Kelly McBride of Poynter Institute, Kyle Parks of B2 Communications
Kelly McBride and Kyle Parks talk being a couple in media, modern journalism, and the fight against fake news.
On this episode of SPx, Ashley welcomes Kelly McBride of Poynter Institute and Kyle Parks of B2 Communications to the show. Get a look at which media outlets this highly connected couple consume the most, and how everyday media consumers can be better fact-checkers. Kelly and Kyle have brought together their respective organizations through shared values around truthfulness and transparency, and their importance for successful communities. Kelly shares the work Poynter is doing to fight fake news and build journalistic trust. Kyle shares the importance of honesty and responsibility in public relations - especially crisis communications.
- On this episode, Ashley welcomed a couple of important guests on the show. Kyle Parks of B2 Communications and Kelly McBride of Poynter are a couple of 6 years, with 6 kids between them.
- Kyle's background: "a journalist for 22 years, 18 at the St. Petersburg Times now called the Tampa Bay Times; assistant business editor, real estate reporter; and then did corporate work for ten years and founded our company with Missy Hurley eight years ago."
- What does a public relations firm do? "Communications for companies and non-profits, everything from working with the news media to content creation, to working on social media and blogs."
- What is the Poynter Institute? " So journalists the world over turn to us to get better at the skills that they need to do their jobs, better at the leadership of their organizations and for information about where the journalism world is going."
- Why? "We elevate journalism in service of democracy."
- How did Poynter and B2 strike up a relationship? Shared values: "Both of us share a common set of values around honesty and communication and transparency and how important that is for communities to have organizations and leaders that are truthful and honest and transparent and how important that is for democracy, for citizens to be able to get information that – first of all that meets the needs that they have and that allows them to participate more fully in their community."
- How is Poynter fighting distrust and "fake news"? We are the home of the IFCN, the International Fact Checking Network. We have an ethics chair at the Poynter Institute...And we are working with journalism organizations the world over to help them understand how to develop a relationship with their audience so that their audience will trust them."
- Poynter's impact: " We train about 100,000 journalists every year, which is a remarkable number. There’s about 36 people who work at the Poynter Institute and we have a wider group of about 60 additional trainers who do work for us on a part time basis."
- How can the every day citizen help fix the problem? 1) "One of the things is that you should pay for your news, right? You should give money to public media, you should subscribe to a newspaper, you should subscribe to magazines, you should figure out a way to pay for credible information."
- 2) "As citizens we have to be better news consumers," says McBride. According to a Poynter study, spotting fake news takes 5 specific fact-checking skills. They'll be teaching these skills as a focus over the next year.
- 3) "Don't trust your gut," sometimes fake news slips by consumers because it reinforces something we already believe. This confirmation bias can be dangerous.
- Crisis Communication at B2: "You don’t have to have all the answers in the first week when something comes out, but you’d better be able to talk about it in tangible terms and have some things you’re gonna do right away and not just have it sound like a bunch of talk."
- Challenges of journalism today, "The 24/7 cycle, the pressure to produce, the smaller staffs, those are all things that make it harder than ever to be a journalist."
- Potential for misinformation is high, therefore trust must be also, "People don’t realize how many assumptions they are making in every single sentence that they read or a video that they watch."
- "The consumer is met with a fire hose, right? The really important article about a zoning decision in any given municipality has to compete with everything that’s on Netflix and all your crazy Aunt Nan’s posts on Facebook and this really cool advertisement and this podcast and everything that’s on iTunes."
- "The journalism organizations that are making the most significant impact and doing the best work on behalf of their audiences have really slowed down to think about what is the promise that they’re making to their audience and how do they get journalists the resources that they need to deliver on that promise?"
- The need for journalists to go out into the community, "the temptation is to sit at your desk and just keep cranking stuff out and make a five-minute call. And the problem is you don’t understand what the context in the community or the industry you’re covering is if you don’t go out and talk to people."
- Kelly's daily news intake: "I read the New York Times every day, the Washington Post...I read the Tampa Bay Times online. I read the New Yorker. And then I also consume lots and lots of podcasts...And I love the New York Times’s daily podcast, I love the New Yorker radio hour, I love ‘Make me smart’ with Kai and Molly, the marketplace talent."
- Kyle's local news fix, "One thing I was gonna add on the St. Pete level, it’s nice to see the growth of some real good community based organizations, news organizations, Green Bench monthly, St. Pete Life, what you guys are doing with Catalyst online… "
"One of the things is that you should pay for your news...You pay for other things, you pay for Netflix. Why wouldn’t you pay for the thing that makes you a better citizen?" - Kelly McBride
Poynter Institute is a small organization with a huge impact on worldwide journalism. With just 36 full-time staff and an additional 60+ part-time trainers, the organization trains 100,000 journalists each year, through online and in-person offerings. Poynter is the “premiere training and thought leadership organization for the journalism industry, and that’s worldwide,” says VP Kelly McBride.
