Tag Archives: online news media

@goodlaura explains it all to us: Sacramento Charity Daily

In yesterday’s blog post, I shared my recent discovery of Sacramento News Daily and Sacramento Charity Daily, which Sacramento non-profits should consider as they work to engage more people in supporting their missions.  To take advantage of Sacramento Charity Daily, non-profits have to tweet and include links to longer articles they post in blogs or on their websites.

Laura Good, a.k.a. @goodlaura, was kind enough to respond to the questions I sent her.  If you don’t know Laura, you should.  The woman has 6,819 people following her on Twitter and has sent 47,830 tweets – a number that will no doubt increase by the time you read this (no wonder the first line of her Twitter profile is “Twitter Junkie”).

Here’s a key bit of advice worth reading, as well as her full responses to my questions, below (and waaaay at the bottom some links you should check out):

My advice is that charities invest time in establishing a Facebook Page and a Twitter account, if they don’t already have one.   And once those are established, that they try to post content at least once a day during “prime time” – about 9:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. (anecdotal—this is my own observation) Monday through Friday.  Weekends are the absolute worst time to post content as activity on both Facebook and Twitter drops way off.  Posting time is a little less important on Facebook but it is absolutely critical on Twitter.

1)      When did you launch Sacramento News Daily and Sacramento Charity Daily to the public?

I don’t remember the exact date, but it was several months ago—maybe October or November.

2)  Your Twitter profile says you’re a program director with SARTA.org.  SARTA has a very nice website that does a great job of feeding news relevant to the organization’s technology focus.  Is that how you became interested in the potential of aggregating and feeding relevant content via the Internet?

I don’t think that what I do for SARTA influenced my decision—I was actually very passionate about the power of social media before I started working for SARTA in September of 2008.  I’ve applied my passion to SARTA’s website and social media presence as well as to my volunteer role with the Sacramento Social Media Club.  I post much of the social media content for Sacramento Social Media Club and for 2011, I am the volunteer Executive Director.  Back to the question… my primary interest area in social media is in connecting the community/building community.  I follow/friend people and organizations in the Sacramento region and promote causes and events I think would be of interest to those in the region via Facebook and Twitter.  I have a particular heart for philanthropic organizations* and try to use my social media influence to help promote them.  This is why I created the sac-charity Twitter list and the Sacramento Charity Daily.

(*Laura later clarified that she loves animals and animal-related causes fall within her definition.)

3)      Sacramento News Daily and Sacramento Charity Daily appear to be running on a platform called paper.li developed by SmallRivers.  (Nice looking, by the way.)  Did you reach out and find SmallRivers or did they reach out to you?

I found out about paper.li through a tweet from someone I follow on Twitter and then did a little research on my own about the application.  I started the Sacramento Daily News first, as I had already cultivated a pretty good list of local media on Twitter and then began cultivating the Sacramento Charity list with the idea of promoting them via the paper.li app.  A lot of the “papers” created are a bit worthless in my opinion – for example you can create one that aggregates information from everyone you follow on Twitter.  I want my papers to have a real focus and be of value to those who take the time to click on the promo tweet and then read them. This is why I’ve only created paper.li papers from my cultivated lists.  I also have one called “Sac Family Fun Daily.”  The goal for that paper is to promote activities in the Sacramento region that families might enjoy.

4)      Why did you decide to create Sacramento Charity Daily as a separate online news channel, vs. making it a component of Sacramento News Daily?

Sacramento News Daily only includes those who are professional journalists and/or news media organizations like News10, The Sacramento Bee, etc.  I review the paper from time to time to make sure that those I’ve included on the list really are tweeting news. If they are using their twitter account for more personal reasons, I may decide to take them off the sac-media list.  Not that there is anything wrong with personal tweets—most of mine are of that nature.  I just want to make sure the “paper” really is news. I created a separate paper for Sacramento Charity Daily because I didn’t want to bury news about Sacramento Charities in the Sacramento News Daily paper.  I have 163 accounts on my sac-media list and only 48 (so far!) on my sac-charity list.  I think that each of the papers may appeal to a different audience.  People who don’t really care to see a summary of Sacramento news from Twitter may care quite a bit about what local charities are doing.

5)      Do you find all of the content you post from tweets? Or do you use other sources besides Twitter?

Paper.li allows me to create the twitter list that the ‘paper” will pull content from. There is no way for me to add other content to what is reported each day, other than creating an editorial note (which I have not yet done).

6)      And now for advice. Most nonprofits post news on their websites.  How do they let you know when they’ve posted something interesting?  And, pragmatically, is the link to the organization website good enough, even though there will likely be other stuff on the page?

As you see from my answer to Question 4 there isn’t a way for me to add info from outside of what an organization tweets.  If they have a twitter account (and are based in the Sacramento region) they should let me know so I can follow them and add them to my sac-charity list. Then, they should tweet at least daily including links (paper.li only includes tweets with links to web content).  I don’t include all regional non-profits on my sac-charity list. I am primarily looking to promote philanthropic organizations that help individuals.  Originally, my list was broader than that but I’m working to fine tune it.  I have added some national charities that were “nominated” by Sacramentans to be included on the list but as more Sacramento based charities are added, I may remove them. For now, I also have non-profits that support the arts in Sacramento on the list.

