Get to Know Charles Ramsey: A Modern Storyteller

Most of us never heard of Charles Ramsey until today. Now he will be remembered as the man who rescued three kidnapping victims including Amanda Berry, missing for the past 10 years. This interview with Ramsey is full of colorful sound bites and is sure to be autotuned shortly. In the meantime, enjoy this video of a guy who has a unique ability to tell a story.

And here is that autotune:

Captured?

Watching CNN live after just returning from a work event to see a reporter receiving news via cell phone and reporting live on air. One suspect may have been captured following the Boston Marathon bombings and possibly a second suspect. This is an interesting way to cover the news. Not sure if CNN is following any sort of process to confirm facts before reporting.

Cartoons for Boston

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What Qualifies as Reading?

There’s no arguing that reading has changed over the course of history. From scanning cave drawings to opening downloaded books on the latest tablet, we are a society interested in sharing ideas by freezing out thoughts in time for someone to engage with at a later date.

New York Times columnist David Carr recently polled his co-workers regarding their reading habits. What are they reading? How are they reading it?

The Sweet Spot video focuses primarily on books however there are so many more reading touchpoints throughout our day.

Think about it this way: When a friend asks you what you’re reading what’s the first thought that comes to mind? Probably the book you’re currently flipping through, right? Why is that? Is it because a book involves a process, sitting down over multiple days, spanning several or dozens of hours depending on its size?

Now think abut everything that you read today. How many blog posts, tweets, Facebook updates, online articles, magazine features, newspaper columns, and so forth did you pick up or scroll through? In a few weeks you probably read more words than you have on your bookshelf at home. That’s because we constantly type, read, type some more, and wait for the next response. Messages via email or texting night just be the most words you will read in your life (just a guesstimate).


2013-03-22 12.31.00 (1)The other day a friend asked me what I was reading. I had just finished Homeland, a bit of teen fiction by Cory Doctorow that I checked out from the library. I was staring at a stack of books, all with Dewey Decimal references on their spines. Next up was Engage! by Brian Solis. I hadn’t cracked it open yet and I wasn’t looking forward to it. I had it in my head that this was homework, a book I acquired for the sole purpose of learning more for my profession.

This is the perfect moment to explain my one rule of reading books: never assign yourself homework. I had broken that rule here and it was haunting me. But I digress.

I couldn’t answer my friend because I wasn’t reading anything. That is, I didn’t count the NY Times Magazine article I was catching up on from a few weeks back, the research I was doing for a client, the hundreds of tweets I had read that day, or the press release I had ghost written for a friend (yes, writing involves reading).

Unlike Carr’s questions to his colleagues, I saw what I read as a fundamental qualification to if I was reading. I disqualified anything web based, opting only for the inky pages of bound stories. Why was that? Sure I dislike digital reading and I don’t own a tablet. I have shelves lined with books, a desk stacked with print outs, and a coffee table with a separate shelf for the growing pile of newspapers and magazines my wife brings home each day. I spend hours reading every day, scanning the internet for blog post fodder, newspaper features to quickly dive in and jump back out of key moments in someone’s life story, and countless online articles linked through Twitter.

So what made the cut? What was I reading? It seems it is everything and nothing at the same time. In my mind, reading is a process, defined by putting something down and picking it back up, maybe at least three times – this disqualifies feature articles and really only makes room for books.

Why is this? Maybe it’s because we didn’t receive a newspaper when I was growing up or that my formative years were before digital posts. Maybe it’s because I prefer physical books and the smell of aged paper over pixels.

Maybe it’s just that reading is personal and it means something different to each one of us. So what are you reading?

Phoenix Publishes Last Issue

Last PhoenixAfter 47 years, the Boston Phoenix is publishing its final issue. WFNX.com will also cease to exist in its current form according to a statement from Phoenix publisher Stephen Mindich to staffers earlier today. It is currently unclear if the station will continue in a new form moving forward or cease existence much like its hard copy relative. Read my earlier post from June 2012 regarding WFNX’s recent transformations.

The following is the statement issued by Mindich:

I can state with certainty that this is the single most difficult communication I’ve ever had to deliver and there’s no other way to state it than straightforwardly –

As of now the Boston Phoenix has ceased publishing and wfnx.com will not continue as it is.

