Why You Should Link to Legislation

(NOTE: I published a slightly different version of this article today in Poynter’s E-Media Tidbits.)

News organizations, bloggers, advocacy groups, think tanks, and others routinely cover the legislative process – especially about the real or potential effects of bills and laws. In most cases the full text of those bills and laws, and information about their status, are available online.

Why, then, is it so rare to see an online news story that links to the bill or law being covered? Or that at least cites the reference number so people can look up and follow the legislation on their own? It just seems odd to me that many organizations (especially news media) routinely cite the party and state/district of legislators, but omit brief citations and links to the products of their efforts on our behalf.

For example, today’s Washington Post includes this story: House Passes Bill Ending Ban On Offshore Oil and Gas Drilling. Nowhere does that story cite the specific bill number, let alone link to the bill text and info via the Library of
Congress’ Thomas online database. (For the record, the bill discussed in that story is H.R. 4761. There – see how easy and brief that was?)

Similarly, an AP story which ran today on Philly.com reports on the Penn. General Assembly: “School districts would have to conduct exit interviews with students who are dropping out or withdrawing from school, or who have accumulated more than 10 unexcused absences, under a bill passed by the House 164-28 and sent to the Senate.” Which bill? Hey, statehouse legislative info is online too! I found this bill: HB 1729.

Here’s why this common oversight bugs me so much…

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Jay Rosen on \”The People Formerly Known as the Audience\”

(NOTE: I’m cross-posting this from Poynter’s E-Media Tidbits weblog, which is read mainly by mainstream journalists. But I think Jeffrey Treem — noted below — is right: this topic deserves examination beyond newsrooms.)

On June 27, NYU professor Jay Rosen published a bluntly worded clarion call to mainstream media organizations: The People Formerly Known as the Audience

Here’s my favorite quote…

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Corante\’s Comment Spam Problem

I often read the weblogs offered by Corante, because they mostly choose excellent, thoughtful writers representing a broad range of expertise. They’re rather nicely designed blogs too, with decent usability and readabilty. Obviously some people over at Corante know a few things about doing blogs well.

Why, then, is comment spam such a pervasive problem on Corante blogs? That’s like making a nice dinner and then just dumping it directly on the table in front of your guests, without a plate – an unnecessary and disturbing mess.

Here’s what I mean…

(Read the full article at The Right Conversation…)

Are \”target audiences\” a problem?

Wow, I’m gratified that my recent Right Conversation post on strategic commenting attracted so much attention – including praise from the famous Apple-maven-turned-venture-capitalist Guy Kawaski!

I’ve been slamming on several client projects lately, but right now I’m going to take a few minutes to address some of the points raised in the rich comment thread that article spawned.

On May 2, Jeffrey Treem of Edelman PR spoke up to disagree with my use of the “target audience” concept. Here’s what he said…

(Read the full article at The Right Conversation…)

To Save Journalism, First Change How You Perceive \”Media\”

(NOTE: I originally posted this item on Poynter’s group weblog E-Media Tidbits.)

“The Emperor’s New Clothes” is my favorite fable, because I’ve always thought that speaking truth to power is the bravest and most useful thing anyone can do. That’s why I fell in love with journalism, too.

Speaking truth to power isn’t always about revealing what’s hidden, but rather declaring the obvious and thus yanking entire communities out of their collective delusions. Over at Corante’s “Rebuilding Media” blog, media consultant and former E-Media Tidbits contributor Vin Crosbie just accomplished this singular feat.

Crosbie’s Apr. 27 essay, What is ‘New Media’? is absolutely vital reading for anyone who cares about helping journalism survive as news organizations eagerly butcher and “converge” themselves into oblivion. And no, I don’t think “butcher” is too harsh a word — it’s the term Crosbie chose in his somewhat inflammatory but well-supported preamble, A Date with the Butcher. So read the “Butcher” setup first, then the longer essay.

Crosbie’s “Butcher” piece will probably scare the fedoras off hardcore old-school news pros. Read it anyway. Here’s one of his key points…

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Monday: BBC Radio covers women in podcasting

On Monday, March 13, the BBC Radio 4 program Women’s Hour will be covering the topic of women in podcasting. It’ll be a panel discussion, with audio clips from various shows hosted or co-hosted by women.

Here’s the Women’s Hour web site. They archive their shows in streaming format. After this episode is archived online, I’ll post a link.

If you’re interested in this topic…

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Making the most of Sunshine Week online

I like my government to be accountable to me, since I’m paying for it, and since they’ve got all the big guns. So every year, I look forward to “Sunshine Week” – a campaign spearheaded by the American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE) that encourages news organizations to highlight current threats to open government. This year, Sunshine Week is March 12-18.

ASNE has published a fairly extensive Bright Ideas booklet showcasing various news organizations’ Sunshine Week efforts from years past. While that booklet offers some guidance for mainstream media web sites (mainly focused on “special web pages“), much more can be done with Sunshine Week online.

Here are a few ideas for putting the new tools of social and conversational media to use for this project….

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Who\’s the 800-lb Gorilla: Google, or the Chinese Government?

A few days ago, my friend and colleague Dave Taylor posted a thought-provoking commentary on Google’s decision to launch a censored version of its search engine for the Chinese market.

See: “Google gets pragmatic and enters China

On balance, Dave thinks that this was a good business decision that ultimately will be good for both Google and the Chinese people. He wrote:

“I find it abhorrent that the Chinese want to filter the information that its citizens can access through the Internet. I also find it appalling that Chinese bloggers risk being shut down or even jailed for sharing their political or religious views. To do business in a foreign country, however, you must respect their political, cultural and social rules. That’s not something up for debate, that’s just how business works, and how life works.”

Very true.

On the one hand, I agree with Dave about business pragmatism. China is a huge market no search firm can afford to ignore. Also, I do think it’s good for Google to have a presence in China, and for for Chinese citizens to have at least some access to Google. Engagement can yield considerable benefits, however it happens. Never underestimate the power of serendipity.

But down the road, who’s the 800-lb gorilla in this room: Google, or the Chinese government? I’d bet my bananas on the Chinese government. Here’s what that might mean…

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Disclosure, Press Releases, and Life Support: Can We Pull that Plug After All?

I often discuss with media professionals – including PR pros – the role of the traditional press release in today’s media environment. Basically, I believe it no longer has a one.

That is, I think the press release as it’s evolved over previous decades has outlived its limited usefulness and now usually represents more of a hindrance than a help to communication. It’s time to let it go and explore new vehicles for lobbying the media as well reaching target audiences directly.

Many people (almost all of them PR pros) disagree strongly with me on this. That’s good, since I always learn more through constructive debate and I love learning. I’ve listened carefully to their arguments supporting press releases. They make good points. Gradually, through in-depth discussion, most of these people relent point by point. So far I’ve been able to successfully counter all their supporting rationales for press releases.

…Except for this trump card: “Federal regulations require press releases for financial disclosure.”

Well, yeah. My understanding so far is that this requirement does exist. So that makes it the sole undeniable rationale favoring the continued existence of traditional press releases – the life support system.

…Or does it? Of course I had to wonder, what REALLY is required? In my journalistic work I’ve often found that if you delve into a thicket of legal language all sorts of options and loopholes appear. The realm of what’s legally possible generally boils down to who has the power of interpretation.

Therefore, might close examination of disclosure rules indicate other viable communication options that regulators would allow?

That’s what Todd Van Hoosear of the tech PR firm Topaz Partners and I are going to try to find out…

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