For an organization with such an extensive footprint, it’s hard to believe that many citizens of St. Pete don’t even know that it’s here. McBride says that more people are aware of Poynter outside of the St. Pete community than within. She says, “Most of the time when I tell people I work at Poynter, people are like, ‘Oh, what is that?’”
Poynter Institute is an entity we should all be aware of, not only for its proximity, but its vitality to our democracy. As McBride asserts, it is central to democracy to have leaders and organizations that are truthful, transparent, and honest, and journalists have to ensure that. Along those same lines, says McBride, journalism is essential, “for citizens to be able to get information that – first of all – meets the needs that they have and that allows them to participate more fully in their community.”
The world’s most prestigious newsrooms, including the The New York Times, The Washington Post, NPR, and BBC – newsrooms which have historically broken stories on our nation’s biggest scandals – look to Poynter. McBride and other thought leaders at Poynter routinely share expertise and guidance through tough situations in the field.
Poynter is seeking to give journalists the tools to rebuild trust with the public, end the spread of misinformation, and strengthen democracy by promoting transparency and honesty. They don’t take this role lightly. Through both the general public and the community of journalists it touches, Poynter is launching initiatives to combat these problems. In 2015, it launched the International Fact Checking Network (IFCN), to support the fact-checking initiatives launched around the world.
Now, Poynter offers both in-person and online training in fact-checking, for journalists and citizens around the world. Their “Hands-On Fact-Checking: A Short Course” created by the IFCN is funded by the Google News Initiative, making the course available for free. According to the web page, the 90-minute course “demonstrates best practices developed and tested by today’s fact-checking journalists, who face particular challenges posed by misleading rhetoric from politicians and government officials, and the use of social media platforms as launching sites for viral misinformation.”
Learn more about Poynter’s work and sign up for the course here.
"So from my business I feel like a quality PR professional is more important than ever to the journalist because we can help them on understanding what the context of what they’re covering is without trying to steer the coverage and tell them what to write, because we don’t do that." - Kyle Parks
Table of Contents
(0:00 – 0:48) Introduction
(0:48 – 1:34) Kyle’s Background and B2 Communications
(1:34 – 2:36) Kelly and the Poynter Institute
(2:36 – 6:39) Partnership
(6:39 – 10:43) Fighting Fake News
(10:43 – 15:19) Managing Mass Movements
(15:19 – 24:23) How do We Know What to Believe in the News?
(24:23 – 29:27) The National Media Landscape
(29:27 – 34:28) Continuous Learning and Staying Sharp
(34:28 – 38:09) Community Involvement
(38:09 – 38:57) Conclusion
Ashley: Welcome to SPX, this is Ashley and I have two special guests with me today. Kelly McBride is the Vice President at the Poynter Institute and Kyle Parks is the Principle and Co-founder of B2 Communications. Welcome to the show.
Kelly: Hey, how is it going?
Kyle: Thanks for having us.
Ashley: So before we get started, for our listeners – Kyle, if we could start with you just a little bit about your background and B2 Communications.
Kyle: Thanks for having us, Ashley. B2 Communications is a public relations agency based in St. Petersburg. My background of three careers in my life, a journalist for 22 years, 18 at the St. Petersburg Times now called the Tampa Bay Times; assistant business editor, real estate reporter; and then did corporate work for ten years and founded our company with Missy Hurley eight years ago. And what we do is a combination of all things related to communications for companies and non-profits, everything from working with the news media to content creation, to working on social media and blogs. Everything we do is designed to raise the visibility of our clients while also helping to enhance their credibility.
Ashley: And Kelly, the Poynter Institute – a well-known, well-respected news entity in our community and abroad – talk to us about your involvement there.
Kelly: Yeah, so… actually I always feel like the Poynter Institute is better known outside of this community than it is in the community. Most of the time when I tell people I work at Poynter people are like, ‘Oh, what is that?’ And what it is is we are the premier training and thought leadership organization for the journalism industry, and that’s worldwide. So journalists the world over turn to us to get better at the skills that they need to do their jobs, better at the leadership of their organizations and for information about where the journalism world is going, which is really critical right now because it’s a very disrupted, unstable environment – and yet journalism is really important to democracy. And so our elevator line is we elevate journalism in service of democracy.
Ashley: So maybe Kyle, you could start shedding some light on the partnership between Poynter and B2.
Kelly: Wait a second, why does he get to answer that question first?