As everyone knows, between the economic crisis beginning in 2007 and the simultaneous radical changes in the media business, particularly as it has affected print media advertising, these have been extremely difficult times for our Company and despite the valiant effort by many, many past and current staff to attempt to stabilize and, in fact, reverse our significant financial losses, we have been unable to do so and they are no longer sustainable.

Because of their smaller scale of operations and because we believe that they remain meaningful publications to their communities, with some necessary changes to each, it is our intent to keep the Providence and Portland Phoenixes operating and to do so for as long as they remain financially viable.  The same is true for Mass Web Printing Co.

I cannot find the words to express how sad a moment this is for me, and I know, for you as well, so I won’t try. 

What I can and will say is I am extremely proud, as all of you should be, of the highest standards of journalism we have set and maintained throughout the decades in all of our areas of coverage and the important role we have played in driving political and socially progressive and responsible agendas; in covering the worlds of arts and entertainment, food and fashion – always  with a critical view, while at the same time promoting their enormous importance in maintaining a healthy society; and in advocating for the recognition and acceptance of a wide range of lifestyles that are so valuable for a vibrant society.

And finally, at least for this moment, I want to thank all of you – and the literally thousands of women and men before you, for lending your talents to our mission over the past 47 years – as I have always said – our staff has been our soul. 

And obviously as well, my sincere gratitude to our millions of readers and tens of thousands of advertisers without whom none of what we did accomplish could have been possible or meaningful.

So, that’s it. We have had an extraordinary run.

Press Release in Critical Condition After Alleged Assault by PR Bloggers

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Industry weighs future of traditional formatting, considers “pulling the plug”

BLINKING CURSOR, DESKTOP – February 11, 2013 – Press Release remains in critical condition after an alleged assault by Public Relations Bloggers according to police reports. Members of The Industry gathered at The Watercooler earlier this week to weigh the fate of Release amid reports that pulling the plug on traditional formatting remains an option.

“I don’t understand why anyone would do this to Release,” said Suit N. Tie. “He’s been a solid representative of Corporate News for decades. If we lose Release, we will be at the mercy of Millennial Mentality and their Apps. I just hope that he pulls through for the sake of his Alerts and Statements.”

A copy of the initial police report confirms that Release was last seen sitting on A Printer late Wednesday evening awaiting a meeting with Client C. Eeyo. A jogger found him early Thursday morning, badly beaten in an alley behind The Agency. Members of Millennial Mentality have been known to blog from The Agency from before sunrise until well into the evening, according to law enforcement insiders.

Release is currently in “draft form” according to doctors as teams of surgeons work around the clock in an effort to upgrade his condition to “immediate release”. In the past few days he has undergone several surgeries including a series of procedures to remove his Subhead, implant Hyperlinks, and Align his Content for future readability. Earlier today surgeons also removed his Boilerplate in a routine surgery to sever the non-functioning organ. Doctors stated that these procedures were necessary if Release was to ever face the public again. A 6 second Vine video of the procedures is expected to be available later today said Online.

Members of The Industry have yet to inform the public of their decision regarding Release’s future yet leading members of Millennial Mentality’s recruiting arm, Account Coordinators (AC), were quick to share their views.

“Words are so 2011,” said AC President @PRGuruNinjaRockstar. “If it’s not in pictures no one knows what you’re talking about. BTW, what are we talking about?”

Release’s spouse, Written Pitch, was seen leaving the hospital yesterday evening but reporters were unable to understand what she said. It appears that doctors have a “Solution” for the “Enterprise” but it is not clear what that is or what it means.

A police department insider said on condition of anonymity that several high-ranking members of AC are suspected in the attack.

“We are in the midst of conducting eyewitness interviews and researching blog posts made by AC members however this process is challenging. We are bringing in code breakers to decipher messages that almost always begin with ‘5 Tips Every PR…’ that appear to be shared among AC members in an attempt to share information gathered from within The Industry.”

“To think we may have a traitor within The Industry just sickens me,” said Back N. Theday, VP of VPs at The Industry. “I’ve heard of these blogs although I’ve never met Online in person. Nevertheless, I’m sure that if it’s important I will see a recap in Bacon’s next printing. Which reminds me, I’ll need to ask my assistant of 30 years if our subscription is up to date.”

