Monday, September 19, 2011

Leaked AJC, WSB memo reveals marketing strategy which makes us feel a little dirty

Posted By on Mon, Sep 19, 2011 at 2:16 PM

Executives at Cox, the many-tentacled parent company of the AJC, WSB-TV and WSB radio, are most likely throwing staplers at underlings after a memo sent to its reporters detailing how stories should be promoted and presented was leaked.

Local social media guru Grayson Daughters posted the memo — which she says she received from an anonymous source — to Google Docs over the weekend. In it, unnamed higher-ups outline how reporters at Cox properties should share story information and, most importantly, cross-promote the pieces. (Bravo to Daughters for posting the document. We catch hell for criticizing the AJC, which sometimes produces outstanding work. But as metro Atlanta's only daily newspaper, it often sets the media agenda and needs to be scrutinized.) The memo includes this head-scratcher:

"As a rule of thumb, most collaboration efforts will NOT be made known to readers/viewers/listeners. This means we’ll limit credit lines, tease boxes, contributor shout outs, etc., in print and on air."

Huh? Why not disclose this to viewers, listeners and readers? Afraid a certain newspaper's reputation as a lib'rul rag edited by city-dwellin', pointy-headed elitists will turn folks off? Or that they'll get a little depressed when they realize a private conglomerate controls so many media outlets in town? This edict also seems to be a policy reversal from recent months, when the paper took great pains to tout its collaborations with WSB.

Atlanta Progressive News claims, rather sanctimoniously, that the memo represents "a deliberate attempt to influence the perception of readers, viewers, and listeners through insidious cross-marketing techniques." Frankly, some of these strategies aren't that shocking; nor are they anything new. In fact, the Cox subsidiaries have been cross-promoting — using special bold type to tease a radio station merger, for instance — for at least a year. And the paper has made little secret of the fact that, after its newsroom was relocated to Dunwoody, the AJC's "Atlanta bureau" is housed at WSB.

If this strategy is simply designed to give readers, listeners and viewers the same stories spread over three mediums without them knowing it, then it's depressing. (Last we heard from folks inside the company, that wasn't the case, and the team effort is more about sharing resources on select stories. TV will continue to report the usual apartment fires and murder du jour. And radio reporters will stick to the customary brief segments.) The fact that reporters are handling the marketing of these stories, however, is a bit icky. (Grift Drift and commenters touched on the topic last month.)

What's most unfortunate is that Cox, which employs the largest news operations in metro Atlanta, didn't steal a page from the early days of Washington, D.C.'s TBD and — gasp! — acknowledge that other media outlets exist.

One of the many reasons TBD won acclaim from new-media wonks after its mid-2010 launch was because its website covered everything happening in the district, even linking to stories by bloggers and other publications and broadcasts. It appeared to live by the new-media mantra of "cover what you do best and link to the rest."

We do it. So do the Atlanta Business Chronicle, Fulton Daily Report, APN and most blogs. Yet, aside from a few exceptions — Jim Galloway and business articles about CL's bankruptcy and changes in leadership — the AJC, as APN rightly notes, has long made a practice of not crediting other local media outlets, even as it reheats their stories. That's an extremely petty position for the state's largest daily newspaper.

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