Ashley: [laughing] Kelly, maybe you could shed some light on…
Kelly: Yeah, exactly, yeah.
Ashley: We’ll start with Kelly.
Kyle: Yeah, let’s let Kelly on that one.
Kelly: So the partnership between B2 and Poynter is really a partnership between Kyle and I. We are a couple. We have been a couple for six years now. We have six children between us and we’ve actually known each other for a lot longer than that. But yeah, so… The work that we do together is mainly because we both care deeply about each other and each other’s companies. I believe strongly in the work that B2 does, I think that public relations gets a bad name because there are a lot of bad public relations people out there. And I think journalism, I believe strongly obviously, and I’m passionate about the work that Poynter does – journalists also get a bad name. There are some bad journalists out there, most of them are really, really good and really dedicated and earnest about what they do. And so both of us, I think, share a common set of values around honesty and communication and transparency and how important that is for communities to have organizations and leaders that are truthful and honest and transparent and how important that is for democracy, for citizens to be able to get information that – first of all that meets the needs that they have and that allows them to participate more fully in their community.
Kyle: I think that’s very well said, Kelly.
Kelly: Thanks, hun.
Kyle: But it really is built on mutual respect both personally and professionally I think, and for us work is so much a part of our lives if not all of our lives and I’m really proud of Kelly on so many fronts in terms of what she does in the community. She has started a new community organization initiative with the Body Electric Yoga, finds time to do a lot of things beyond work, I don’t think she sleeps. But as she said, I think public relations for us really is built on truth, it’s built on not – probably my least favorite word that people use in public relations is the word ‘spin’ and when someone says, ‘Oh, you could spin that’ I tell them we don’t spin, that’s not what we do. What we do is present information in a timely, efficient, quality manner and the idea is much like a journalist, you wanna think about delivering content, information that’s interesting and helpful to the reader. So when we work with a client we’re not gonna say… for instance, our Lennar Homes client, we’re not gonna do a lot of stuff sending out things with exclamation points saying Lennar Homes is great. We’re going to work on putting information out there about helping you buy a home, things to think about. Trying to help that home buyer and understand that Lennar is really a good resource for them. And I think that’s a good way to look at how we do communications, because it all goes back to the audience, whether you’re a journalist or a public relations person. What is the audience, how are you going to tell them something that’s not already obvious to them and also something that’s gonna be helpful to them?
Ashley: Kelly, what is Poynter doing to fight fake news… alone? [laughing]
Kelly: Well… We are doing a lot. We are the home of the IFCN, the International Fact Checking Network. We have an ethics chair at the Poynter Institute, it’s actually a job that I held at one point before taking the job that I have now. And we are working with journalism organizations the world over to help them understand how to develop a relationship with their audience so that their audience will trust them. And in fact the study that we did actually shows that credibility is rising among the public, but it also revealed some disturbing discrepancies between people who are affiliated with the republican party and people who are affiliated with the democratic party. So our study showed that if you are a republican you are – 80% of republicans distrust the news media and about 80% of democrats trust the news media. That is alarming and disturbing if you live in a democracy that is built on the presumption that citizens can get the information they need and make informed decisions. Because what you have is the phrase that Kellyanne Conway made famous, which is this environment of alternative facts. You basically have one group of people believing one thing and another group of people believing another thing. And that is more alarming than just overall distrust of the media. We train about 100,000 journalists every year, which is a remarkable number. There’s about 36 people who work at the Poynter Institute and we have a wider group of about 60 additional trainers who do work for us on a part time basis. Most of those people, of those journalists, were trained through online learning. We have a learning management system, it’s called News University, hits about 75,000 people every year the world over. And then another 20,000 people either come to us here in St. Petersburg or we go to their organizations, we work with the largest newspaper companies and television stations in the country. We go and train their people and then we also do remote training events. We’re about to go to New York and do a Women’s Leadership day, because women in leadership in journalism is a huge issue right now. So we are fighting well above our weight class and trying to fix this problem, but we don’t actually feel like this is a problem just for journalism, we actually feel like this is a problem for democracy. And where we are expanding is in talking to the general public about what they can do to fix this problem, and there are a couple of things. One of the things is that you should pay for your news, right? You should give money to public media, you should subscribe to a newspaper, you should subscribe to magazines, you should figure out a way to pay for credible information. You should become a member of a website that you find credible. But you shouldn’t insist on getting your news for free. You pay for other things, you pay for Netflix. Why wouldn’t you pay for the thing that makes you a better citizen? The other thing that you can do as a citizen that we’re working with citizens on doing is you can be responsible for the information that you share. Because it’s not just that there’s bad information out there, but it’s that everybody is sharing bad information. So you can vet and verify, you can learn to be more literate as a news consumer and that’s a set of skills that we are teaching to the general public. And then the third thing that we’re doing in this area is we’re working with the biggest technology companies. We work closely with Google, we work closely with Facebook, we are working with those companies to help them find ways that they can contribute to a more healthy news ecosystem.
