When the News is for Sale

In journalism, it’s the equivalent of selling your soul to the devil.

Or just not giving a damn.

Not that it doesn’t happen all around, every single day. You just hate it when it strikes so close to home. And so blatantly.

My hometown newspaper is The Jonesboro Sun. It’s  been around more than 100 years.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’m an alumnus of The Sun, and spent eight years working there as a general assignment reporter from 1989 to 1997. After that, I was involved in more than one journalistic enterprise that competed with The Sun for both news and advertising dollars.

As a matter of further disclosure, the newspaper’s top management has never particularly cared for me, and I don’t necessarily love them with all my heart either. Oh, the humanity.

With that disclosure, I believe it’s still quite possible to address the following topic objectively. And that’s what I now aspire to do.

If you live in Northeast Arkansas, and you are one of the few remaining people who subscribes to The Jonesboro Sun, or just believe in the importance untainted journalism, you should be aware of what I’m about to explain.

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This is the paid advertisement that creates the conflict of interest on today's front page of The Jonesboro Sun.

This is the paid advertisement that creates the conflict of interest on today’s front page of The Jonesboro Sun.

Today, is the day your local newspaper sunk to an all-time low.

Allow me to elucidate.

Journalistic vehicles (i.e., newspapers, radio, television, et al) exist for multiple reasons, top among which is to hold those in the public trust accountable. It’s an honorable profession, and a demanding one, and because it’s so important as to be addressed in the Bill of Rights, the public, at large, should hold the media accountable as well. When the media becomes corrupt, all is lost.

From the beginning of their educations, journalists are taught that the “news hole” (all the space not dedicated to paid advertisements) is sacred. That space is to be approached without consideration to anything that could affect its content. It’s at the heart of journalistic integrity and objectivity.

This is the point where you should understand how many media outlets sacrifice their integrity. It’s all about the money, and only those who are truly dedicated to quality journalism avoid this at all costs.

A newspaper makes its money in two ways. Subscriptions and advertising. Subscription revenue amounts to almost nothing. Paid advertising is the bread and butter of any print publication. It pays the production, the salaries, everything. So you can imagine how important advertisers are to any newspaper.

Let’s imagine a very large and influential commercial entity with deep pockets makes a 12-month commitment to advertise in a newspaper. Depending on certain variables, that commitment amounts to several tens of thousands of dollars.

And let’s further imagine that at the signing of that advertising contract, the corporate representative of the advertiser hints at the possibility of some nice news coverage of their upcoming grand opening.

The seed is planted and the vision for real journalism now becomes blurry.

Major advertisers wield huge power over editorial content. It happens all the time. It shouldn’t but it does. Weak journalism management (usually with a less than average product) caves to this practice regularly.

It’s a “this for that.” And news should never be for sale.

A broader perspective of the May 30, 2013, front page of The Jonesboro Sun and the proximity of the paid advertisement (at bottom) to a related news story headlined Great Expectations.

A broader perspective of the May 30, 2013, front page of The Jonesboro Sun and the proximity of the paid advertisement (at bottom) to a related news story headlined Great Expectations.

It happened today in Jonesboro, Arkansas. Not that it’s the first time, or that it will be the last.

It’s just never been quite so blatant.

Among the most precious of a newspaper’s commodities is its front page. If you read a newspaper today, I’ll bet you can’t recite a single headline from page A8, but I’ll bet you can recall at least one or two stories from the front page. Everyone sees the front page, if but for a moment.

News on the front page is the ultimate placement.  The judgment for what goes on that space carries the ultimate responsibility and it’s held by the publisher and editor.

A number of years ago, unfortunately, many newspapers went in a bad direction as they started experimenting with paid advertisements on their front pages.

It’s not right, and it was a bad road to go down, but they did it and many still do. Today, you can buy almost anything on the front page of some publications.

It’s a bad idea for the explanation given earlier. Let’s further imagine this fictional scenario.

The county government spends $100,000 a year in the local newspaper promoting tourism. Midway though the contract a county official is accused of sexually harassing multiple county employees. The newspaper is about to break the story and the county treasurer reminds the newspaper publisher that there is $50,000 remaining on their contract, which could be pulled at any moment. Ultimately, the published story isn’t nearly as factual and sharp as it should have been. It was tainted. Less than 100 percent truth.

It’s an extreme, and fictional example, but you get the point.

