The Washington Post Proves You Can’t Trust the Media

News sources today suffer from an accuracy problem. Journalists are under pressure to publish first in a dramatic buzz-worthy way to drive traffic. And there are fewer journalists. Those that remain are younger and less experienced, and they have to produce more content. The end result is an alarming amount of inaccurate stories that are tabloidesque in nature. This is true of small and large media outlets alike, as evidenced by a series of stories produced by the Washington Post‘s sports section in the past two weeks.

Last week a media debacle unfolded for the Washington Nationals, largely created by errant Washington Post articles. The news that Bud Black was hired as the Nationals Manager — a story reported by the Washington Post’s James Wagner and then echoed across every sports rag in the country — was wrong. Instead they hired Dusty Baker.

When the tsunami of reporters descended on the strange twist, they shellacked Nationals ownership for underbidding Black and being only willing to extend a two-year contract at no more than $2 million per year, plus incentives. Leading the charge was the Washington Post’s Adam Kilgore (whose Twitter bio reads “Riding the line between honesty and schmucky journalist piling on”), who tarred and feathered the owners as out of touch, insulting, and cheap.

Personally, I thought the coverage was vindictive. Keep in mind Kilgore authored a series of Washington Post “expose” style articles at the end of the season detailing the Nationals horrid downward spiral. Again, ownership and management was tarnished (it’s never the players fault, is it?).

Where the Post Went Wrong

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There were two primary points the Post missed in the Bud Black/Dusty Baker story. At issue in the original story were Wagner’s nebulous sources, “according to multiple people familiar with the situation.”

Better sources were needed (says Captain Obvious after the fact). Every sports magazine and news outlet across the country that cited Wagner’s story as the definitive source should be ashamed of their blind shallow reporting.

At the Baker press conference, GM Mike Rizzo stated that he had told reporters that he wouldn’t go to print with the story, but the Post ignored him. Then on a local sports radio show, Rizzo said, “the media jumped the gun.” Dusty Baker said he hadn’t heard from the Nationals at the time the Black story came out, and felt hurt. In hindsight, maybe that was the ultimate sign that the managerial hire wasn’t finished.

An even bigger whiff was the Kilgore article slamming the Lerners’ character for not wanting to hire a manager for more than two years at a $2 million clip. The reason is simple: GM Mike Rizzo’s contract is up at the end of next year. After the horrid Matt Williams debacle, the terrible Papplebon trade, and horrific bullpen and bench moves over the past two years, the Lerners might be losing faith in Rizzo. The 2016 season is a make or break year for Mike Rizzo’s tenure with the Nationals.

Baseball Analyst Steve Phillips, a former general manager, spoke on the 106.7 show Grant and Danny on November 4 (segment 5). Phillips was quick to point out that new GMs don’t like to inherit managers. They hire their own manager as soon as possible. No GM wants to inherit a manager with an odious four or five year contract from his predecessor. So new Nationals Manager Dusty Baker really has one year to save Rizzo’s job, two to save his own.

As for the salary amount, that’s business. And in the end, Baker agreed to the $2 million a year salary plus another $3 million in potential bonuses. If the rate was too low, the position would have been unfulfilled.

Bad Reporting Is the Norm

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The past few months of the Washington Post‘s sports coverage reminded me more of the National Enquirer than a storied news outlet. Woodward and Bernstein did not write these pieces. Instead, the articles read more like ESPN gaffes. The 24 hour network has been know to incorrectly publish stories as quickly as possible and ducking responsibility for them.

Poorly researched dramatic news stories are normal now. Reporters are strapped. They have to do more with less, and the end result is increasing errors and over-the-top drama. That’s across all types of media. There are no sacred mastheads anymore. Every outlet has a bias, and most reporters are chumming the social network waters for the most shares.

Blind faith in the media is a mistake. Triangulate sources, and make sure different articles are not citing the same originating story. More than anything, question everything you read and see.

Maybe I am wrong, perhaps the Washington Post printed a retraction on the last page of the sports section at some point over the past week. That’s where such errors are usually buried unnoticed by the masses. Who knows? I don’t read a physical print paper anymore (do you?).

More importantly, are there any trustworthy news sources out there anymore?

Do You Believe in Mermaids?

This could be titled “4 Random Rants,” but the mermaid one was too good to pass on as the headline. Along the way we will also discuss stalking photographers, social media experts, and the Donald. Here we go.