Ashley: Wow, I have a lot of questions based off of that, that just sort of spun out of that..
Kelly: Sorry, that was a mouthful, man!…
Ashley: No, but… it’s really awesome. I’m gonna ask a question and I hope that I ask in the right way because it involves both of your entities. But you talked about the responsibility on behalf of the citizens to be mindful and to be prudent, if that’s the correct term, about what they share and how they add to the larger rhetoric or dialogue. So when you have massive movements like the ‘Me Too’ movement and you’re observing how that’s affecting organizations and entities and how people are learning about the discrediting of specific leaders in the respective organizations, and then you – it dovetails into Kyle, what you do in terms of if we were to experience locally some of our own – I don’t want to call it a scandal, but if there were certain citizens or leaders under fire because of said movement, I’m just interested to see as a sample how you two would respectively… or do respectively manage that together.
Kelly: Well, one of the things that I respect about Kyle’s company is that they believe that organizations have an obligation to do the right thing. And I’ve watched him do crisis communications with the organizations where their leaders have gotten into trouble for a variety of things and – you guys always talk about here’s how you make it right, and it means being accountable to the public.
Kyle: Yeah, you have to figure out how to learn from the situation and make sure it doesn’t happen again. And it may sound like a sound bite, but actually you’ve got to live it if you’re gonna do this right. So when we work in situations like that, we haven’t had anything exactly like what you described here in St. Pete…
Kelly: Yeah, I’m sure we will.
Kyle: It’s possible because I think the corporate world is the next big arena where you’re gonna see more of these things come to light, because there’s so many companies out there…
Kelly: Rightfully so.
Kyle: …yeah, that I believe that they have not been run the right way. So that said, we’ve had situations with company leaders doing misdeeds of various things and it’s always a very problematic in terms of you cannot violate any kind of personal privacy issues, there’s always the possibility of lawsuits. At the same time the company can talk about, in a general way, what are the things that were not done well and how can we do them better? And you don’t have to have all the answers in the first week when something comes out, but you’d better be able to talk about it in tangible terms and have some things you’re gonna do right away and not just have it sound like a bunch of talk, it’s gotta be something behind it. And we strongly believe in working with clients who are gonna be bought into that.
Kelly: You also have to be able to acknowledge what you did wrong, right?
Kyle: You do.
Kelly: I hear you talking to your clients all the time about look, if you screwed up you gotta figure out a way to say that.
Kyle: Yeah and it does – I’m a former journalist so maybe it’s closer to my heart on this, but it really gets on my nerves when somebody starts just blaming the media when they’ve screwed up. It’s like no, the media is shining a light on it and I can tell you for our Tampa Bay 100 online product that we do I have a story, a little 100-word, all of our stories are 100 words which are super tight.
Kelly: Very clever gimmick.
Kyle: But… Not a gimmick. It’s a news vehicle.
Kelly: It’s totally a gimmick, what do you mean?
Kyle: But I was really pleased to do a little 100 words on Mark Puente and his work with Career Source Florida for the Tampa Bay Times with Zach Sampson the last few weeks. And that is a classic example where the Career Source board initially was blaming the media… ridiculous, I’m sorry. The things that Puente and Sampson have uncovered are unconscionable.
Kelly: Right and do a background. They basically were cooking their books.
Kyle: Well, basically Career Source Florida was taking credit for placing jobs, hundreds and hundreds of jobs that they had nothing to do with.
Kyle: I had coffee with Mark the other day and I said, ‘Well, how did this all start?’ And he said he walked into a Career Source meeting just innocuous being a reporter out in the community and they were just crazy negative towards him saying, ‘We don’t have to talk to you, we don’t want you here.’ And for a reporter that’s like, ‘Oh, really? So, what do you got going on here that you don’t want me to know about?’
Ashley: What question do I have to ask?
Kyle: Exactly, so that started the whole thing. And it was old fashioned, shoe leather, public records, talking to people. And he ended up finding I believe a doctor at Bay Care who Career Source had taken credit for placing and the doctor said, ‘First off, I don’t know who Career Source is, second of all an outfit like that would not be helping Bay Care…’ Or it might’ve been Bay Front, I’m sorry – ‘…place a doctor here.’ So, I think going back to that whole blaming the media thing is exhausting and if somebody is gonna play that game they are missing their true point, as where did they screw up as Kelly said, and how are they gonna fix it?
