Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Editors as Chefs

Last evening, I was dining at one of my favorite local restaurants when a thought occurred to me.

Often, people enjoy a particular restaurant because of that restaurant's specialties. Great steak, delicious key lime pie, unbelievable gnocchi, etc.

But I think one of the things that makes a great restaurant is a chef who really understands the best interplay among flavors and textures and then creates meals that provide interesting combinations I might not ever think to try on my own.

Sure, I know that I like beef more than chicken, asparagus more than carrots, etc. But what I don't necessarily know is that the taste of ginger-dashed carrots might bring out interesting flavors in the salmon I'm planning on ordering. When ordering a la carte, I'd probably go with a more pedestrian potato dish, since I know I like potatoes, and miss out on the experience. It's even possible I could really enjoy beets or yams with a particular entree, despite the fact I generally don't like either.

What occurred to me is that a great editor acts much like a great chef. Talented editors don't just serve up solid articles, but select a mix of stories that provides an excellent overall reading experience. An editor must simultaneously balance editorial variety and interplay and both invoke familiar ideas and introduce the audience to wholly new concepts.

Every day, daily newspaper editors select the day's editorial content, including third-party stories from wire services. The editors' decision process is much like the creation of a menu.

But looking at the recent evolution of media consumption, it seems that increasingly, today's readers don't truly appreciate the chef.

The demand for mainstream media has shifted toward "personalized" media, in which readers find their own news and features content from a variety of sources and aggregate it on their own. We're using RSS readers, MyYahoo pages and other such tools to essentially order our news a la carte and create our own front page section of our own newspaper.

It's not just that we don't have time to read the content out there. Reader's Digest is an example of an Old Media player that long ago attacked that problem while still providing a 'chef' to pick the best bites. Reader's Digest still has 10 million readers - but the readers' median age - 50.4.

So why is it that this generation is not as interested in the chef/editor's choice? Is it that we don't trust his or her judgment? That we think we're more expert on the subject area at hand? Is it just a natural extension of an increasingly self-service-oriented culture?

Sometimes we know what we want, and it's just a burger, and we don't need to read the whole menu to get satisfaction. And that's fine.

But I think we should be sure we still take time to listen to the daily special, or we could suddenly find that our media chefs have been replaced by a mere salad bar of RSS feeds.

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Tuesday, June 21, 2005

LA Times Yanks Wikitorial

The LA Times attempted to use Wiki to create an interactive online editorial feature this weekend. They started with an editorial urging a better-defined plan to withdraw troops from Iraq, and readers were invited to add their thoughts. Some did constructively, but soon "some readers were flooding the site with inappropriate material." On Sunday, editors decided to remove the feature, apologizing to those who had logged on in the right spirit.

Some bloggers predicted the outcome, noting that pile-ons would likely occur. Others pointed out that Wiki isn't really best for aggregating individuals' opinions, but rather is aimed at constantly verifying and updating facts.

"Wikipedia policy is that all articles should be written from a neutral point of view: without bias, representing all views fairly. According to Wikipedia founder Jimbo Wales, NPOV is "absolute and non-negotiable". [1]"

Of course, that's WikiPEDIA. There's no saying that there can't be different rules for WikiPINION, right?

The problem is, using Wiki for opinion might run counter to a couple assumptions important to the success of a Wiki. Wiki.org's Design Principles include one biggie:

Trust - This is at the core of wiki. Trust the people, trust the process, enable trust-building.

You have to trust that visitors won't alter the intended meaning of a previous Wiki entry. When it comes to the factual, that's a reasonable expectation. People who are visiting a Wiki about how to grow tomatoes generally are there to collect and advance knowledge on beefsteaks, not to throw them at one another.

But when it comes to the debatable, and certainly the controversial, that's a pretty unreasonable expectation. People often don't fight fair, especially when they don't have to put their name behind their words.

There are always going to be the morons. Wiki.org cites "Lord of the Flies Syndrome," in which "members of a community engage in unconscionable behavior, often not even civilized, if they feel they can be protected by anonymity, or otherwise are free from any (negative) consequences for their actions."

So - how could a newspaper better use Wiki for editorials?

Three suggestions:

1. Split each editorial into mini Wikis representing each point of view and containing the arguments supporting them. Keep in mind that sometimes there may be more than two points of view.

2. Act as third-party fact checker, scanning the Wikis and verifying and updating information and assumptions presented as fact by posters. This strays a bit away from the whole trust factor, but again, we're dealing with opinion.

3. Don't give posters anonymity. Just as the print pages do, require them to use their real names. Consider implementing a simple identification verification system. If someone has deemed his or her opinion worth shouting on the Internet, (s)he should be fine with people knowing who's doing the shouting.

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Friday, June 17, 2005

PR Compensation and Job Satisfaction Survey

YoungPRPros has launched its first ever Compensation and Job Satisfaction Survey, focusing on North American practitioners and customized by work environment.

Take part now for access to a great resource when it comes time for your next career move or salary review. Respondents will receive the results free.

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Friday, June 10, 2005

New Firefox Extension Expands Google Search

Released yesterday, this is a cool new extension for Firefox that enhances Google search results by adding links to Yahoo, MSN, Technorati and Feedster search results, among others. If you're searching for client web hits or client topic-related material, it's a good way to assure you're getting results from blogs and company RSS feeds as well as MSM websites.

It also incorporates the Google Suggest feature currently still in beta within Google Labs. This feature suggests keywords as you type in the search box and displays the number of results, before actually returning them.

For PR people constantly seeking to assure no stone is left unturned, this is a great new tool and Google Labs should be checked regularly for new search functionality.

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Friday, June 03, 2005

Fleishman-Hillard Execs Hit Low Water Mark

The LA Times has reported that a federal grand jury indicted Douglas R. Dowie, 57, of Los Angeles, on 15 felony counts of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy. Dowie routinely ordered subordinates at Fleishman-Hillard, an international public relations firm, to inflate the number of hours they worked under contracts with the city's Department of Water and Power and the Port of Los Angeles, as well as with two private clients, the indictment charged. His name was added to an existing complaint against a former Fleishman-Hillard vice president, John Stodder, 49, who faces a conspiracy charge and 11 counts of wire fraud. Stodder pleaded not guilty.

I wrote a few weeks ago that I felt the PRSA should take action against the professionals involved. Never mind. I'll just keep a look out for a California license plate that reads, " - 30 - "

By the way, does anyone know which two private clients were involved?

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