Outrageous Fortune

Noam Galai | Getty ImagesEvery time I start to feel a bit of optimism about the future, the reality hammer drops on my head.

Today, we learned that restaurants in southern Maine will not be able to re-open as originally scheduled  because of ongoing concerns about the Cov-19 epidemic.

The social media reaction to this news has been swift from both sides of the political aisle, Republicans blame Janet Mills and Democrats blame President Trump.

There are posts calling for an armed revolution to overthrown Maine Governor Janet Mills.  “. . .Open up anyways and bring your guns!!! ,” wrote one poster on Facebook.

In the Shakespearean play Hamlet, the young prince contemplates suicide, best referenced within this famous soliloquy: To Be or Not to Be.

Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them.
People on the right are still referencing mask wearers as “sheep,” unable to discern the truth.
People on the left use terms like “mouth breather,” to describe conservatives.
There doesn’t seem that there is any middle ground.
And now the news released today by the governor: dine-in restaurants in southern Maine will need to remain closed until further notice, as opposed to a cautious opening date of June 1.
Think of all those businesses that purchased food and supplies as they geared up for June 1. Think about the employees called back to work. What does the future hold?
From my perspective, the future looks pretty grim, so I have designed my own plan for businesses that want to open on June 1:
  • Let the restaurant owners decide if they want to open or not.
  • Let customers decide on whether they want to frequent these establishments
  • Let the employees decide whether they want to work.
  • For people who have a weakened immune system (like my wife) stay at home.
  • For people who do not want go to public places, do not go there. You can order groceries and food online.
This my five-point plan. What do you think?

 

The war of the words

I am 56 years-old. I am a white man. I live in the suburbs. I have two healthy sons and an amazing wife.

I have nothing to complain about. But still I have a knack for finding political fights on social media platforms.

I used to be a journalist, and then a columnist. I put food on my family’s table by sharing my opinions every week.

Please, however, make no mistake, I am today a little more than a second-rate pundit with a boatload of opinions, a keyboard and an internet connection. Sadly, a lot of other people I know are in the same boat.

When I was growing up, I was taught that voting, and politics were private things. That’s why we have curtains at the voting booth: to keep our choices private. Back then, however, we didn’t have an internet and access to so many people.

According to Facebook, I have more than 1,100 “friends.” Let’s get real. I can count the number of my friends on two hands,

“We are reckless in our use of the lovely word friend,” or so wrote French author Romain Rolland in 1913.

I am guilty of being a political monger, easily sucked into meaningless debates on Facebook and Twitter. But I also like to think I am a political centrist, and that it would be difficult to discern my political orientation based on my social media postings.

Maybe I am kidding myself. Maybe not.

I find it curious that so many people spend so much time engaged in political debates on social media outlets, some of which become quite heated as these amateur pundits duke it out on the world-wide web.

Both Democrats and Republicans (in almost equal measure) line up in their own turf and pontificate why their points are absolute truth. Are these people trying to recruit more members? Are they hoping to influence our nation’s political discourse?

Following my career in journalism, I accepted a job as a public relations professional. Yes, social media is a powerful communications tool in today’s world of political engagement, but every PR pro knows that it must be handled with precision.

Do you really think that name calling, badgering and screeching hardcore positions will “convert” someone from a different camp?

How much time do you spend on social media platforms, engaged in political debates?

Is it worth it?

A sheep speaks out

I wear a mask when I go to the grocery store or any other place where large numbers of people congregate.
I am not a sheep. I am not afraid of Covid-19. I do not wear a mask to keep myself safe. I wear a mask because it may lower the odds (if only a minuscule number) of making OTHER people sick. I could have the virus, but the odds on that are also minuscule.
I find it sad (sometimes laughable) that some people equate being asked to wear a mask in public is some form of tyranny or as a call to arms. Jesus H. Christ, do these people get their knickers in a knot when asked to wear a shirt or shoes in a grocery store or a restaurant?
Can’t we just be considerate of others? How hard is it to wear a mask when you go to the store? Really, is this the platform for patriots to rise up against a “tyrannical” government? A fucking mask?
The biggest reason I wear a mask?
It’s because my wife is immunocompromised. She has MS, an underlying condition that increases her risk to COVID-19. So yeah, I’m kind of a big believer in wearing a mask in public.
You think I’m a fucking sheep; a dolt who is ready to submit to the evil government, the doctors and scientists who are all members of some grand conspiracy because I wear a mask?
Is wearing a mask such a burden? If you think so, can’t you at least be considerate of your fellow human beings?
Just wear a mask. Please

