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Enhancing Social Capital Between Journalists and Public Relations Practitioners? The Social Media News Release Uncovered

An Honors Thesis Submitted In Partial Fulfillment of the Elon University Honors Program

By Sara Kathryn Portoghese May, 2009

Approved by: ____________________________________ Barbara Miller, Thesis Mentor ____________________________________ Lee Bush, Communications (Reader) ____________________________________ Kenn Gaither, Communications (Reader)


The Social Media News Release Uncovered ii Abstract One of the most common media relations tactics used in public relations is the news release. Traditionally, news releases have been written in document form and submitted to the media, most recently via email. Of course, new technologies are changing all facets of communication, and public relations is no different. This research examines the social media news release (SMNR), an evolution of the traditional news release that incorporates many of the tools of new media into its format to make the information more readily accessible to journalists and media organizations. Considering a fundamental goal in public relations involves building and maintaining relationships with key publics (including the news media), this study examined whether the SMNR is an effective relationship-building tool between journalists and public relations practitioners. Social capital theory, which has been used to describe public relations’ ability to form and maintain relationships to achieve organizational goals, was applied as an analytic induction tool. Many journalists and practitioners felt that the SMNR was an effective tool that could be used to communicate information. The features of the SMNR are especially appropriate for communicating with non-traditional media creators. The interactive tools of the SMNR make it more appealing to bloggers and online journalists since it has much more opportunity for interactivity. Similarly, the SMNR lends itself to the creation of social connections for communicating and information sharing with a whole new audience of new media creators and users. Thus, the SMNR has potential for creating and maintaining relationships between online journalists and bloggers.


The Social Media News Release Uncovered iii Table of Contents Abstract............................................................................................................................... ii Acknowledgements ............................................................................................................iv Introduction .........................................................................................................................1 Literature Review ................................................................................................................2 Purpose and Research Questions.......................................................................................12 Method...............................................................................................................................13 Findings .............................................................................................................................17 Discussion..........................................................................................................................37 Limitations and Suggestions for Future Research.............................................................47 Conclusions and Implications............................................................................................49 Figure 1. Perceptions of the SMNR as a Relationship-Building Tool .............................51 Appendix 1. SMNR Template ...........................................................................................52 Appendix 2. Interviewer’s Guide ......................................................................................53 References .........................................................................................................................54


The Social Media News Release Uncovered iv Acknowledgements

I would like to thank everyone who helped me accomplish this project, especially Barbara Miller, my thesis mentor. This is dedicated to her because Dr. Miller has put so much time and effort to this project. Her guidance has not only helped me complete this thesis but also helped me grow as an individual and develop a newfound confidence in myself. Her concern for my professional and personal growth has truly had a profound impact on me.

I would also like to thank my family for their support, especially my mom who helped me throughout this entire process, and Matt, who always supported and encouraged me.

The completion of this thesis marks the end of a two-year project. I would especially like to thank Elon University, the Elon University Honors Program, Elon University Undergraduate Research, and the School of Communications.


The Social Media News Release Uncovered 1 Introduction Public relations is the process of building and maintaining relationships with key publics. Media relations is a common tactic used in public relations and involves efforts by public relations practitioners to provide information on behalf of an organization to the media in an effort to ultimately reach targeted publics (Turk, 1986). Public relations information disseminated via the media suggests a level of credibility that paid advertising does not (e.g. Smith, 2005; Gandy 1982). Unlike paid advertising, information disseminated via the media appears more credible because it appears to be unbiased and the audience is unaware of the source. One tool that is commonly used to help communicate information and build relationships with key publics via the media is the news release, which is designed and distributed to generate news coverage based on the content of the release. Traditionally, news releases have been written in document form and submitted to the media- initially via hard copy, later via fax, and most recently via email. This study investigates how recent changes in the format and distribution method of news releases have affected the relationship between public relations practitioners and journalists. The social media news release (SMNR), an evolution of the traditional news release, incorporates many of the tools of new media (such as RSS and links to photos, graphics, videos and blogs) to make the information more readily accessible to journalists and media organizations. Considering a fundamental goal in public relations involves building and maintaining relationships with key publics (including the news media), this study examines whether the SMNR is an effective relationship-building tool between journalists and public relations practitioners.