Sacramento is Number 4 in the nation for  business use of Twitter. It makes sense for charities in this region to have a presence on Twitter because our community is so engaged on Twitter.  My advice is that charities invest time in establishing a Facebook Page and a Twitter account, if they don’t already have one.   And once those are established, that they try to post content at least once a day during “prime time” – about 9:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. (anecdotal—this is my own observation) Monday through Friday.  Weekends are the absolute worst time to post content as activity on both Facebook and Twitter drops way off.  Posting time is a little less important on Facebook but it is absolutely critical on Twitter.

7)      Are you the editorial decision maker?  Or is the process automated?

The process is automatic on paper.li. The only editorial decisions I make is who is on my sac-charity list and what time the paper is produced/broadcast via twitter each day.  I don’t even decide which twitter users from within the list will be featured in the daily tweet.  The good news about this limitation is that I can spread the word about charities with very little effort on my part, other than cultivating a good Twitter list.  I can add an editorial comment to the paper but I’ve never done that.  There is also an option to create a paper using different criteria than a twitter list – #tags for instance.  And there is a more advanced feature I have yet to try that lets you specify who to include and to filter on key words.

8)      What kind of content are you looking for?

It’s my hope that charitable organizations within the region will tweet about their cause and include links to web content that further explains their cause, activities, fund raising campaigns, events, etc.

9)      What length should news items be to be most compatible with re-posting on your daily news sites?

I don’t think this matters in what paper.li decides to include.  The key is that it is web content and a link to the content is tweeted.

10)      What do you wish I’d asked that I didn’t?

A lot of charitable organizations have limited resources – both people and funding. Social media is a low cost way to both share the message and to engage with those who care about your cause.  You don’t have to be an expert to create a Facebook page or a Twitter account—nor do you have to pay an expert to do it for you. If you’d like some advice, there are many low cost and even free seminars that provide tips on how to create an effective Facebook Page or Twitter account.  The Sacramento Social Media Club has monthly events and quarterly workshops that do just this.  There is a lot of great content on the internet on how non-profits can effectively use social media.  I also recommend that non-profits look at how other non-profits are successfully using social media and learn from them.  And  a final tip – if a charitable organization has a Facebook Page or Twitter Account, it should be featured on the home page of their website with a link to “Like” or “Follow.”

Additional info:

My Twitter account:


Sacramento Social Media Club

Twitter:  http://twitter.com/SMCSac

Facebook:  http://www.facebook.com/SMCSAC

Links to My Twitter Lists mentioned in this article:




Links to my Paper.li “papers”




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Sacramento News Daily and Sacramento Charity News


I’m always on the hunt for local communication channels that nonprofits can use to inform and build relationships with target audiences, especially as traditional news resources have dried up.  I found a new one (new to me at least), and I wanted you to know about it.  It’s Sacramento News Daily.


I dusted off my Twitter account yesterday, and lo and behold, saw this tweet from @goodlaura:


I checked it out and, at first blush, it didn’t look that different than outside.in and some of the other Internet-based news aggregators.  So I asked Laura to explain how it added value.

She tweeted back: The information is gathered from those on my sac-media twitter list. It’s a daily summary of Sacramento region news.

And then: Not everyone will find value in it but a number of people have advised me that they enjoy reading it.

And then:  I also have a paper.li “paper” for my sac-charity list. Because I have a lot of Sac followers, it helps spread their msg [She later sent the link to it.]

She also told me, via direct message: I want to start coaching the charities on my list to tweet relevant links daily so they will be included but haven’t yet.

Check back here for a post of an email interview with Laura.  Inquiring minds want to know a little about the back story and more about how to jump aboard:

1) When did you launch Sacramento News Daily and Sacramento Charity Daily to the public?

2) Your Twitter profile says you’re a program director with SARTA.org.  SARTA has a very nice website that does a great job of feeding news relevant to the organization’s technology focus.  Is that how you became interested in the potential of aggregating and feeding relevant content via the Internet?

3)  Sacramento News Daily and Sacramento Charity Daily appear to be running on a platform called paper.li developed by SmallRivers.  (Nice looking, by the way.)  Did you reach out and find SmallRivers or did they reach out to you?

4)  Why did you decide to create Sacramento Charity Daily as a separate online news channel, vs. making it a component of Sacramento News Daily?

5)  Do you find all of the content you post from tweets? Or do you use other sources besides Twitter?

6)  And now for advice. Most nonprofits post news on their websites.  How do they let you know when they’ve posted something interesting?  And, pragmatically, is the link to the organization website good enough, even though there will likely be other stuff on the page?

7)  Are you the editorial decision maker?  Or is the process automated?

