paidContent – Report: Zell To Lose Control Of Tribune Under Reorganization Plan

There’s more speculation that Sam Zell may ultimately be pushed aside at the Tribune Co., which filed for bankruptcy last December. The Chicago Sun-Times cites sources familiar with the situation as saying that a reorganization plan in the works puts the company’s creditors—and not Zell—in charge. But it appears as though Zell could still have months at the helm if he wants, considering that he has until Nov. 30 to file a reorganization plan of his own; only then will creditors be able to do the same.

Already, the Tribune-owned Chicago Tribune had reported that one early-stage reorganization scenario had Zell losing his right to buy about 40 percent of Tribune for $500 million. For its part, the Tribune Co. is still saying that it’s “premature to speculate about the company’s final ownership structure.”

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The REAL Health Care Debate: The Obama Administration Vs Fox News

Picture 28Watching a few hours of Fox News these days amounts to a non-stop infomercial opposing  the Obama Administration’s effort to reform Health Care.  While there is always room for a healthy debate on the issues, please don’t look to Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity or Glenn Beck for a measured discourse - they  rarely, if ever, present a constructive solution to the current health care problems (though there is the occasional admission that there is need for reform.) No single entity seems more entrenched in the opposition to the health care reform than Fox News.

The political bias of cable news is a time-worn tale, particularly with Fox News. But  it seems like that narrative has made us so numb to blatant subjectivity that we can no longer see clear bias when its right in front of our faces. Does no one care anymore? Or maybe it’s just August and everyone’s on vacation?  Simply put — the amount of propaganda put forth from Fox News is far from fair and balanced — they are very near inciting riots.

Not so? If you watch Glenn Beck or listen to his radio show, you hear a lot of phrases like “waking the sleeping giant” and “we don’t want this country to become Russia.” Cut to the language of protesters confronting their elected officials in the town halls of the past week and one hears the same exact phrases spoken through held back tears and barely restrained emotion.

During Wednesday’s “Talking Points Memo,” O’Reilly made the rather bold claim that the Obama administration is specifically targeting Fox News. How did he make the deduction? Because White House spokesman Robert Gibbs recently said “Well, I think we all have something to lose, Matt, if we let cable television come to town hall meetings and kill health care reform for another year and put the special interests back in charge.

Fox News – particularly O’Reilly – have always been quite savvy at “punching up” – that is, targeting entities that are well above their accepted station (i.e. their current debate with GE). Does claiming to be engaged in a “fight” with the White House serve their purpose? In terms of pleasing their audience it does — just hear the rabble rousers yell to their democratically elected representatives that they want their country back. From a publicity standpoint it’s a genius move – evil genius maybe.

There is  legitimate criticism that the Obama White House has not been able to articulate their new health care agenda in a simple and understandable way. The truth is that it’s currently a very complicated issue. But isn’t that part of the problem — that unnecessarily complex solutions create a multitude of loopholes that allow big corporations to turn a healthy profit? Is that how a free market is supposed to work? Is that the American way, or is it the problem?

The problem is not just with Fox News, nor with cable news in general. We are truly in a nation divided by media consumption, exacerbated by the rise of opinion journalism (at the cost of capital J – journalism). As Kurt Andersen has said, American’s now only consume media the reaffirms their pre-existing opinions.  The vacuum of differing views has been profitable for a number of media outlets, but what cost victory?


Mediaite Mash-up of Glenn Beck’s take on the health care debate:


Sarah O’Leary: Let’s Face It — We’re Brandwashed.

Brandwashed (def) A confused state of utter and complete denial, wherein marketers believe that the brand they create and their opinion of it are more important than the wants/needs/desires of the consumer.

Consumercentrics (def): The logical yet renegade assertion that retail products should be built from a consumer-centric perspective that begins at point of consumer purchase, not from the traditional brand-centric approach shaped well outside of the purchase arena.

Let's face it: the marketing industry is brandwashed. We've been living too long in idol worship, prostrate at the feet of brand positioned, advertising driven product images. We're slaves to the almighty brand "personality." We've let ourselves get swept away, dreamily pondering ad nauseam the human characteristics of inanimate objects. (I wish I had a shiny penny for every "If Acme Orange Juice was a person, what kind of person would Acme Orange Juice be?" type conversation I've witnessed in the past 20+ years.) In simple truth, we've been spending too many billable hours blowing smoke up our own shorts. If we used even half as much time considering the true product owners -- the purchasers -- as we did on our own brilliant and heady brand musings, we'd save billions in misspent dollars and countless hours of wasted effort while increasing sales and profits.

Here's the news flash: consumers are the most important considerations in a marketing cycle, and they don't spend countless hours wondering if their yogurt is "perky yet confident, not afraid to share its opinion but not a gossip, sporty but not a tom boy, with a hint of mischievous independence." If we have our brand blinders on, chances are we're not seeing past the brand. Consumers are the ultimate owners of the product -- they buy it, quite literally -- and they make the vast majority of their purchase decisions in-store.