The Social Media News Release Uncovered 2 Literature Review In his 1982 book, Rhetorical and Critical Approaches to Public Relations, Oscar Gandy discussed how modern public relations plays a pivotal role in influencing the actions of others by providing access to information at a reduced cost to the journalist or media organization (Gandy, 1982). He coined the term information subsidy to describe public relations tactics that provide information to the media but also serve the interests of an organization or business. Examples of public relations information subsidies include news releases, public service announcements (PSAs), video news releases (VNRs), editorials, and news conferences, just to name a few. While the public relations professional hopes to advance the interest of a specific organization or issue, the information provided also reduces the time and financial cost of the newsgathering process (Kiousis, et al, 2006; Curtin, 1999). This process of shaping the media’s agenda through information subsidies is often referred to as agenda building (Turk, 1986; Ohl et al, 1995; Kiousis, et al, 2006; etc.). Agenda building stems, to some degree, from traditional conceptualizations of agenda setting. Agenda setting theory states that the heightened salience of issues presented in the media will ultimately influence what issues are most salient with the public (McCombs & Shaw, 1972). Research in agenda building extends into investigations of who – or what – is influencing the media’s agenda. Public relations agenda building occurs when organizations attempt to use the media as a way of informing or influencing their key publics about a particular topic through the use of information subsidies, as they are made consistently and readily available to the media (Turk, 1986; Kiousis, et al, 2006; Ohl, et al, 1995; Cassara, 1998). Thus, external sources,


The Social Media News Release Uncovered 3 such as news releases, have the potential power to shape what becomes news, thereby ultimately influencing the public, perhaps even public opinion, on a given topic or organization (Curtin, 1999). It is important to note, however, that the relationship between public relations practitioners and journalists is not “unidirectional” and news content is ultimately a reflection of the interaction between the two groups (Kiousis, Popescu, & Mitrook, 2007). Journalists decide what is newsworthy based on journalistic conventions such as timeliness, oddity/conflict, prominence, and significance (Marsh, Guth, & Short, 2005). News releases that adhere to traditional journalistic values, such as newsworthiness and journalistic style, are more likely to be published by news organizations (Curtin, 1999; Turk, 1986). In a study of state government public information officers involved in information subsidy activities among a group of daily newspapers, for example, Turk (1986) found that newsworthiness was the deciding factor used by journalists in determining whether or not to use information supplied to them by public relations practitioners. In fact, 86 percent of information subsidies were rejected when the journalist did not view it as newsworthy (Turk, 1986). Further, a study of editors’ perceptions of the use of public relations information subsides suggested that if subsidized information served a public information function, the material could potentially pass unimpeded through gatekeepers providing it contained news value and was written in news style (Curtin, 1999). In practical terms, this underscores how public relations practitioners rely on media gatekeepers, who ultimately either disseminate – or dismiss – their message.


The Social Media News Release Uncovered 4 Public Relations and New Media Strategic public relations requires that practitioners be aware of how to best communicate with the public and choose the most appropriate medium for the message to be effective (Grunig, 1990). One model of public relations that is well suited for strategic public relations (public relations that is strongly rooted in research and seeks to engage targeted publics) is the two-way symmetrical model since it is dialogic in nature (Grunig, 1990). The two-way symmetrical model seeks to balance the interests of the organization with the interests of its publics. Furthermore, this model also proposes practitioners engage targeted publics in a conversation, thus providing the opportunity for a dialogue to emerge (e.g. Dozier, Grunig, & Grunig, 1995; Grunig & Grunig, 1992; Grunig et al., 1992). In order to facilitate this dialogue, it is first necessary to segment these publics into more homogenous subsets for determining the best channels and mediums for reaching them (Rawlins, 2006). Rawlins (2006) identified journalists and the media, which has the ability to pass information on to priority publics, as a key intervening public and suggested they were critical to the overall success of a communication strategy. New developments in communication technology are crucial to the idea of strategic public relations. Although traditional media channels are still vital in disseminating information, new technological advances are changing the way in which information is developed, communicated, transmitted, and received (Hazelton, HarrisonRexrode, & Kennan, 2007). Websites, for examples, are now a valuable resource for distributing public relations information to the media (Pavlik, 2000; Ku, Kaid, & Pfau, 2003). For example, Ku, Kaid and Pfau (2003) suggested that political candidates’