8)  What kind of content are you looking for?

9)  What length should news items be to be most compatible with re-posting on your daily news sites?

10)  What do you wish I’d asked that I didn’t?



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Hot post: 5 questions, 5 answers, from Sacramento Press

I’m a little bit embarrassed about this, but I actually had a nice email exchange with Ben Ilfeld of sacramentopress.com back in late April… and in an inbox cleaning frenzy, I apparently lost it.  Ben very politely reforwarded it to me.  There’s some good stuff in here so this is my last “philanthrophile” act before I pack for vacation.  Here are the answers Ben posed to my questions:

1. When did Sacramento Press start up?
  • Geoff Samek and I had the idea to start a local newspaper with an online component in 2003.
  • We decided on enabling citizen journalism as the dominant part of the model in 2003-2004.
  • We started our company in 2005. We hired full time developers in 2007.
  • We launched a small private beta in late 2008.
  • In November 2008 we began to market The Sacramento Press.
  • At the end of January we began to sell ads.
2. How is Sacramento Press funded?
We are funded by ad revenue and our own investment. Geoff and I have invested our own money. We have not taken any outside investment or loans and we do not plan to.  We have been selling advertisements for just over two months and business has been brisk.  We have about 20 campaigns running on the site right now.
We see ourselves diversifying our revenue model as time goes on and the needs of our customers change.  I would be happy to talk with you or anyone else about our plans and theories about the future business models for local media.
3. Does Sacramento Press have a focus?
Our focus is hyper local to regional news and information in Sacramento. In fact our mission statement is:

The Sacramento Press will be the most useful, comprehensive local news and information source for the Sacramento MSA.

We believe that neighborhood level news is important and that for various reasons it is not regularly reported. We started The Sacramento Press because we wanted to fill in those cracks in the media landscape. Of course, during development of our site the problem has gotten significantly worse and we will attempt to grow into a larger role providing city and regional news as other organizations cut back their coverage of critical issues.
4. How is Sacramento Press better than outside.in?
There are lots of ways, but I will stick with two: we are local and we are a content creator more than an aggregator.
If you want to do local, be local. Trust me this works. Our ads are all local, our content is all local and the people on the site are the same people you run into on the street. Our advertisers and readers appreciate this. We meet people face to face and ride bikes labeled with “sacpress.com” all around town. We attend key events and we speak with local stakeholders.
The job of getting everyday people to write is tough. Getting people to commit acts of journalism is tougher. We offer face to face support, copy editing and regular workshops on journalism, ethics, interviewing skills, social media and the tools on our site. We have a full time employee dedicated to journalism support and part of my role is “recruitment manager.” This is hard work and it can only be done living in the community.
This brings me to the second major difference. We felt there was not enough local reporting, so simply aggregating the other reporting wasn’t going to solve the problem. We wanted to enable people to report what they knew was going on in their neighborhoods. We have since expanded and we do have a mix of staff writing, interns, public information officers, and mostly volunteer citizen journalists (I hate that term, but you know what I mean by it). The goal is to tell stories and have conversations. Nationwide operations like outside.in have their place as wonderful aggregators, but they do not seek to report stories and this is reflected in the lack of discussions on their site as well (at least for Sacramento).
5. What is the best way to contribute?
The best way to contribute is to sign up (button above the masthead) then start writing (“write” button above the masthead.  We only allow local content about Sacramento on our site and we ask our writers to be transparent about who they are and who they represent.
(Apologies for formatting glitches; that happens when you paste text from another program into wordpress – the codes lurk and it doesn’t necessarily publish like it looks in preview!)

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On the hunt for hyper-local online news outlets (and content generators)

Last month in my March 15 and 17th posts, I put some thought into the collapse of traditional news media and what it means for organizations that still need to spread the word about their causes.  I said it would become more important to find purveyors of local news — some of whom would be connected individuals who blog and twitter, and some of which would be online news-gathering/reporting sites that purport to focus on communities and neighborhoods.  In my last blog post, I reported on outside.in and concluded that it just isn’t there yet as a source of local news.

As for the present state, I couldn’t agree more with the conclusions of Esther Thorson and Margaret Duffy of the Missouri School of Journalism, who recently reported their research finding that “despite ongoing reports of financial troubles and cutbacks, legacy media are more comprehensive and more technologically advanced than citizen media and bloggers.”  Duffy, faculty chair in strategic communications of the Journalism School, noted that “topic coverage on blogs and citizen new sites is generally narrow and the sourcing is light.”

I am, however, hopeful, that local alternatives will emerge to shore up shrinking traditional news resources.  Here is my progress report on two sites that are trying to become portals for local news (“hyper-local”) created by locals (“user generated content”):

Newsvine.com says it is “updated continuously by citizens like you…an instant reflection of what the world is talking about at any given moment.”  Newsvine consists of links to articles “seeded” by individuals in the community.  Here in Sacramento, those stories come primarily from the Sacramento Bee and Associated Press.  Only one of the “top seeds” comes from a blog, one devoted to music, Two Songbirds Press.  The columnists are a little more interesting – although not necessarily in a good way.  Here’s a verbatim excerpt from Ms. V’s column (she writes with that alias and no photo thumbnail), writing about “Working Under CPS Rules“:

I am a licsenced home daycare provider iam writing the article so the outside could look in.
I’ve been licencsed since 2006. During that time until now i’ve been lie to lied on ducoments have been falsefied to cover others behind.

