“I have seen the enemy, and he is us.”

I’ve come to an interesting conclusion today about why media companies are so afraid of really interacting with their audiences, and it relates to this wonderful observation from Pogo.

Take a look at the comments to WKRN-TV General Manager Mike Sechrist’s post about making sweeping anchor changes at the station. As best I can tell, Mike is the only GM of a commercial broadcast station that maintains an active blog, so when the station made these changes, Mike felt compelled to post them. The reaction has been fascinating from an observational perspective and revealing about media in general.

Since Mike is the only GM with a blog, it gets a lot of attention from the world of local TV news. After the announcements Friday, FTV Live, a popular industry insider Webzine, posted a story about it. This spread the word, and soon Mike’s blog entry was being read everywhere.

Now, when you’ve been a third-place station for as long as WKRN has been, a lot of people come and go, and those who go leave with opinions about what they’d do if they were in charge. Many of those people didn’t leave on their own, and their opinions are even more harsh, and it’s clear when reading the comments to Mike’s blog entry that many of them come from disgruntled former employees. Add to that the fact that some of them still live in the community, and you can see why an announcement of anchor changes brings out the worst in them. Add to this the opportunity that competitors have to stick it to the GM, and you’ll understand why many of these comments must be taken with a grain of salt.

WKRN has built a solid reputation with local bloggers, and the blogosphere’s reaction has been much different. In fact, some of them are asking where all the vitriol is coming from. They don’t understand the business — and the people IN the business — which brings me back to my opening statement.

I believe media companies are afraid of interacting with their audiences, because they (mistakenly) believe that their audiences are made up of people just like them — resentful, mean spirited, backbiting, hostile egomaniacs with inferiority complexes who, if given the opportunity, will spout their opinions without regard or respect for anyone but themselves.

This is why I love the blogosphere so dearly, because the experience here is so different. Here, respect comes from a mutually-shared experience (blogging) and, I believe, a more realistic view of human nature. If you blog, you are respected until you give a reason to not be respected, and isn’t that a great way to get to know people? We used to call that “the benefit of the doubt,” but that’s apparently been lost in a media culture that looks first to find reasons to doubt before opening the door of acceptance.

We’ve truly entered the era of the “audience is your enemy,” and that’s pretty sad.

(NOTE: WKRN-TV is a client.)

Comments

  1. Some people will read the comments in Mike’s blog post and conclude they are proof it’s a bad idea to give viewers a voice. And it’s no wonder. Nobody likes negative publicity.

    But it is exactly situations like this anchor change that prove his blog is a useful and positive means of communicating with the public.

    Being transparent with the decision-making process through a blog allows Mike to diffuse a lot of negativity.

    He may never convert the crackpots and disgruntled former employees. But still, he can expose their extreme views simply by remaining rational and open.

    And for the rest of the audience, or at least the ones that give a flip about this issue, he’s proving he doesn’t make decisions with the aid of a dart board. He’s demonstrating that such decisions aren’t easy to make but are done with the interest of the viewer in mind.

    Is that really such a difficult concept to understand?

  2. Sounds like Mike’s learned a very valuable lesson–the blogosphere and the people who participate in it are great. But many of the people who simply leave comments really can’t be trusted. It’s also a lesson I learned back in January when I was excoriated by a bunch of anonymous (possible astroturfers) commenters for having an opinion that did not support a particular feminist darling. My sense, though, is that if people really want their comments to be taken seriously, they’re going to have to get transparent. People can’t expect companies to be transparent if they aren’t willing to do the same.

  3. Soap opera fans are a whole other animal. I used to work for an NBC O+O and we had one very enthusiastic soap fan we referred to as “the screamer”, as that’s all she did- yell into the phone about the plot to Days of Our Lives. There are more where she comes from.

    I think you make an interesting point bout the blogosphere- there does seem to be less nasty feedback. Criticism seems to be more “here’s my opinion and here’s why yours is wrong.”

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