Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category
Following up on my previous post about the threat to World Nutella Day…
Ferrero’s Italian site has a news release.
“World Nutella Day: una positiva conclusione del caso
“A positive direct contact between Ferrero and Sara Rosso, owner of a non-official fan page of Nutella called World Nutella Day, he closed the case.Ferrero would like to express its sincere gratitude to Sara Rosso for her passion for Nutella, gratitude extends to all fans of the World Nutella Day .The case arose from a routine procedure in defense of trademarks, activated in response to any misuses of the brand Nutella inside the fan page.Ferrero is pleased to announce that today, after contacting Sara Rosso and finding appropriate solutions together, it immediately stopped all previous action.Ferrero consider themselves lucky to have a fan of Nutella so devoted and loyal as Sara Rosso.
Saw these two things this morning, and can’t help but share them.
First, Doug Gilmour sells (?) computers:
Plagiarism is a big deal from the time we all go to school. Of course, back when I was in my first university program in the 1980s, plagiarism was achieved by retyping content. The Internet, CTRL-C and CTRL-V, made plagiarism MUCH more simple. And not surprisingly, tools like Turnitin popped up to help teachers and professors to determine if a term paper or essay contained plagiarized content.
And in the media, plagiairism is always a hot topic. Margaret Wente of the Globe and Mail is a lightning rod for allegations of plagiarism, but she’s far from the only high-profile journalist or writer caught cribbing others’ notes (think Doris Kearns Goodwin or Jonah Lehrer). Even my main man Stephen King has written about plagiarism (in “Secret Window, Secret Garden“) and himself been accused to the point of lawsuits.
So I was interested to see Paid Content write about a new tool called Churnalism. Churnalism US, as it’s apparently going to be called to differentiate it from the original UK site Churnalism, is a new initiative from the Sunlight Foundation. It’s a tool that lets people paste in text or a URL, and then find out if that particular content is taken from something in a database of sources the tool searches. That database currently includes:
- PR NewsWeb
- Congressional Leadership
- The White House
- Trade Organizations
- Fortune 500 Companies
- Nonprofit Research Institutes and Thinktanks
According to the Paid Content post, Churnalism also searches Wikipedia.
Interesting stuff, eh? So here’s my question: if a journalist copies and pastes content from a news release, is that plagiarism?
Step one. What is the definition of plagiarism?
noun1. an act or instance of using or closely imitating the language and thoughts of another author without authorization and the representation of that author’s work as one’s own, as by not crediting the original author: It is said that he plagiarized Thoreau’s plagiarism of a line written by Montaigne.Synonyms: appropriation, infringement, piracy, counterfeiting; theft, borrowing, cribbing, passing off.
2. a piece of writing or other work reflecting such unauthorized use or imitation: “These two manuscripts are clearly plagiarisms,” the editor said, tossing them angrily on the floor.
Seems there are two factors here:
- without authorization
- lack of credit
The folks at PR Watch were pretty emphatic when it came to the use of Video News Releases or VNRs back in ’06. They felt that the practice of TV news stations inserting full “news reports” prepared and distributed by PR firms in their newscasts was unethical, simply calling it “fake news.” But those news releases weren’t “plagiarism”, per se. The ethical problem there was one of pretending that this was journalism when it had not gone through any journalistic processes.
But as Pekka Pekkala points out in Online Journalism Review, “copy-paste journalism” is rampant, especially in technology journalism. And columnist Steve Penn suing his newspaper for wrongful dismissal in the US is arguing that it was common practice for journalists there to cut and paste. When journalism site Poynter reported on his case last year, a Twitter-based poll they ran at the time found a quarter of respondents saying copy-paste was OK even without attribution and only 3% saying it was plagiarism.
Most journalists would likely argue that grabbing content from a news release is wrong. But what about a quote from the release? Is that plagiarism?
The issues this new tool raises are interesting ones.
- Are we PR folks distributing news releases with the assumption or the hope they WILL be copied? (IMO, not necessarily an assumption or a hope, but an acceptance that they will be copied from time to time)
- Is there an implicit authorization for those on the other end to do so? (IMO, yes)
- Are journalists who do this wrong? (To quote my FIR colleagues, it depends)
- Are journalists who do this plagiarists and deserving of disciplinary action? (No)
What do you think?
Before I get into the blog post proper, a quick note: my heart goes out to all those suffering in Boston. If you would like to help those affected by the bombings, I might suggest The One Fund, which has been established by the Mayor of Boston and the Governor of Massachusetts.
All right. On to a crisis of a much less dire nature.