(Another aside:  I actually stumbled across Newsvine by noticing the widget on Sutter Medical Center’s website (www.checksutterfirst.org).  I find it curious that Sutter picked this site – even more curious that they posted a widget for reddit.com, which is outright foul about half the time.)

Patch.com, in beta testing, is a platform that can be used to create “comprehensive and trusted local coverage for towns and communities.”  I heard Jon Brod, their CEO and founder, on NPR.  It’s promising – but it’s not here in Sacramento yet.  I do like what they’re doing in towns like Maplewood, but I really, really hope they include more info about opportunities to get involved in local non-profit causes! (“Volunteer” and “Essential Maplewood” might include these opportunities but I’m not sure these category labels would jump off the page for someone who is enthusiastic about making a difference locally; instead they may turn to portals like volunteermatch.org, or charity navigator.)

Until better local portals develop, my strategy is to actively scan for locals who use social media to comment on opportunities to get involved or support causes.  I’d love to find some who are gathering a following.  To find them, I’m using:

Twitter, which has a search function that allows you to identify Twitterers who say they Twitter about where you live.

WordPress‘ tag surfing function, which can deliver blog posts where Sacramento has been tagged.

Got great local sources re: Sacramento?  Philanthrophile wants to know!

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What non-profits can learn from Dave Mering and celebrity mothers

Turns out that radio audiences are also in decline, the victim of ipods, MP3 file sharing and social media.  Advertising expert Dave Mering of Mering Carson (Sacramento, CA) weighed in on the future of local news via email:  “What makes this future so scary is the loss of readership among young people. Many see no need at all to pick up a newspaper on a daily, weekly or monthly basis, preferring instead to get their news over the internet or by mobile device or through alternative news sources on television. …(V)iewership of local news has declined as well. Whether all four of the major affiliates will continue to maintain news products is in serious doubt, as it becomes more economical at some point to walk away from expensive news programming in a declining viewership environment and replace it with cheaper alternatives such as local talk or syndicated programming.  The real question is who will become the dominant player in local news over the internet and can that business model play out financially.”

These points strengthen my theory that people will have to find what they want through more sources, and they will have to find efficient ways to keep track of it all.  Here are more breadcrumbs for our trail:

  • Last week, Julie Appleby of USA Today announced she is leaving that pub and moving on to be a senior correspondent with Kaiser Health News, a new, foundation-funded news service to provide in-depth coverage of health policy issues.
  • Yahoo is finding some success with online programs aimed at “needs” they have identified.  They find “needs” by mining search queries and traffic data; then they develop niche Web shows like “Spotlight to Nightlight”, a show comprised of short segments about celebrity mothers.  (Ick.  Obviously I am not the target audience.)  These shows are less expensive to produce that TV-style programs, short (for the attention-span challenged) and can be watched at any time according to user convenience.
  • Though it’s reportedly not very useful yet, Twitter is getting around to adding search functionality.  Once there’s an algorithm that distinguishes the junk from the useful, it will make micro-blogs more accessible and useful, even for people who aren’t spending their day following others on Twitter.

So what?  For non-profits, it underscores the importance of figuring out how to reach people through online environments rather than through traditional newspaper, radio and television news.  If Yahoo can find audiences through search queries and traffic data, methinks a few local news corps may be able to figure out how to do the same thing for local programming.  Or, a few national outlets – like the NY Times – will figure out how to use this data to develop locally-appealing niche programs.

It brings to the fore the importance of survival in an online world.  Look at the strategies in the past two posts – online participation, etc.  As a starting point, if your website isn’t in good shape to serve up interesting content to those you attract (which means having both content and some degree of effective optimization for search), better get cracking.

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The “good”: 5 emerging opportunities for non-profits from changes in mass media

My last post appealed to the Eeyore in you.  This one appeals to your inner Tigger.  (I can’t write that without hearing Tigger’s voice:  “T-I-DOUBLE GUH-ER”)

Unfortunately, it’s hard not to imagine the continued collapse of traditional newspapers  (read the Bee’s lament, here – which, tellingly, was a reprint from another publication).  As Sandy (she with the fresh new media graduate degree) pointed out, “The real estate and automotive industries have basically been the only thing supporting the ‘meatspace’ newspapers but as money gets tighter in those industries they also have been moving pretty quickly to the online environment.”

So here’s what I would consider a “good” scenario for news distribution.  And why do I consider it optimistic?  Because change shakes up the hierarchy.  Organizations that don’t “get it” will lose ground with their intended audiences, and organizations – even small ones – will gain ground if they are fast-moving and seize upon emerging opportunities.

