Online News Association 2010 Conference Recap

November 8, 2010

By: Cecile Oreste, Media Relations Specialist, Business Wire/DC

Business Wire Media Relations Specialist Cecile Oreste was among the 1,200 media professionals in attendance at the Online News Association (ONA) 2010 Conference in Washington, DC. Online journalists, educators and students from around the country came to the Renaissance Washington, DC Downtown Hotel Thursday, October 28th through Saturday, October 30th to learn from leaders in the industry, including AOL and NPR among others.

The four day conference started on Thursday with a variety of hands-on workshops including photography, video and audio field trips that shared best practices and techniques. ONA also organized a career summit and job fair featuring recruiters from American Public Media, Associated Press, Bloomberg Government, Gannett and Mashable. Yahoo! News sponsored the opening night reception at The Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture, where attendees took in some local culture in between appetizers and drinks.

TBD, Washington’s hyperlocal news source, started off Friday morning with their keynote session, “Starting from Scratch.” Laura McGann, Assistant Editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab, moderated the discussion between General Manager Jim Brady, Social Media Producer Mandy Jenkins, Director of Community Engagement Steve Buttry and TBD Editor Erik Wemple. During the keynote event, McGann questioned Wemple’s decision to devote prime real estate to TBD.com’s feature “The List.” Wemple’s response generated several tweets and also lots of laughs. He suggested that if you don’t have something terrible on your site, then you’re not trying hard enough. You have to fail many times before you get it right, he said.

Saturday’s sessions began with a keynote discussion about Wikileaks and also featured a lunch with Knight News Challenge winners. Other Saturday sessions included “Turning Bits into Bucks,” which discussed entrepreneurial journalism; and “Ten Tech Trends in ’10″ with Amy Webb, CEO of Webbmedia Group, an international digital media consulting firm that advises companies on emerging technology. In addition, Webb is on the Board of Directors for ONA and will serve as Chair of the association’s new Advisory Board.

Some of the trends Webb discussed during her session included the 2011 tablets coming to market and mobile image scanning (QR codes). According to Webb, these two topics, along with open source technology and design, were major themes throughout the conference. “Lots of journalists are eager to use web tools to enhance the work they do, and there were many opportunities this year to learn all about the latest offerings,” she said.

Tanja Aitamurto, Innovation Journalism Fellow at Stanford and blogger for The Huffington Post, said the conference provided insight on new production and business models in journalism, and also introduced the idea of journalism as only one of many products media organizations offer. She brought up a positive message presented by Evan Smith of the Texas Tribune during the “Fund My Media 2.0″ session on Thursday. According to Smith, there is still need for high-quality journalism; and where there is demand, there will be ways to produce and fund it. Aitamurto also added that in order for journalism to succeed in the future, “innovation, open mindedness and experiments are very much needed.”

The conference concluded Saturday night with the Online Journalism Awards Banquet. Hari Sreenivasan of PBS NewsHour brought the laughs as the master of ceremonies while MSNBC.com, NPR, ProPublica and CNN.com took home top honors.

Overall, the conference was a great opportunity to learn from and network with online journalism professionals. It also maintained a positive outlook on the future of journalism during a time when news organizations face a number of challenges. For more information about the Online News Association, please visit their website at www.journalists.org.


Consider Daylight Savings Time When Sending Press Releases This Weekend

November 5, 2010
Most areas of the United States are “falling back” an hour at 2 a.m. local time on Sunday, November 7.   Please make note should you be distributing  news releases this weekend.
 
Here’s a great reference to see which geographic locations change when.  For those sending press releases to Business Wire this weekend, no worries.   The time zones in our Business Wire interface update automatically to reflect relevant changes on Sunday.
 
Also keep in mind that daylight savings time has already ended in Europe.   As of Sunday London will once again be five hours ahead of eastern standard time and Paris will be six hours ahead.
Enjoy your 25-hour day!
 
