The New News
Do you think Google should help people find articles and posts from the news companies that are suing them over copyright issues? The search giant has no choice but to send traffic to people who are willing to make their content available on generous terms, and to avoid indexing content that others claim copyright to. This has always been a factor driving online citizen journalism. It turns out that corporations, nonprofit organizations, religious groups, and political campaigns can also be journalists, and that their journalism can have just as much influence as citizen journalists or media moguls if it’s well researched and well produced.
The Origins of Newsblogging
“Newsblogging” is a term I more or less invented to describe a style of blogging we stumbled onto in 2007, and then refined at the online PR firm, Patron Saint Productions. Our process was innovative and our results were extraordinary, so I spun the service off into a separate company in 2010. I partnered with a former employee, David Reich, to create SixEstate Communications. I believe that newsblogging will rapidly spread in the coming years and we’ll see an increasing proportion of news stories produced by private organizations, not media outlets. Let me explain why this is happening.
No Time to Blog
We came up with newsblogging when we found ourselves between a rock and a hard place with the new technology. The rock is blogging. It enables “principals” — CEOs, celebrities, spokespersons, political leaders, etc. — to communicate directly with their constituents. The thing is, those constituents no longer want to hear from me, the PR guy, the intermediary. They want to hear from the Big Kahuna herself or himself. The hard place, however, is that the Big Kahunas don’t have the time or journalism skills to blog effectively. The Big Kahunas are supposed to manage people, make appearances and run companies, for the most part, not write. They don’t have the two hours of concentration required each day to research and write a post worth reading.
Ghost Blogging Gets No Respect
The answer some PR firms and marketing departments came up with was to hire ghost bloggers; but ghost blogging defeats the whole point of blogging, because readers want to hear from the Big Kahuna directly. If you don’t disclose that you’re using a ghost blogger, you violate all kinds of ethical guidelines regarding transparency, authenticity and disclosure. You risk breaking securities laws. And you risk being outed in a potentially embarrassing way. If you do disclose you’re using a ghost blogger, people lose respect for the credibility of the blog. While people are comfortable with the idea of politicians using speech writers, they’re uncomfortable with the idea of blogs using ghost bloggers, even when this fact is disclosed.
Blogging’s Increasing Importance in Marketing
For my firm, the biggest problem became that blogging is too important to leave to the principals. If the Internet is going to be how people discover and learn about your organization, and the main way of navigating the Internet is via search engines, and those search engines display a strong preference for content on blogs, well then you’d better be blogging, whether the CEO’s good at it or not, because otherwise you will become invisible over time. It’s not that blogging is a good idea; it’s blog or disappear. We found a way out of this tight jam with newsblogging.
Enter Kaiser Permanente CEO George Halvorson. Kaiser is one of the largest HMOs in the U.S. and Halvorson is the company’s outspoken leader. In 2006, he put together an outline of what he thought was a compelling plan for health care reform, published it in a book called Health Care Reform Now!, and pushed it to the center of the health care debate as U.S. presidential candidates took their stands leading to the 2008 election. We were hired to push this agenda online.
Goldman Sachs and Blog Tours
I had stopped doing blog tours after a fiasco with Goldman Sachs Vice Chairman Robert Hormats. If folks think there’s no civility at town hall meetings, they should see the comment streams when controversial figures do blog tours. The ugliest side of America is revealed in the anonymous nastiness that passes for “discussion” on the Internet. There is no way I would recommend a top CEO try to engage in an open debate on the Internet on a subject as supercharged as health care reform. The conversation becomes dominated by rude and profane people who chase the intelligent commenters away.
Newsblogging is Born
For Kaiser Permanente CEO George Halvorson, we suggested a compromise. We would produce a blog, but instead of it being ghost-written by someone pretending to be George Halvorson, we would hire a journalist to blog the news, and Halvorson would add the “color commentary” when he had time or when the news begged for it. At the time, I had George “Loki” Williams on my payroll. George runs the blog SocialGumbo — a top social media blog — and has a long history of investigative journalism at the local level. So I put him on the health care beat.
“Riding the News”
Every day, Loki would ride the news feeds for the biggest stories in health care reform, then write them up on the blog. His job was to find good journalism on the issue, summarize it and point to it on the newsblog. Rather than adding one more voice, the blog was a survey of other voices, and as such it became quite successful. How successful? The screen capture below shows the Google Blog Search results. We were the number-one “related blog” on Google for the phrase “health care reform” 30 days after we launched the blog.
The CEO Stayed Hands-Off
In 30 days, we had a top-five health care reform blog. We didn’t lose that position for a year, and only then because we stopped blogging. Our original contract was to produce the newsblog for 90 days. That became six months, then a year. In all that time, Kaiser Permanente CEO George Halvorson, never added commentary to the blog. There was no need to. In 2007, our experiment was over, and a whole new way of blogging was born: newsblogging.
It’s Not About YOU!
The way we newsblog, we don’t cover news about the company. Our focus wasn’t reporting on Kaiser Permanente. Our focus was to report on health care reform and generate awareness for Halvorson’s prescription for change. By hiring a journalist, we could be sure to get a daily post up on the blog, which is essential for search-engine visibility, but is difficult for principals to commit to. Every newsblog post contains:
1. Copyright-Permissible Image
2. Optimized Headline
3. Transparent Byline
4. News Post
5. Quote from Respected Source
6. News Citation
7. Image Citation
It’s About The News
To give an example, Loki would set up a Google Alert for “electronic medical records” to see who’s covering that issue. Electronic medical records, or EMRs, are a major part of Halvorson’s platform and have been adopted as a major plank in virtually every health care reform proposal, in part because of Halvorson’s compelling evidence about the efficiencies and improved care they generate. If Loki found someone at a credible news source who has written something about EMRs, then he’d cite him or her on the newsblog. Loki would often add quotes from George Halvorson’s writings to his posts, integrating the client’s views with the current debate online.
Optimizing a Blog Post
What makes this a complete process for us is when we hook the hired journalist in with the rest of the team. Loki suffers from spellus atrocious, which not only results in typos but also in an aversion to spell-checkers. So prior to being published, his posts were passed to an editor, the amazing Rachelle Matherne, owner of FiveByFivePR firm. Rachelle wouldn’t just fix the spelling, though. She’d fact-check, link-check, grammar-check, then optimize paragraph length, sentence length and keywords, categories, and tags. Finally, she’d tweak the headline and schedule the post for release. We got so used to Rachelle’s treatment that none of us blogs without a net anymore — it’s too dangerous.
Images That Won’t Get You Sued!