The Social Media News Release Uncovered 5 websites in the 1996 presidential election had a significant agenda-setting influence on both the media and the public. In other words, content on the candidates’ websites influenced what news was reported about the candidates during the election. New media users tend to be active rather than passive participants in that they do not simply read information; instead, they engage in the news process by becoming a cocreator of the news and a selector of information (Hazelton, Harrison-Rexrode, & Kennan, 2007). Thus, the term audience is no longer as applicable as the term user since the public is now more likely to use new media technologies for their personal benefit. One direct result of the promulgation of new media is the diminishing use of widespread traditional advertising due to the dissolution of general audiences. Public relations practitioners must now be more strategic in relationship building with key publics, including developing improved ways for communicating with publics (Grunig, 1990). New media, including social media, offers an opportunity for strategic public relations in that it allows for more collaborative relationships to exist between an organization and its targeted publics (Kelleher & Miller, 2006). The term social media was initially used to describe the interactive nature of blogs; however, some researchers equate the term with any technology that is interactive in nature including email, instant messaging, blogs, social networking sites, cell phones, podcasting, online video, virtual worlds, wikis, and photo sharing (Gillin, 2008; Hazelton, Harrison-Rexrode, & Kennan, 2007). Others, meanwhile, have defined social media as media that allows anyone to “comment, create, and add to content” and it can take the form of “text, audio, video, images, and communities” (Scott, 2007, p. 64) These tools have increased the ways in which public relations practitioners can disseminate information and interact with target


The Social Media News Release Uncovered 6 publics, transforming audiences into users and allowing for a more interactive communication process. Journalism and New Media Technology has long influenced journalism – from the invention of the penny press to the introduction of the World Wide Web. In today’s digital environment, information can be obtained faster than ever before. Interviews are being conducted via email and webcams, and journalists are now going online to obtain story ideas. In fact, by 1999, over 90 percent of journalists relied on the Internet to gather news and over 90 percent of newsrooms had their own web sites (Johnson & Kelly, 2003). Fewer people are being asked to produce more content for both the print and online newspaper versions. The convergence among media has increased the demand for “interactive digital media technologies such as video, audio, and animation, also known as rich media content” (Huang, 2007, p. 85). Hence, the growth of online journalism has drastically increased the need for information. In addition to the increased need for more information, economic pressures on news organizations also demand that information be gathered in a cost efficient manner, subsequently changing the driving force behind the news process. Pressures on the media have caused owners, publishers, and editors to adopt business norms instead of journalistic norms thereby allowing advertisers and stakeholders, as investors in the news organization, to drive the news process. McManus (1994) referred to this process as market-driven journalism, which redefined the news as a product, viewers and readers as customers, and the circulation area or signal area as a market (McManus, 1994, p.1). According to McManus, investors, advertisers, sources, and consumers drive news


The Social Media News Release Uncovered 7 production, and what does and does not become news is influenced by these four markets (McManus, 1994; Curtin, 1999; Cohen, 2002). McManus predicted that new media technologies would change the way in which information flowed from the producer to the consumer and would alter the news environment in a drastic manner. This can be seen most clearly in the demand for constant information. News departments “seek information that will interest and/or inform consumers at little or no cost. The greater the volume and quality of such information a source controls at a given cost, the greater the motivation of reporters to use that source� (McManus, 1994, p. 30). Despite access to the Internet and the ability to conduct research at a faster rate, journalists still rely heavily on news releases due to economic pressures (Curtin, 1999; McManus, 1994) and the fact that most journalists now have to produce content for both the print and online versions of the news (Huang, 2007). A recent national survey of 12,337 editors and journalists found that submissions from public relations practitioners are used by more than 94% of journalists and editors (Arno, 2009). The Social Media News Release Technological changes and advances in new media coupled with the growing pressures of market-driven journalism have likely contributed to the reciprocal exchange between journalists and public relations practitioners. While the media depend on public relations practitioners for information, public relations practitioners depend on the media to disseminate organizational information to stakeholders, thereby situating the journalist gatekeeper as an initial target audience. With the introduction of a variety of social media tools, practitioners are now able to share a wider variety of information and information formats with the news media and targeted journalists.


