This content originally appeared on my former Chicagosphere online-media blog, hosted on the Chicago Tribune‘s ChicagoNow network.
We’ll be back to our regularly scheduled blogosphere love-fest next week, as your pitches of nifty, interesting local website continue to roll in (keep ’em coming, folks!) But as I continue to come down from the high (and sleeplessness) of participating in Chicago’s largest annual independent media conference, Making Media Connections 2009, I realize one key theme kept coming up at the conference that’s worth considering.
Not the fact that community- and niche-focused websites are moving to the forefront of local news in the Windy City, though as research showed this week, that is happening. What surprised me much more was the incomplete understanding of the basic nature of the Internet expressed by more than a few conference participants.
So ladies and gentlemen of Chicago’s traditional, bricks-and-mortar news media and public relations infrastructure, let me introduce you to the fundamental criteria that govern the most important element of the future of American news media. Folks, it’s time to meet the blogosphere.
The Rules of the Road
Much good analysis has been written about the blogosphere and how to become a part of the growing worldwide conversation happening here. In Chicago, if you haven’t checked out the best-practices guidance and training available from Community Media Workshop–much of it web-savvy, you should.
Here and now, though, you should take to heart three basic principles that goven how information-sharing works on the blogosphere. These are the watchwords of the Internet. Respect them, and the pitches you send to us bloggers–not to mention the work you do, yourselves, on the blogosphere–will have every chance to succeed. Blow them off, and after you finish shooting yourselves in the foot, we bloggers will likely turn your willful ignorance into a case study.
The blogosphere is highly cooperative. By and large, bloggers do not follow the cut-throat example of traditional media to hold back stories, relationships, leads, and in some cases even attributions from each other. Instead, we reference each other’s work, send relevant leads and stories to the bloggers we think could best give them voice (and receive the same back for our efforts), and give credit where credit is due–in the form of a link, thank you very much–when we receive ideas or reference stories from other sites.
We don’t always agree with each other on the blogosphere. Differences of opinion are an everyday occurrence among and across bloggers and our communities of viewers. This is normal. We understand the value of open and unfettered communication to vet all sides of an issue and help guard against the monopolization of conversations by a single, top-down viewpoint.
Yes, we share our disagreements and debates via email. But we also air them publicly in vigorous comment threads below most of our blog posts and in responses posted directly on our blogs and community news sites. It’s in email and in our comment threads where you should be talking to us. Doing so shows fair-mindedness and respect on your part and ours.
Going over our heads is never acceptable. There is no “over our heads” on the blogosphere. Most opinion-leading bloggers have multiple online and printed bylines and media relationships, and the scribe you try to screw or the debate you try to dash on one website will simply end up getting you or your client’s community-unfriendly behavior written up elsewhere. Maybe in major media. Maybe in national media. (Maybe even here on Chicagosphere.) Don’t believe the adage, not all press is good press.
As bloggers, we tell you and each other what our relationships are, who we’re working for, and what conflicts of interest we may have when covering a story or writing about an issue. It’s good practice–but we have to anyway. If you’ve got hidden motives, you can’t hide them on the blogosphere. And as per above, you can’t even hide that you’re hiding them. Both information and the people who write it–i.e. bloggers–live under a spotlight on the Internet. We like it that way, it keeps our online communities fair, open, and thriving.
So if you’ve got an angle when you pitch us, say it up front. If it comes out later, we’ll probably let you–and your constituents–know about it. Whatever you do, don’t invent things to please us. Our BS barometers are finely tuned–pretend pregnancies may get you two months of fame, but is the infamy we’ll dog you with forever after really worth it?
Do Your Homework
As Steve Jobs would say, just one more thing. Never again should a nonprofit communications manager ever, anywhere, in the future history of the Windy City, stand up in the middle of an auditorium at a regional media conference and ask a panel of distinguished online news bloggers:
“Should I just send you all my monthly newsletter if I want to pitch you?”
The short answer I held back until my tongue bled should have been, “I can’t tell, so help me out here. Exactly what kind of a moron are you?”
The longer response is equally apt. Pitch bloggers as you would pitch reporters at any printed publication, and don’t expect us to do your homework for you.
No, we’re not wasting our time sifting through your newsletter to try and figure out what your news is. Know your message first. Craft it into a succinct pitch or press release and put it in an email.
Then do your own due diligence. Research appropriate blogs and community- and niche-news sites, select the ones you’re interested in, and read them to make sure they carry news of the kind you’ve got to give.
Then–and only then–pitch away.
Nothing will make us stand up and take friendly notice of you as a newsmaker more than a focused pitch. Nothing will make us more ready to send your email to spam like evidence that you don’t respect our time.
A Two-Way Street
Overall, the blogosphere is a friendly place. We bloggers tend to get along fine on here with each other and with the wider-world folks who respect the rules of the game.
Our game, that is. It’s ours because together on a minute-by-minute basis we Internet scribes and our much-appreciated viewers create and recreate the online community, we embody it, we uphold it, and we defend its principles.
We love working with our traditional media and public relations colleagues. Many of us maintain official presences in those domains, too (including Yours Truly). So we know the rules of the game on that legacy side of the information superhighway.
In return, it’s your responsibility to know our rules if you want us to pick up your news. So inform yourselves of the rules on our virtual on-ramps and you’ll stand a much better chance of getting your messages aired across the blogosphere. Ignore those rules at your own peril.