Rather than starting in the corporate boardrooms with our ad and branding and various other marketing guys deeply considering the emotional truths of a bar of soap, we need to focus on the purchaser and her concrete wants/needs/desires. And we must recognize that the first time she reaches for the soap is not in the shower, it's in the aisle. What do our competitors say to her at the most important moment -- the moment of purchase impact? (Experts tell us that the majority of her purchase decisions are made at point of sale, not in the comfort of her house three miles from the store). Can we deliver a product that delivers the right answers to her? How can we win the support of the retailers? Once we answer these and a host of other consumer-centric and retail-centric questions, we can develop in-store strategies and brand positioning and advertising that make sense for the consumer. And, as a result of looking to brand and advertising as the last cogs in the marketing wheel rather than first, we won't spray countless dollars of brand buckshot over various forms a media hoping something will hit. We'll be more targeted, because we'll start where most sales happen -- in the mind of the consumer in the retail environment. If we start there, we'll only spend on advertising as necessary to round out an overall marketing strategy.

Whereas the above might cause many an advertising and brand manager some discomfort, logic is firmly on the side of a consumer-centric and retail-centric marketing approach. The majority of products are not deeply and emotionally driven, and Suzie Shopper approaches her purchase decision with a typically open mind. Regardless of how memorable the TV spot or enormous the media spend or massive the awareness numbers, your product is worthless until it's purchased by the consumer. Starbucks isn't the ultimate owner of its product. Wal-Mart(R) shareholders don't profit until consumers purchase their products and services and it hits the bottom line. McDonald's employees are merely the keepers of the brand. Until a product/service is purchased at retail, it is valueless. When consumers choose to engage or disengage a brand, they are determining its fate. Consumers are the brand champions, and their experiences at retail are the most important element of a product's marketing life cycle.
As marketers, we need to find the epicenter of the consumer experience and build our brands from that point outward. When convention is brand build then get it to the consumer, convention needs a reversal.

The brand owners have wants/needs/desires, and it's about time we recognize them.


Mike McCready: Social Media — Is it a Fad?

Erik Qualman has been doing his homework on the social media phenomenon that has been spreading faster than (insert your own tasteless swine flu metaphor here).

His new book called Socialnomics comes out later this month. I think you'll be hearing a lot about it in the days to come because there is no hotter topic in business today than how to leverage social media to build communities around brands and then leverage them into revenue. The thinking is that as we build out our online personas -- migrate toward certain online groups centered around our interests, our likes, dislikes, opinions and friends -- products and services will find their way to us rather than we having to go out to find them. It changes the entire nature of advertising and how companies strive to create brand awareness and loyalty. When word of mouth and peer endorsements become the primary means by which products are sold, making a better product and having a sterling reputation becomes the absolute king of all currencies. Business school teaches us that good will is hard to quantify but having it in spades among your target market has never been more important.

The realization that a competitor who is socially networked better than you will eat your lunch has started a stampede of businesses and brands that are jumping on the social media bandwagon even faster than individual users were adopting Facebook last year -- when 100 million users joined in just 9 months, according to Qualman's statistics. He points out that 34% of bloggers (and there are over 200,000,000 blogs) post opinions about products and brands.

When you start to contemplate the impact of the statistics he cites and sources in his book you begin to understand the rapid shift in how business is seeing and reacting to the social media cascade. Erik discusses how two of the best marketers of the 20th century were Dale Carnegie and David Ogilvy. He says that today's consumers want to be related to "more in the Carnegie way." They want to be listened to and engaged in a dialog and not just hyped at. It no longer matters what you say about yourself. In fact, Qualman highlights that only 14% of people trust advertisers yet 78% of consumers trust peer recommendations. What matters is what others say about you.

Another interesting point Qualman makes is how Internet search is evolving to the extent that Google does not see its competition as Bing or Ask but rather Twitter and Facebook. I experienced this personally just the other day when my company's website went down. Our head of technology told me it was due to our DNS host having an outage. I knew if that were the case there would be a number of other companies experiencing the same thing. I Googled their name and came up empty handed. I then typed in a Twitter search and it came back with several tweets by other users complaining about the same issue and asking if others were experiencing the problem. Instantly, I was connected with kindred spirits with whom if nothing else, we could gripe to each other until the service was restored. In this case, the company missed the opportunity to monitor Twitter for their brand name. Had they been paying attention they could have been alerted to the issue quicker and they could have directly responded to those of us whose business was disrupted by the outage to reassure us it was being handled.