Ashley: Kelly, you talked about Kyle’s commitment to transparency and how he encourages that on behalf of the client. Certainly, that’s gonna help to erode some of the current mistrust that we have with our media but ultimately, hands in the air, how do we know what to believe in the news?
Kelly: Well, as citizens we have to be better news consumers. And there’s a study that Stanford researchers did where they gave a group of teenagers, a group of history teachers and then a group of fact checkers the same set of information, some of it true, some of it fake, all of it on the internet. And they asked them to figure out what was true and what was fake. And only the fact checkers got it right. The history teachers made just as many errors as the teenagers did and they dug into it and what they determined is that the fact checkers have a set of five skills and we are going to be debuting a big initiative around these five skills where we work to teach teenagers in particular, but by extension the rest of the world, to employ these skills when they are consuming information. So one of the most important ones is lateral reading, right? When you are looking at a screen, weather it’s your computer or your phone or your iPad, you are looking at information that is contained and controlled by the people who created that environment. You have to be able to read laterally, which means to go out of that screen. So it means puling up another window, getting another tab on your computer and you have to get information about the supplier of the information. So that’s really difficult, especially because many of us have become very comfortable in what we in the business call walled gardens, which is like Facebook is a walled garden. It’s a place that you go and it’s very hard to get off of it because they wanna keep you there and so they make that environment so nice that you don’t necessarily wanna leave and go outside and see information about Facebook.
Ashley: And also Facebook could be a game of telephone too, because if you look at the new algorithm where business news is deprioritized and family and friends content will now rise to the top, based on the new algorithm some of that is hearsay based on news that they’re consuming from maybe a walled – their own… a limited platform…
Kelly: A filter bubble, yeah.
Ashley: Exactly, and so now the trust is not necessarily… we’re not looking at the trust between the reader and the news entity, but the…
Kelly: Well, you trust people who are like you, you trust people who are your friends.
Kelly: That’s always been true. There are certain people where if they tell me to read a book I’m gonna read a book because I trust their judgement. And that’s fine. But you have to know who is good at that and who isn’t. I used to always use my Aunt Nan because she was always posting stuff on Facebook. She’s my godmother and she passed and I miss her dearly. But she was always posting crazy untrue stuff on Facebook, and it’s like, ‘Aunt Nan, this is not true,’ right? So I knew not to trust Aunt Nan. So that’s a second skill that you need. Another skill that you need that the Stanford researchers discovered that the fast checkers had that the history teachers didn’t have is this doubt, right? This instinct to not trust your gut. Whereas most people have this instinct where, ‘Oh, that reinforces what I believe to be true and therefore it must be true.’ Right? And so they do the exact opposite, which is when something gets at their instincts of the truth they dig their heels in and just they believe it more, whereas fast checkers are like they have this mindfulness about it where they’re aware that this is happening and then they question why is it that they believe this and what information can they bring to corroborate?
Kyle: And it’s really like the same skills that journalists or good communications professionals have, like we work with our interns and then we start to coach them on their writing and we’ll ask them – in my business you have to be a reporter just like you’re a journalist, and I’ll say, ‘Where did you find this?’ And they said, ‘Oh, I found it on the Internet.’ So we’ll start going down the rabbit hole there and say, ‘Okay, let’s look at it. Is this a credible source?’ So I think obviously a good reporter always is thinking cynically and saying, ‘Okay, let’s talk about the quality of information so that good…’
Kelly: Not cynically, skeptically.
Ashley: Skeptically, well that’s…
Kelly: To think skeptically.
Ashley: I honestly think you… Talking about gimmick, I think that you could lead with that, Kelly. Don’t trust your gut. Not fights…
Kelly: I say that all the time, I say that.
Ashley: Don’t trust your gut. So Kyle, I know that you have – B2 has their own principles and fundamentals that they govern their work by. And so if you want to add some of the tips that Kelly has brought to our audience.
Kyle: I think what we really focus on is when you think about news that’s shareable or news that for the news letters we do online that have really good click rates and low unsubscribe rates, it all goes back to is the information important or interesting to the reader? So that’s one thing along with making sure it’s factual, trying to think about what is truly helpful for the reader to learn. So that goes back to we have all kinds of things that we can write about or talk about or work with with our clients, but that – for us everything is from a business to business point of view, it might be a narrow audience. So we have one client, Revenue Management Solutions in Tampa, they’re the world’s leading consultant for menu pricing for restaurants all over the world. It’s actually a lot more interesting than it sounds.
