Should Investigative Podcasts Be Beholden to Journalistic Norms?

If 2016 was the year when the world finally understood the beauty of podcasts, then 2017 was the year when creators and reporters and storytellers created a lot of great content that was worth sharing through this medium.

Will 2018 be the year when we start to have a discussion around the role podcasts play in our society? I ask because of one podcast I listened to last year that got me thinking about this topic.

That podcast is Up and Vanished.

[Editor’s Note: There be spoilers ahead!]

For the uninformed, Up and Vanished is an investigative podcast about the disappearance of George beauty queen, Tara Grinstead.

Grinstead disappeared from her home in 2005. The presence of host Payne Lindsey in the small town of Ocilla, Georgia (where Grinstead lived) while he recorded the podcast led authorities to re-open the cold case after new evidence came to light. This evidence led to arrests in the case after 12 years of little movement.

Of course, this is great news. It goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway) that bringing a murderer to justice is always an ideal situation. Not only did it bring some peace of mind to Grinstead’s family, but it helped a small town recover from a traumatic experience.

Lindsey, for his part, hit it out of the park when it came to finding a cold case he could investigate. Would you believe he came across it by accident after inquiring about the case on What a stroke of luck.

If Lindsay was a trained journalist, however, I think this podcast would have played out differently.

Lindsay mentioned on more than one occasion that the reason for movement on the case was because of his podcast. If the words didn’t come out of his mouth, he shared recordings of others saying the same thing.

This doesn’t sit well with me.

A trained storyteller would never use a tragedy for personal gain. And while Lindsay’s motivation to tell this story was respectable, the way he inserted himself (and the podcast) into the story was not.  There was too much promotion around how Up and Vanished solved the case.

Will this become “a thing” in 2018? Will the trend of investigative podcasts and cold case solvers eventually give way to criticism of how we tell these stories?

Who knows.

It’s not hard to imagine a scandal where a true crime podcaster plants clues or purposefully withholds information to shift the focus of an investigation to better ratings.

The battle for listeners is a constant one.

It might just be a matter of time before we see a podcaster try to boost downloads by nefarious means.

Photo by William Iven on Unsplash

What’s Wrong With Being A Public Relations Generalist?

There’s a phrase you’ve probably heard that goes like this: “A mile wide and an inch deep.”

According to Urban Dictionary, the phrase is used to describe somebody who seems smart and intelligent at first, but is found to be less-than impressive after you spend time getting to know them.

These folks are perfectly capable of holding their own for a few minutes. But once you start to drill down into their knowledge base, it becomes quite clear they know just enough to be dangerous.

Sadly, I fear that is how a lot of public relations professionals are viewed, and I’ll use myself as an example.

Just over a year ago, I was pitching stories about General Motors fleet vehicles to fleet trades.

When I switched jobs, I focused on stories around the 3D printing of automotive parts and artificial intelligence (along with, seemingly, everybody else in the field.)

When I lost my job at the end of last year, I started working with a new agency where the majority of my clients are in the commercial real estate business.

Fleet vehicles. 3D printing. Commercial real estate.

Can you think of three more disparate industries?

I wouldn’t blame anyone for thinking my expertise on these subjects amounted to me being “a mile wide and an inch deep.”

But the basic tenets of public relations storytelling remain the same, no matter which topics you pitch.

It doesn’t matter if I’m pitching WIRED for a story about artificial intelligence’s impact on manufacturing or the Detroit Free Press for a story about Detroit’s real estate rebirth.

If I can uncover trends and offer experts who can speak to those trends, I’m able to land coverage, even if I don’t have a deep well of knowledge in either subject.

And by keeping tabs on what reporters on specific beats are covering, I can tailor my pitches to their interests.

These are PR tactics that have withstood the test of time, and every public relations practitioners should practice them.

I’ve written before that in order to be helpful to a reporter, you need need to focus on certain activities.

If you weave them into your repertoire, you will be successful, no matter what story you pitch.

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

Good PR Takes Time And Effort

My front lawn needs a lot of work.

It looks passable to the neighbors who fly around the corner in their SUVs and barely give it a second look.

But, to me, it’s the scourge of the neighborhood.

If I look at it from my second-floor bedroom window, the bare spots and green-that-is-not-that-green grass are blatantly obvious.

So, as fall comes around and the temps begin to drop (that will happen eventually), I am committed to making my lawn nicer in preparation for next spring and summer.

That means taking care of the grass already there and planning to have more sprout up next year.

I’ve begun to fertilize on a regular basis, and over-seeded the bare spots so green grass fills the brown and I have a somewhat passable lawn.

From there, I’ll have to put in the work to keep it from falling into disarray again, but I’m pretty confident I can make it better if I pay attention and work upkeep into my schedule.

It’s a process, but it’s a process that will yield visible results.

As I thought about how much work it would take to bring my lawn back to life, I couldn’t help but think that, like a lot of projects we undertake, the work of the public relations professional rests on a consistent drumbeat of activity that pays dividends down the road, but not immediately.

You know, like my lawn.

There are a lot of services that promise immediate results if you pay them enough money. But those results don’t amount to much, other than being picked up by websites that already pick up every release that crosses the wire.

The mark of a true public relations professional lies in their ability to land meaningful coverage for a client; coverage that is born out of consistent and diligent hard work, made possible through regular discussions with the right media, and a knack for finding stories that the general public will care about.

There is a time and place for posting a press release on the wire, but don’t confuse those high numbers with actually moving the needle.

Just like you can’t lay down grass seed and expect blades of grass to pop up overnight, you can’t expect the front page of the New York Times after your first company announcement.

It takes work.

If you take the time to lay out future announcements into a cohesive editorial calendar, and sprinkle in elements of the company story through owned media, you can begin to tell the right story and bring customers and consumers on board.

That steady cadence will do more for your success than a press release blast ever will.

Think of your sod as the story of your company.

That story will shrivel up and die if you send it out into the world and forget about it.

But if you are consistent and smart with how you care for it, the narrative will grow over time, and you’ll find journalists are more interested in what you have to say because you’ve built up the background story over time.

Like I said, if you want your company to be truly revered and looked at as meaningful, you need to nurture it at all times. Don’t ignore it.

Like a good, strong lawn, a company’s story is only as good as the people who care for it.

That’s the value of public relations.