1) Stalking Photographers

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I often use a tripod when taking landscapes and in studio. It makes for a better picture, reduces shake, and lessens the amount of time necessary to take a great capture. Whenever I am in a public place, busy or not, people inevitably walk by, see the camera on the tripod, and what do they do?

Well, most stare at me, and then look back and forth between what they are doing and me and my camera. If there are multiple folks, they’ll start discussing that there’s a photographer over there. Some of them will come up to me and ask, “What are you shooting?” That’s all fine.

Here’s where it gets bizarre. Some folks walk right up behind me and start looking over my shoulder to figure out what I am shooting. That bugs me out a bit.

Then there are the ones who suddenly think this a good opportunity to hack an Instagram shot. They whip out their smartphones and start shooting over my shoulders, from the side, and in the worst cases they just walk right in front of the tripod and take the shot (yes, it has happened multiple times). Now I am bugged out and annoyed.

Finally, there are the clowns who ask me if I need a model. Some will ask repeatedly, and even give me a card. The above shot of Philadelphia is one example where onlookers kept asking me to be in the shot. The photograph did OK, but it wasn’t worth asking for a hypothetical 15 minutes of fame.

2) Social Media Marketing Conversations Are Dead

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Last week I saw a thread started by a couple of prominent social media experts discussing other social media experts’ blogs, all of which debated whether or not social media marketing is dead. Right away, you should know how bad this was. My desire to throw my laptop against the wall and start screaming increased by the paragraph.

Here’s what’s dead: Conversations about social media marketing. Yes, the whole lot of them, all 762 million of them (many of mine included). It’s a new decade, but a very old and repetitive set of conversations. Build owned content, stop publishing, start talking, and by the way, here are 16 ways to grow your Twitter account with semi-fake followers. Better yet, just talk to other brands (or with other social media marketers) on your Twitter account to fake your engagement rate.

There are so many damn social media marketing conversations out there that they have blurred into white noise. It’s marketing bloggers talking to marketing bloggers… Or worse, marketing bloggers spamming each other with links on Twitter.

The social media marketing is dead discussion is the biggest navel gazing exercise of them all. It’s also the most meaningless one we could have, and the one CMOs care about least. Keep kicking that dead horse.

Come on, get real! Some marketers are just bad at what they do, and they always have been. The medium changes (hello, junk mailers and email spammers!), the problem stays the same. By the way, every profession has winners and losers.

3) Do You Believe in Mermaids?

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Image by Alexandra Moir

I bet you thought the Donald would be next, but no. We need to discuss the mermaid thing first.

A friend told me a story about a 20 something that works with him. This 20 something believes in mermaids because of an article she read on the Internet. She swears by it, and will not be dissuaded. This is a college educated person.

She might be my daughter’s next playmate. I am sure they could have a great conversation about Soleil’s favorite Disney Princess, Ariel.

My friends, this is the state of information thanks to the Internet. People cannot discern truth from fiction. Anyone with a publishing platform can be assertive in their boasts, and back them with faked images and links to other articles, more pictures and even some videos depicting similar fiction.

When you have an ignorant or ill-informed society, dangerous things can happen. At a minimum, the U.S. economy will shed higher earning jobs to better equipped workforces.

The ability to discern quality information remains the greatest challenge facing our children. We must question all sources, even the media as we have seen in recent years. Our educators need to instill the ability to qualify information or we will all be dealing with mermaid debates at work.

Anyone want to buy a unicorn?

4) Dear Huffington Post: Take the Donald Seriously

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Comic by Berkeley Breathed

I admit it, I laughed out loud when the Huffington Post announced that they would only cover the Donald Trump campaign in the entertainment section (full disclosure, I am a Huffington Post blogger). It was even funnier when Berkeley Breathed returned to lampoon the Donald again with Bloom County cartoons.

But in the case of the Huffington Post, the joke may be over. Why? The Donald is still leading the Republican field, no matter how many stupid things he says and how many attacks the rest of the presidential candidates launch at him. That’s not funny, and the story has surpassed any twisted reality show Hollywood could imagine.

There’s an obligation to report this campaign seriously rather than contribute to the circus. This guy might actually be the Republican candidate for the 2016 election. It’s not like he cares when the Kochs and other super rich Republicans try to take him out. He seems impervious to the usual slimy election shenanigans.