The Social Media News Release Uncovered 8 Of course, as with most communication strategies, the news releases is changing and is being altered to include links to websites, photos, videos and other tools that can enhance a news story. The social media news release (SMNR) is an adaptation of the traditional news release that seeks to utilize new media technologies in order to provide a wide variety of information to the media. The SMNR was originally developed in 2006 by SHIFT Communications in order to better supply journalists with access to more information than the traditional news release provided (Shift Communications, 2006). The SMNR incorporates rich media content, including video clips and other interactive digital media, (Huang, 2007) as well as access to new media tools, including RSS feeds, blogs, podcasts, video, etc., into its format to make the information more readily accessible to journalists and bloggers. Thus, social media has changed the news release from a one-dimensional, media relations tool to a multi-dimensional tool that engages the reader and encourages two-way communication (Croft, 2008), promoting “voices, along with content, in a way that focuses on people and their social networks” (Solis, 2008). (See Appendix 1.) In regard to distribution, the SMNR, ideally would be viewed in the body of an email. It could be embedded using HTML, and/or the SMNR could also be hosted somewhere on the web. The SMNR would not be sent as an attachment since attachments are typically large in file size and can clog up a journalist’s email inbox. The SMNR incorporates social media tools such as del.ic.ious, Technorati, Digg. The inclusion of these tools allow the reader to share the information in the news release with a wider audience since the reader decides whether or not to submit the release to these social media sites. The SMNR, however, does still incorporate some of the


The Social Media News Release Uncovered 9 traditional elements of the news release into its format but it takes a different approach to conveying information. Core facts are still included but the information is broken down into bullet points instead of written paragraph form. Quotes are also still included but not within a narrative body; rather, a whole section is devoted to relevant quotes. While little scholarly research currently exists on the SMNR, it is a topic that is being discussed in trade publications and the blogosphere. Practitioners and journalists are posting blogs in online forums to share their personal thoughts on the SMNR, its applications, and the affect it will have on communication between public relations practitioners, journalists, and other key publics. For example, Brian Solis, principal of FutureWorks, an award-winning public relations and new media agency, regularly blogs about how and why SMNRs should be used regularly. As a co-founder of the Social Media Club and a founding member of the Media 2.0 Workgroup, Solis is considered an authority on social media and the SMNR. According to Solis (2008), “Social Media Releases may look similar to today’s multimedia releases in format, structure and design, but depending on a series of factors, they have the ability to open up dialogue in a way not possible with traditional or multimedia releases.” Social Capital Theory and the SMNR One theory particularly applicable to understanding how new media, including the SMNR, are influencing the ways public relations practitioners create, maintain and utilize relationships with targeted journalists is social capital theory (Hazelton, HarrisonRexrode, & Kennan, 2007). The theoretical framework of social capital is important for public relations practitioners to understand since the way in which relationships are being


The Social Media News Release Uncovered 10 created is changing. Since social capital is essential in achieving organizational goals, it is vital to understand how new media is affecting the relationship-building process. In the context of public relations, social capital is “the ability to form and maintain relationships to facilitate goal and objective attainment� for an organization (Hazelton, Harrison-Rexrode, & Kennan, 2007, p. 92). Using capital as a metaphor, Hazelton and Kennan (2000), explain how public relations practitioners build capital over time through interactions with journalists. As capital builds, practitioners can cash it in, to achieve various goals. The more social capital that is accrued between a public relations practitioner and a journalist, the more likely practitioners are to succeed in disseminating their message to key publics because the necessary relationship to distribute it exists (Hazelton, Harrison-Rexrode, & Kennan, 2007). The authors outline three dimensions of social capital: structural, relational and communication. Structural refers to the access, referral, and timing of information and the arrangement and proximity of information to an individual in a network. In other words, structural refers to the ability to find and obtain information in an appropriate time frame. Thus, if a journalist can obtain necessary information quickly, the public relations practitioner has succeeded in creating the appropriate structural elements for a relationship. The relational dimension focuses on trust and social connections, or the necessary social conditions needed to create and maintain relationships. According to social capital theory, helping someone in the present means they will be more likely to help you in the future, ultimately creating useful and necessary relationships. Finally, the communication dimension refers to the necessary process for relationship development and maintenance. For example, to initiate the process of reciprocity, some form of