Today’s front page of The Jonesboro Sun exhibits something I’ve honestly never seen. It includes a paid advertisement for a local hospital in a banner strip across the bottom … and the most prominent news story on the page is about that very hospital, and the headline is not one that you would exactly call objective. It should have had a big Smiley Face beside it.smiley

The photo that accompanies the story even captures the newspaper publisher touring the facility.

It’s the ultimate disregard for a journalists’ responsibility to his reader.

If The Jonesboro Sun can be swayed to sacrifice any integrity it has, and giving this for that by something as harmless as the opening of a new hospital, what can its readers expect when it really matters?

We should demand better.

(Blogger’s Note: As a point of clarification, and before anyone wants to go down this road, I am in no way asserting that the hospital did anything wrong in this case. A marketing department should do everything it can to put its organization in a good place in the public eye. The newspaper, on the other hand, should know how to contain this.)

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Announcing “Buena Vista”

Buena Vista

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After three weeks we are pleased to kick off this work week with the announcement of our first major property offering in a new development you have to see to believe.

We call it Buena Vista (Good Views) Ecuador, and “good views” doesn’t come close to an adequate description.

This property is being released to the market today, and in this new year we will host three complimentary “Discovery Weekends” that can accommodate 12 couples during each weekend.

Come explore, and check out our new website by clicking on the Buena Vista icon to the right, or simply go directly to http://www.buenavistaecuador.com for more information.

And follow our Facebook fan page “PRO Ecuador Marketing” for real-time updates on this project.

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Deja Vu All Over Again. The 2 Worst Marketing Campaigns in NCAA History

It’s a case study for how NOT to do things.

For the second time in two years we’re a bowl-bound team without a coach. It must have some significance in the record books – somewhere.

Just yesterday, Gus Malzahn followed in his predecessor, Hugh Freeze‘s footsteps, and headed for the winning, but not-so-friendly-confines of the Southeast Conference leaving Arkansas State University behind in the wake of toxic Gus Bus fumes.

Replacing Malzahn may not be our most formidable challenge.

Gus Malzahn with fans after Saturday night's championship.

Gus Malzahn with fans after Saturday night’s championship.

No, ASU System President Dr. Chuck Welch and newly appointed Athletic Director Terry Mohajir are most capable of seizing the Red Wolves‘ momentum and recruiting a quality coach. We’re now an attractive place to coach a football team. With an almost flawless year of first-class hires, in and out of athletics, Welch has too much at stake not to pull another rabbit out of his hat. And he will.

Hiring a good coach isn’t the challenge that troubles me most.

It’s Welch’s and Mohajir’s noteworthy task to use the opportunity to bring some fresh faces with new ideas to the ASU athletic marketing department. The best thing Welch and Mohajir could do is place the entire ASU athletic marketing staff on the Gus Bus headed south, and drop them off somewhere in north Mississippi.

There’s just no polite way to say this. They are good people, I’m sure, but marketing rookies all the same.

It took the ASU marketing staff about two seconds last year to capitalize on Freeze’s name, much in the same way a junior high newspaper staff might.

Simply stated, our genius marketing plan was to brand ourselves with a coach’s name and “freeze out” everything. We froze out opponents. Froze ticket sales. It was a cool change for ASU athletics. The most obvious, easiest and most ridiculous marketing effort perhaps in all of college football.

One local magazine went so far as to feature Freeze on its pre-season cover pictured, where else, but in the deep freeze of a local ice company. The ultimate journalistic cliche’.

And there was the inevitable brisk awakening when Freeze took a cool deal with the University of Mississippi so quickly that his bowl-bound team was left behind.

Lesson learned? Nope.

Enter – deja vu all over again.

Along comes a guy named Gus.

We can only imagine the ASU marketing team’s first strategy session…

“What rhymes with Gus?” they must have said. “Bus! Hey! There’s that song about the Gus Bus!” And our new marketing strategy was born.

And so we put everybody on the Gus Bus, and once again, inevitably gave them a free ticket to LetDown’sville.

Over two years ASU invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in a marketing plan grounded in these men’s names. The investment went South, literally, both times.

We experimented, and still flirt with the whole HOWL concept from time to time, but this is what I’ll never forget.

Early on in the adoption of the new Red Wolf mascot, within two weeks, in fact, I saw prominent billboards – one said Howl Yes! – the other, Howlelujah!

I didn’t know if we were Saints or Sinners.

Let’s hire some marketing pros who understand the value of long-term branding.

For related stories on Arkansas State’s Sun  Belt Conference Championship, see this post and this post.

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Ecuador Living…

Coming soon, and we’ve never been more excited.