  • Some newspapers will be left standing but they will become regionals or nationals.  The New York Times is certain to be among them.  With a strong national content delivered both print and online, these stalwarts will be positioned to expand online into large metro markets, a la   www.chicago.nytimes.com.  (Don’t try to follow that if it appears as a link – I’m hypothesizing!)
  • Likewise, there will be at least one strong news-oriented radio station and relatively strong TV news program.  (The economics of radio are more favorable for radio than TV, but I expect at least one TV news program to survive.)
  • The Jon Stewartization of news will continue, merging somewhere along the way with personality-based radio shows.   Just imagine the opportunities associated with juxtaposing info about your favorite cause alongside the banter of morning radio anchors,  such as Mark and Mercedes’ recent discussion about what proportion of people will pee in the shower or use the “farmer’s hankie” (100.5 The Zone, here in Sacramento).
  • On television, look for a similar “View-ization” or “Oprah-ization” of local, personality-based shows that incorporate current issues and events.  In Sacramento, Good Day Sacramento probably is the furthest along in this direction.
  • News outlets are all aggressively trying to incorporate the other mediums for communications, and to prompt dialogue.  The Sacramento Bee now has a small battalion of bloggers that they’ve recruited to blog about everything from sports to technology to non-profits.  (Watch for United Way’s Gabrielle Stephenson’s posts.)  “The Swarm” blog is aimed at letting you “mix it up” with The Bee’s editorial board although it sure looks like more telling than listening to me.   The Bee’s Forum has an online component where the editor moderates discussion each week. CNN is turning the we’ll-tell-you-what-we-think-and-you-comment model on its head with ireport.  CNN is using a website and a Facebook page as a way of collecting ideas for stories directly from the audience and then turning it into a news report.  While the show is on the air, they show comments coming in from these live sources as they speak.  The proverbial tail wags the dog.
  • People who really need to understand something deeply will find good sources.  They’ll find bloggers or publications (online or offline) that they trust.  Or hire consultants to acquire and consolidate good information as a time-saver.  Most likely, they’ll pay — or at least pay more — for the access.
  • They’ll also find sources that cater to their specific interests.  They might subscribe to an online political publication, a car e-newsletter and a local restaurant review blog.  (And they’ll miss the convenient good-old days when they could get most of that in the local paper.)
  • They’ll also turn to people that they trust.  Opinion-leaders will be the people with lots of followers on Twitter, large numbers of readers to their blogs, and so on.  Sure, they’ll be the standard cadre of grass-tops (people who know people in office) but we’ll also be looking for people who just seem to know what the heck is going on with respect to social and demographic trends, technology, the economy, politics and so on.

And I’ll throw in some related trends that may smerge with these media developments:

  • Search(a la Google) will continue to be massively important because people will have to seek and find information.
  • As people get back to basics in a down economy, they will continue to try to support the things they already care about — education, for example.  They may try to give more to offset those who are giving less, or they may volunteer more to make up for what they cannot give.
  • After years of “thinking globally” messages, a “hyper local” trend will emerge.  More than local-vores or buying local, this will be an upsurge in concern about one’s own community as economic threats to local communities become more evident.  One doesn’t need Oprah to notice the shuttered storefronts.
  • The use of “readers” and personalized home pageswill grow.  If you can’t get the information you care about in one convenient cover, or through one news outlet, you’re going to have to find multiple worthwhile sources.  But managing them through your email inbox will quickly become untenable.  Imagine a home page with blocks you create where you can see the headlines from all of the sources you care about.  You’d read it in the morning, like a Kindle, but with customized content.  (And, PS, you’ll be able to use your Kindle or your iphone if you don’t want to sit at your computer screen.)

Here are some strategies that a non-profit might pursue in this new post-newspaper world.  But before I do that, refresh your memory with the list of strategies in the “bad/ugly” scenario post (you should see a line at the top of this post with yesterday’s title and an arrow point to the left).  THOSE STRATEGIES ALL APPLY HERE, TOO.  And here’s that tip again:  you can’t do all of these; choose those you think could differentiate your organization and would deliver the greatest impact for the least amount of time and money.