As the communications climate continues to change, Release may prove to be the first major fatality since Fax. A longtime favorite of The Industry, Fax’s murder was widely attributed to E-Mail although he was never convicted.

For more uninformed speculation please visit any PR professional who is sure to have an opinion on Release’s future prospects.

(Read yesterday’s post for a different approach to discussing the future of the press release.)

The Marriage of the Librarian and the Algorithm

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When I was five or six years old I started accompanying my grandmother to work on the weekends. She would steer her Ford Pinto along one of the few paved roads in town for the ten-minute ride from her house to the library. It was a small building, much smaller than the few houses we passed on our journey.

Each Saturday I sat at a table built especially for children, with chairs that wouldn’t make it to your knee. I read the works of Beatrix Potter and later solved crimes alongside Encyclopedia Brown. When my classmates visited I would recommend a few of my favorites, taking into account their feedback on previously checked out books.

I learned to listen from my grandmother. She would hold court with each resident that walked through the door and ask them what they thought of the last book they read. Then she would reach for a stack of novels behind her desk. She knew which volumes they would enjoy, even if they didn’t yet.


Several times a year I would wake especially early. This was when the bookmobile would come to town, arriving before the library opened its doors. I would climb its aluminum stairs and run my fingers down the long shelves built into its hull. We were its first stop of the day with only an hour to make our selections.

I began pulling and stacking books that I wanted to read alongside my picks for the other children in my school. I had a fairly solid track record among the grammar school’s leading readers and before long my grandmother stopped assisting me when I raided the mobile library. Soon I was solely in charge of selecting the books for the few dozen children in town.

I took pride in my knowledge of the reading habits of the library’s youngest patrons. The tiny building had become a living entity, breathing in children eager for stories and exhaling young brains filled with knowledge. It ran purely on sensitivity to tastes and reading habits.


I am reminiscing because I just took a stroll through a new offering from some of the largest book publishers in the business. It’s a site called Bookish and it promises to tailor book selections to your tastes based on an algorithm that combines your feedback and purchases with details provided by the publishers and authors. It will advise you solely on your input rather than the popular method of showing you what others chose or tapping into your social media links to see what your friends are reading. In essence, it will pay attention to you.

Those who created Bookish have said that the algorithm will take time to learn your reading tastes and adjust its recommendations based on your continued interactions. It’s a plan tailored to the reader and it feels appropriate.

It reminds me of those conversations my grandmother had next to her desk with each patron that walked through her door. Before long it will anticipate what you want before you ask.

This post first appeared on Medium.

BuzzFeed Contributor Calls Out Publicist

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It’s a phrase recited by PR professionals worldwide: be careful what you put in writing. As a result we like to call people when we discuss initial ideas or make requests. If you see us on the phone we are probably asking for a favor, typing is for ultimatums.

That’s why I both understand and am perplexed by Beyonce’s publicist when she reached out to BuzzFeed yesterday afternoon. After the site published a collection of photos from the singer’s halftime performance at the Super Bowl they apparently received a call from Yvette Noel-Schure requesting that a few “unflattering” photos be replaced. Ms. Noel-Schure then followed up with an email citing the specific snapshots.

Look, we’ve all been there. The press publishes what it wants. If the words came out of your mouth or took place near a camera you can expect it to appear in print or online. However, part of our job is brand management and sometimes that means image control. The photos in question could be construed as “gurning” and it’s understandable that a simple request could be made to replace them. That doesn’t mean the media outlet has to do it, it’s just a request. It is your due diligence to make it even if you know it won’t work.

Unfortunately we do not know if the request was pleasant or not since we are only presented with an email. If this was a bit of revenge on behalf of the reporter then they should include the initial tone of the phone call, otherwise the email reads just fine.

Before you dismiss the image management of a celebrity like Beyonce, just consider what she has been up to lately. In just the past few weeks she “sang” at the Presidential Inauguration, hoarded headlines with her silence following that event, demonstrated the perfect response to smack talk at an NFL press conference, performed at the Super Bowl Halftime Show, and announced her worldwide tour. It has been a carefully choreographed parade of events. Along the way I was awed by her ability to own the news when nothing that she was doing was necessarily newsworthy.