 

Microsoft Needs To Get its Head Out of the Cloud When it Comes to Disclosure

November 3, 2010

by Cathy Baron Tamraz, Chairman & Chief Executive Officer, Business Wire

Cathy Baron Tamraz

BW Chairman & CEO Cathy Baron Tamraz

Records are meant to be broken. Rules, on the other hand, aren’t.

And when those rules have a direct impact on both the fairness and workings of our financial markets, then an even higher standard of accountability is in order.

Unfortunately, it is becoming apparent that Regulation Fair Disclosure — which the SEC originally conceived to provide ALL investors with a level playing field — is something of a misnomer. “Request Fair Disclosure” or “Regulation Flex Disclosure” would seem to be more appropriate rubrics, as issuers who fail to meet Reg FD’s compliance standards continue to go unchallenged.

This troubling situation raises the obvious question: If rules aren’t enforced, then what is the purpose of having them in the first place?

The latest disclosure debacle involves Microsoft, which abruptly notified the market of its shift to a web-disclosure model. The company posted its earnings online, without benefit of a corresponding broadly disseminated release.

Microsoft’s ill-fated foray into web-based disclosure provides a textbook example of “worst practices” investor relations.

The company issued an advisory on October 27, 2010, alerting the marketplace that it would post its earnings on its website the next day. No time was specified as to when the results would be posted.

Microsoft’s disclosure strategy is problematic on many substantive levels. The SEC’s 2008 Interpretive Guidance Release states that companies can disclose material information on their web sites provided certain criteria are satisfied; a key requirement is that the corporate website is a “recognized disclosure channel.”  This standard suggests that the issuer must be able to demonstrate that its website is a primary “go-to” site for investor information, over a sustained period of time.

Given the fact that Microsoft literally made the transition to web disclosure overnight, it makes a sham of one of the SEC’s few tangible web-disclosure guidelines. Unfortunately, there aren’t all that many requirements to begin with, which is the crux of the problem.

Clearly, Microsoft has one of the most heavily trafficked sites on the Internet. However, there isn’t necessarily a correlation between a popular consumer site, and a “recognized disclosure channel.”  By my way of thinking, “recognized” suggests a documented and defensible track record over an extended time frame.

Microsoft’s arbitrary disclosure designation has short-circuited the SEC’s intent, giving the clause new meaning. The unwelcome result: Instant disclosure channel. The SEC’s Interpretive Guidance Release, already condemned by its critics for its lack of clarity, has effectively been watered down further by Microsoft’s unanswered actions.

Philosophical arguments aside, Microsoft’s disclosure process was  badly bungled.

Here’s a chronology of the confusion (all times Eastern):

  • Investors were frantically scrambling to get the results at market close; the results weren’t posted until 4:15 pm. That’s 15 minutes of high anxiety, angst and frustration as investors pounded the Microsoft site seeking the company’s results.
  • The 8-K wasn’t filed until 4:28:49 p.m.
  • The advisory press release finally moved almost a half-hour after the posting [4:44 p.m.], thus the Notice came AFTER the Access.
  • The conference call was held at 5:30 p.m.

Without question, it was a disclosure disaster.

As noted, the 8-K was filed 13 minutes after the posting on Microsoft’s website. Our interpretation of Reg FD is that the filing should have preceded, or been filed simultaneously, with the web posting.

In a Dow Jones interview published in The Wall Street Journal, a Microsoft IR team member revealed a basic lack of understanding of what services are available today, as well as a blatant disregard for investor relations’ core mission.

The Microsoft spokesperson asserted that posting onto the company’s website allowed users to “see additional information that they wouldn’t see if they only looked at our press release.”

Definitely not true. Releases today are transmitted in XHTML format, which provides for increased online functionality and flexibility. Business Wire, for example, has all of the rich multimedia capabilities that Microsoft was seeking to accomplish on its own site; e.g., slides detailing the company’s performance, key operating metrics, and links to webcasts and other documents.