Pandemic sheds light on media bias

As we continue coping with the Covid-19 pandemic, it is now more important than ever for the media to take extra steps to ensure that their news stories are fact-based, without hype, without speculation and a minimum of bias.

Wait. Did I just say “a minimum of bias?”

Conservative news consumers on the right of America’s political spectrum often talk about bias, screeching that media outlets such as the New York Times and MSNBC television are in the pockets of left-wing billionaires and prominent Democrats.  President Trump gleefully eggs them on, attacking the ‘liberal’ media of delivering so-called “fake news.”

Meanwhile, those on the left side of the political spectrum dismiss news outlets such as FOX news and the Washington Times, saying those media outlets are dripping in conservative rhetoric.

Are the pundits right? Do “news” outlets practice media bias?

According to two veteran journalists, the answer is yes, with varying moderation.

Dennis Bailey, who now lives in Washington, DC, is a veteran journalist who spent several years as a reporter working for the Maine Times and Portland Press Herald. He readily acknowledges that his personal politics are more in line with Democrats.

“I’ve never been a believer in objective journalism,” Bailey said. “A good story is a good story but it does come with some bias.”

Bailey points to certain realities about how the news story is produced. “A reporter often decides what story to follow,” he said. “From there, an editor decides the placement of a story and the headline of that story. These are all subjective decisions.”

On the other side of the political aisle, John Day, who spent several decades as a reporter and then as an editor of the Bangor Daily News, agrees with Bailey about media bias.

“I’m a big fan of diversity,” Day said. “But I was always a contrarian. Fake news has always been around. If all news outlets reported every story the same way, then it would be nothing more than a giant circle jerk.”

Although they seem to disagree on just about everything, the two men agree that journalism has gone through some profound changes over the last 30 years, including the 24-hour news cycle and social media.

“People today have a much wider range of choices when it comes to the news,” Bailey said. “There is a notable absence of media literacy today. You can find anything you want to support your own views on the internet.”

Bailey and Day both point to the Watergate scandal and the role that the media played during that crisis. The Washington Post led the way on the story while the New York Times and other media outlets took a more measured approach.

“Walter Cronkite was the godfather of news,” Bailey said. “He was such a trusted guy. We don’t have that anymore.”

According to Day, more than 95 percent of news stories about President Trump are negative while stories about Maine Senator Angus King are nearly always positive. “Angus is not much more than a boot licker for Chuck Schumer,” he said.

The lines between news and opinion are becoming more and more blurred as cable news shows fill air time with pundits such as Rachel Maddow on the left and Sean Hannity on the right.

Today, too many people pick their news source to align with their personal viewpoint, according to both Bailey and Day.  “I have more respect for CNN than MSNBC,” Day said. “At least they try to be objective with guests such as Chris Christie.”

So long as media outlets chase ratings and circulation, their ability to maintain objectivity becomes more difficult.

We need to be increasingly vigilant about how we get and choose our news sources.

President Trump is not the first president to have a deep disdain for the White House press corps. More than 50 years ago, former president Richard Nixon lashed out at the media following his loss to Democrat Pat Brown in the California gubernatorial election.

Appearing before more than 100 reporters, Nixon didn’t mince his words about his frustration with the media. “You don’t have Nixon to kick around anymore, because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference,” the candidate said.

More recently, an editorial published in the San Diego Union-Tribune in 2015, James Risen, then a reporter at The New York Times, called the Obama administration “the greatest enemy of press freedom in a generation.”

As Walter Cronkite consistently said at the end of each of his evening broadcasts: “And that’s the way it is.”

We miss you, Walter.