Last fall, Canada’s Finance Minister Jim Flaherty held a media event at a bike shop here in Ottawa. Joe Mamma is a funky shop here in town, specializing in hipster fixies and cool cruiser bikes. In the event, Flaherty talked about some of the measures contained in his government’s 2012 budget, highlighting a small business tax credit and the government’s decision to hold the line on new taxes. The 2012 budget also elminated duties on miports of athletic equipment. Good news for an indie bike shop owner.
Fast-forward a few months: Same bike shop. Different MP from an opposition party. Different message.
In the 2013 budget, the government announced a number of new tariffs (which, they told media nad opposition, aren’t taxes at all), some of which affected … you guessed it… bicycles. Now looks like those bikes that Jose Bray sells at Joe Mamma are going to be MORE expensive. So the NDP, Canada’s official opposition party, held a news conference at Joe Mamma to criticize the 2013 budget.
I’m not going to get into the politics of this — beyond saying I like lower prices for bikes because I’m a cyclist.
But if you’re doing any sort of public or media event, you may want to think about that event setting. I’m sure Flaherty’s staff thought Joe Mamma was an ideal setting for an event. But they missed the contingency that budget changes that were likely being discussed as they held that event could irritate the owner to such an extent that he would hold another event to criticize them.
If you’re the “backdrop” for an event, it might be a good idea to be very clear with the event organizer about that’s happening. In one story talking about the duelling photo ops, shop owner Jose Bray talked about about not being aware of what was actually being announced by Flaherty, and then feeling blindsided by the new tariffs. Even if it’s a cabinet minister, you have the right to ask exactly what they’re announcing. They may tell you to pound sand and find another location. But that’s the way things go sometimes.
And kudos to the NDP’s staff, for making the opportunity happen by reaching out to him.
A bad event is like taking a photo in the middle of Times Square. A good event is like taking a studio portrait of someone. Your goal, whether you’re the organizer or the “backdrop”, is to control as many factors as possible to allow your messages to get out. The studio’s lighting, props, and makeup are the same thing as the event’s backdrop, spokespeople, and schedule. Make sure that you’re making decisions that are designed to benefit you or your organization to the greatest extent possible.
The recent kerfuffle over Storify and the ability of Facebook users to use it to post material from secret groups has got me thinking about the reaction of companies to real or perceived criticism.
When this — I’m not even sure what to call it: weakness, vulnerability, flaw, bug? — came to light via Julie Pippert and the online publication AGBeat, Storify reacted in a way that I would characterize as defensive.
In long discussions online, most notably with blogger Amy Vernon of Internet Media Labs, Storify’s Burt Herman essentially repeated a couple of key messages.
- nothing posted online is private and you could always copy and paste or take a screenshot
- [Facebook users] need to trust who they are sharing with
I found Herman to be defensive. I understand why. He’s a cofounder of a useful and laudable tool that many people are using and praising. Time magazine called it one of the 50 best Websites of 2011.
But my read of his reaction is that he spoke from the gut and not the head. Look at the timing. Amy Vernon’s tweet was posted at 6:20 am on January 18; Burt Herman was brought into the conversation by a woman named Sue Llewellyn at 7:21 am; Herman then replied an hour after that. Once he’d taken his position, it seemed to harden, as so many positions do.
There’s a lesson here for all businesses. It’s easy to feel attacked when someone finds something disturbing or concerning. If you’re a company founder, you can feel threatened and want to protect your “child.”
But if you react in that manner without serious forethought, you risk ignoring the fact that you could simply be wrong.
Three pieces of advice:
- Think carefully BEFORE you react. Be dispassionate; find a way to be objective. Put yourself in the position of the other person, and don’t let your emotions take the fore.
- Consider reaching out offline before or during your online response. Twitter is not always the most useful way of having a long-form discussion. Perhaps you need the nuance that a phone call or an email exchange or the like can use to inform your response to the criticism — whether you have to acknowledge an error or you’re right to think that the problem is not really there.
- Even if you’ve taken a position on something, don’t hold on to it without carefully evaluating circumstances and facts.
The pace of social media discussion is not an excuse to not be thoughtful.
Happy to announce that Algonquin College PR student Jillian Keene was the winner of a day pass to the IABC’s conference here in Ottawa this week. Jillian will join a large group of seasoned and new communicators to learn from people including Jennifer Stoddart, John Capobianco, and Martha Musychka.
