searchable, practical public speaking tips, so you can easily navigate to find the news you can use to improve your skills.

- coverage of role models, past and present, to inspire you. We've started with the two most influential First Ladies, Lady Bird Johnson and Eleanor Roosevelt. And if you want to join our current discussion on Linked In about the most eloquent woman you've heard or seen speak, go here. The nominees so far range from Palestinian scholar and spokeswoman Hanan Ashrawi to the late U.S. Congresswoman Barbara Jordan, and include poets, politicians, leaders of small nonprofits and schoolteachers. Join the discussion!

-new research on gender issues in speaking, with advice on how to navigate the challenges and opportunities that women face when speaking in settings large and small.
Comments are welcome on the new blog,and we hope you'll add your questions, experiences and ideas!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Graveline to interview woman CEOs

Don't get caught president Denise Graveline will help the National Capital Chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners to kick off a new series of interviews with women CEOs on Wednesday, November 7. The "CEO Insights" interview series will feature Julie Lenzer Kirk of Path Forward International. Kirk is the former CEO and President of Applied Creative Technologies, Inc. (ACT), an IT solutions firm which she founded in 1995, taking it from her basement to a multimillion-dollar company with Fortune 100 clients. She's also the author of the just-published book, The ParentPreneur Edge: What Parenting Teaches About Building a Successful Business. The one-on-one interview program will be preceded and followed by networking and a reception, with registration starting at 5:15 p.m. on November 7 at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, DC. For more for more details, go here.

Monday, October 08, 2007

press club potential member event

XM Satellite Radio host Bob Edwards will make brief remarks at a National Press Club reception on Thurs., Oct. 11 at 6:30 pm; the reception is open to Club members as well as journalists and other professional communicators interested in exploring NPC membership. During the reception, tours of the Club's new Broadcast Operations Center also will be offered. If you apply for membership during the month of October, the Club will waive its initiation fees, a savings of up to $350. Membership in the club is open to active journalists, former journalists, government information officers, and to those considered by journalists to be regular news sources. Find directions to the Club here, and validated parking is available nearby at PMI Garage, 1325 G. St. NW. RSVPs are required to sdriggs@press.org.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

weekly writing coach: aphorism rules

Quick: what's the recipe for an aphorism? If you don't know, turn to the new book Geary's Guide to the World's Great Aphorists. Author James Geary calls the aphorism the world's "oldest and shortest literary art form." To help you craft your own, he offers five rules or tests that an aphorism must pass in order to be successful, described here in text from NPR's interview with him yesterday:
"It must be brief. It must be definitive. It must be personal — that's the difference between an aphorism and a proverb. It must be philosophical — that's the difference between an aphorism and a platitude, which is not philosophical," he says. "And the fifth law is it must have a twist. And that can be either a linguistic twist or a psychological twist or even a twist in logic that somehow flips the reader into a totally unexpected place."
Geary cites a number of eloquent women among his collected aphorists. They include Mae West, who, he notes, wrote most of her own material ("It's not the men in my life it's the life in my men") and Eleanor Roosevelt ("A woman is like a teabag — only in hot water do you realize how strong she is").

Where can you use aphorisms? They're apt in speeches, if not overused, and in shorter, more personal communications, such as letters, essays or blog posts. See whether you can craft a few using the five rules that Geary notes above.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

reaching youth audiences

Editor and Publisher columnist Steve Outing pushes his colleagues to consider "What's Your Facebook Strategy?", an article that spells out the Facebook rationale simply enough for any organization that wants or needs to reach a youth audience. Noting that users in their 20s and below prefer social media sites to communicate (as opposed to the email of older generations), he adds:
And that's the issue that news executives need to understand. Facebook represents where the coveted younger demographic is hanging out. They're not spending tons of time on newspaper websites. (And most of them definitely are not reading the dead-tree edition.) Ergo, news organizations need to get their content and services to where the young people are. That Facebook allows you to do this (while MySpace, as yet, does not) should be viewed as a huge favor bestowed on you.
Another site, New America Media, reflects the multicultural nature of today's younger generations. (Called Millennials, they are the most ethnically diverse generation ever.) News is arranged by ethicities: African, African-American, Asian, South Asian, European, Indigenous, Latino, Middle Eastern and "intersections." If you need to keep tabs on youth audiences, check out the "special beat" section of coverage of youth culture here. The site, a collaborative effort of ethnic news organizations, offers for sale a directory of ethnic news organizations here.

national press club: join in October!

If you've considered joining the National Press Club in Washington, DC -- where both resident and non-resident members are welcome -- do yourself a favor and join in October, when the initiation fees are waived. Don't get caught president Denise Graveline is a member of the Club's new media committee, which is developing a Club blog and investigating social media options to benefit resident and non-resident Club members.

Monday, October 01, 2007

shifting audience sands

Does your audience seem scattered, like grains of sand on the beach? Is your message searching for a bottle with a GPS system? You're not the only one, and the shifting sands of modern audiences are prompting new approaches in two of the most traditional media: big newspapers and national opinion polls. In "Why Big Newspapers Applaud Some Declines in Circulation," today's New York Times notes that many newspapers are limiting their delivery zones and stopping ads, calls and other promotions designed to recruit new subscribers. Why don't they want you?
Most of the customers recruited with promotions and cold calls drop their subscriptions when the discount expires, so the cost of pursuing them and putting the news on their doorsteps can exceed what they pay for the paper. And despite falling ad sales, most American papers still make more money from ads than from circulation.
And advertisers haven't been shy in letting the papers know they'd prefer a more targeted, loyal audience.

In opinion polling, NPR notes that the trend toward replacing land-line phones with cellphones only could mean that major opinion polls are missing a key demographic: young people. By the 2008 election, cell-phone-only voters are estimated at 15 percent, which could skew exit polls--and less political surveys as well. Add to that more mundane issues: Calling interviewees on cell phones leads to a higher refusal rate, as they could be driving, dating or otherwise occupied -- and because of federal laws against automated dialing to cell numbers, they're more expensive to reach for a poll. In the story, Democratic pollster Anna Greenberg says:
"In the long run, most pollsters and campaigns are going to have to figure out how to reach younger people," Greenberg says. "Because as they age and become a bigger and bigger part of the election, their technological communication habits are different from older votes. And we are going to have to completely rethink our technology for communicating with them."
Both trends mark a shift in measurement that communicators need to watch over the next several months. Will you change which newspapers you target for media relations based on their new demographics? And how will you measure attitudes and opinions in youth audiences effectively, despite cellphones? (Think blogs, online surveys and Facebook.) In either case, remember that when you report results, you need to know the policies of the polls and papers you're citing.