The Social Media News Release Uncovered 11 communication must occur. The authors argue that these three variables must exist between and among practitioners and journalists in order to create and/or maintain social capital (Hazelton, Harrison-Rexrode, & Kennan, 2007). The introduction and use of new technologies is believed to increase the ability for individuals to connect in the digital age allowing the creation and maintenance of relationships to occur, thus providing public relations practitioners a way to create/increase social capital with journalists.


The Social Media News Release Uncovered 12 Purpose and Research Questions Using social capital theory as a theoretical framework, this study will examine how public relations practitioners are using new media technologies, namely the SMNR, as a relationship-building tool and how journalists perceive the SMNR in the current technology-driven market. Specifically, this study will address the following research questions: 1) What are the current awareness levels and attitudes towards the SMNR among journalists and public relations practitioners? 2) How effective is the SMNR in building relationships between journalists and public relations practitioners? 3) What other factors are important to consider regarding future applications of the SMNR and/or other new media ways of subsidizing information to journalists? Exploration of these research questions is crucial to identifying whether or not there is a need for the SMNR in the current marketplace. Since little scholarly research ostensibly exists on the SMNR, this study will be the first to take an in-depth look at how the SMNR is currently perceived and whether this new media evolution of the traditional news release may serve to enhance social capital between public relations practitioners and journalists.


The Social Media News Release Uncovered 13 Method Design To explore perceptions of the SMNR, a qualitative research design was used. Qualitative research provides the opportunity to explore selected topics in detail. Relational patterns can be uncovered and yield information regarding participants’ attitudes and feelings without predetermining and operationalizing all categories of response (Patton, 1990). In-depth interviews, in particular, were useful in this study because they yield rich data and detailed responses that can be used to generate conclusions about the informant’s reality through analysis and interpretation (Spriggle, 1994). Also, since preliminary research suggested that many practitioners and journalists were unaware of the SMNR, this qualitative method seemed the most appropriate for investigating responses and opinions on this new format of the news release. In-depth interviews allowed the opportunity to show journalists and public relations practitioners the SMNR template, provide an explanation, and ask follow-up questions about attitudes towards this new public relations tactics. Thus, even if interviewees were unfamiliar with the SMNR, they could still talk about their attitudes towards the template, changes in format, and opinion of new media tools. Data collection was conducted during the summer and fall of 2008 and involved in-depth interviews with journalists (both print and online) and public relations practitioners (both corporate and agency). A total of 19 interviews were conducted. In qualitative research, small sample sizes are considered acceptable providing that the information the informants provide is thorough and detailed and information saturation is achieved (Wimmer & Dominick, 2003). For example, Choi and Cameron (2005)


The Social Media News Release Uncovered 14 conducted in-depth interviews with only three CEOs and two client leaders in multinational public relations agencies to explore what contingency factors impacted multinational corporations’ stances in conflict situation with local publics. Similarly, Miller and Horsley (2008) conducted four in-depth interviews with top-level executives in the coal mining industry to explore crisis management and communication practices in a high-risk industry. Participants Participants were based on a purposive sample of 12 print and online journalists and seven public relations professionals in major cities in Florida and North Carolina. These two states were chosen for convenience. North Carolina was used because this is where the researcher’s university was located. Florida was used since this is where the research spent the summer of 2008. The journalists worked at daily newspapers, weekly community papers, weekly business journals, and a bi-monthly magazine. The public relations professionals worked in both agency and corporate environments in the following types of companies/organizations: travel and tourism, energy, health care, education, and technology. To protect confidentiality, all names have been changed to pseudonyms. The interviews were conducted in person and lasted approximately one hour. An interview guide was used to maintain a focus on the SMNR. (See Appendix 2.) The purpose of the sample was to determine awareness of the SMNR, current attitudes towards the SMNR, and encourage discussion about public relations’ information subsidies. Both journalists and public relations practitioners were interviewed in order to obtain information from both groups about the SMNR from both perspectives.