So as someone who spoke out against spotlighting Beyonce’s lip synching moment at the inauguration when real news was taking place around the world, why does this catch my attention? Because requests aren’t news. Why BuzzFeed chose to publish this story is understandable, after all it garnered over 6,000 likes. But it’s exactly this type of “reporting” that creates a divide between publicists and the media.

This is not news. This is a request that barely rises above junk food corn syrup; a sugary high for a reader that lasts just long enough until another tidbit of celebrity trivia reaches an inbox. Sometimes the allure of publishing some behind the scenes details for a quick hit is too much to resist. I get it, it’s BuzzFeed after all.

You’re Not the Headline

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There is something wrong with this photo. It’s just two little letters. Can you spot them? I’ll give you a hint. They’re bold and big and out of place.

PR should never make headlines. If you’re in the PR industry you’ve taken a silent pledge to be the man behind the man (or woman behind the woman or man behind the…). You’ve decided that, for much of your early career, you will allow others to say your words, receive credit for your thoughts, and answer when asked a question.

It’s true that you may rise to the ranks of spokesperson and you will be quoted. There are times when you’ll step out of the shadows and stand at the center of the story. However, you’ll never let our methods be the source of speculation, dragging your audience away from your messages.

You may not have said a word, but you took the pledge.

This post first appeared on Medium.

Accuracy in Fiction: Journalists Need to Stop Chasing Windmills

This newspaper hasn’t existed since 1939. Exterior of the Baltimore Sun for “House of Cards”. photo: Jerry Jackson / Baltimore Sun

This newspaper hasn’t existed since 1939. Exterior of the Baltimore Sun for “House of Cards”. photo: Jerry Jackson / Baltimore Sun

I’m five episodes into “House of Cards” on Netflix and I already made the mistake of reading initial impressions online. If you haven’t peeked at reviews, many based on the first two episodes that were screened for the press, then I urge you not to for your own continued enjoyment of the series. You will find no links here for that reason.

However I do want to touch upon one criticism that has risen to the top of several online discussions. There seems to be a drumbeat from viewers upset that the show is not more realistic. Particularly journalists who want us to know that newsrooms do not function as they are being portrayed. This seems to be a growing concern among our reporting brethren. A similar message crept up when Aaron Sorkin’s “The Newsroom” aired and it began to ruin the show for me.

As a former reporter for a newspaper I would like to take a moment and go against the tide. Right here and now I would like to state that I do not go in search of realistic portrayals of my former profession in dramatic series. I understand that the show is made up, contrived, and in this case pulled from the BBC classic of the 90s. At no point was I expecting the series to relay the actual boredom faced by reporters as they chase down leads, make endless calls, knock on doors, and tweet. Wouldn’t that be a blast, watching our journalistic representative Zoe Barnes tweeting? After all, David Carr of the New York Times seems to spend much of his day doing just that and he’s unabashedly unapologetic for his love of online media.

So why do the opinions of the media affect my viewing pleasure and possibly yours? I think it’s when they sum up their feelings and put them forth as gospel. Almost as if they’re telling me not to like the show because it’s so far from being a realistic portrayal of their lives. A few reviews in and this theme becomes a topic of discussion.

The press has repeatedly told me that I’m foolish if I enjoy such fantasy. But why must shows like this be realistic? Where is the enjoyment in that? Do they wish for us to return to a viewership consisting of children on “Take Your Child to Work Day”, “oohing” and “ahhing” at the monotony of their lives to justify the time they put into it?

I also worked at nonprofits and we frequently did not dress as well as the fictional well-digging, water-saviors on “House of Cards”. As a publicist I wish that I didn’t have to straighten my CEO’s tie or remind him to tuck in his shirt before a televised interview. I would’ve loved to work with Robin Wright’s perfection but that world rarely attracts these types.

And I’m ok with that portrayal. Why? Because while there will be a few people who actually believe nonprofits work that way, most people will see it for what it is, fictionalized drama, a tool, a means to an end.

The real story centers on the characters. To have them accomplish what they must they need to be in power. What better place than politics, a growing nonprofit and the editorial room at an established newsroom where they sit in (gasp) chairs, or a budding communications start up complete with bean bags and exercise balls? These are devices, nothing more. To look for realism here is chasing windmills.

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