 

(Originally published in the Saco Bay News on May 2, 2020)

 

All Along the Watchtower

(previously published in Saco Bay News)

It seems ironic that this is “Sunshine Week.”

No, it has nothing to do with Daylight Saving Time, but as the world grapples with the Covid-19 pandemic it becomes even more important for the media to “keep a check” on our government whether federal, state or local.

Sunshine Week was founded in 2005, and its purpose is to provide the media (and the general public) with the tools and resources necessary to ensure that government operations are open and transparent. Sunshine as opposed to darkened backroom deals among government officials.

More than 200 years ago, during a debate in the British Parliament, Edmund Burke coined a phrase to describe the media: “The Fourth Estate.” It was a recognition of the media’s power and responsibilities. We have a system of checks and balances between the branches of our government in this country. The First Estate is the executive branch; the Second Estate is the legislature; and the Third Estate is the judiciary.

Spiderman comics coined the phrase “With great power comes great responsibility.”  But the media cannot exercise its power if the government operates in secret or manipulates the flow of information.

Fortunately, the media (and the general public) have an awesome and powerful tool in their arsenal.

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson in 1966 just as the Viet Nam War was heating up. FOIA provides the media with legal muscle in order to keep the public informed about government affairs.

One of the earliest and most notable uses of the FOIA was its role in the Watergate scandal. Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein had to use extraordinary tactics, which included FOIA, in order to get to the truth that eventually crumbled Richard Nixon’s presidency.

The media plays an important role in disseminating the news. In fact, it is the media that frames the story, whether it’s a global issue like the Corona virus, a national story such the Democratic primary or a local issue such as the city of Biddeford’s plan to construct a parking garage.

All over the globe, the media has changed drastically over the last 30 years or so. Today, news consumers have more options than ever before. Today, we have a 24-hour news cycle that is voracious, supported by advertising and highly competitive. The days of Walter Cronkite and the neighborhood paperboy are behind us.

Today, consumers have a plethora of choices about where to get their news. You can watch CNN on your smart phone while riding the subway. But how do we know whether your choice of media is trustworthy? We don’t. The cure for this problem is for you to gather your news from a variety of news sources.

If we want the media to be fair, balanced and accurate, we must ensure that reporters (and even back yard pundits) have access to the information that allows them to keep the government in check because our representative government is obligated to be open and transparent.

This year, Sunshine Week runs from March 15 to March 21 (the first day of spring).

Open your windows and pull up your blinds. Let the sun shine into your life so that you can make informed decisions and choices.

Remember, it’s your government.

 

Climate Change: what your parents never told you

‘In the absence of science, religion flourishes . . .’

-Unknown

light light bulb bulb heat
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

One of today’s most hotly debated public policy matters is the subject of Climate Change, formerly known as “global warming.”

Before I go any further with a blog post that will surely divide my followers and Facebook “friends,” let’s get right to the meat of the matter.

When former vice president Al Gore declared that “the planet has a fever,” he was right. Global Climate Change (GCC) simply cannot be denied.

I am not a scientist, geologist or meteorologist. I am just another pundit with yet another point of view.

But while my friends on the left are far more likely to celebrate my above statements about the reality of GCC, I have some serious misgivings about many of their proposals to “fix the problem.” Recently hundreds of high-school students skipped classes to rally against GCC.

They should have hit the books instead.

When debating GCC, we should be able to acknowledge some fundamental facts:

  • Planet Earth is approximately 4.543 billion years old;
  • The Ice Age began 2.4 million years ago, lasting until approximately 11,500 years ago;
  • Humans began roaming the planet approximately 200,000 years ago.

So what do these facts tell us?

Well, for starters, the earth’s climate has been changing for a long, long time and humans had little to no impact on the earth’s atmosphere until about 50 years ago.

But before we begin any conversation about GCC, we should check our emotions at the door. This is a complex issue, and rhetoric – from either deniers or fanatics – won’t do a damn thing except possibly increasing your blood pressure.

Climate Change Impacts: A brief history

If you want to talk about other impacts that affect GCC, let’s take a relatively short journey back in time.