Beyond the obligation to take his campaign seriously, there is also the mermaid contingent.

Yes, these poor fools probably believe the Donald Trump campaign
IS
a reality TV show
.

After all, they read it in the entertainment section of a reputable news source. That’s the problem with the Internet these days.

A Nine Year Rant

Last week marked my nine year blogiversary. Actually, it’s nine years of blogging, but this blog came afterwards. I sold my first one, the Buzz Bin.

So one might ask why am I still blogging and what have I learned? Here are nine mini-insights and rants about blogging and content as a whole to celebrate.

1) Blogging Is Not Everything

When I was caught up in the social media wave, blogging and the online presence it created was everything. It was an incredibly freeing tool that sent me on a wild writer’s journey, one I had always dreamed about. Over the last few years, I’ve come to see that blogging as little more than a tool. Blogs, photos and social media in general are very useful, but they ALL have their place.

When I see content marketers and other communicators prioritize their blogs as most important, I shrug. Maybe it’s everything for them. Maybe their blog communities are the alpha and omega of their business. And that’s OK. Many good things have happened from such gatherings, and I can testify to that based on my own experiences.

My blog certainly works to inform members of my community, but meeting, talking with, and seeing people in real life and via other venues is much more important. I’ve come to realize the relationships are most important, not the medium.

2) Strong Relationships Don’t Scale

Strong relationships don’t scale in a comment box. When I overinvested in digital media and underinvested in personal contacts, I put myself in a vulnerable position. Clients, co-workers and friends — the ones that impact your life in a positive fashion — matter more than any social score or reply. I’d rather talk with them directly. This is what enables me to retain great relationships — strong ties.

I don’t get as many comments as I used to (who does?). When I do it’s usually with people who I have spent some time with, and that’s important to me.

3) If There Wasn’t Public Commenting, We’d Have Less Haters, BUT…

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Haters are going to hate. Sometimes people just disagree and that’s OK, too. But there are others who feel they need to be contrarian or think they’re “smart.” They leave their litany of negativity. What would these people do without commenting? Is graffiti still an option?

BUT, you still need comments because it is social media. If a site is publishing without comments, then they are articles, not blogs. Blogging was at the heart of social media before social networks. In my mind, a blog is a two-way street. A publication — whether it’s a traditional masthead or an individual’s enterprise — can reside on a WordPress and not be a blog. Commenting is what makes social media.

4) Frequency Matters Until It Doesn’t

Blogs and content, one isn’t the other though some mistake the two as synonymous. If you’re a content marketer, then you probably know high blog post frequency is just one path to success. If you don’t use your blog as a primary content marketing vehicle, then frequency doesn’t matter. It’s what you choose to do with it. Frankly, if you’re a person you don’t have to content market. You can just be you, too.

5) Content Marketing or UX?

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Speaking of blogs as content marketing, the latter has been the marketing rage for a few years. Today, many would acknowledge the proliferation of content has just created the new spam. Five entertaining tips (and yes, this list of nine rants pokes fun at the Buzzfeedization of everything) done well are awesome, but the imitators have bludgeoned the customer with me, too efforts. See, here’s the problem: Content is just part of the user experience (UX).

When you sacrifice UX for the sake of personal attention and triggering Google bots, you create a long-term negative-sum game. It’s back to over-marketing. Following someone or a brand via social networks and RSS is a very casual form of permission. We need to consider how frequent average content impacts the customer’s experience interacting with us. Is this really worth talking to folks about?

Mark my words, content is a part of the UX. A great UX is what matters most to a brand, from first touch to every single interaction after a sale. Marketers will be forced to address the UX problem they are creating with content glut.

6) The Blog as a Public Journal (Yeah, Old School)

When I started, blogging was about journaling new technology discoveries, lessons learned, and sharing insights. For a while, a bunch of early adapters chatted together and broke in this fantastic new set of media. Then personal branding, corporate social media, and content marketing changed things. Blogging became a rat race, a demonstrative example of marketing smarts.

Then you have a kid. You run a business. You measure what’s generating leads. And maybe you prioritize.

When you hang up the frequency bite, you realize it’s going to be hard to be heard. You’re not playing the game anymore. Complicate that matter with a restlessness about blogging social media how-tos and trend pieces, and you have a problem. Content marketing is going to be difficult.