Kyle: But their audience is restaurant owners. So that’s who we cater to. Whereas the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay or the Museum of Fine Arts here in St. Petersburg, that’s much more of a broad audience. And then you start thinking about what can you bring out that’s gonna be really interesting?
Kelly: But if you think about why you guys are so good at that, it’s because you have these instincts that you’ve honed over time. The reason that journalists and communication professionals are good at making information credible is because they made so many mistakes that they know how to avoid the mistakes, right? So you know when you’re creating – even in 100-word article there’s probably 40 claims in 100 words, like where is it happening or who are the players, how are their names spelled, am I really characterizing this right? You learn as you’re creating information to question every single thing. The big joke in journalism is if your mother says she loves you check it out. But it’s true. And so people don’t realize how many assumptions they are making in every single sentence that they read or a video that they watch. And when it comes to video, man, it’s even more the assumptions because once you add music to something and you cut the way that quotes are put together or facts are juxtaposed next to each other you would not believe the number of assumptions that the creator of the information wants you to make. And that’s where your people are so good at backing it out.
Kyle: And I think accuracy obviously – it’s always been everything, but even today you see how the President’s administration just bashes the media when they make a mistake on something and they try to take it to the next step and go, ‘Oh, you can’t trust the media.’ So it’s always been incredibly important to not mess things up, or as a former managing editor at the Times you just say, ‘Don’t F up.’ I won’t use the whole word, but he’s Mike Foley, who is now at the University of Florida. But it’s simple things for us, it’s obsess about proper nouns, make sure you don’t misspell somebody’s name, don’t take something out of context. And I think it all goes back for me, when I was a journalism student undergraduate at Virginia Tech, much like good journalism professors, any story we wrote, if it had a factual mistake in it we got an F. So I will tell our interns that and say, ‘I don’t care how well written this is, if you mess up a fact then it’s like you shouldn’t have done it to begin with.’ So…
Ashley: Isn’t a retraction the worst thing that can happen for a…
Kelly: No, not at all, not at all. If you are creating information you are going to have to correct information. It is inevitable that you will eventually get something wrong. And so what we teach people who create information is what’s more important is that you have a system in place to minimize the number of times that you get things wrong, that you learn from your mistakes and that when you do get things wrong you’re transparent about it, so you make the correction and then you tell the public that you’ve made the correction. So you put a note on the article or on the piece that said, ‘We’ve made a mistake, we’ve reedited it at this point,’ so that then if people come back to it they know what’s happened. That you are transparent and you are accountable about the information. Because setting up a system where you could never make a mistake, that just creates a system where nothing is true, right? Because people will make mistakes, they’re human beings.
Kyle: And the nice thing about the digital world is the newspapers and magazines now can make those fixes which will live on forever on the Internet, whereas back in the day you had to have this… well, the print edition still has this, but nobody would see the correction. You know, read next day…
Ashley: Right, it’s like italicized in the footer or somewhere.
Ashley: I think that happens with digital news as well, but… So, speaking of digital news, and I want to broaden it out to your respective commentary on the national media landscape as it exists today. It’s a small question, it’s a small curiosity.
Kyle: Well, I think it’s what we talk about, it’s the 24/7 cycle, the pressure to produce, the smaller staffs, those are all things that make it harder than ever to be a journalist. And to really understand how can you take the time to truly understand the subject matter before you write about it or do a story on it? We’ll work with TV reporters who – they’ll come up in their truck and they’ll say, ‘I have no idea what’s happening here, can you help me out?’ Now this goes back to a bad PR professional who says, ‘Well, I think you should do the story on this and really emphasize that.’ A good PR professional says, ‘Well, here is the deal, here is what we’re doing, here is some context and that’s done in two minutes and then we go.’ So from my business I feel like a quality PR professional is more important than ever to the journalist because we can help them on understanding what the context of what they’re covering is without trying to steer the coverage and tell them what to write, because we don’t do that.