Every interaction matters, especially for retail shops. I negotiated a deal with my partner last night: a trip to Ikea to check out storage in return for a stop at a Dairy Queen for something cold (it’s been brutally hot here in Ottawa this week).So on our way back from looking at shelving and buying stuff — you ALWAYS end up buying stuff at Ikea — we stopped at the ice cream shop. The second one, actually, because the line was OUT THE DOOR at the first one.
We went in, ordered our ice creams from a teenager, and they immediately started extruding our icemilk. Meanwhile, a friend of the counter-boy came in with his girlfriend, and they started catching up.
As we worked away on our frozen treats, they kept chatting. Despite the fact that there was someone waiting to order. The waiting customer didn’t get to put in her order until I was almost finished my sundae.
We had had a positive customer experience. The woman behind us? Not so much. She could as easily have pulled out a cell phone and Tweeted, Yelped, or otherwise expressed her frustration with the poor customer service she was getting.
But it goes beyond that. When you face the public, it’s not just that customer that you’re ticking off, or that customer and her friends, or that customer and her online network. It’s everyone in the shop who happens to observe it. Even though he didn’t realize it, Gossip Boy was interacting with us, the people eating ice cream and with the woman who wanted to eat ice cream just as much as he was interacting with his buddy.
It’s a lesson for anyone employing front counter staff to serve the public. Even though this may seem like a low-end “McJob” — your service staff are on stage and representing your company with much more power than the person whose picture’s on the wall with the gold plaque saying “Our Founder” or the gal who wrote the mission statement that sits on the web site.
And a reminder: if you don’t have a “listening post” set up to see what people are saying about you online, you won’t know that a frustrated customer just trashed you, and you won’t be able to either make it up to them or take steps to improve your staff’s skills.
(This is post number eight in an ongoing series of posts aimed at providing practical advice for small businesspeople in the areas of public relations, communications and social media. If you ever need help with your small business… why not get in touch?)
Yesterday I posted about the idea that we can get hemmed in by structures. We can work within a structure to replicate things, and do it really well, but that’s not the same as making our own rules.
One of the things that I really find inspiring about Twitter is just what frustrated me about it when I first joined Twitter (in February 2007, according to this website). I didn’t know what to do with it. I’m not sure how I heard about it. And I joined because I find the best way of learning about something is to get on board and start from the inside.
I couldn’t see what Twitter was for. And then, I started to see tweets from Chris Brogan. Rather than statements like “This soup at restaurant X is AMAZING”, he was throwing out questions on Twitter that seemed like Zen koans. They seemed designed to provoke you to think. And I liked that. That was enough to engage me with the idea of Twitter. (Ironically enough, as I was writing this post, Brogan was writing about a sort of “Twitter fast” he did.)
But what frustrated me about Twitter was that my thought processes were based on the blogging model, which was based on the radio and magazine model that I was familiar with from decades of doing it. I was forced to move away from a format I was comfortable in. I needed to make new understandings for that new format. And that was good for me. I found value in Twitter.
When I tried Empire Avenue, I found a highly mechanized system that seemed to be the social media version of Farmville or Mafia Wars. While some people seem absolutely focused on maximizing their “share value” on that platform, I found zero reason to devote time or energy to it. (To the point that I don’t want to even give it the linklove.)
Here’s another example, and yes, it’s about Lego. When I was teaching this winter, a student told me about her son’s use of Lego. Remember those kits that I criticized last time? Well, this kid was taking his Lego kits and making stop-motion animation with them. Turns out, there’s tons of this stuff online. Some of it’s hilarious!
Consciously or unconsciously, he took a construction toy which went together one way, and used it to create something much more random and anarchic. He escaped the tyranny of the app.
Escaping the “app” is not getting rid of your smartphone. It’s about resisting the tendency to follow patterns.
- Don’t let your tools define how you use them.
- Re-examine your routines.
- Best practices are one thing. But don’t fall victim to being limited by them.
- Here’s one I have trouble with: recognize that you WILL fall back into the comfortable patterns, that routine will take over. Acknowledge that an attempt to change something has broken down… then do something about it.
Creativity is a joy and a treasure. Use it. Don’t let the routines govern you.
This story is getting a lot of attention, at least in Ottawa and Canadian political circles today. I encourage you to read the whole thing, including the online version.
But here’s a précis. Tom Spears is the science writer for my local broadsheet, the Ottawa Citizen. In March, he saw a news story that suggested NASA was flying research planes into snowstorms near Lake Simcoe, and that our own National Research Council might be involved.
You’d think this would be a good news story, right? Back in my time in university media relations, this sort of story was our bread and butter. But you’d be wrong. In some quarters, it feels like an annoyance that must be smothered under a pile of wet wool blankets.