So, during the past year, I blog only once a week, and I write whatever I want. Topics can vary, including new media, fiction, photography, and work. When I have a social good topic, I blog about over at the Huffington Post. Most topics are opinion-based, just like they used to be. It’s old school blogging.

You know what? I have enjoyed blogging this past year more than I have since the 2000s. That’s pretty cool.

7) Influencers Aren’t Cool

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When I started blogging, bloggers were considered wild and rebellious by corporate America. By the end of the 2000s they were considered cool. Somewhere around this time, corporate America started to see the value of bloggers, at least as potential word of mouth endorsers. Bloggers became “influencers” in the corporate vernacular.

Today, word of mouth influencers are still important, but in the larger sense most people just see uber-bloggers/influencers as big over-privileged pains in the ass. Go figure.

8) I May Go Back to High School

I really hated high school. The exclusionary cliques, the stratification of the popular kids based on vapid criteria, and the shaming of the uncool was all too much. High school was an awful experience, and when graduation came I could not leave for college soon enough.

It’s been 25 years now. People have changed quite a bit, at least based on what I see via Facebook. I find myself very interested in attending this year’s reunion. I am sure there will be some of the old shenanigans, but I also think some people will be quite interesting.

Maybe I’ll feel the same way about social media conferences in the future.

9) Perseverance and Longevity

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My new book will be released later this summer. It will be called Perseverance after listening to the editorial feedback I received from the publisher. Perseverance is an interesting word when it comes to blogging.

There were months on end, long periods of time when I wanted to quit. But I didn’t. As a result I achieved longevity. I had periods of notoriety, but overall I meandered. The body of work moved between professional to personal interest, and back and forth again. More than anything, the blogs reflected my own personal journey and perhaps they suffered for that. That’s OK, I’m still standing.

As time has passed, many, many peers have stopped. Some have had periods of fitful stopping and starting. No matter what, whether they like this blog or not, people know this blog will keep publishing in the foreseeable future. I’ve made it this long. I can’t imagine not making the decade point.

No One Wants to Be the First Loser

Everyone who owns a business finds themselves in competitive sales situations, RFP or not. Even when you think you’re not in a competition, buyers consider other options including not buying. And that’s why as a competitive person, I hate losing. There is nothing worse than being told my company has placed second, which just means I am the first loser.

We recently talked about the super fun RFPs offer small business owners. RFPs take incredible amount of time they take. In fact, all new business efforts takes time, a necessary part of running a company.

But when you come in second, it is the worst kind of failure. The win was within grasp. Some sort of internal failure to satisfy the customer caused the loss. That’s painful, folks.

When donned the second loser, you also have a choice. You can look within and engage in a post mortem to determine why you lost. Or you can embrace the loser status, and blame the client. Or outside circumstances. Or just accept that the other option was more attractive than what you presented.

Why They Say No

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The word attraction is important here. I find potential clients chose not to select my company because they just didn’t love what we had to offer. Or they loved something else more. Perhaps I failed to listen to them, and didn’t allay their fears. Or worse, I was cold and failed to build a relationships.

My friend Jack Vincent wrote a book, “A Sale Is a Love Affair.” It’s a great book, and I hope you read it. He talks about how sales are really about building relationships of trust and value. And like a love affair, if you don’t respect the other person and their feelings (fears, need for trust, etc.) then a sale goes awry.

I decided to forward a draft of this post to Jack and get his thoughts. “Sure, prospective customers want to know you’re competent and that your proposed solution is on the mark and that you can deliver it effectively,” wrote Jack. “But what often differentiates the winning pitch is the personal connection you establish during the pitch and the sales process. To this effect, winning new business has eye-opening parallels to finding love.”

While researching A Sale Is A Love Affair, Jack found that the advice given by today’s dating coaches and marriage counselors correlates directly with the best practices used by marketing consultants and sales trainers. “The mindset is actually a heart-set,” says, Jack. “It focuses on pulling prospects through their purchasing process, not pushing them through your sales process.”

So when I am the first loser, I always review the sale to see where it went wrong. Just like any relationship — marriage, friendship, parenting — business relationship skills can always stand to be improved upon. I need to know why I lost so next time, I can win the business, and more importantly, the fun project to work on with my new client and friend.

What do you think about close losses?