Ecuador Living Magazine

Magazine about ecuador

Set for launch on March 1, 2013, Ecuador Living is the premier on-line magazine for all-things Ecuador.

Published semi-monthly by Pro-Ecuador Marketing, Ecuador Living is chock-full of  the best journalism in Latin America. Each issue delivers feature profiles on expatriate living, business opportunities, emerging trends, real estate, the latest news in tourism, how-to guides for would-be explorers and much more.

Steve Watkins, publisher of Ecuador Living said he’s excited about launching Ecuador’s first comprehensive on-line publication.

“From concept to creation we’ve put together what’s truly a full-service

publication,” Watkins said. “Readers will enjoy a professionally written, highly visual and informative work featuring some of the top journalists and photojournalists in Latin America. Advertisers have the benefit of direct delivery to more than 30,000 homes based in the U.S. and Canada who have a demonstrated interest in Ecuador. It’s the total package.”

Watkins said Ecuador Livingoffers magazine advertisers…

View original post 140 more words

Unexpectedly Self Employed: 10 Pros – 10 Cons

“Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor.” ~ Truman Capote

I’m 46 years old, and for the third time in 24 years I find myself in the wide-open world of self employment. Though it’d been on the radar screen for 18 months or so, it didn’t come about exactly as I’d planned, but it’s all good because my subconscious was mentally preparing for life’s next exciting move anyway. It’s all because the owners at my previous place of employment “…decided to make a change in direction.”

i.e., “Your fired.”

Again, it’s all good.

This go-around will be the decider. In the previous two immersions into the world of the self employed my record is one and one.  This time’s for the championship, and each morning I wake up early, adrenaline flowing, ready to get back in the game.

For those of you who blog, I’m happy to share this important reality: During the last 10 months, I’ve spent 3 to 4 hours a day blogging in my spare time. If it hadn’t been for that, I’m not sure I’d be in a position to take on a brave new world in the communications market. Blogging’s opened up countless partnerships, alliances, relationships and learning experiences that are simply invaluable. In the beginning, I had no idea where it was all going, but the blogosphere’s definitely led to something more significant and meaningful in my life.

e.g.- One of the most surprising, and rewarding opportunties came from a sister blog I set up some time ago – one designed for personal reasons only – that chronicled an adventure Dana and I set out on last April. Over the months, it’s connected us to dozens of others in the expat world, and now I’ve been given the opportunity to write for International Living magazine on a regular basis. See www.internationallivingmagazine.com. It’s a huge blessing and thrilling opportunity.

Steve and Dana Watkins, owners of PRO Ecuador Marketing and Ecuador Guided ToursOn January 2, Dana and I will launch two new businesses abroad in Puerto Cayo, Ecuador. The web had already opened up an opportunity to freelance some social media management gigs, and now we’re ready to formalize it all into a more focused umbrella of targeted opportunities. I’m now thrilled to focus 100 percent of our efforts toward the work we most love.

professional marketing agencies in Ecuador

PRO Ecuador Marketing is a comprehensive marketing company that will manage ad campaigns (new and traditional media) for tourism-related industries along the emerging Ecuadorian coast. Its website is currently under development.

Ecuador Guided Tours www.ecuadorguidedtours.com is a full expat service assisting travelers and potential expat explorers looking for new opportunities along the Ecuadorian Pacific Coast. It’s an idea we had almost immediately after we spent two weeks exploring Ecuador on our own, and found no formal services to guide us in a way that would make the most of our time and money.

Full expat service agency for travelers and expats looking for real estate in Ecuador.

It’s an exciting thing to get back into the world of self employment. I’ve been thinking about all the pros and cons, and these are my thoughts so far:

CONS

1. Aside from the work itself, there’s a lot to learn, especially when you own a business that operates both from the U.S., and a foreign country. Different rules apply in both places, and it’s easy to see how a business owner could make serious, consequential mistakes in the complexity of it all. A legal, yet advantageous tax strategy is foremost on the list.

2. In the past, I’ve had the luxury of hiring really smart co-workers who compliment one another’s skills and talents. At least for now, it’s just Dana and me, and I’ll miss the synergy that comes from a small group of really smart people.

3. Also missing from the group dynamic is the luxury of specialization. Previously, I’ve been able to pass on the more technical work to people MUCH smarter than me, but now I’m required to be more tech-savvy than I ever imagined because I simply can’t afford (at this point) to hire highly specialized co-workers.

