Newspaper columnists ought to be the perfect bloggers. So why aren’t more doing it well?

By Robert Niles: Newspaper columnists ought to be the perfect bloggers - the best write in a lively voice and forge a strong connection with their readers. Their work build an ongoing conversation with the communities they cover. Frankly, they've been blogging (in print) since long before anyone other than academics and soldiers went online. So why aren't more making a successful transition to online publishing? Why are so many columnists living under the same fear and uncertainty that's consuming their newsroom coworkers? Those are a couple of the questions that I sought to address last weekend when I spoke to the annual gathering of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. This year's conference theme was "Survive and Thrive." (Well, we've drilled down to the basics now, haven't we?) My talk was "Tips on Branding Yourself," and I was joined by Erika Stalder of ABC Family. I told the group that your brand in the Internet era is the public's perception of its relationship with you, a sentiment that Erika concurred with, citing a similar quote from Amazon's Jeff Bezos: "Your brand is what people say about you when you are not in the room." Anyone writing online needs to come to this understanding: That what matters most in determining your online success is how your work is understood and acted upon by its audience - more than what your intention with the work was or the process that you used to create it. You can do work you believe to be great, but if no one reads it or no one who does cares, what was the point?

Edelman’s Steve Rubel Switches from Blog to Lifestream

This is one in an occasional series on MediaShift where I discuss issues in-depth with thought leaders in online media. The format has changed to give you a profile of the person, as well as more of our dialogue -- including video clips. If you have suggestions for future Q&As or want to participate yourself, drop me a line via the Feedback Form.


Steve Rubel

Age: 39

Hometown & Current Location: Long Island, NY

Favorite Websites: Gmail, Friendfeed, Posterous, Google Reader,, Instapaper

Online Persona (all the places to find you online): Lifestream site, Facebook page, Twitter feed, Friendfeed page, Google Profile.

What Makes Him a Thought Leader: Rubel was one of the first PR people to take up active blogging back in 2004, and his Micropersuasion blog has been a must-read A-list blog since then. Rubel is now senior vice president, director of insights, for Edelman Digital, looking at technology, media and online trends. He has more than 27,000 followers on Twitter and writes a bi-weekly column for Advertising Age magazine.

What He's Doing Now: The biggest change for Rubel was mothballing his Micropersuasion blog and putting all his efforts into a lifestream site run through Posterous. He can now post more frequently and embed more multimedia easily into his stream. He told me the new site gets twice the traffic of his blog, likely because of the higher volume of posts, the curiosity of people who want to see his new site, and his experimentation on the site.


I spoke with Rubel a couple months ago when he was visiting San Francisco for the Ad:tech conference. We met at B Restaurant near Moscone Center and I interviewed him with my Flip camera. We talked about his balancing act as a blogger/journalist/PR person, how PR is shifting with the advent of social media, and what lessons Edelman and Edelman's client Wal-Mart have learned from previous missteps online. Here's the edited video from that chat (apologies for the background noise), with notations below on particular questions and subjects if you'd like to jump to topics of interest to you.

01:48: Blogs losing their luster to Twitter and other online forms of expression.

02:52: Elephants (social media) and zebras (old media) mating, creating...?

03:58: What's the next big thing in social media?

05:44: Rubel got in trouble with PC Magazine by saying he doesn't read it anymore.

06:50: Social media has become an integral part of PR.

08:30: Will PR companies hire marketer-programmers?

08:58: What's the biggest mistake PR people make online?

09:55: Celebrities cut out the PR middleman by using Twitter, social media themselves.

11:05: What Wal-Mart and Edelman learned from past PR mistakes online.

12:30: Is the press release outdated, and should it be replaced with "social media press release"?

13:40: What's the best way for brands to track themselves on social media?


What do you think about the changes happening in PR? Do you think social media has become an integral part of a PR person's daily routine? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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When Michael Jackson died, I wondered how quickly the conversation about him would fade online and how long it would persist on TV “news.” Well, it didn’t take long to see the divergence: TV thinks we’re still buzzing about MJ. But online, we’re not.

Here’s Blogpulse on mentions of Michael Jackson:


Here’s the dropoff of Michael Jackson searches on Google Trends:


Michael Jackson and variants owned Twitter Trends when the news broke; now it is off the home-page list (MJ’s is there, but that appears to be the handiwork of a Twitter spammer [a "spitter"?].

See today’s most-viewed videos on YouTube: Only one related video (a Michael Jackson dance video, ranked #14) in the top 10.

Digg’s not a very good measure since the half-life of buzz there is as fast as the single wing-flap of a bee, but on the front page as I write this is only one story about Jackson’s worth.

None of these measurements is perfect. But they all show that we had consuming interest in Jackson when the news came out but that quickly faded. Yet cable news and the network morning shows especially are still ODing on MJ. My theory is that if one is doing it, all do it until the first one has the courage to break off; it’s peer pressure. But out here, it doesn’t take us long to get sick of their obessions.

: Cases in point: Right now, Matt Lauer is giving a tour of Neverland and Michael’s closet – including a secret section of Michael’s closet. CBS is promising a special report on the women in Michael’s life. Oh, for someone on TV with a sense of irony.

: Pew says that two-thirds of Americans think the Jackson story got too much coverage.