Net Neutrality Is Stuck In Neutral

Net Neutrality Is Stuck In Neutral

Net neutrality is one of those concepts that seems easy to comprehend – until you try to comprehend it. Then your brain begins spinning like that Apple pinwheel.

At its most basic, net neutrality means that, for example, an episode of Scandal that you wish to stream from Hulu over your Comcast Internet service provider (ISP) arrives at the same time and speed as it would for any other user on any other service: Time Warner, Verizon, AT&T. Without a consistent delivery speed, that episode of Scandal is likely to slow down – buffer – just as Olivia Pope is about to bed:

A. The President

B. The commander of B-613

C. Jack Bauer

So, net neutrality is a good thing – yes? Predictably, there are two sides to this story. Hulu, Netflix, Google, Facebook, and most every content provider favor net neutrality while most ISPs don’t.

The Federal Communications Commission is now weighing whether ISPs should be allowed to create a “fast lane” for Internet data – essentially, deliberately slowing data and forcing content providers to pay for that fast lane. That increased expense would be passed along to the consumer (of course), meaning your episode of Scandal would arrive quickly and un-buffered – if you paid a higher fee. But if Netflix, et al chose not to travel in the fast lane, or if you decided not to pay for that fast-lane service, your high-speed friends would know well before you who spent the weekend in bed with Olivia Pope streaming season two of House of Cards.

As the New York Times has posited, “Is high-speed Internet service similar to a utility company transporting water or electricity, and therefore subject to heavy regulation? Or is broadband service so integral to what makes the Internet thrive that regulation would destroy the incentive for companies to create new online technologies?”

Verizon speaks for the ISPs when it claims, “For the FCC to impose 1930s utility regulation on the Internet would lead to years of legal and regulatory uncertainty and would jeopardize investment and innovation in broadband.” Consumers Union speaks for the content providers and for consumers when it says that the FCC’s plan “appears to go against the principles of ensuring [an open Internet]. The proposal could negatively impact consumer prices, choices, and access to the Internet, as well as free speech and innovation.”

On a more granular level, what it means for those of us who have clients who regularly post informational videos on everything from the intrinsic value of the arts and humanities to scenes from the charity fun run, is that an Internet fast lane would increase the cost of entry. That could result in fewer such postings. After all, a slowed down fun run isn’t a run and isn’t fun.

Net neutrality should be preserved. There should be no slow lane on the information superhighway because establishing one will push the smaller content providers all the way over into the breakdown lane, while making customers pay for the fast lane.

Hey FCC—don’t make us sic Jack Bauer and Olivia Pope on you.


A Flack and a Hack Walk Into a Bar: Part Deux (or The Best and Worst Reporter Interactions with PR Professionals)

Last week, a Facebook post by a journalist friend lamenting the lameness of a PR pitch set me to cataloguing some of the worst and best PR practices as seen from the reporters’ points of view.

This week, I polled other PR professionals including my colleagues in the PRConsultants Group, a nationwide collaborative of independent PR practitioners, of which, The Knight Canney Group is a member. I asked for their thoughts on the best and worst reporter interactions with us. So, listen up reporters. This one’s for you.

The number one answer on the “best” list? “I always, always appreciate when a reporter returns my phone call or answers my email. Even if it’s to say ‘no’.”

The number one answer on the “worst” list? “When a reporter just won’t get back to me. I send emails and follow up with phone calls and there’s just no response.” Writes another, “I never ignore reporters when they reach out to me, but it’s pretty much standard practice now for them to not respond.” And says yet another, “If they’re not interested, it’s not that hard to just hit reply and say, ‘Thanks, but not interested.’” So starved for responses are we PR types that one woman told me, “…respond to my email, even with just a ‘no’ or ‘ack’.”

The complaints about lack of response outnumbered those about getting the facts wrong two-to-one. (I’m sure that says something bad about us…)

I’ve frequently said I am lucky to have left broadcast journalism prior to widespread use of two things: high definition and the Internet.

I receive in excess of 110 emails each weekday. Most of them need answers. Some require a thoughtful response. Some can be dispatched with a simple “yes,” “no,” or “not in this lifetime.”  I’m not without sympathy for reporters who tell me they are drowning in emails. But truly, there is no form of communication easier than email. Just give us a “Got it. Will call you.” Or “Doesn’t work for me.” Or even, “Good luck with that.” Done, I’m out of your hair.

I like reporters. I used to be one. I understand the responsibilities they have and the pressures they’re under—and that there are fewer of them doing more work across multiple platforms. Here’s a suggestion: let us help you. You may not want the story we’re pitching today, but you may be looking for a comment or access for a story you want to do tomorrow. You’re less inclined to help us if you don’t know us and vice versa. How can you get to know us if you don’t talk to us or even acknowledge a call or an email?

You may even find one or two of us you like! (As I said last week, it wouldn’t be the worst thing if a flack and a hack walked into a bar.)

A Flack and a Hack Walk Into a Bar (or what is the worst thing a PR person can do when pitching a story?)

Sticks and stones will break my bones, but seeing a Facebook post with the words “PR” and “crap” in the same sentence got my attention.