The Social Media News Release Uncovered 15 Data Analysis This study adheres to a postpositivist research philosophy, establishing a prior theoretical framework through which to analyze the data (Guba, 1990; Phillips, 1990). Specifically, the data in this study were analyzed in relation to existing theoretical frameworks in market-driven journalism (Cohen, 2002; McManus, 1994) and social capital theory (Hazelton, Harrison-Rexrode, & Kennan, 2007). Among the tenets of postpositivism outlined by Guba (1990) are critical multiplism, an effort to include more natural settings, qualitative methods, and discovery in the research process, and modified objectivity, the perception of objectivity as a “regulatory ideal” that can’t be fully achieved but can be approximated “with special emphasis placed on external guardians such as the critical tradition” (p. 23). In accordance with the postpositive belief system, this study acknowledges the existing theoretical traditions in journalism and public relations research and interprets the data through a framework that includes multiple sources – existing theory as well as new data – thereby reintroducing discovery into the inquiry process. Each interview was recorded on a digital voice recorder and then transcribed verbatim. Transcriptions were analyzed by the researcher line by line to determine their synthesis with existing theoretical themes and categories. This included coding quotations from the transcripts that exemplified existing categories, then modifying and refining categories on the basis of subsequent transcripts. Instances that did not fit with the initial categories were used to adapt, expand, and refocus the guiding theoretical framework of the study. Systematic and original categories of analysis were identified by searching for “recurring regularities” in the data (Patton, 1990, p. 403) until no new


The Social Media News Release Uncovered 16 categories emerged, suggesting that the number of in-depth interviews was adequate to reach information saturation (Wimmer & Dominick, 2006). The interviewees’ own words are used throughout the analysis to document their perceptions.


The Social Media News Release Uncovered 17 Findings The findings of the in-depth interviews with journalists and public relations practitioners regarding the social media news release (SMNR) are discussed in the following section to provide insight on each of the research questions. RQ1: What are the current awareness levels and attitudes towards the SMNR among journalists and public relations practitioners? The awareness of the SMNR was very limited. Only a few journalists and public relations practitioners were aware of what an SMNR looked like or the function it served. Furthermore, none of the participants had ever received an SMNR or created one. Somewhat surprisingly, awareness was not indicative of age. It seems participants who were aware of the SMNR were those who sought out information on new media and social media tools. It is important to situate discussion regarding the SMNR within the journalists’ attitudes towards the news release in general. It seems most journalists interviewed had neutral attitudes towards the use of the news release, providing it is well-written and appropriate given the media’s audience. I don’t have a positive or negative association with [news releases]. I think that a news release serve a valuable function when it is well written and it is well targeted. If it is not, sometimes I find it annoying. (Ryan, blogger for a daily newspaper in North Carolina) Other journalists, however, felt that poorly written and poorly targeted news releases have harmed the overall perception of news releases and public relations in general. A lot of times, a news release, to me, means a PR flack that is going to be bothering me about something I could care less about…Nothing bothers me more than someone who wants something in the paper and has no clue about if we run