According to an article by Karen Harpp, an assistant professor of geology at Colgate University, published in the Scientific American newsletter:

In 1784, Benjamin Franklin made what may have been the first connection between volcanoes and global climate while stationed in Paris as the first diplomatic representative of the United States of America. He observed that during the summer of 1783, the climate was abnormally cold, both in Europe and back in the U.S. The ground froze early, the first snow stayed on the ground without melting, the winter was more severe than usual, and there seemed to be “a constant fog over all Europe, and [a] great part of North America.”

What Franklin observed, Harpp writes was “indeed the result of volcanic activity.”

“Natural forces cause Earth’s temperature to fluctuate on long timescales due to slow changes in the planet’s orbit and tilt,” according to a Q & A published by Climate Communication, which is a non-profit science and outreach project. “Such forces were responsible for the ice ages. Other natural forces sometimes cause temperatures to change on short timescales.”

On the other side of the debate there is plenty of scientific evidence regarding human impact on GCC, especially so in the last 50 years. The human impact has, in fact, outpaced natural impacts.

So what do we do?

Industrialized nations (United States, Japan, China, Russia, Great Britain, India and France) have more responsibility because of their bigger global impact. The 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Change was signed by all of these counties and many more nations that have a far lower impact or produce fewer greenhouse gases, primarily carbon dioxide.

And then there is the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, an international treaty that extends the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, based on scientific consensus.

I don’t dispute the science that provides more than ample evidence of human impact on climate change, but I am an ardent opponent of so-called carbon taxes. Just a few days ago, the state of Maine rejected the notion of placing a dedicated tax on gasoline and home heating oil. Phew! We dodged another bullet.

So-called carbon taxes are the rallying cry of the activists, but those additional taxes would place a further burden on the citizens who can least afford it.

Maine Governor Janet Mills is pushing for a $50 million bonding package that would study the impact of rising sea levels on coastal Maine communities. “We’re all in this together,” she said.

Rather than creating yet more taxes, perhaps we should focus more attention on creating incentives to reduce greenhouse gases.

I have worked as a public relations consultant on several energy projects, including wind power and an LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) terminal in eastern Maine. I was always amazed when environmentalists opposed clean, renewable sources of energy, citing bird strikes and the need for flickering red lights atop wind turbines. I live in a community that once burned trash to generate electricity, but don’t get me started on that boondoggle.

We humans have a right to occupy this planet and we all share an inherent responsibility to be good stewards of our natural resources. I recently took a quick gander around my house, comparing it to my parents’ home. When I was growing up there were no microwave ovens. We didn’t have a dishwasher, flat-screen televisions or computers.

I am not suggesting that we should get rid of these things, but maybe we could be more mindful about our energy consumption, and explore expanding clean energy sources such as hydro projects – and yes – nuclear power. (Last week, Forbes magazine published an article that examined the safety of nuclear power plants.)

In a March 11 Portland Press Herald editorial, the editorial board wrote that “the global climate fight will take many forms.”

I could not agree more.

Wag the dog

If I had any doubts about the increasingly dominating role of new media over traditional media, they were vanquished yesterday while watching ABC’s World News Tonight.

In the A-block of the evening news program (ranked second between NBC and CBS) Anchor David Muir told us a story about a tweet that Donald Trump sent earlier in the day to commemorate Cinco de Mayo.

Perhaps because Trump is the presumptive GOP nominee for the presidency and because his  tasteless Taco Bowl tweet had gone viral, ABC treated it as one of their top new stories.

ABC’s Taco Bowl Tweet story included reporting that Hillary Clinton’s team fired off a response tweet using Trump’s own words to discredit him. The story also mentioned that 81 percent of Hispanic Americans have an unfavorable view of Trump.

ABC was certainly not alone in covering the Taco Bowl incident. The social media gaffe was covered by every other network, including cable news giants CNN and FOX, not to mention the print media, including the Associated Press, USA Today and Reuters.

In each of these stories, something that transpired in the world of new media was being reported by the old media giants in a classic game of react and catch-up.

Trump tweeted his photo some five hours before ABC’s evening news broadcast. How many people had already seen the tweet?

