Don Rogers: How to get your news read
June 7, 2018
Too early Tuesday morning, a panel at Good Morning Truckee will sift through information overload and how local organizations can crack through the blizzard.
A former Facebook group administrator will join journalists from broadcast and newsprint for the discussion, which will be moderated by the Truckee Chamber's brand communications manager.
No Russians will be joining us, far as I can tell. Too bad. They know quite a lot about how to reach Americans. We all should be taking notes.
First, forget "authenticity," for all the buzz about millennial attractors. Like sincerity, once you can fake this, you've got it made, as the joke goes. But Wells Fargo, Uber and Facebook have made this lie far more obvious lately. The earnest tremble in the voice and the contrite, candy cane quotes only double down on all the "authentic" hogwash already drowning us. These are commercials, sure, but this is where the research yields the carefully honed message PR flaks will later mimic.
Problem is, the marketers are making the classic mistake of listening to what millennials are saying. This is nonsense. The truth lies not in what anyone says. It's what they do, where they really go, what they pick up and sometimes share. The news people know that much, working with reality as they do.
I'd call this a post-authentic age, except it never existed in the first place, other than as a cool-sounding adjective, a fantasy. Sensation reigns every bit as supreme as it did when Facebook came on line, as it did when fourth-graders got their own smart phones, as it did before Gutenberg came up with this cool new thing called a printing press almost 600 years ago.
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What grabs attention now is the same as what did around the primeval campfire. Lions and tigers and bears, oh my. And did you hear what Mrs. Og's husband did? Get out, no way!
Outrage and sensation flow like filings to the magnet, cat hair to a tux, you and I to click bait even while knowing better. They shut down servers, flood us with cortisol and dopamine, crowd out the everyday news and information we need to be good citizens, yawn.
Crime, horror, catastrophe, sex, scandal, the barest hints of corruption all top the metrics however you count 'em — online traffic, newspapers flying out the box, whatever radio and TV are measuring to know that if it bleeds it leads, period.
Want to get folks to an oh-so-important community meeting? Hint broadly at combat and stark stakes: What's the (always) greedy developer trying to pull over on us now? That works well. Something awful, basically, can't fail to work.
My cynical heart does brighten a tick with the popularity of clumsy bears interacting with people or their stuff, cute kids making a mess of ice cream cones, anything kittens are doing at a particular moment. Not quite a murder or a politician caught in a juicy pickle, but the aww factor is reliably strong.
And just a little further down the scale, there's the inspirational story stretching our capacity for wonder (and may or may not be strictly true). Sometimes those rise into the top views of the day. Local kid conquers Hollywood, plays for the 49ers or Giants, buys Google. Maybe a onetime homeless bum rises to win a Nobel, or an abused and abandoned single mother writes the story of our generation on napkins at a café, able to afford only a cup of coffee she has to make last to stay warm. We love this stuff. Legends of the hero's journey variety always play well.
Information overload is real, of course, there being just so much of it out there and more to the point, so many places to find it. Then again, how often have we heard someone complain how busy they are, only they watch television five hours a day — the average time Americans veg this way. Busy?! Busy doing nuthin' is more like it.
How many of us suffer information "overload" only because we're indulging in pure crap that sucked us in or finding ourselves gorging on social media well beyond checking up on family, old friends and the neighborhood, maybe fueling the gossip on our electrified grapevines with something we heard or thought we heard or flat made up?
How do organizations break through the blizzard? There's an even better example than the Russians.
Yep, I'm talking about President Trump, font of news exhaustion and able to transcend it at the same time. How does he do it? Well, we know exactly how even as we bite again and again. Ironically enough, The New York Times and Washington Post rebuilt their very business models on him.
Hate to be the bearer of bad news. Heh. Heh.
Don Rogers is the publisher of the Sierra Sun and The Union, based in Grass Valley. He can be reached at email@example.com or 530-477-4299.