Facebook, Twitter, and the blogosphere are rife with journalist-driven derision against “PR hacks.” Sure, some of it is gratuitous snark, but some of it is valid. If we don’t want to be that caller ID number that sends eyes rolling and fingers leaping to the “Ignore” button, we need to pay some attention to reporters’ concerns.

So, I sent emails to a number of friends who are still employed as journalists, for both local and national news outlets. I asked them to answer two questions:

  • What is the worst thing a PR person can do when pitching a story?
  • What is the best thing a PR person can do when pitching a story?

The answers were not black and white, which is also important to understand because, “do this, this, and this,” is no more a guarantee for success than, “if you do that or that” means certain failure.

A consistent answer across the board (because several were inclined to list many “worst things”) was PR people who just don’t know what that reporter really covers. “Yes, I write about education,” wrote one friend, “but I write about higher education. Don’t send me pitches about pre-k policy.”

One reporter said most frustrating is when, as happened recently, he gets pitched a story for a source who is later unavailable or unwilling to comment. “Nobody wants to waste time and they wasted mine.”

“I hate pitches that are so blatantly commercial,” said another reporter. “I get it. Your client wants free publicity about their product. Fine, but that can’t be the pitch. Tell me why it’s innovative, why it’s going to change the industry, or why it’s benefiting society, or creating jobs where there were none. Give me something other than, ‘this is our product and we think people would love a feature on this.’ That will get you nuuuthing.”

(Pitches like that have the ring of a PR professional not standing up to the client who is pushing such a pitch. Subject of future blog, I think!)

Okay, so is there anything we do right?

One reporter at a national publication told me, “The best flacks know what they know and know why it’s valuable” to him and to his beat. (No, I don’t take offense at the word “flack,” because I frequently call him a “hack.” Besides, you’ll recall I also let “bossy” slide.) He added that the better PR people acknowledge when there’s bad news and own it. They understand “getting ahead and explaining something before the chaos.”

Several reporters, local and national, said they appreciate documentation and any corroborating evidence or voices. (Third-party validation, in PR parlance.) Reporters are busy. The good ones will do their own research to corroborate what you give them, but handing over valid documentation saves a little time, gives you credibility—and maybe engenders some good will.

What do we get the most credit for? “PR people who take the time to read (or watch) my stories, who know and understand what I do, always get my attention. I may not always do the story, but I’ll listen to what they’re pitching because their pitches are usually germane to what I do.”

Get to know reporters and their work. Relationships are key to getting someone to listen to what you have to say. It wouldn’t be the worst thing if a flack and a hack walked into a bar…

Next week? I ask other PR professionals a couple of questions about reporters.

Communicating Ideas in the Age of Entrenched, Prideful, Ignorance

The conversational question is posed during an office discussion, with the reasonable expectation that a relatively cogent response will follow: “Don’t you think the Watergate scandal taught us that it’s the cover-up, more than the actual crime, that leads to the downfall?” The answer is often an unfortunate variation on: “I wasn’t even born when Watergate happened, so why would you expect me to know?”

Yeah, well, I wasn’t even born when the Civil War broke out, the Monroe Doctrine was signed, Prohibition went into effect, FDR died, or Truman fired MacArthur, but that doesn’t absolve me of being conversant on those and thousands upon thousands of other morsels of history, math (well, maybe not math), science, literature, and even pop culture. (But don’t quiz me on the lyrics to My Hitta.)

Which is worse: not knowing basic facts about the world around you, or not caring that you don’t know?

As Jay Leno proved with his Jaywalking segment and Jimmy Kimmel demonstrates with his Lie Witness News feature, some Americans are both profoundly uninformed and desperate to get their physiognomies on television. It’s painful to watch these hugely entertaining comedy bits as people refuse to cop to ignorance of the topic and instead hold forth on why they support – for example – Ukraine’s acquisition of Lululemon.

How can we, as public relations professionals, possibly communicate ideas and ideals to a cohort of consumers and/or voters who seemingly take great pride in their obliviousness? They may be too cool for school, but that ’tude isn’t going to allow them to fully participate in decisions big and small: from selecting the most nutritious foods to voting for the best qualified politicians.

It could be argued that this willful ignorance presents an opportunity to sway unformed minds. How else to explain the popularity of Two and A Half Men, Subway’s 1,720-calorie Double Meatball Marinara with Cheese, or – for our Russian comrades – Vladimir Putin?

Instead, I think the day already may be here where we communications practitioners who endeavor to shape—or at least inform—opinions need to concentrate on those Americans who are engaged by the world, and who at least know how to Google the answer to: What effect did Ronald Reagan’s Star Wars initiative have on the Cold War? I don’t want to believe that it’s a losing battle to convince the willfully ignorant that knowledge is power. But I’m pretty close. While it’s darn funny to see them BS their way through late night television, trying to conceal their cluelessness beneath a sheathe of cool opinion, the cringe factor is high. Why wouldn’t you say, “Gee, I don’t know anything about that,” and then go look it up? Use that smart phone there in your hand. The one on which you’re about to Tweet, “Just interviewed for #TVnews! Nailed it!”

I’m tempted to quote Benjamin Franklin: “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” But, well, I wasn’t even born when he wrote that.