4. Because the business world is radically different than it was just three years ago, and because technology changes at the speed of light on any given day, there’s a ton of prelimary work that must be managed to properly launch a new business. There are business cards to print, websites to develop, social media distribution tools to create and link together, ad campaign strategies and much more. Our situation is all the more challenging because our communication methods must be effective in two very distinct cultures. I’d be totally lying if I didn’t say it’s all a lot of fun though.

5. It’s a given that income will fluctuate from month to month. That requires a lot of thought with regard to current debt obligations and the cost of necessary future investments.

6. Balance is critical. I’m old enough now to know my strengths and weakness. One weakness is the tendency to immerse myself in work, but experience tells me that’s a double-edged sword. I’m working hard to learn proper self-scheduling. It’s just not possible to monitor email 24 hours a day.

7. In our “spare time,”  Dana and I must become fluent in Latin American Spanish. Those six years of college Spanish were a long time ago, and today, I’m a gringo defined.

8. Today, we’re 38 days out from wheels up to from Memphis to Atlanta-Quito-Manta-Puerto Cayo. The checklist for things to do moves two steps ahead of us every time we take a single step forward.

9. I’ve always enjoyed responding to other bloggers’ requests for coaching or critique. It’s sort of my way of giving back. Now, I’m required to be much more selective in who I can help and whether it will be free or not.

10. There are rare moments when I’m scared. I never want anyone to see it, so there’s a mask to put on from time to time.

“A little bit of something is better than a whole lot of nothing.” ~ my banker

PROS

1. It gives me the opportunity to thank God for second and third chances. I’ve been praying the Prayer of Jabez for three weeks now, and it often brings a tear to my eye, because I believe those prayers have been answered in such an overwhelmingly unexpected way.

2. I’d by lying if I didn’t tell you it’s the most exciting time in my life.

3. The perks! Unlimited vacation, knocking off at 3 p.m., coming in late. Ha! I know I’ll never really do those things.

4. Never again (I pray) will I be subject to the whims of a pre-maturely elevated, 30-something whipper-snapper who thinks he’s got the world by the tail and has it all figured out.

5. For those us who have certain personality types … I’m a High D, ENFJ, there’s no substitute for sailing your own ship.

6. Pursuing a vision (whatever it may be) is the most fulfilling thing I know.

7. Technology makes the global business world smaller and smaller every day. Dana and I love the opportunity to meet and develop relationships with people in other cultures. A few months ago, I met a Peruvian lawyer and French-trained chef. His name was Caesar. When he first introduced himself, he said, “I’m a citizen of the world,” and it sent chills up my spine.

8. At 46, I’ve made a TON of mistakes in both my business and personal life. Lessons learned the hard way, yet invaluable. With a little luck, I’ll see those issues looming ahead this time, and take the appropriate detours.

9. Four years ago, I had a “great idea” for a business where I intended to be the sole proprietor – all me – and I went to visit several banker friends soliciting a loan to get the business going for a year or so. On my last visit to my last resort, this is what one banker told me: “A little bit of something is better than a whole lot of nothing.” He wanted me to solicit investors – to go out and sell others on my idea, and rather than take on the full risk of investment and the potential full rewards – to share both the risk and those rewards. I ignored his advice and the idea flopped in three months. Sidebar – I didn’t get the loan…  This time, that’s my philosophy going in because it’s quite true: A LITTLE BIT OF SOMETHING IS BETTER THAN A WHOLE LOT OF NOTHING.

10. Honestly, I’ve never been more alive.

What Pro/Con experiences have you enjoyed in the world of self employment, or what advice would you have for others considering a new adventure?

(Steve Watkins is a professional journalist and blogger, and a contributor to International Living Magazine. For more information, see his “about me” page @ http://wp.me/P2bjEC-7:  or contact him at stevewatkins71@yahoo.com.)

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Intentional Blogging in the Magnificent Medium: 7 Tips for Newbies

oscar meyer

This photo, taken just this weekend, captures the essence of two of my cardinal rules for intentional blogging: Always carry a camera, and NEVER take yourself too seriously!

Occasionally, readers will ask how I come up with ideas for blog posts.

For those who write on a regular basis we know the answer to this question. It’s just not easily conveyed in words.

In its purest form, writing is art, and it’s difficult for any artist to explain how they do exactly what they do.

My answer is found somewhere among a few simple philosophies:

  1. Everyone has a story.
  2. People enjoy reading about other people, and taking a look into their lives.
  3. We don’t talk enough about the uncomfortable issues in life.
  4. The world would be a better place if we could all be more transparent.
  5. Down deep in our hearts, we’re all pretty much the same.

My primary blog is relatively diverse. That comes mostly from a background in journalism. I tend to focus on issues of faith, politics, humor and stories about others.

