I’m going to swim 6.5 miles to help protect SF Bay.

Me in the water, in front of the Jeremiah O’Brien and Coit Tower. Photo by Hank Stern.

Like many Americans, I’m angry and disappointed about Trump’s repudiation of the Paris Agreement.

What are we going to do about it? This is a small contribution, but I’m going to swim 6.5 miles in the SF Bay to raise money for the environment.

In the aftermath of Paris, the gutting of the EPA, and rolling back of environmental regulations all over the place, we need local environmental advocates like SF BayKeeper more than ever. Please join me in supporting them. (You don’t have to swim with me, unless you want to, I promise.)

And even if you are a Trump-loving Republican, as long as you like clean water, support me anyway! Because local environmental organizations like this are replacing former federal government functions. It’s a win-win either way!

Support my swim and SF Baykeeper here.

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I’m going to swim 6.5 miles to help protect SF Bay.

The NYT eliminates its public editor role

Liz Spayd was more of a columnist than a true ombudsman, but the Huffington Post coverage points out why that role is still important: Not necessarily for accountability (since we all hold the newspapers we read accountable these days), but simply for getting answers:

by being in the newsroom, public editors and ombudsmen can often get responses from management on editorial decision-making that outside reporters and critics cannot

Sadly, almost no newspapers have ombudsmen any more. (A true ombudsman would be outside the newsroom reporting structure, reporting to the publisher or CEO, and with latitude to publish things that the editors might not want published. A public editor is accountable to the editor in chief.)

At any rate, the NYT is not exactly instilling confidence in the wake of its 2016 election coverage by eliminating this role. Many have rightly criticized the paper for spending far more time on Hillary’s emails than on, say, Trump’s Russian connections. Some of that is due to the nature of the news market (you write stories for what the audience wants, and the audience shares what it likes) but there is still an important role for an ombudsman or, failing that, a public editor. Not that Spayd was particularly good at the job, but she was something. And now she’s on her way out.

We need independent journalism more than ever. For all the great work it does, the Times is still fallible, often egregiously so, and it needs someone to hold its feet to the fire and demand answers.

Source: The New York Times Is Eliminating The Public Editor Role | HuffPost

The NYT eliminates its public editor role

Looking for a boat

Forming an exploratory committee to consider swimming from the Golden Gate to McCovey Cove July 9. Anyone own a boat I could hire for the day?

(Last year I did this as part of a relay — this year I’m considering a solo swim)

crossposted from Facebook

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Suburban survival

I read that Annie Dillard, when composing Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, was living in the suburbs and raising a family. Strange, at first, to think that one could compose such solitude in the midst of bland civilization. Or dive that deep into nature among the streets and cul-de-sacs of a small town and all its busy-ness. But then I remember Thoreau, too, sought his solitude in a cabin but placed it close enough to town that he could still bring his laundry back to the landlady once a week, a fact that goes unmentioned in his book. And the Chinese poet-sages, who cultivated an air of reclusiveness such that one might almost think they were hermits: In fact they were bureaucrats working government jobs, raising families, living in the suburbs, and escaping to the hills whenever possible to contemplate, to drink with their literary friends, and to paint the landscape of their ideal world on rice paper scrolls. All that remains today are the scrolls. We chuckle at this hypocrisy until we realize: This too is a strategy of survival. The city has its own nature; why not the suburbs? To find a place of refuge in the exurban sprawl is no mean feat. We should all be able to concentrate our minds so.

Cherry blossoms. San Mateo, April 2017
Suburban survival

The man with the most

“Swimming cultivates imagination; the man with the most is he who can swim his solitary course night or day and forget a black earth full of people that push.”

–Annette Kellermann

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The new paternity leave

“Taking paternity leave is so rare that it’s not a question of how much time you’re going to take off, but whether you will be able to take any at all.” That’s pretty sad!

Here’s a great post (and a very funny infographic) from one dad who took 12 weeks off with his newborn. MORE DADS SHOULD DO THIS.