The Social Media News Release Uncovered 18 it or not. Take the time to read the paper and find out what we put in it. There are a lot of PR people who don’t do their own basic homework. (Mary, editor for a daily newspaper in North Carolina) Specifically in answer to research question one, three distinct themes emerged regarding the overall attitude of journalists and public relations practitioners towards the SMNR. To begin, participants felt that the organization of the SMNR allowed the reader to more quickly understand the main ideas of the news release thereby adding to the general understanding of the release’s main point. Also, there was recognition among both journalists and public relations practitioners that faster news cycles now meant that more information had to be covered. Participants felt the SMNR catered to these expedited news cycles by allowing for quick decisions to be made while putting additional tools, such as photographs, audio and video, at the fingertips of the recipient. Finally, both journalists and public relations practitioners acknowledged that the content of the release was more important than the secondary tools contained in the SMNR. Hence, while secondary tools, such as social media, could prove helpful in some instances, most interview subjects noted that the newsworthiness of the content and the clarity of the information presented were extremely important when assessing the value of the news release. Preferences for the SMNR Discussion regarding overall attitudes toward the SMNR centered around three areas that emerged during analysis of the data: communication of content, layout, and the inclusion of supplementary rich media content, including interactive and visual tools (e.g. links to photographs, audio, and video). Although there were some identified drawbacks of the SMNR, all interviewees – including both journalists and public relations


The Social Media News Release Uncovered 19 practitioners – felt the SMNR was preferable to the traditional news release, in at least one area. However, both journalists and public relations practitioners expressed concern about a new media learning curve, or the idea that some individuals may not understand or be aware of some technologies or new media tools, something that should be taken into account when sending out the SMNR. Communication of Content. In terms of conveying information to the reader, the SMNR breaks down the information that would typically be written in paragraph form in a traditional news release into bullet points. Journalists in particular were very receptive of this formatting given the fact that they could quickly glean the important points from the news release. I think [bullet pointing facts] is a good idea. It would draw attention quicker to the key points. Especially with all the information, the faster it can be digested by an editor or reporter, the better. (Michael, online editor for a daily newspaper in North Carolina) One journalist noted that bullet points, in general, are easier to scan for information and would thus be beneficial when reading a news release to determine the news value of the information. I do like the inclusion of bullet points because it is something I’m going to do anyway myself…Some press releases tend to have unnecessary paragraphs and wording. (Ethan, journalist and blogger for a daily Florida newspaper) Several of the public relations practitioners concurred with the journalists regarding the way the information was conveyed in the SMNR. According to Sara, a corporate public relations practitioner for a technology company in Florida, bullet pointing information prevents journalists and other readers from being “overwhelmed with information,” allowing them to “keep up” with the focus of the release. Other public relations practitioners, however, viewed the bullet points in the SMNR somewhat more


The Social Media News Release Uncovered 20 negatively since bullet points leave the content of the release more open to interpretation from the journalist or end-reader. [B]ullet-pointing information instead of writing it out would be an adjustment for me as opposed to having information in a paragraph. After all, I have spent my life writing. I think it leaves a lot more opportunities for people to interpret [my message] differently. That would be a hard transition for me. (Ann, corporate public relations practitioner for education in Florida) Mixed attitudes towards layout. Attitudes were mixed among journalists and public relations practitioners in regard to the layout of information in the SMNR. While some journalists felt the layout highlighted the relative importance of information, connecting them “instantly” to key information, others felt the inclusion of supplementary information resulted in poor layout. [W]hen you receive something laid out like this it is very helpful from the perspective of it helps me know why this might be important to me right away and connects me instantly to things that I want to know about… (Luis, journalist for a daily Florida newspaper) Honestly, from a visual standpoint, it looks too busy. If I received [the SMNR], it would be a little overwhelming until I got use to it. Typically, when you are doing anything visually, the rule of thumb is that there is some place you focus on. But because of the way this is laid out, I automatically look at the color. (Cindy, editor of a bi-monthly magazine in Florida) Public relations practitioners echoed these similar sentiments, commenting that the abundance of content made the layout “busy.” Knowing what I know about the newsroom, this [SMNR] still looks pretty complicated. I think that it is a lot to take in, and I think it is harder. A technology guy would probably love it, but to me this seems a little complicated visually. (Sara, corporate public relations practitioner for a technology company in Florida) Inclusion of rich media content. Interview subjects – both journalists and public relations practitioners – generally viewed the inclusion of rich media content favorably. One journalist noted that the inclusion of rich media content could only benefit the news