I will not argue the newsworthy merits of Trump’s tweet, but it struck me that the once dominating news giants were again scrambling to keep up with their more nimble counterparts in the world of social media.

Whether it is a political campaign or your business reputation on the line, what you do and say on social media has significant consequences. That’s why I always tell my clients to be very careful and not post anything on social media that you don’t want to see on the front page of tomorrow’s newspaper.

The tables have turned. The rules have changed. You are the media. Take your role seriously.


Randy Seaver is a former newspaper reporter and editor. He also has more than a decade of experience as a strategic communications consultant, helping a wide range of clients overcome challenges in the court of public opinion.  Learn More

Press Releases: Think before sending

bluefin-tuna_478_600x450A high quality press release can open a lot of doors and  is usually the first step in landing your story, brand or project in front of a large audience.

Some people think that crafting and distributing a press release is easy while others consider it a daunting task. Both are somewhat true, but it’s likely that you are too busy running your business or managing your brand to give your press release the attention it deserves.

Before turning to a web site that offers “free” advice and “guaranteed” results, think about how important your press release is to your project, your company’s reputation or your marketing efforts. It makes sense to talk to a pro before hitting the send key.

What do you want to land?

In reality, sending a press release is like a day of fishing. If you just want to cast a line and hope for the best in a familiar watering hole, you’re probably okay on your own. Catch a couple of mackerel and call it a day.

But if you want to land a 400-pound bluefin tuna, it makes sense to have a knowledgeable guide with the the right equipment and the skills necessary to help you achieve success.

If you must absolutely go about it on your own,  then I offer a few basic tips of advice.

1.) Know it:  In fishing, you need to know the waters, the species you are going after and the right bait to use. When thinking about a press release, you need to know your subject matter and the media landscape. Who is writing, blogging or reporting on your subject matter? Do you know these people? Do you have relationships with them? Have you fished these waters before?

2.) Earn it: A good day of fishing requires getting up early and a serious commitment. There are basically two kinds of media: “earned media” and “paid” media. Paid media is advertisements that you pay for; liking buying tuna at the grocery store. Earned media is the result of your hard work and having the right bait.

3.) Hook it: Speaking of the right bait, your press release needs a good hook. Reporters are inundated with hundreds of press releases. How will yours stand out among the rest? What type of hook will you use to arouse the reporter?

4.) Pitch It: There are many species of fish in the water. If your are after a specific species, you have to know what you want and how to catch it. Before sending your release, make a few phone calls to targeted reporters. Don’t send a press release about a new chef at your restaurant to a reporter that covers city hall.

5.) Reel It In: You need to be patient and give the reporter room to do his or her job. Your press release needs to be well-written, succinct (no more than 1-1/2 pages) and contain basic information, including an e-mail and phone number for a primary contact. You should never send a press release as an attachment. Specify whether there will be photo opportunities and include links to your company web site.

If you just want to spend a day relaxing on the water, then you will be fine without a guide. But if you want a prize catch, then it makes sense to talk with a pro to ensure that your press release opens all the right doors.


Randy Seaver is a former newspaper reporter and editor. He also has more than a decade of experience as a strategic communications consultant, helping a wide range of clients overcome challenges in the court of public opinion.  Learn More

Dealing with the media

Photo credit: flydenver.com
Photo credit: flydenver.com

Do you know the definitions of “lede,” “nut graf” or “B-roll?”

These are common terms used by members of the media.

Reporters and editors have their own jargon and their own way of doing things, but it’s important to remember that they are also human beings. They value honesty, courtesy and respect.

I’ve said it before, and I will say it again: the media is not supposed to be your friend. Reporters have a unique mission: to remain as objective as possible, to ferret out facts and to report that information to the public while working under crushing deadlines and  operating in an extraordinarily competitive industry.

Keeping these things in mind will help you navigate the media landscape, whether you’re sending out a press release or dealing with a crisis that is affecting your company, your brand, your campaign or your reputation.

Imagine this: the phone rings and it’s a reporter on the other end of the phone. He or she needs a quick comment for a story that will be published in tomorrow’s newspaper. What do you do?

