- Native ads and why millenials think they’re impervious to advertising
- Broken state of magazines and print
- Web destinations (WSJ, Huffpo, Drudge, Google News) vs. social discovery (head forever buried in social media feed, no intentional news seeking)
- Dynamic ad insertion: Outbrain, “brand stories,” and the new advertorial
- Buzzfeed and Vice click-bait articles
- Advertising and persuasion traditions
- How they work in the modern web
- Tracking cookies and personalization
- Pop-ups, banner ads and interruption marketing
- “Newsjacking” (David Meerman Scott); Celebrity-jacking (Charlie Houpert)
Part 1 – Historical Perspective and Analysis
- Recent media history - transitional times
- Print => web
- Radio => podcast
- TV => YouTube/Netflix
- Broadcast dominance => self-selection/YouTube
The "news" comes at us fast and furious, but what sneaks by is often comical. Broadcasters and print journalists (to a lesser extent) frequently offer unsourced and anonymous quotes from who knows where in order to support their particular angle on a story.
Here's one from CNN's Wolf Blitzer's Situation Room program that's pretty outrageous.
Here's the verbatim text from the journalist who put together the package:
Huh? You can run a story on CNN that translates what someone might have said into something that "CNN believes" that person meant to say? How does that work?
How is this even remotely considered objective reporting? Even if it were political analysis or editorial, the reporter has no business importing what she thinks the person meant to say and then following that with "quote. . . "
They even mock up a graphic with Stone's Twitter info and animate typing into his update, as if he's doing it. Pretty crazy stuff. See below.
The following is an excerpt from a forthcoming course in media literacy offered by Synapse Services. For more information, please send email to pdunn [at] synapsehub.com.
Today’s modern media landscape is shaping and confusing the minds of young people at warp speed. They may not realize it. Even adults trained in critical thinking and academic analysis get confused with the incessant noise and suspect claims that flow freely across the multi-channel, multi-device media world.
One of the big problems is that advertising and persuasion mechanisms are baked right into the product, and it’s now easier than ever to insert it, track it, retarget consumers and generally dupe people into misinformed positions in order to cultivate:
· Buying decisions
· Political decisions
· Medical decisions
· Financial decisions
· Lifestyle choices
· And other related drivers of everyday living and long-term planning
None of this is particularly new. It’s just that the science of scamming, duping, cajoling and nudging is getting dangerously competent. Unfortunately, advertisers have taken wisdom from books like Robert Cialdini’s Persuasion (FEAR: “People are more motivated by what they stand to lose than by what they stand to gain.”), and turned it loose within the worlds of print journalism, TV, radio, podcasting and elsewhere. The upcoming generation of consumers is facing some of the smartest, most irresistible messaging techniques in history. The snake oil salesman is not as easily identifiable as he once was.
Savvy companies now view the media as hired storytellers to be manipulated on their behalf (many have always held this view). Donald Trump is the current master of the trade. Hillary had a great persuasion team, as well, with Robert Cialdini at the helm.
Today, bogus outfits like Buzzfeed and Vice rule content production, while technology behemoths like Apple, Google and Facebook control advertising delivery methods. In years past, centralized juggernauts like the CBS Evening News, The Wall Street Journal, various magazine and radio conglomerates, CNN, the Los Angeles Times, NPR and Pravda managed to guide public discourse (and the associated commercial interests) with relative ease. There was supposed to be an impenetrable wall between advertising and editorial, but those formats, by their very nature, were PR channels, as well. Large businesses, like professional sports teams, amphitheaters, movie studios, Fortune 500 companies, and similar concerns enjoyed steady coverage in exchange for pay-to-play advertising expenditures. Politicians used these old platforms to great effect, as well (and great expense).
In decades past, the editor influenced and controlled your “feed.” Now you and your friends do to some extent. The platforms that control information presentation algorithms have a significant amount of control, as well (Facebook, Google, Apple). We may soon see a day when actual headlines are customized based on your public profiles, fears, wants and individual quirks.
In order to navigate these new mine fields with some sanity, the best thing a student (young or old) can do is to get smart about how they’re being manipulated and pitched.
Highlights from our course outline and upcoming textbook follow.
Media Rebel Course Goals
How do we want the students to leave the course?
- Ability to analyze and combat advertising strategies and be intentional about our consumer choices
- Possess critical thinking skills that allow them to examine the motivations, economics and powers behind 1) Entertainment, 2) News and 3) Advertising media. (in order of emotional impact)
- Ability to lucidly debate and explain the modern media landscape
- Make better life decisions based on a clearer view of how the media world works
What are we rebelling against?
- Sleight of hand
Please leave your email (upper right) to be notified when the complete course is available.
As part of my job, I occasionally pitch “real news” editors and publishers with story ideas.
Sometimes, I get back responses like this one: “. . we prefer writers with professional journalism experience. We don’t tend to work with corporate publishing contractors out of a concern that their corporate work will conflict with the role of freelance news contributor.”*
To be clear, I am a marketing writer that’s also a journalist. I make my living by putting interesting and persuasive things in front of readers.
What’s fascinating is how there’s this false rift between “legit” reporters and writers, and those who dabble in both commercial and public interests (as if the two were somehow separable).
Today, I’m here to tell you that the rift is complete and total horse-shit. You know it if you’re in the business, but you may not care much about it if you’re not.
I’m here to emphasize that you should care - even if you’re not in the business.
