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Bloggers, not mainstream media, broke the news on Parker’s mayoral campaign

Targeting undecided voters through social media and blogs was a key to Houston mayor Annise Parker’s successful political campaign last year, said campaign manager Adam Harris, who claimed that the mainstream news media didn’t cover the issues as much as he expected.

For instance, Harris organized a press conference to announce Parker’s Hire Houston First proposal, an economic plan to ensure that jobs funded by local tax dollars go to Houstonians first. Harris said that only KIAH-TV Channel 39 attended.

“The (Houston) Chronicle would not write about it so we went to the blogs,” he remarked. Key blogs covering the campaign were Off the Kuff, Muse Musings, Greg’s Opinion, Dos Centavos and Bay Area Houston.

Harris explained that mainstream media outlets with reduced staffs are relying on blogs to pick up breaking news. The targeted blogs posted news and commentary on the Hire Houston First initiative and influenced the way mainstream media covered that issue. Harris said that research showed that any one of the blog sites received 200 hits a day from Parker’s target audience.

Last July, every campaign released fund raising totals showcasing how much their candidates raised, spent and had in reserves. Before going to traditional media outlets, Harris invited bloggers to a luncheon to announce campaign finances, provide talking points and answer questions. The David Ortez blog and others posted news on Parker’s “impressive” fundraising totals. Traditional media followed.

Harris said that campaign staffers figured that Parker’s Web site would pull in 300 to 400 hits a day in traffic but did not advertise the site. Instead, they concentrated on pushing out the message through Facebook and Twitter. In May, Parker posted a link on Facebook to a short video on YouTube explaining her Hire Houston First policy.

Harris said that traditional media sources, such as TV and radio, don’t offer fine segmentation of audiences now but “cable (broadcasting) is coming where you will be able to target three of five houses in a block.”

The Parker grassroots campaign also contacted undecided voters and veins of Democrats in Republican areas through a door-knocking campaign. Database research where consumer information is merged with voter files guided campaign staffers in identifying key neighborhoods and households for door knocking and phone calling.

Harris said that he used a phone bank system developed by telemarketers in 2007 where live calls go through a computer. The system notifies available volunteers with beeps to pick up the phone lines and talk to live voters. That eliminates time spent dialing or listening to phone rings or recorded messages while maximizing talking time.

“In the old days, I hated phone calling, but now it’s a new world,” said Harris.

He made his remarks at the PRSA Houston luncheon on Feb. 3. The next luncheon is Wednesday, March 3. For more information, go to http://www.prsahouston.org/en/cev/545.

— Mike Wysatta, PRSA Houston board member

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Daily newspapers: Dead, dying or just digitizing?

The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated, author Mark Twain quipped after his obituary was published.  Fast forward more than 100 years and actor Jeff Goldblum responded with the same sound bite to deny an erroneous tweet from delicioushair about his reported fatal accident.

Like people, industries and their products also bite the big one.  Certainly, for the most part, the only place that typewriters still tap and pagers still beep is in the great scrapheap in the sky.  While obits on those industries and their products are accurate, is the death knell for the newspaper industry premature?  Is it time to just add maggots?

Some blogs are pulling the plug.  Newspaper Death Watch is a popular blog chronicling the decline of newspapers.  So is blog PoynterOnline.

This year, The Public Relations Strategist magazine of the Public Relations Society of America published a doomsday article, “Farewell to the “mass media,” stating that the top 10 daily newspapers had lost 700,000 subscribers over the most recent six months.  At the PRSA annual meeting last year, “technology journalist” Paul Gillin declared, “Mass media is going away.  It’s not coming back.”

Now that’s extreme.  The Media Audit reported that 42 daily newspapers in the U.S. boosted cume readership over the last seven years.  Cume is short for the cumulative, unduplicated net readership over period of time.  Our local daily, the Houston Chronicle, grew 6 percent over that time, according to the study.  Other major dailies in Texas also gained readership with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram posting 13 percent growth and Austin American-Statesman at 10 percent.

The ghouls have not ruled out that newspapers will somehow pull out of the death spiral by reinventing themselves.  Industry insider and Editor & Publisher magazine columnist Steve Outing, said, “Digital is the future.”  He discourages retooling of print editions, which are so thin now, some pet bird owners say they no longer make good cage liners.  “Don’t bother chasing young people.  …They are sitting with their laptops or tapping on their smart phones,” said Outing.

Like other major dailies, the Houston Chronicle is attempting to appeal to the digitally inclined, which incidentally includes a large, fast-growing segment of geezers.  I peruse the print edition but also read breaking stories on my cell phone at mobile.chron.com.  The Chronicle also offers a free Web-based edition and subscription-based full digital editions through third party PressDisplay.  Other Web 2.0 media include SMS text messaging, various blogs and RSS and Twitter feeds.  Perhaps next to come are investigative exposés in 140-word tweets.

For major dailies, it’s not business as usual.  A look at the Chronicle’s robust job listings in a down job market is revealing.  The newspaper needs an ad solutions associate to support the digital sales team, multi-media sales rep to identify digital revenue opportunities, computer-assisted reporter to make Web information available to staff, channel producer to manage an online site for the religious community and digital account manager to develop online advertising and engage with national digital agencies.

Major dailies aren’t dead at least yet.  The question is whether their digital editions can pull in subscription and single-copy sales and ad revenue.  If few are willing to pay for online content, then I see delicioushair in my future for my news.  By the way, Britney Spears is alive.  Or at least she was the last time I checked.

Contributed by Mike Wysatta, business development manager at Ryder Scott.

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