Note: Upwork is one of my clients, but I wasn’t involved in creating this post or infographic. I just think it’s worth sharing.

The New Paternity Leave: Now Dads Can Man Up

The new paternity leave

We are Lent into Each Other’s Keeping

Here’s a lovely turn of phrase from a friend of Tomasz Tunguz:

The entire story reminded me of an old friend who often tells me, “We are lent into each other’s keeping.” Our time with each other is borrowed, its duration is unknown, and that uncertainty makes it precious.

There’s also a moving story about Muhammad Ali’s empathy and his definition of evil.

Source: We are Lent into Each Other’s Keeping (I corrected a couple typos in the quote)

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Talk loudly and carry a big schtick

No matter how you slice it, the media is in trouble.

Fake news. Guest “experts” who don’t tell the truth. Clickbait headlines. A President who calls the media the “enemy of the American people.” No wonder public trust in the media is at an all-time low.

Meanwhile, news organizations are continuing to lay people off, even after decades of cuts. Ad revenues continue to drop, and few publications are able to make up the difference through subscription revenues.

Reporters are required to cover larger beats, produce more stories, and generate more pageviews than ever before. And everyone hates them.

It’s a stressful job, as I can tell you: I worked in daily online news from 2007 to 2015, and each year the demands on me and my team ratcheted up while the overall media business looked worse and worse.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 54,400 working journalists in the U.S., and the total is declining. If you look at just full-time daily journalists, the count is down to just 33,000, about half of what it was in 2000.

Meanwhile, BLS counts 306,500 public relations specialists and PR managers. That means the people who are paid to get corporate messages across outnumber daily news journalists by nearly 10 to 1.

That’s not even a fair fight.

This imbalance explains why reporters’ inboxes are overflowing with email pitches, and it also explains why it’s so hard to get a reporter to reply to a pitch, even to say “No thanks.”

Understanding that, how should companies and the PR pros who represent them respond? As I see it, there are two main options.


Note: I’ll be discussing this topic onstage at the PR Summit in Austin, Texas on March 8, together with PR entrepreneurs Josh Jones-Dilworth and Conrad Egusa. I’d love to see you there. And if you want discount codes on tickets, let me know!


Option One: Be Like Donald

Ignore the press. Forge your own, direct connections with your target audiences. Create a strong social media presence on Facebook (which will cost you, because Facebook doesn’t promote brands without getting paid) and on Twitter (where anything goes and you can easily reach a targeted, polarized audience at low cost). Your independence from the dying media is directly proportional to the size of the audience you have built. Accordingly, focus on building that audience.

Own your own media. Build a rich website full of interesting things to watch and read, because you don’t want to be totally dependent on Facebook, and you need a way to deliver your message to all comers. Or create a YouTube channel, or a Snapchat channel.

You will need an authentic voice and you’ll need to have something interesting to say on a regular basis: weekly or daily. If you’ve got an outrageous personality, so much the better. People on social media love to be entertained.

If your brand is not outrageous, all hope is not lost. You can still carve out a niche by being dependable, interesting, informative, or useful. Decide what your advantage is and deliver that constantly.

Focus on the metrics. Unless the polls go against you–then forget the metrics and say something that will get people talking.

This isn’t rocket science: It’s storytelling and showmanship. Talk loudly and carry a big schtick.

Option Two: Be More Useful

Double down on the idea that PR and press have a symbiotic, mutually beneficial relationship. Too often communications pros give lip service to this idea but don’t actually deliver. Instead, take the role as a facilitator seriously, and figure out how you can help the journalists you talk to, not just your clients.

Prioritize quality engagements and understand how your client fits into bigger-picture stories, rather than just touting the latest big fundraise or the newest product features.

Become a bridge to the business community and be more useful to individual journalists by bringing them context and information they actually want.

Help promote stories that journalists write. You’ve got the ability to help amplify stories. Use it. More page views and more RTs are always welcome.