Whores with Pens
All journalists are whores, whether they acknowledge it or not. In fact, all journalists are marketers, even if they don’t know it. They’re constantly being used by the subtle industry powers, and they’re even more susceptible to corruption in this world of Buzzfeed, TMZ, Huffington Post, Vox, Vice, The Verge, Drudge and Facebook journalism. (I realize that Drudge and Facebook are just a channels, but their feeds are crammed with fake news, of the kind the previously mentioned outlets produce.)
This post aims to shed some light on the wordsmith industry and how the reading public is at a distinct disadvantage in these days of click-analysis, headline bait and the shoddy article sciences. Later, we’ll break it down even further with subsequent break-outs/break-downs.
Ye Olde Newspaper
The beginning of whore-dom began with newspapers, almanacs or journals.
A lot of people get crazy these days about whether or not a particular newspaper or news channel is objective. Interestingly, this was never the case. Traditionally, newspapers aligned along party lines, for example. Early on papers were even named after the party they aligned with. Some names from the past include the Arkansas Democrat and Marion, Illinois' The Daily Republican. Towns would often have two different papers to satisfy the different political viewpoints. Hearst's San Francisco Examiner, for example, countered the more left-leaning San Francisco Chronicle. Eventually many papers would ditch the dem/repub alignment in their titles in favor of less subjective names like Gazette, Recorder and Ledger.
Commercially funded newspapers like Hearst's national papers took specific viewpoints that favored the interests of the publishers. This is much more disguised today, but it persists.
The papers have never been very shy about their promotional proclivities, either. They were packaged as promotion vehicles, with the local sports teams advertised in the Sports section, the local arts, restaurants and entertainment in that section, local business press releases rewritten in the Business section and the political parties in the front pages along side the actual hard news reporting (who was killed, what burned down, etc.).
The New News Thing
Today, people typically find news via social media feeds and news aggregators, like Google News, Yahoo! News or Feedly. Those latter three are more typical of “news junkies.” Recent studies show that most casual news consumers get curated news feeds in their social media feeds on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit and elsewhere (And when I say news, I’m including all the junk promotion, native advertising and outright corporate propaganda that show up on media outlets - more on native advertising below). A lot of people also use link aggregators and publishers like The Drudge Report and The Huffington Post to get news that aligns with their particular conservative/progressive orientation.
This is a problem, because news producers no longer control their editorial feeds. Think of an editorial feed as the newspaper itself. A publisher like the L.A. Times has control over the stories they choose to feature (even the ones they don’t produce like stories from AP).
As a result, common media consumers have less and less concern about where their news comes from and how it was produced. They gravitate toward sparkly headlines that are exhaustively tested by the news organizations and form opinions that don’t adhere to a particular editorial agenda. Traditional agendas were historically guided by several large news organizations in broadcast and print. They had semi-monopolies that tended to promote a two-party ideological orientation: L.A. Times vs. O.C. Register; Washinton Post vs. Washington Times; New York Times vs. Wall Street Journal; CNN vs. Fox News.
A new group of “editors” now controls the mass exposure of news, promotions and ideas. One prime example that’s come under fire lately is Facebook. They claim to have algorithms that promote stories in the news area to the right of the wall, but it’s clear that human editorial control and even censorship of story lines is at play. And, like the papers of old, a platform like Facebook now needs to be considered an ideological proponent, much like the Hearst organization of years past.
Cookies and User News Behavior
Something else to consider with the Facebook scenario is behavior tracking. As you may already know, Facebook, Google, Twitter, Amazon and many other web properties (including advertisers) track your online behaviors and submit products, news, services and other preferences to you as you surf the web.
With respect to news, this is important. The Facebook news feed on the right hand side of the page, for example, displays news stories that you’re more likely to read. It learns from your Facebook conversations and click behaviors, then presents you with custom news based on its own profile analysis and algorithms. This is also used for the sponsored posts that show up in your feeds.
We'll cover more about the history and evolution of the news business in Part 2 of this series.
*[For the record: I’m a professional journalist with an M.A. in print journalism from the University of Southern California and 21 years of reporting and publishing experience. I’m also the author of McGraw-Hill’s best-selling eBay marketing book.]
Do you trust that the following news outlets have your best interests in mind when collaborating to edit the news feeds of millions across the globe? Full story here.
The New York Times
ABC News of Australia
Agence France Press (AFP)
Le Monde's Les Decodeurs
International Business Times UK
Eurovision News Exchange
Al Jazeera Media Network
These media companies are now collaborating to determine "best practices" for online reporting. Do you think there's a good spectrum of political viewpoint variation amongst these outlets? What happens when they decide what's appropriate content for your social feeds and headlines?
Thin about it. These platforms have immense power over millions of casual news observers. How will this newly formed group of editors position news to reach specific social and political outcomes. Take a look at the orientations of their particular leaders (e.g. Mark Zuckerberg) and decide for yourself.
The Scientific American recently published an eye-opening article on how the FDA manipulates the media with something called a close-hold embargo. Make sure you check out that article.
You'll see how government agencies, large corporations and even non-profit orgs consistently manage the media and control the messages that get out into public consumption.
As media consumers, we need to be on the lookout for this kind of colluded secrecy. One way to monitor how this works is to set up an RSS feed on some kind of service like Feedly and take notice when a group of mainstream press outlets publish the same story all at once - and one of the major media outlets is conspicously missing.
Here's more general information on press embargoes and how they work. Also, more fallout from the Scientific American expose from Business Insider.