  1. Ugh.  (I recoil a bit at this one.)  Start thinking of news-light ways to get your message across.   If you want to reach a younger demographic, how can you create an activity that is quirky, fun or just plain silly enough to warrant people posting about it on their Facebook wall or talking about it on The Zone during the morning hours?  Almost every single news outlet right now is actively looking for “silver lining” or inspirational stories to offset the doom-and-gloom stories that are making their audience tune out.
  2. So the news media wants to start a conversation with us.  Be prepared with spokespersons – some staff, some volunteer – who are familiar with your message and facile in particular formats.  Have your “fun, hip” spokesperson ready for news-light TV and radio.  Have an expert ready for more serious news features.  Have a Spanish-speaking spokesperson prepped for Univision.  Have a left-leaner and a right-leaner (looks like some of those who have given up on newspapers felt they weren’t balanced and were too liberal.)  Have someone else who’s a whiz with blogging tracking and jumping in on news websites (and have them do it often).  Seems to me it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to find one or even two spokespersons that are attractive to, and good at, the full range of formats from radio to TV to print and online.
  3. Anticipate that more unauthenticated negative comments will be made about your cause or organization and ramp up your organizational listening.  More self-published reporters mean fewer editors – editors who used to insist on fact-checking.  Come to an internal point of view about when you will correct the record and when you will simply count on short attention spans and let stuff slide (for example, when you are dealing with a blogger who likes to rant – or Rush Limbaugh).
  4. Make your website more of a destination – which means enhancing content.  If you’re a food closet, for example, can your website become a credible source of information about hunger in general?  If you’re United Way, how can you showcase the many causes and organizations in a local community?   Can you recruit citizen journalists to help you develop a stronger voice for a particular group or cause?  Or maybe pay some of those unemployed journalists as freelancers?
  5. Start thinking about who the new local opinion leaders may be, and cultivate a relationship with them (ideally:  a face-to-face one).  Whose emails are often forwarded to you?  Who gets quoted in conversations?  How can you make them knowledgeable about your cause or organization?  (PS one of the best approaches is to ask for their input or feedback.)

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The good, bad and ugly of mass media turmoil: first, the ugly

One of the great underutilized strategic planning tools is contingency planning.  In this blog post and the next one, I’ll walk through scenarios about what the endangered future of mass media means for non-profits, ranging from worst case to best case.  Consider this one “the bad and ugly”.  The goal of the exercise is to choose a course of action that will be most “robust” (strategic planners love that word) no matter what happens.  So whether you think there’s a pony in there somewhere* or not, you should read this post.

In the most negative scenario, the doom loop continues, with further erosion of network news audience (local and national) and newspaper circulation, and the flight of advertisers.  Staff cuts, consolidations, and closures ensue.

  • Mass media collapses to the point that it is untenable as an avenue for raising awareness of an issue or organization – particular those that are not visually interesting or endearing.
  • Audience fractures into a thousand splinter online publications, cable channels and radio stations – destroying the cost/benefit of traditional public relations approaches that focus on newspaper and television angles.
  • Cheap programming rules – with TV news formats edging closer to the production value of Wayne’s World.  They won’t have a news photographer to send to your event.

What would be the imperatives for a non-profit that needs to get its message out?  The biggest challenge will be efficiency of reach, and underlying that, the skills of its staff (addressed at bottom).  In the past, non-profit staff with traditional PR skills have been able to devote a reasonable amount of time and energy to pursue media targets with big audience and influence.  In the “bad/ugly” scenario, there just aren’t enough big targets, and there will be fierce competition for the few outlets with decent share.   Special woe to the cause that really needed the depth of a newspaper feature due to confidentiality issues (e.g. children’s mental health) or lack of appealing visuals (e.g. end-of-life issues, HIV/AIDS).

Here are some strategies that a non-profit might pursue to try to tackle the problem of efficient reach (tip:  remember strategy is about making choices, not doing all of these things):

  1. Develop an aggressive online participation strategy.  This is a big fat “duh”.  What it really means is:  a) enhancing websites as core infrastructure – which includes attention to content and searchability, not just a pretty homepage ; b)  developing a presence on social media platforms where target audiences are already, be it Facebook, Twitter, Ning or whatever else comes along; c) using organizational listening and participation as a means of finding people who may be able to take your message to their followers and friends.
  2. Track the near-certain rise of niche audience publicationsin the online and offline world.  As free media content deteriorates in value (e.g. USA Today), business people and influentials will be forced to subscribe to get the news they care about (at least conveniently).  Niche outlets will pop up as dot.org’s (VoiceOfSanDiego.org), dot.com’s and even blogs (some by individuals and some that emulate online dot coms, as in www.californiabeat.wordpress.com).  Some of it will be free (grant-funded or supported by advertising business model), and some of it will cost.  We pay for Zagat’s and Consumer Reports now; why not business and political news?
  3. Develop story pitches that reflect the interests of these niche publications.   This will be no small task; it will take time and thought.  In my previous post, I shared some info from a blogger who talked about the importance of understanding her focus and interests rather than sending a generic news release.   You can imagine that capturing the interest of the ex-newspaper journalists at VoiceOfSanDiego.org would be quite different than attracting the interest of an online personality.  (For more about VoiceOfSanDiego, read this article from the NY Times last November.)
  4. Do most of the work of writers and photographers to support a story idea – from writing it in various lengths/styles to providing great photos that can be used in a news website’s slide show feature.
  5. Invest in database marketing and growing direct communications channels, especially e-newsletters, e-mail and blogs.  And don’t count out podcasting and youtube videos.   (I’d say direct mail but there’s growing evidence that it is declining in efficiency.)
  6. Develop a cadre of brand/cause ambassadors, people with passion about your cause who will plaster it on their backs (e.g. thanks to the cool t-shirt you gave them).  You arm them with talking points and help them understand the impact of what they can do as message carriers.  Think about what’s in it for them and try to give them that (for example, they may be interested in socializing with other like-minded people, in learning more about the cause a la continuing education, or in competing for prizes and recognition).  It won’t work for every cause but it will for some.
  7. Screw non-paid media and start learning about online advertising including pay-per-click.

The biggest challenge you may face in this scenario isn’t money.  It’s staff knowledge and skill.  And perhaps interest.  Sandy, who has a current master’s degree from UW in new media, told me, “I have noticed that at least in my neck of the woords, non-profit workers haven’t caught up with the skill sets they need to be effective in this environment.”

*The old story goes:  A mother and father were concerned about their two boys.  One was a dedicated pessimist, and the other, an optimist.  They decided to take a new approach to Christmas gifts in the hopes of moderating their sons’ extreme personality traits.  They would give the pessimist a treasure trove of the most desired toys, and the optimist, something not even he could find the good in.  On Christmas morning, the pessimist came downstairs to stacks and stacks of gifts.   One by one, he dismissed them, “The toy fire truck will break, the bike will get a flat tire and I’ll never be any good at that video game.”  All the while, the optimist was looking around for his gifts but saw none.  “Yours is out in the garage,” his Dad said.  He ran into the garage and was confronted with the spectre of a six foot pile of horse manure.  Immediately, the boy dived into the manure and began digging furiously.  “What in the word are you doing,” the father asked.  “With all of this shit, there must be a pony in here somewhere,” he exclaimed!


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PR case study: why did results improve this year if the media is toast?

I really ought to be working on an e-newsletter this morning (the deadline is baying like a hound in my head) but my mind is occupied this sunny Saturday morning about changes in media … and what they mean for non-profits.  Over the last week I’ve read about:

Sure glad my almost 17-year-old son thinks he wants to be a journalist. 

With all of this bad news, I’m scratching my head a bit as to why a PR campaign this past 10 days was as successful as it was.  I’ll blog next time about potential scenarios for non-profits and potential opportunities and threats for non-profits who need to get the word out about their cause or organization.

I’m involved as a volunteer for River City Community Services, a food closet that operates every weekday and serves anyone in need in Sacramento County.  Right now, their biggest fundraiser of the year is Empty Bowls, a charity luncheon that is expected to raise over $50,000.   In past years, newspaper coverage was considered vital to the event’s success.  Then news staff was cut, competition for news attention grew, and it became imperative for the local Sacramento Bee to focus on stories that grabbed attention better than a local fundraiser.  It became virtually impossible to get them to send out a photographer for the event (not to mention the fact that coverage that day would do little to sell advance tickets).

Fast forward to this year’s event.  Tickets may be sold out by now, three days out from the event, and they’ve run ahead of last year’s ticket sales since PR began.  Several thousand dollars in sponsorships fell out of the air without solicitation as buzz about the event increased (no, not a gigantic number but remember this is a fairly small fundraiser in the grand scheme of things).

With the pro bono help of the local office of Porter Novelli, and committee leadership of Susan Bitar of Aria Communications, pre-event media opportunities secured attention from KOVR 13/ch 31’s “Good Day Sacramento”, KFBK AM 1530 talk radio, “where-the-news-is-first” KCRA channel 3, and the local Univision affiliate (ch 19).

Loretto High School student Hallie McKnight also developed a great piece in the Teen Style section of the Sacramento Bee (and the Bee photographer did come out for that).  About the same time, a small volunteer profile was published by Gloria Glyer in the Sacramento Bee (there’s a glitch on the webpage or I’d link to it), and Sacramento Magazine’s Ed Goldman included a blurb about the event in his Sacramentions column.  Those last three fall generally into the category of “long lead time” opportunities (translation:  pitching started weeks or months out).

As with all PR efforts, it’s difficult to tell which did the most to drive results.  But access to web analytics provides a new means of measuring activity.

Ticket sales spiked during the entire week of pre-event publicity.  They were nearly tied on the day of the KFBK story and the day of KCRA’s live report (followed by a taped news story that aired during the noon news).

But here’s what was interesting.  Looking at website analytics, KCRA’s website became one of the top referrers to the non-profit’s website.  That means people saw the story, went on the KCRA website, and clicked through to River City Community Service’s site.  If I were a betting woman, I would bet that KCRA is winning the website war among local electronic news media.

Here’s another bit that came out of the experience.  At one point, KCRA was short a news photographer and instead offered to include pictures using their slide show feature on the website.  Fortunately, we had some great pictures and could upload them via Flickr.  The slide show thing never happened, but the next day, KCRA sent out the talented Sharokina Sams for a live shot.  During her segment, they broadcast two of our photos to bring to life the story of the many people who are being helped by the food closet.


  • News isn’t dead yet.   In this town, it’s alive and kicking – but it’s kicking early.  It’s worth noting that most of the radio and TV news resources are scheduled for the early morning shift.  Translation:  these folks are coming in at 3:30 or 4:00 a.m. in the morning and they’re off by noon, so the days of soft-news story collection in the afternoon are over.  My guess is that the same pattern is true in other mid-sized cities like Sacramento.
  • News stations who survive will also have a vibrant online presence, and they’ll be thinking about the ways they can make that real estate more engaging
  • Advertisers will figure out which news stations are attracting audiences, and they’ll find ways to take advantage of a presence there
  • We couldn’t measure it precisely, but I’d bet that programs like Good Day Sacramento and Univision’s morning program have loyal followers who are more likely to act based on a tip from likeable on-air personalities like Julissa Ortiz at Good Day and Jessica Fox and Carlos Gastelum on Univision’s Tu Desayuno Alegre


  • Stay current on news outlet’s web presence.  Some of them are doing innovative things like allowing audience members (or John Q Public) to post job-hunting videos (e.g. ch 31).
    • Think about opportunities like the slide show that now appears to be a standard on local news websites.  Great photographs of an event might be a way to get your story across.  Note that they have mostly been using this space for photos they’re getting syndicated from national sources, but this may change if they start to feel it has value as a draw.
  • PR pros (and volunteers like me) should be sure to have Spanish-speaking spokespeople on deck (we didn’t but quickly scampered and found intelligent and bubbly Loretto student Carmen Cueto).
  • Think about how you can create vibrant early-morning events (translation:  good visuals).  Bring coffee.
  • No matter what time you pick for your media event, have your participants on deck to come in even earlier if the opportunity arises at the last moment.  Like 5:45 a.m. early.
  • Be prepared to set your alarm early.  And have your cell phone on early.  I got called before 6 a.m.
  • Use your e-newsletter to tell your supporters to tune in or check out news stories.  Seeing your organization in the news encourages their enthusiasm and enhances the credibility of your organization.
  • Tell your sponsors and grant-funders, too.  (We didn’t, but it would have been a good idea.)

More in the next few days about broader implications for non-profits.  What if newspaper dies or strangles in its current form?  What if audience continues to dwindle for TV, which will mean more advertising cuts, and changes to newsroom staffing?

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Agree or disagree: are journalists “more likely to pick up quotes than anything else” in a news release?

The last post discusses how to write news releases for maximum pick-up on the Internet, and was prompted by a chapter in a guide written by WordTracker.  WordTracker helpfully included some general tips about news releases.


As an “ex-pat” executive of an international PR firm, I disagreed with one of their observations – that quotes are most likely to get picked up and used by journalists.


What’s your experience?  Seems to me that quotes by highly credible sources are likely to be picked up, but quotes by local volunteer or Joe-Schmo agency director are not.


Better choices:  Data insights (non-profits sit on a goldmine of information about trends, if only they’d mine it with the media in mind) or tying a local cause or organization’s issue to a national trend.  Journalists are often looking for ways to localize a national story.


Ring in with what you’re finding.  I know there are a number of PR professionals who subscribe.

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Want to reach influencers? Don’t forget about news releases, and be sure to incorporate key words

Today’s post is for people who want to influence opinion about their cause, attract media attention and drive traffic to their websites.


Bottomline:  news releases are still a critical weapon in your communications arsenal – maybe more so than ever.  What’s new is this:  you need to understand and include keywords.  When you develop and distribute news releases either to targeted media outlets or via PR newswire or similar services (following all the usual rules about newsworthiness and format), you need to understand how search engines look for and respond to keywords.


Here’s the why:


1)       Attracting the attention of online newspaper websites is particular important to driving opinion about your cause.  According to the a study conducted by Millward Brown of 1,501 adults last year, readers of online newspaper sites are 52% more likely to be “influencers” than non-newspaper website readers.

2)       Given cutbacks in traditional newsrooms, more journalists are migrating to the Web.  Just one example, discussed in the New York Times on November 17, is the rise of local websites that serve as watchdogs over particular communities – such as VoiceofSanDiego.org.

3)       News releases have a long after-life on the Internet.  Google anything and you’re likely to see a news release .pdf on the first page of results.  News releases, posted to your website, attract traffic.


Here are some tips about what it means to write with the needs of online search engines in mind, offered by the folks at WordTracker through their free online publication about using keywords:


1)       Focus the news release on a primary keyword and include it in the headline.  They also suggest you intersperse the word throughout the release (but don’t overdo it).

2)       Include a summary that includes the primary keyword as well as a few secondary ones.

3)       Make sure you distribute to the online news channels such as Google News, Yahoo News and MSN News.

4)       Identify niche websites that are interested in your particular topic and that publish editorial material.  These sites are in a constant battle to find and post fresh content.

5)       Likewise, identify blogs that are interested in your cause or topic.  But be prepared to stay engaged as comments are posted.

6)       Don’t forget social media sites like digg.com and delicious.com which “can drive fantastic levels of traffic” according to WordTracker.

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