Kelly: Yeah, there’s always a little bit of tension between PR professionals and journalists. And it’s funny because it comes into our relationship all the time, because I very much identify with journalists obviously, because they’re the audience that I serve and I still consider myself a journalist. And journalists fiercely guard their independence, right? That is part of what makes a journalist valuable to her audience, is that she is independently deciding what information is relevant to her audience. Now, the factors that Kyle just described are more of a threat to a journalist’s independence than spin from a bad PR person. However, the journalist has to deal with both, they have to deal with this world of diminishing resources where you have less time to do more stories and there’s more competition. Because if you look at it from the consumer side of the equation the consumer is met with a fire hose, right? The really important article about a zoning decision in any given municipality has to compete with everything that’s on Netflix and all your crazy Aunt Nan’s posts on Facebook and this really cool advertisement and this podcast and everything that’s on iTunes. It’s a fire hose out there. And so a good journalist has to figure out what does the audience need and how can I give it to them? But what most journalists are doing most days is just trying to put information out into this space and hope that it competes on some level. Which is a hard thing to stop doing, right? Because it’s a cycle, right? It’s a news cycle, which means that it goes on whether or not you put anything into it. However what I have found is that the journalism organizations that are making the most significant impact and doing the best work on behalf of their audiences have really slowed down to think about what is the promise that they’re making to their audience and how do they get journalists the resources that they need to deliver on that promise? It’s a very, very tough business equation though, because in the meantime journalism is still predominantly supported by advertising – increasingly by subscriptions, but it’s not nearly the support that most journalism – as a consumer of all the information that you see, most of it is supported by advertising. And that means that the people who own the journalism companies make more money the more information they put out, so for consumers it’s sort of a raw deal for them because the journalists are not rewarded for actually serving the consumers, they’re rewarded for serving the environment that then serves the advertisers.
Kyle: Yeah, and you do have a number of outlets now where they’ll have weekly meetings and review the clicks and that starts to get into a bit of a dangerous area in my opinion.
Kelly: I disagree. I think that metrics is really important for journalists because it tells you what the audience is interested in. Now… and there’s a superficial way of looking at metrics and there’s a much more sophisticated way of looking at metrics, and I’m obviously in favor of the more sophisticated way where you look at engagement and you look at time spent and you look at the impact, right?
Kyle: No, I totally agree.
Kelly: As opposed to just like… Because yes, what wins on the Internet all the time are bloody crime stories and cat videos.
Kyle: Yeah. So like you were saying, Kelly, I think the clicks can be very, very helpful. We never really understood back in the days of print only who was reading what except for the people who would call us. So I think that’s – like she is saying, it’s great information if you use it in a good way.
Ashley: I know we’re short on time, we have a couple more minutes. I have so many questions I wanna ask, so I feel like I’m just like, ‘Which one is worth best?’
Kelly: What else can I disagree with Kyle on?
Ashley: I know.
Kyle: But if you let me finish the answer it might help.
Kelly: No way, honey.
Ashley: I wanna know from both of you where you – how you keep yourself fed in terms of what you read, how you’re continuously training yourself and staying sharp in your respective fields.
Kyle: I think for me it’s – we do a lot of real estate work, it’s not the majority of our work at the agency but a lot. But all of the things that we focus on, I look at everything from the general interest newspapers, I personally get the most out of the Washington Post out of the last six months of any newspaper on a national basis, just from how well written it is. I’m kind of a geek for following politics. But the Tampa Bay Times, Tampa Bay Business Journal is still very good locally. Also real estate industry trades, I read a ton of that stuff. But then also, and this is very equivalent to – gonna talk Marc Puente again, at the Times, he has a lot of younger reporters sitting around in the news room and he will tell them, he’ll say, ‘Why are you not getting out of the office?’ Because it is really hard, to Kelly’s point, about how busy journalists are, the temptation is to sit at your desk and just keep cranking stuff out and make a five-minute call. And the problem is you don’t understand what the context in the community or the industry you’re covering is if you don’t go out and talk to people. So for me when I go to events, industry events or community events, I’m almost playing a little bit a reporter where I’m not walking around interviewing people, but I’m just saying – I’m trying to say, okay, this is my way also to stay engaged in the community and my industries and hear what’s going on. So I think it’s a combination of those two things.
Kelly: Yeah, and I think… you also really enjoy that. I think that it’s important to figure out a way to keep yourself nourished and to nourish your professional life in a way that you find enjoyable. So we always joke around it. There’s not a cocktail party that Kyle doesn’t love, and it’s because he loves talking to people and getting information out of them. I see the new ecosystem that we live in as a blessing and a curse. There are so many great things to read and I read voraciously. I read the New York Times every day, the Washington Post, I subscribed to them both through their apps. I read the Tampa Bay Times online. I read the New Yorker. And then I also consume lots and lots of podcasts, I play them almost all the time – while I’m in the shower, while I’m driving… And I love the New York Times’s daily podcast, I love the New Yorker radio hour, I love ‘Make me smart’ with Kai and Molly, the marketplace talent. And so there’s so – it’s such a wealth of riches that we can access very quickly and easily that there’s too much to consume. So what I’m trying to do now is bring a little bit more discipline to that and make sure that I am consuming both professionally, almost everything that’s written about Google and Facebook I’m expected to read. And there’s a lot of really smart stuff that’s written about those companies. But then also personally I read a lot of fiction and I always have a really long list. And then on top of it, there is a lot of really good television entertainment out there. We have a ton of stuff in our queue, we recently started watching ‘The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’, we watch ‘The Crown’… there’s just so much really good television out there. What was that, ‘Black Mirror’?