Or imagine this: you step out the front door and you find a TV news van parked in front of your home or office and suddenly you are face-to-face with a reporter and cameraman, What do you do?

I offer my clients an insider’s knowledge of the complex media landscape. For more than a decade, I worked as a reporter and editor. I still have many friends in the business.

Drawing on my experience as a communications consultant; and with some input by my friends in the media, I’ve developed a brief list of things you should do — and things you should not do — when dealing with the media.

1,) Be honest: Consider this the golden rule of dealing with the media. Don’t play games. People will judge you by your words and actions, especially if you find yourself in a crisis situation. Don’t hype your press release. Be concise and straightforward. If you lie, you will only make things worse.

2.) Have a plan: Don’t wait until a crisis arises before developing your media strategy. A comprehensive media plan will include your basic talking points, and everyone in your organization should know who the contact person is for dealing with the media. Anticipate and develop a list of tough questions, among other things.

3,) Stay on message: When the cameras start rolling or the reporter starts writing, many people have a tendency to panic. They either freeze like a deer in the headlights or they ramble endlessly. If you do these things, your message will be lost. As part of your media plan, you should have a “message box” Before your interview, memorize your message box and learn how to pivot back to your core message. Tell them what you are going to tell them; tell them what you want to tell them; and then tell them what you told them. This way, your message does not get lost.

4.) Be respectful: Basic manners go a long way in helping you tell your story. Recognize that the media is working under deadlines. If a reporter calls you, ask about his or her deadline. Don’t spam their in-boxes with press releases that are actually advertisements. Step back and consider whether your story is newsworthy. Reporters are not part of your sales and marketing team. They only want news that is accurate, relevant and timely.

5.) Comment or No Comment? This is one of the toughest questions you will face when dealing with the media, and it should be considered on a case-by-case basis. Remember that the reporter has taken time out of his or her schedule to seek your input. By saying “no comment” you lose the opportunity to share your side of the story. That said, sometimes it is advisable to not comment, especially if the story is about a legal matter or involves proprietary information. Once you comment, you can’t take it back, and your comments can be used against you. (Refer to rules 2 and 3).

Dealing with the media does not have to be a headache or a frightening experience. Just remain calm, polite and on message. It also helps to have a PR pro on your side to help you navigate these situations. I invite you to contact me to learn more about media relations and how you can share your story with the public.


 

Randy Seaver is a former newspaper reporter and editor. He also has more than a decade of experience as a strategic communications consultant, helping a wide range of clients overcome challenges in the court of public opinion.  Learn More

 

 

 

Advocacy: The power of testimonials

Sample of testimonial flyer
Sample of testimonial flyer

How do you build support for your project, business or campaign?

There are a lot of tools at your disposal, but one of the most effective tools is garnering support via third-party testimonials.

Third-party voices reinforce your own messaging and they build credibility for your project.

The most powerful persuader in the marketplace, apart from a customer’s own experience, is the opinion of someone they trust, according to Cutting Edge PR.

Authentic testimonials can be produced in both traditional and non-traditional ways: from letters to the editor and op-eds in local newspapers to short videos that can be posted on social media sites such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.

Consider the following research:

  • 90 percent of consumers trust peer recommendations over traditional marketing efforts;
  • 81 percent of customers reach out to friends and family members on social networking sites for advice before purchasing products;
  • 59 percent of consumers say user-generated product reviews have a significant impact on their buying behavior.

These trends are just as important when trying to rally support for a community project or a political campaign.

People trust authentic, independent voices.

A campaign sign placed by the side of the road is one thing, but a campaign sign on a person’s lawn reinforces the candidate’s support in the community.

Advocacy works best when it’s delivered by people outside your project team. I have been helping a variety of clients find and recruit third-party endorsers for more than a decade.

Third-party voices are an effective tool with proven results.

I invite you to contact me to discuss how I can put my years of experience in building community support to work for you.


 

Randy Seaver is a former newspaper reporter and editor. He also has more than a decade of experience as a strategic communications consultant, helping a wide range of clients overcome challenges in the court of public opinion.  Learn More