Braided Journalism and the Future of Public Relations

Dell_Power to do More

Something significant and potentially game-changing happened this past week.

Maybe you have seen the news. In case you missed it, Shel Israel wrote about it in a recent post on braided journalism, a term he coined a little while ago to describe a developing practice of traditional and citizen journalists starting to intertwine through mutual need.

This is also the latest example of enlightened experimentation from Dell, an organization that is leading on its way to what Dachis defines a social business. They were first in implementing a site for customers to submit and vote on product ideas — IdeaStorm — and first to coordinate social product launches at the same time with traditional announcements.

With more than 800 associates across the organization trained in listening/monitoring and participating in social media, Dell is breaking new ground again. As Shel reported, he was among four freelance journalists invited to participate in a new portal, the power to do more, a project that is more online magazine than company Web site.

Thinking like a publisher

In my last corporate job I also handled public relations for the organization and its lines of business, as well as customer communications. Part of the work we did in collaboration with the general managers and technical subject matter experts was what many call thought leadership — the production of papers, articles, and eBooks to educate and inform on issues our customers and prospects were facing.

We also commented and offered our point of view on industry trends. By doing so, we filtered and organized data, knowledge, and experience to tell a story. Admittedly, we worked on casting the business in a favorable light and positioning the company's combined expertise for business development.

As different as our goal might have been, our approach was very similar to that of reporting — telling a story. If you still read newspapers and watch television news you probably won't fight me too hard on this point. In fact, I would probably argue that what passes for journalism in some news outlets is blatant opinion.

Companies have the power to do more

In correlating my experience with Dell's initiative, I can think of a few insights on how embedded journalists could help businesses generate true thought leadership that helps advance industries, transform supply chains, thus advancing the whole market as a result.

The impact of journalists and reporters would be felt in a number of ways:

  • integrating the point of view of a third party lends additional credibility to the business
  • presenting a more complete version than the one quote, sometimes taken out of context, in trade press
  • bringing more customer and non customer voices to the conversation
  • including more representatives of the whole ecosystem the business operates in
  • adding a needed perspective from researchers and domain experts

This is a role that skilled communicators have played in the past. I just noticed that I've been a member of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) for ten years. In this time span, I have seen the profession swing wildly in many directions, some of which have moved to favoring publicity generation and reputation protection.

Which is why I'm excited at the prospect of reinventing how we work with journalists and reporters at a time when mainstream media is wrestling with its own demons.

I'm thinking about several applications in crisis situations as well, when mainstream media is wrapped in the "blame game" and organization communicators are overwhelmed with helping manage the crisis and customers communications to correct misinformation before every other news outlets repeats it without fact checking.

Is braided journalism in the future of public relations?


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0 responses to “Braided Journalism and the Future of Public Relations”

  1. No, it’s the future of journalism.
    The idea of embedded journalists is aimed at content generation, not PR. I would argue the futue of public relations actually involves the “public.”
    It’s not going to be about reaching journalists anymore. You have to have news outlets and audiences for that – all things business will have on their own. Journalists are one of several influencers that a business has. What’s more, they’re not spending money on your products or services. The future of PR is getting back to business. If PR can’t contribute to the bottom line, it won’t exist.

  2. I think it could be the future of journalism and PR. The line is blurred already, is it not?
    PR can certainly contribute to the bottom line, but how it does has changed with the growth of internet users, social media, and services like PRweb. If you look at the flow of information and who each segment is looking to engage and appeal to the process and relationship exposes itself. In my mind it goes something like this: consumers – businesses – journalists – consumers.
    The interesting part of this is that it can start with any segment and move in both directions. It’s only limited by the creativeness and innovative ideas of each party. Given the right ideas and execution it could be a tremendous asset. Just ask Dell.
    What do you think?
    Brett Relander

  3. @Jason – funny, I would have thought I just wrote a post about how journalists and businesses can collaborate to produce news directly for the public. I’m not really clear about what you mean in the middle of your comment too well. You seem to be saying journalists are one audience for PR. Indeed, I was talking of what could be. We know what is, don’t we? And journalists are people, too.
    @Brett – the line is indeed blurred. Good thoughts on creativity and innovation. Thank you for stopping by.

  4. Thanks Valeria, interesting post. I hadn’t seen Shel’s stuff on braided journalism or the Dell site, so it’s great to know about these. I absolutely agree that companies would do well to take inspiration from Dell and do more in the “marketing as media” mode. PR folks can play a central role here, although I’d suggest that all of marketing needs to centrally involved, too.
    Thinking like a publisher is hugely important for marketers now, and bringing in experienced journalists is a great way to move in the right direction — so long as the companies can indeed let journalists be journalists. And this is the hard part. I’ve been working in B2B tech for years, and, although there are some good examples like Dell and Cisco and Intel, they are still more the exception than the rule. Old habits of trying to control messages and puff up the story die slowly, if at all. But let’s hope you’re right!

  5. As much as I respect Shel Israel, I have to ask since when has he become a “freelance journalist”?
    Shel blogs, he writes and he evangelizes on the use of social media … all very eloquently, I might add. He also has a had a long and distinguished career in public relations and marketing. But, as far as I am aware, his writing and blogging has grown out of his PR and marketing background, not out of a career as a journalist, either freelance or otherwise.
    The blurring of these distinctions is relevant to the concept of ‘braided journalism’ and poses what perhaps should be a more important question to ask when considering the accountability of business and government, which unfortunately seem with each passing day to be held accountable less and less by a gutted news media and non-existent regulators … “Is journalism in danger of becoming PR?”

  6. @Rob – I’m smiling to myself because I’ve been writing about PR here and have even had that role, yet I never saw myself as a PR person. More like a communications strategist, utilizing PR and marketing as ways to connect with customers. So you find me in agreement with your sense of needing to integrate around the customer. Tech is a bad industry for puffery, I agree 🙂
    @Michael – recently I had dinner with a long time online connection and learned he has a degree in journalism, even though he never worked as a reporter, strictly speaking. Shel could have a similar situation going. I should have verified with him, then again, I am hardly one myself, even though I play one on this blog occasionally. While I would love to agree with you that media fills that role, I am seeing less and less evidence that is the case. In fact, just recently, I saw them throw BP under the bus so they could stay consistent with liking what Obama’s administration is doing… not exactly grounds for hope in aggressive objectivity, is it?

  7. Journalism definitely needs to change, it is in danger of becoming PR as budgets are so squeezed that journalists don’t have the time to source great stories.
    Members of the public potentially have the capability of forcing journalists to become more resourceful but essentially, members of the public won’t go to the ends of the earth for a story when there isn’t much in it for them.

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