Thursday, August 25, 2011

The social media brain trust at the Tennessean to "collaborate" with Seigenthaler PR on a new project designed to cherry pick legit community voices

A brainstorm: the scene inside Tennessean's social media
office as they attempt to reanimate the body of journalism
The Tennessean decision makers, obviously dissatisfied with the noble goals of the Fourth Estate, have decided to try to be an arbiter to determine which voices in Nashville are more legit than others. They are introducing an online initiative called "Brainstorm Nashville," which they describe as "a collaborative space for the community to brainstorm ideas for solving community problems". It is worth asking whether a top-heavy, hierarchical corporation can create a "collaborative space" (which assumes that all Nashvillians have the money to have access to the newspaper's space to collaborate).

But it is also worth pointing out that this looks like another excuse to continue to pass over the voices that are already being expressed around Nashville, in community meetings, in neighborhood elists and newsletters, and on local blogs. Local news media has constantly failed to get the potential of social media and of local blogging for reporting. "Brainstorm Nashville" looks like another attempt to put new wine in old wine skins. It seems to me to be an attempt to throw the weight of the corporate media behind some local voices friendly to Gannett projects while ignoring dissent beyond the "storm."

Consider a question posed on construction of the new convention center on a mocked up Brainstorm page at the document-sharing Scribd website. The social media mavens failed to disclose that their company donated $15,000 to selling the construction project to the public at the same time that they were supposed to be reporting objectively on it. But they went ahead and wrote a leading question that looks like it assumes the validity of buying into the convention center: "Is it worth $585M ...? If not, what is?" The implication: critics are expected to come up with some other bright idea for spending more money than has ever been spent on one project in the history of Metro government.

"Gripes or rants" not welcome; flackery approved.

I noticed on Twitter today that members of the Tennessean social media group had lunch at Seigenthaler PR to discuss Brainstorm Nashville with PR flacks and to "springboard to more collaboration." Well, what a coincidence. It wasn't too long ago that another PR firm was coaching another Tennessean employee and having telephone "conversations" with the paper's local beat reporter about how to brand the convention center. And Seigenthaler PR itself had participated in the selling of Music City Center.

I cannot wait to see leading questions on other issues springboard out of the collaboration. The question of whether the Music City Center will benefit all of Nashville is still open, but in their unabashed promotion of the project the Gannett family and their collaborators obviously have already decided the question for the rest of us, regardless of budget overages, regardless of the drain on Metro services.

This congenital coziness that corporate media has with corporate PR firms on questions of local governance is repulsive given that journos are supposed to offer intrepid disclosure and analysis as a check on power. Brainstorm Nashville (Twitter hastag: #BrainstormNashville) seems like a further attempt to manage dissent and cherry pick community voices rather than critically reporting the news that journalists are supposed to. The paper's social mediarites claim to be getting past community "gripes or rants," but they embrace mercenary flackery instead? The privileged voices in this venture will be those who echo the dominant PR talking points on the issue du jour.

Brainstorm Nashville managers claim to give you a voice you might not otherwise have, but don't buy a bill of goods. Social media, including blogging, remains a somewhat open, independent element that does not require the Tennessean's Brainstorm or their social media brain trust to get the word out and to try to eke out a little influence on public policy and local developments.

1 comment:

  1. Sad thing is, half of this brain-trust will be ditzy, fake blondes, freshly minted from college, who make $18,999.99 per year. el