As Spears recounts, his inquiry generated a 52-page trail of e-mails (which he obtained using an access-to-information request) among 11 people. At the end, Spears received an e-mail message that actually doesn’t mention snow, but explains where on the NRC plane the radar devices were located. Here’s the story that resulted.
The whole chain is in this Scribd document: A simple question, a blizzard of bureaucracy
Spears has chronicled (and I’ve chronicled his chronicles at least once) the misadventures of Canadian government communicators in the past. He’s talked about how government communicators wouldn’t take media calls for FIVE HOURS after a major earthquake that affected Canada’s capital city, and how they issued a media advisory for a briefing 25 minutes after the briefing began.
So what’s going on here?
- Some bloggers are fulminating about the culture of top-down control that they argue has created a culture of paranoia within the public service. Spears’s fellow Citizen writer Dan Gardner has related this case to his ideas around open and closed government. I think there’s likely something to that.
- I think there’s also a level of fear and loathing in government around getting something “wrong”, about making a “mistake.” In university media relations, the fact that our faculty had academic freedom insulated us. If the expert we found for a journalist said something outrageous, we wouldn’t get in trouble. If someone at the NRC said something untoward, there would be much kerfuffling, as can be seen by the comments in the Scribd doc around the omission of the Canadian Space Agency. So you copy the world on e-mails. You ensure that the higher-ups and the highest-ups sign off on everything.
- There’s also the tradition that ministers speak for departments and that public servants do not. While in the past that hasn’t prevented scientists within the public service from speaking about their work, there have been rumblings that this is no longer the case. One of the most prominent public calls for change came from the Canadian Science Writers Association during the last election campaign.
- But I also wonder if, for the political masters who set policy for departments and agencies, if there’s no upside from showing what government does RIGHT. It may be that there’s a spoken or unspoken belief that showing good stuff the government’s doing might lead people to think government agencies are valuable and/or worth preserving, which would fly in the face of our current government’s budgetary direction. If your ideology tells you that small government is the way to go, why show off success stories?
I suppose it’s not surprising to me that as I read this, I felt as much sympathy for the government communicators as I did for Tom Spears. They are likely as frustrated by the process as he was. Certainly, I noticed one of my Facebook friends who is a government communicator wincing about the story.And my recent quest to find out information about the government using social media to monitor conversations about the seal hunt led to a similarly unsatisfying response e-mail from a communications officer, several DAYS later.
The saddest part of the email trail comes when the communicators begin to talk about a media visit to the facility next summer. Yes, let’s invite the reporter we just annoyed and treated poorly to come to look at our snowstorm research plane. In the summer. When it’s 40 with the humidex, and the last thing anyone want to think about is snowstorms, and the last story that an editor will accept is a story about snowstorms.
By my count of positions in the government’s electronic directory, there are more than 40 people working in communications at the NRC. I’d bet that if you set those folks free, told them to court people like Tom Spears — not with boozy lunches or junkets, but with really good stories — and make good news happen, they could and would. We did that when I was working in the university sector. It worked. Who woulda thought that if you give journalists good story ideas, they’ll pick ‘em up and run with them?
It’s unfortunate that ideology, bureaucracy, paranoia, or something is handcuffing our government and its employees and keeping them from doing so.
UPDATE: Science writer Margaret Munro files this story for Postmedia about Environment Canada’s insructions to its scientists attending a conference on polar science. There appears to be some difference of opinion about the “instructions.”
Mark Johnson, an Environment Canada spokesperson, says there is nothing unusual about the plan, which he describes as “standard practice” and consistent with the government’s overall communication policy.
Others see it as the latest evidence of the warped culture of obsessive information control inside the Harper government.
“Until now such a crude heavy-handed approach to muzzle Canadian scientists, prior to a significant international Arctic science conference hosted by Canada, would have been unthinkable,” says a senior scientist, who has worked for Environment Canada for decades. He asked not to be identified due to the possibility of repercussions from Ottawa.
“The memo is clearly designed to intimidate government scientists from Environment Canada,” he says. “Why they would do such an unethical thing, I can’t even begin to imagine, but it is enormously embarrassing to us in the international world of science.”
UPDATE: April 24: A blog post by PostMedia’s Mike deSouza quotes Environment Minister Peter Kent on his department’s media management practice:
“There is nothing new in the email that was sent to attendees…It is established practice to coordinate media availability. In fact, many of our younger scientists seek advice from our departmental communications staff. Where we run into problems is when journalists try to lead scientists away from science and into policy matters. When it comes to policy, ministers address those issues.”
Kent was challenged in this open letter on April 4: