26 April 2011

Delicate Steve has Rheumatoid Alzheimer's

Is your in-box full of pitches for products and public service announcements?

  • I am contacting you today on behalf of the Arthritis Foundation, asking you to spread awareness to your readers about rheumatoid arthritis to help facilitate early diagnosis and treatment.
  • Today is the long-awaited release date for the Blu-ray and DVD of The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader.
  • I wanted to update you on what the Power Rangers have been up to lately.
  • We'd love your help in getting the word out on Magpie Musing about the important information in Generation Alzheimer's, so we can make sure the public understands what can be done to conquer this devastating disease.
  • Have you ever considered buying all of the moms in your life the amazing Vizit frame?
  • You probably already know that college students often engage in risky behaviors and gambling can be one of them. With the NCAA Basketball Tournament well underway, this is the right time to raise awareness about gambling on college campuses.
  • The reason I´m writing to you is to inform you about a matter that I believe and hope will interest you and your readers. Today, in the year 2011, the struggle for equality has come a long way. But there are still many women-related taboos in our societies. One of these is menstruation.
  • I'm contacting you today on behalf of Mount Sinai Medical Center, to introduce you to Dr. Eva Dubin's state of the art Dubin Breast Center in New York City and invite you to take a tour.

Mine is, and I usually just delete delete delete, except when I pause to wonder what list I ended up on that someone might think my blog was a good venue for a discussion of gambling on college basketball.

But here's the thing - if I were going to tell my readers all about rheumatoid Alzheimer's, wouldn't you think I'd want to learn something about the Vizit frame, so that I could understand why I was visiting a breast center in search of the Dawn Treader?

Yeah, right.

I was thinking about the whole blog/advertising/PR nexus, which I'm not going to get into because plenty of other people have done it. But look at it this way. If I'm a publicist sending out a press release to the Times to announce a performance season by a small dance company, do I expect them to run my release as is? No, of course not. I expect them to put it in some kind of context that means something to their editorial staff. Or, more likely, ignore it all together, unless the listings are thin that week. And if I'm lucky enough to get a review, the reviewer's just going to say what the reviewer's going to say, press release or no press release.

The reason I was thinking about this was because I happened upon an NPR story last week, a story about a band and a press release - a press release that turned out to be a bunch of fake bios and a big dose of loopiness: "The critics unilaterally concur: Delicate Steve is a band who creates music." This essentially fictional release got picked up, whole cloth, no questions asked, by venues where the band was performing and writers who cover the music business. It's a real band - Delicate Steve - but the record label's take was that the band's lyric-free music was kind of esoteric and they wanted "music writers to pay attention". So they hired Chuck Klosterman, and had him write whatever the hell he wanted:

"You mean I don't have to talk to the band or listen to the record? That's AWESOME! OK, I'll do it!"

When NPR interviewed him about the release, Klosterman said:

"The whole idea of public relations is to stop journalism. It's to basically give journalists an opportunity to write something without really asking any critical questions or investigating at all. It's really antithetical to journalism...One person asked me, 'Will you feel bad if someone goes to this show or buys this record based on the fact that you wrote this fictional piece? And then you're kind of ripping them off in a way.' I'll be honest — I don't feel bad. Because to me, I've probably helped that person to learn that you should not make consumer decisions based on some random media message that someone just fabricated for no reason. And I'm just not talking about my press release, I'm kind of talking about all press releases."

Hear that? Press releases are antithetical to journalism. Don't make decisions based on press releases, don't reprint them word for word. Stand on your own feet, use your own cognitive powers to know what you're getting yourself into. And don't believe everything you read. And apply all that to the blog world as well as old-school and on-line media.


De said...


and that's just Chuck Klosterman - I can't even get my head around marketing today and it's not because I'm menstruating.

painted maypole said...

Yeah, i always figure press releases are for things like listings and to get reviewers to try to review a show/pruduct. not for redistribution.

Neil said...

I don't necessarily blame the press release people for playing this type of game, since their job is to present their product in the most positive light positive. The problem is that journalists (and ultimately us) buy it, out of laziness.

The Absence of Alternatives said...

"Press releases are antithetical to journalism." Agreed. Thought people are aware of that. The issue is most likely that they are not labeled as so with all that's going on on the internet. Sort of like how Fox News of course has the right to say whatever the F they want to say but they'd better not label opinion pieces as news. (Sorry. Have to squeeze this in here...) Thank goodness that there are honest bloggers out there!

george simonson said...

I used to write press releases for new Sony products that were picked up verbatim, at least in part, by columnists for the New York Times and other papers across the country. This worked because they knew me, they'd known Sony for years and trusted the company, and they knew that I told the truth. Press releases CAN (easily) be -- but are not necessarily -- antithetical to journalism.

Emily said...

I think the whole story is fascinating. Really? People have to know press releases are not news, right? Has that line become so blurred?

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

I heard the story on NPR--it was fascinating.

mayberry said...

Your tweet about this takes the cake. Good lord.

YourFireAnt said...

My mother always said: don't believe a word you hear and only half of what you see.


Megan said...

AAAAmen! I would read a press release, write down a few notes, then gather some info before writing an article for the newspaper I worked for. Anytime I've seen a blog look like it's cut and paset something, they're gone without a second chance.

julochka said...

it seems rather harmless when it's a band or a product, but what about political spin or the PR folks representing those asshole lawyers who were involved in the Defense of Marriage thing....way more worrying when their PR gets through the journalistic screen...