02 August 2010

So what do you do about it?

My previous post elicited a rather thoughtful response from Wandering Willa:
Given your PR background is it possible that your natural inclination and goals are not necessarily the same as the bloggers in question. If these were your clients, how would you explain what you perceive their goals are and should be? How would you take their concerns for the integrity of their connections in designing a strategy to represent them? Do you offer a valuable service to them considering you expect them to approach someone who can't even do her job? What is accomplished by doing so?
 Why Willa, I'm so glad you asked. 

Of course it's quite likely that my natural inclination and goals are not necessarily the same as members of the science blogging community.  But since my job is part of the discussion now, I should stress my comments on the issue are not related to any client.  I have no material relationships to disclose in any of this nonsense, and I'm not using this as some sort of business development opportunity - though I do think there is professional value in being "the PR guy that science bloggers read."  Science writing has been an interest of mine from some time - you can see the communities I read on my communities and links page. (since the SB exodus I have to update some links, I know.)

Given the current environment I'm a bit hesitant to make generalizations about science bloggers. (Though I admit I've done so before, but hopefully not in a mean way.) I don't think the science blogging community has "goals" in the sense that a company has a PR goal.   The consensus I see among many scientists and science writers is the desire to "win" in policy debates and culture wars on some very basic issues where the science is not in serious doubt, and more generally, to have more respect both individually and as a group. 

The challenge with asserting a community-wide goal is two-fold - first you have to define the community and second you must have a way to measure it.  (I'll let members of this community define it, it's not my place to do so.)  It's easy to say you want to increase public sentiment toward scientists and science bloggers.  The ways you'd measure that may sound surprisingly scientific coming from a PR flack like me - establish a baseline, develop an intervention, and then re-test.  In my line of work you can conduct opinion polls that measure favorable vs. unfavorable attitudes toward certain people or groups.   But any big PR firm in the world can get the percentage of people who agree with the sentence "scientists are nice" to bump up a few points after an ad campaign or something.   Typically the only thing that accomplishes is give some folks at an ad agency a few bucks.  (Not that there's anything wrong with that.) 

To me the goal should be two-fold - increase the ability of scientists (and science writers) to be influential in a variety of public forums and civic structures, and forge enough meaningful relationships between the community and other elite civic leaders to have a substantive impact on policy in real time.  These goals take quite a long time to accomplish.  I'm putting together some ideas and will have more on that soon.

As for "integrity of connections," it's obviously quite important. One must have standing within one's own community if one claims to speak for it.  I think scientists know this better than most.  But I also think most science bloggers will say there's still a role for industry and commerce here.  Transparency has always been non-negotiable, especially in this community - I'm reasonably certain as long as all relevant material relationships are disclosed this sort of thing is handled rather well among scientists.

Do I offer a valuable service?  All I can say is the "advice" I dole out on this blog is free and you get every penny's worth.  But I am personally committed to the community and want to see it thrive. I also see professional advantage in forging strong relationships in this community.  It's called "social networking." It works.

But as for Ms. Heffernan "not doing her job," I'll simply say this isn't the first time someone who worked for a newspaper got something wrong or said something unfair.  I've seen far worse screw-ups from world-renowned journalists.  And what can be accomplished by converting her into an ally, or at least into someone who understands and respects the community? She works for the New York Times Magazine.  Yes, THAT New York Times.  With all those readers.  With all that influence.  Write her off and call her stupid, and she has an excuse to do it again.

Put together a day for her.  Introduce her to some folks.  Have a drink or two.  Let her discover what she has in common with the people she's covering.    Now do that for a dozen big-league journalists.  Then a couple of mayors. Maybe a member of Congress.  A whole truckload of PTA members.  some local businesses. 

Next thing you know you have a good reputation and good things start happening.

1 comment:

Bora Zivkovic said...

She has already agreed last night (on Twitter) to a meetup with local NYC sciencebloggers and writers soon, invited by John Timmer. While her article was really bad, I will not a priori dismiss anyone as uneducable unless and until proven otherwise.