Develop more thoughtful op-eds and bylines, because most publications are starved for informed perspectives that aren’t horribly written and self promotional. Your goal should be to get your executives recognized as smart, interesting people worth paying attention to, not to promote their brands. This isn’t direct response marketing, it’s indirect response PR.

Support institutions that defend freedom of the press, like the ACLU and the Society of Professional Journalists.

Subscribe to a newspaper. Or three. Seriously, spend money to support quality journalism.

And if you’re wealthy enough, buy the whole paper. Just don’t expect to make a lot of money out of it–owning a publication is more like philanthropy than it is like capitalism.

Remember, if the press goes away, PR people don’t have a job any more either. It’s time for public relations to step up and take responsibility for helping support the fourth estate.

Note: This post first appeared as an op-ed on PRWeek, with the headline “What responsibility does PR have to the dying media?

Top photo: Old news, by David Bleasdale/Flickr

Talk loudly and carry a big schtick

How You Got My Attention

One of today’s top recommended stories in my Medium feed is a piece intriguingly titled “How I Got My Attention Back.”

I clicked through, only to see that Medium estimated it as a 14-minute read. Fourteen minutes! You expect me to spend more than half a pomodoro of my precious attention on a wandering first-person narrative about your monthlong off-grid retreat?

While I’m deeply interested in strategies for focusing one’s attention in an era of hyper-distraction, this is really annoying.

Also annoying: The author’s Medium bio is “probably walking on a mountain.” Seriously, that is the entire bio. Craig Mod is clearly not the kind of guy who spends his time poring over 14-minute longreads on Medium. He’s a writer. The kind of important, literary writer who gets invited to rural writing retreats. He’s got more important things to do.

If he spends his time in 28-day retreats in Virginia and the rest of it walking on a mountain somewhere, I don’t care what wisdom he may have about regaining control of his own attention, it’s not likely to apply to me or to anyone I know. Most of us are too busy trying to put food on the table, pay the mortgage, make sure our kids get to school on time, and have a tiny bit of time and energy left over at the end of the day for ourselves and our partners.

This kind of long-winded, self-important essay is becoming all too common. The reason, I think, is twofold.

One, editing is hard, and good editors are hard to come by. Even good editors are probably too overworked these days to do the difficult work of chopping a good but verbose writer’s work down to a more manageable size. I do think his writing is good, if long. The editors did him a disservice here by not chopping it more.

Two, content platforms like Medium fetishize length. There’s some good evidence that this is because some people use length as a signal of “seriousness,” and they are more likely to share articles that seem serious. As a result, longer articles tend to get shared more, liked more, and clicked on more. That’s why Medium adds the helpful “14-minute read” estimate–it’s an indicator of what you’re in for, but it’s also a proxy for seriousness.

Unfortunately, all this sharing and clicking happens regardless of how much people actually read. It is entirely possible that longer articles get shared, but not fully read: People read the first few paragraphs, notice that it’s extremely long and therefore must be serious, and they click “share” or “like” in order to signal to their social networks that they are the kind of people who read and share serious articles.

Meanwhile, the art of writing concisely gets lost. And the art of reading carefully does, too, since everyone’s too busy skimming through these overly long stories to see what the highlights are.

In this story’s case, I couldn’t make it through two minutes, much less all 14. But I did scroll down to see if there was anything practical and relevant here, or whether it was all just navel-gazing about the state of attention today.

So here, let me extract the takeaway for you, since the editors didn’t:

  1. Turn off your Internet access before bedtime.
  2. Leave it off until lunchtime.

Good advice, actually! You’d probably find yourself even more productive if you kept the Internet off until dinnertime, but even half a day offline is no doubt helpful to your writing.

That is, unless the kind of writing you do requires an Internet connection so you can look up references and read what other people have written. But it’s clear that Craig Mod is not the kind of writer who spends a lot of time reading online. He’s probably on a mountain somewhere.

Top Photo: This book is really long. It must be good. Credit: Michael Pereckas/Flickr 

How You Got My Attention