Kelly: ‘Black Mirror’ we just started watching, which also is sort of relevant because it’s science fiction but it’s about all information technology. I guess the biggest challenge for us is to turn things off and to not be connected, not looking at our phones and our email. It’s really, really hard. It’s hard because of the business that we’re in, it’s hard because we have six children between the ages of 17 and 29, and so at any given moment one of them needs something from us. It is I would say darn near impossible for us to turn off our phones and I think that’s something that we have to figure out how to do in order to stay sane and balanced.
Kyle: One thing I was gonna add on the St. Pete level, it’s nice to see the growth of some real good community based organizations, news organizations, Green Bench monthly, St. Pete Life, what you guys are doing with Catalyst online… I think it’s really exciting. I would actually say that St. Pete may have more going on in terms of vibrant local journalism than Tampa does right now, which is pretty cool to watch.
Kelly: You know what somebody should do? Is create a meta-directory, allow the – actually, B2 should do this, Kyle. You guys should do this. Like all of the local podcasts that are being produced, all of the publications that are actually being printed…
Kelly: …and then all the digital stuff that’s out there, just…
Ashley: …map it out.
Ashley: And so this is a nice way to end, but you talked about the growth of media in St. Pete. And Kelly, you mentioned the benefit of turning off and I know you from a local yoga community, so I know that you create that space for yourself to unwind. But when you think about how you’re plugging into the community beyond your respective professions, whether it be something that you’re practicing or non-profits or causes that you care about, I’d love to know where you two are involved.
Kyle: I’m involved with the Urban Land Institute which promotes responsible land development, and also St. Petersburg Preservation. And I think both of those groups tie into some challenges St. Petersburg has as we continue to grow, as you see more condos coming downtown. How do we keep the historic nature and the walkability of this community? – which is what attracts people here. And I think one thing to really be watching this year in St. Petersburg is the continued efforts to have a historic designation put to the First Block, it’s called the First Block because it was the first block in St. Petersburg where Jannus Live is and the Hotel Detroit. And there are continuing pressures to tear that block down, and in my opinion that is the one block in St. Petersburg that is critical to keep in our character in this city, so I think that’s something that I’ll be helping with this year.
Kelly: I try and be really intentional. First of all I think it’s really important to give money to organizations that you support and so I give money to WUSF and to WMNF, those are both community public radio stations that I think do a huge service to the community and I support them. I also create content for both of them. So with WUSF we have a regular segment called Making Sense of Media and with WMNF I create a podcast called Everyday Ethics, both of those are labors of love for me. In addition to that you mentioned that we go to the same yoga studio, it’s the Body Electric Yoga Studio, and what we have found there is a incredibly passionate community and there is now an opportunity to focus that passion outside the studio. The Body Electric Yoga Studio was the first place that ever told me that I couldn’t bring my phone in. That was revolutionary for me, but you could do something without your phone right there. And so I owe those ladies a debt of gratitude and I think that there’s such a vibrant community there. So we’ve created a service club there where we’re trying to team up with non-profits and help the hundreds of people who go to yoga at that studio find opportunities and connect with non-profits in the community. So I’m working on that. And then I also do a ton of public speaking, I get way too many requests. But don’t stop them from coming, I’ve… by the time this podcast is out I will have done two gigs at the Gulfport Library. I try and pick organizations that are really serving a community as opposed to an organization that is just putting on an event. So I will volunteer to moderate events or do a public speaking gig for a school or a library or something like that, probably about twice a month. And I do that because I really care about this community.
Kyle: There are events you do that help non-profits or organizations that matter. She recently did something which involved the Museum of Fine Arts for a really cool program and also has one coming up where you’ll be interviewing Joy Mangano, the famed ‘mop lady’ from HSN.
Kelly: I can’t wait to do that, that’s gonna be really fun.
Kyle: And that’s for a local non-profit.
Kelly: Yeah, it’s for the Women Center.
Kyle: The Center for Women, you mean.
Kelly: Yeah. That would have already happened by the time this gets out.
Ashley: Well, great. Thank you both for being here today. Thank you for your shared contribution to truth in St. Pete and abroad. It was great having you here.
Kelly: Keep democracy safe.
Kyle: Thanks for having us.
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About the host
Ashley Ryneska is the Vice President of Marketing for the YMCA of Greater St. Petersburg and a founding Insight Board member at the St. Petersburg Group. Ashley believes meaningful conversations can serve as the gateway to resolution, freedom, and advancement for our city. Her passion for storytelling has been internationally recognized with multiple media accolades.