People and advertisers are losing all control over their own message. Making that point for me are next generation social networks like Blerp, Fleck and a new one called Layers that launched their second beta version just this week. (disclaimer: I am involved with this company). They enable their users to place text, videos, images and highlights on top of any existing webpage and then share their creation with their friends or with the world. The implications of this new vertical web are astounding. Imagine everyone losing control of the content on their own websites. If you can visit any company's website and then request to see all the "layers" that have been created over the page you'll likely see praise, criticism and even offers from competitors. Entire mass conversations about a company can be taking place on a layer, right over the company's website and if the company isn't monitoring that it will miss the opportunity to rebut, persuade and offer its own point of view. Governments like Iran's can shut down Twitter and Facebook within the borders of their country but could they control layered content right on their own government's website without turning off all access to the Internet within its borders?

Qualman offers that today, 80% of companies now use LinkedIn (a social network dedicated to business networking) as a primary tool to find new talent. It's getting to the point you can't even compete to get a job if you're not versed in the ins and outs of social networking. That doesn't seem to be a problem for most. The fastest growing demographic on Facebook is females aged 55 to 65. That's probably because most other demographics just don't have that much more growth in them. With 170 million users, if Facebook were a country it would be the forth largest in the world (another statistical gem from Qualman's book).

Others are more skeptical of social media's ability to sell products and it must be said that there's a difference between social media advertising and building real communities around your brand. Many companies have been successful at generating a little buzz around their product for a short time by offering special Twitter promotions and giving away prizes to Twitter users who use their brand in tweets. But it's companies like Coca-Cola, who have built a Facebook community with over 3.5 million members (compared to Pepsi's paltry-by-comparison 226,000 member community) who are playing the game to win.

In a promotional video for his book (posted below), Qualman dazzles us with facts and figures about the new connected world in which we live. Many of the facts he hurls are startling and some just leave you wondering how everything changed so quickly. I spoke with Erik Qualman for this piece and you can tell by his passion and the way he speaks about social media that he's not a dabbler. He eats, drinks, sleeps and truly lives this stuff. News of his book's imminent release is just starting to spread and it's already getting traction from traditional media. I'm sure he'll be booked on the talk shows and will make the rounds of cable news. Traditional media is far from dead and it's very important for getting mass exposure, selling books and launching careers into orbit. However, Erik's 15 megabytes of fame will be well on its way before any of that happens. His video has already been viewed nearly 8,000 times at the time of this posting (it was 6,500 when I started writing). Go to YouTube and watch that number skyrocket. By the time Erik's book comes out in stores on August 26th it could already be a bestseller (you can pre-order it on Amazon now).

Erik says he hopes this book is just a vehicle to help him continue to do what he loves to do, evangelize social media and continue to follow the trends and evolution of online technologies.



Naming and Shaming at the NYT

Brendan Nyhan, whose work on the difficulty of correcting political misinformation formed the basis of my story on that subject, congratulates The New York Times for its article today on the origin of the death panel rumors (which CJR's Megan Garber has also praised). Writes Nyhan: This story is a remarkable...

Rick Larsen: “I’ve Got Facts On My Side, You’ve Got Glenn Beck”

A Democratic lawmaker, faced with a batty question at a town hall Wednesday, derided conservative pundit Glenn Beck for propagating lies about health care legislation.

Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Wash.) was asked, "Why are all Americans being forced into a government-run health care and insurance plan when only 46 million out of 312 million are uninsured?" The questioner went on to suggest that most people without insurance could get it without government assistance and concluded, "I'd be willing for the government to buy insurance policies for the 8.2 million chronically uninsured, but the other 37.8 million are not the responsibility of the American citizens and ... and I am unwilling to throw my present health care away for them."

Larsen responded: "With regards to the first comment about being forced to buy health care, I'll say it again... The bill does not force anybody to buy health care ... The bill does not force people to change their health care plan. If you're in a plan, you will not be forced into the public option. You will not be forced into the health insurance exchange. Now folks will say that's not true, but I've got facts on my side and you've got Glenn Beck on your side. It's just not going to play out that way."

Video, via Crooks and Liars:


Larsen had moved the town hall to a minor league baseball stadium because of the expected turnout.

Members of the audience laughed and applauded after Larsen response to the question. But as unfounded rumors about so-called "death panels" have managed to actually affect legislation in the Senate, it's clear that sometimes having the facts on your side isn't enough.

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Craig Newmark: Aspen Institute future of news theme: trust is the new black

Next week, I visit the Aspen Institute Communications and Society program, the theme is Models for Preserving American Journalism.

I figure I'll focus on the basics...

More people need to get the message that the news orgs that thrive in the future will be the most trustworthy ones.

That includes fact-checking, and a clear separation between reporting and financial needs.

Also, it might be okay for tabloids to manufacture conflict and controversy, if done transparently, but not okay to fake stuff.

I'll be bringing this up a lot, maybe annoyingly so, but I feel strongly that trust is the biggest of all success factors in news.

The Twitter tag to follow this is #focas09