RFP: Request for Pain

Having done two mandatory tours of duty in the big agency world, I understand the RFP process. It’s a necessary evil to win most large accounts. However as a small business, I find them to be downright painful. An RFP ought to be called a Request for Pain.

As a small business owner, RFPs are extremely taxing. Consider that in a large or mid-size agency you have business development and senior staff dedicated to winning this kind of business. In a small agency like mine, you are basically pulling time from a very limited resource pool. Instead of focusing on local networking events, phone calls, building relationships online, and developing useful content, you spend 20, 40, 60 or more hours building a proposal and pitch.

The odds of winning RFPs are not good when you are small. I would say the same thing for a large agency, but is easier to dedicate the resources and mitigate the risk.

You almost always have to have a prior relationship, and get the RFP written to you, or intelligence to help you shape your pitch. There is almost always a favorite or two in the dance.

If you do not have a prior relationship, question whether it is worth your time. Many times the third through fifth firms have been referred as good agencies that might be able to do the job, but the odds are long. In the cases were the RFP is hard-wired, some or all of players three through five are asked because they can’t win. They have a glaring flaw.

In the case of a small agency, size is almost always in issue. In a wired RFP, a small agency is an easy kill. Scaling questions must be addressed to the client’s satisfaction. Sometimes this is overcome with a focus on niches, such as community management or social media content. With larger contracts, though, even the ability to scale quality niche work becomes an issue. Most large companies don’t want to deal with a network of consultants and small boutiques to achieve scale. Can you blame them?

People do business with people they like. So if there is no relationship, you have to become the darling of the potential client very quickly and get the same type of intelligence that the favorites receive. That can be hard to do. If the client is cold and distant during the initial RFP process consider it a clear warning that you are wasting your time.

I almost always decline to participate in RFPs because of these many issues. The pain is not worth it. At least for a small firm like mine. My time is better served networking and building relationships for projects and winning business with people that know and trust me (and my firm).

What do you think of RFPs?

No One Knows Who You Are

It’s funny how some people feel an online profile is the most important part of their career today. Building a business or a career based on an online reputation instead of an the actual product or service can only lead to difficulties.

As shocking as it may be to many big online influencers, a lot of people don’t know who they are. Even if they have heard their names, they don’t care about someone’s big blog or Instagram profile. I don’t care how big you are online — in your community or nationally — you have to assume no one knows who you are.

A nice online profile built around some subject matter expertise might get you a listen, but you still need to allay fears. Then once you get the sale you need to meet the promise you are building.

That’s why I found Gary Vaynerchuk’s post last week on personal branding versus old fashioned work ethic so refreshing. It got back to brass tacks: Do the work, refine your skills, then build the reputation.

I know someone who has a brilliant online persona, but person X takes credit for other people’s work and often throws them under the bus in the process. Every time I have seen Person X get an opportunity to excel as a star performer, he/she fails.

Too many Internet-based reputations are like the one built by Person X. These personal brands revolve around reciprocated sharing, social media talk and no walk. Is it any wonder social media experts and to a lesser extent marketing bloggers aren’t taken seriously in the CMO office?

Unsolicited Advice for Younger Professionals

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If you are eager to build your online profile to become successful, be careful. It can get you some opportunities, but success is built on fulfilling your commitment to customers. Make sure you are busting your ass on the back channel, too. You can’t afford to lose opportunities. Do the work, build things, prove yourself.

Further, yesterday’s successes don’t mean much to people. So in my mind, relying on a reputation for past works done is dangerous. It’s the current work that matters. We all have to work like no one knows who we are.

I don’t think people give a crap about what I did in the 2000s. That was a long time ago. The media have changed significantly since then. Any remaining hubris that I may carry doesn’t mean jack-shit if I can’t deliver TODAY. I need to kick ass on every new project like no one knows who I am. If I am not hungry enough to do that, then I can expect to struggle and at times to fail.

What about the effort you ask? Isn’t it too much?

I hear all sorts of things about work life balance, and God knows I put my family first and try to keep myself well-rested. But make no bones about it I hustle. Everyone who succeeds busts their butt and works hard. I drafted this on Friday night from 9:00-10:20 p.m. I edited it on Sunday night at roughly the same time. AFTER I fed my daughter, put her to bed, and AFTER I finished my client work. The promo came last.

No matter what, you can’t shortchange the work.