The major difference, however, is that Business Wire makes this information available to the entire investment community simultaneously, and in real-time. Business Wire’s patented news delivery platform distributes and posts to the world’s leading portals, financial information platforms, and databases, creating a true level playing field for all market participants. We literally push the information to millions of eyeballs around the globe,  and everyone receives it AT THE SAME TIME.  Yes, it’s ubiquitous.

In rationalizing the company’s decision, the Microsoft executive focused on the benefit of a reduced staff workload, concluding “it’s one less check mark.”

The critical lesson that has been lost here is that when it comes to investor relations, it’s not about the issuer, it’s about the shareholders. It’s unfortunate and inexcusable that the legitimate  information needs of the marketplace are deliberately being sacrificed simply because they require an extra “check mark.”  It’s a small price to pay, in our view, for market fairness.

Web disclosure clearly has major drawbacks; its obvious deficiencies disadvantage investors in multiple ways. Seasoned market observers shudder when imagining the ensuing anarchy if hundreds, or thousands, of issuers choose to follow Microsoft’s misguided example.

At a time when there continues to be a growing global demand for increased transparency and disclosure, Reg FD —  the backbone of America’s disclosure system — is unfortunately being emasculated because of benign neglect and gross misinterpretation. The SEC needs to take decisive action reaffirming the basic tenets of Reg FD; otherwise, the concept of full and fair disclosure will prove to be more of an empty premise rather than an enduring, guiding principle that has proudly come to define our capital markets.

The facts speak for themselves: The SEC should take appropriate action to reverse these disturbing disclosure trends. The evidence supporting such a move is overwhelming.

Authoritative academic research conducted by a professor at the Harvard Business School has conclusively demonstrated that greater news dissemination improves stock liquidity and lowers volatility, while enhancing a firm’s visibility. It can even lower the cost of capital.

Independent surveys confirm that an overwhelming majority of securities attorneys continue to counsel corporate clients to broadly disseminate their news, rather than limiting distribution to a corporate website.

There’s a large investor in Omaha who doesn’t want to be checking hundreds of websites minute-by-minute throughout the day. But then again, who would?


PR Peeps Poll: 43 Percent Cite Driving Traffic as Primary Objective in Optimizing Press Releases

November 3, 2010

by Monika Maeckle, Vice President New Media

When it comes to optimizing press releases for search engines, most PR Peeps do it to drive traffic to their websites, the October PR Peeps Poll found.  Of 240 polled, 103–that is, 43%–cited driving traffic as their primary goal in applying search engine optimization (SEO) techniques to their press releases.

Standard SEO techniques for press releases include working keywords into the headline and lead, providing deep links to your web site, adding multimedia such as logos, photos, or video, and keeping the headline under 70 characters so it is most likely to be indexed by Google news.

The poll results are not surprising given that the objective of most press releases is to tell the story of the issuer.  One of the best ways to do that is to lure people to your website so they can hear your organization’s story in your organization’s words–full text, unedited, unfiltered by journalists, bloggers or others.

The second most common reason cited for optimizing press release for search engines was to “influence Google search engine results” with 69 votes, or 29%.   Shortly behind was “manage reputation” with 36 votes, or 15%, followed by 25 respondents who don’t optimize their press releases for search engines (10%) and 7 respondents pegging “generate link clicks” as their main objective in applying SEO tactics to press releases.

The poll was conducted throughout the month of October through Twitter, Facebook, email and Business Wire’s webinars.   Details below:

What is your primary objective in optimizing your press release for search engines?

103, or 43%–Drive traffic to our website

69, or 29%–Influence Google search engine results

36, or 15%–Manage our brand and reputation

25, or 10%–I don’t optimize my press releases for search engines

7, or 3%   —  Generate link clicks

To those who participated, thanks for taking the PR Peeps Poll.   How about helping us with the next one?  The November poll launches today.   What is your company’s preferred form of social media outreach?

Thanks for the help.

240 respondents via Twitter, email and Business Wire webinar polls. Poll conducted  October 1 – 31, 2010.


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