But the idea of intentional blogging, i.e., blogging with purpose, frequency and readership benefit, has a learning curve for any writer. Strange as it sounds, I see life through the blog, and come across dozens of ideas daily that are blog-worthy.

If you’re a blogging newbie, struggling with how you’ll define yourself in this magnificent medium, consider some of the following practices that have helped me along the way.

1.  CULTIVATE RELATIONSHIPS INSIDE THE BLOGOSPHERE: I may never meet many of the bloggers with whom I’ve communicated over time, but they are relationships I treasure, and many of us carry a mutual admiration for the others’ work. Thank people for their “likes” and “follows.” Read their work and compliment them when you’re impressed. Just yesterday, a former PGA Tour professional followed my blog after reading a random post about a weekend round of golf. That follow was an honor for me. I sent him a “thank you” note of sincere appreciation and wished him luck on his pursuit on the Senior Tour. I appreciated his reading, and I bet he appreciated my thank you, and I bet we’ll talk again somewhere down the line. See Ian Hardie’s fine blog here: www.golfhabits.com

2. MAKE NOTE OF YOUR IDEAS: Writing ideas come at the most inconvenient of moments. Mine come while I’m driving, in meetings, or in the middle of an important conversation. Make a quick mental note, and at the first opportunity, take

Teva shoes

NOTES ON A SHOEBOX: I really do stuff like this, and it works for me.

your idea and WRITE IT DOWN. I’ve learned that moments matter, and moments lost, are not easily recaptured. Throughout the day, I jot my ideas down on paper, napkins or whatever is handy, and at the end of the day, a rough title is entered onto my dashboard.  That way, I have an ongoing resource of posts. The post I’m writing now comes literally from notes I took on the top of a shoe box.

3. ALWAYS CARRY A CAMERA: There’s no substitute for great writing, but it’s the visual elements that draw readers into your site. People love looking at photos of other people. Anyone who goes on a road trip with me knows there will be several unscheduled stops along the way. I vowed months ago that whenever I saw a photo worth taking, I’d stop and take it. Many of those photos become blog topics, and most readers enjoy them.

4. KEEP A JOURNALISTS‘ MINDSET, BECAUSE IF YOU BLOG, YOU ARE A JOURNALIST: You don’t need a degree on your wall to be a journalist. The trick is learning to think like a journalist. Because I’m a news junkie, I’ll often take national news stories, localize them in some fashion, and provide commentary on the general topic. This previous post is just one example. It addresses the very real topic of why the cost of beef will skyrocket in the next two months: http://wp.me/p2bjEC-xR

My blog posts come in two forms: OBJECTIVE and OPINION. Important blog post topics call for objectivity – presenting both, or all sides, of an issue. Fair comment and criticism also has its place, and is a great way to generate activity on your blog.

5. FEAR NOTHING: Some of the greatest bloggers I read, examine the most controversial of topics and pour transparency into their work. You may be in the midst of the most tumultuous time of your life, or be witness to a horrible injustice. Here’s my advice: WRITE ABOUT IT. If you don’t, who will? And what good will come if the topic is never addressed? As a blogger, you can make a difference in the world, one blog post at a time.

6. BELIEVE IN YOURSELF: If you’ve ever had this thought: (my petty little blog will never make a difference) STOP IT. You are now part of a magnificent medium – a collective community of unparalleled talent. You’ve chosen to be here, and there’s a reason. You have a purpose.

AND THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT TIP OF ALL

7. NEVER, NEVER, NEVER TAKE YOURSELF TOO SERIOUSLY: You may be nominated for awards across the blog-spectrum; you may be Freshly Pressed; you may be re-tweeted by Rick Warren; and paid opportunities may flock your way. But NEVER take yourself too seriously. Keep your ego in check. Stay humble. Never stop learning. Be thankful for every follower … and blog on, baby.

(Steve Watkins is a former newspaper journalist and magazine editor with more than 15,000 interviews to his credit. He is the author of a developing series of non-fiction books: The Trilogy of Light, and he currently serves as a freelance writing and blogging coach. For more information, inquire @ stevewatkins71@yahoo.com)

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This Marketing Message is Lost on Me…

In a weird pasttime, I’ve always enjoyed seeing the visual marketing messages on U-Haul trucks as they travel down the road.

It’s interesting to wonder where they’re going and the story behind the move.

But when I saw this truck yesterday, I had to wonder what U-Haul’s marketing department was thinking.

What am I missing here???

U-Haul