The Social Media News Release Uncovered 21 release since the information would be readily available and could be used to complement the written story. I look at [the SMNR] as no harm, no foul. Give us the whole thing. We may or may not use it. We may only use one or two pieces of it, but what’s the harm in giving us the whole thing…Just provide it for us and then we will decide if we want to use it. (Michael, online editor for a daily North Carolina newspaper) Perhaps more importantly, many journalists perceived the inclusion of rich media content in the SMNR as an improvement to the traditional release. While some journalists commented that they may not use everything the SMNR contains, others found the additional information particularly useful for background research purposes. I would like this better than a standard news release. There are several things I like about it…there are rare instances when we would actually use some of this stuff [i.e. social media], but it would be helpful to see it. (Eric, online editor for a daily North Carolina newspaper) [Y]es, I would look at [links to relevant coverage] because it is helpful. It is doing some of the background research for me as far as links to other stories. (Susan, managing editor for a weekly business journal in Florida) Public relations practitioners, on the other hand, had mixed reactions toward the supplementary rich media content. At least one practitioner, for example, felt that the time required to include the rich media content may not be worth the effort considering the likelihood that the journalist may/may not use the social media tools. You have all these tools available to you, but can you incorporate them into a release? It takes a lot to put together a news release like this. That may be good or bad. Maybe you wouldn’t put out as many news releases. Then when I look at [the SMNR] and the people I work with, [I think] they are not going to want a mp3 file, or a video, or graphics. If they do, they’ll get it themselves. (Doug, corporate public relations practitioner for a healthcare company in North Carolina) However, most public relations practitioners felt the inclusion of new media tools were extremely valuable and likely to become even more so in the future. While there


The Social Media News Release Uncovered 22 may be no guarantee that the rich media content will be used, providing access to such information may increase the chances the journalist will use the practitioner-supplied content. [The SMNR] is what I see us going towards. We will be having all of this information on our website, having videos, having photos, having stories. We have talked about DIGG, and that kind of stuff. I have actually changed a position in the office to be manager of communication and new media…This is probably the next step. I think that with so few reporters, they will be more apt to use the quotes and the things that you give them. (Ann, corporate public relations practitioner for education in Florida) New Media Learning Curve. It is also important to note that while interviewees generally had positive reactions to the SMNR’s content and format of information, and they acknowledged that the inclusion of new media tools in the SMNR would ultimately be helpful for the journalist, there was also concern that not all journalists and practitioners are familiar with these new technologies. Some interviewees – including both journalists and public relations practitioners – did admit to not knowing the function of some of the social media devices. I’m not sure I understand all of the technical terms…del.ic.ious, technorati tags, DIGG. I understand the first half of the SMNR very easily. It all makes sense but where I would feel insecure is knowing what I would need to fill in each of these boxes. (Bill, corporate public relations practitioner for an entertainment company in Florida) In addition to not knowing the purpose and application of some new media tools, there was also some general apprehension regarding the volume and extent of the new media tools in the SMNR. The folks that I work with are not as technologically savvy as some folks might be. So there are a lot of people in this building who would come to me and ask, ‘What is an MP3?’ But there is a learning curve and certain things will take time to catch on. (Ryan, blogger for a daily newspaper in North Carolina)


The Social Media News Release Uncovered 23 One journalist echoed the idea of a learning curve in journalism and suggested the combination of both the SMNR and the traditional news release. One thing I might recommend, in order to hold the hand of the more seasoned reporters, the hard to teach new tricks reporter, is give them the traditional press release as an alternative. (Michael, online editor for a daily newspaper in North Carolina) Faster News Cycles The increase in mediums, channels, and user accessibility through which news can now be obtained has caused a tremendous increase in the pace of the news cycle. Hence, more information is now needed to fill an ever-growing news hole. As the news cycle speed increases, so does the demand for information. In faster news cycles, two factors are particularly important 1) the ease with which information can be obtained in a timely manner and 2) the degree to which the information can be updated throughout the day (i.e. online news). Access to – and timing of – information are also fundamental attributes of the structural dimension of social capital (Hazelton, Harrison-Rexrode, & Kennan, 2007). Time sensitivity. Journalists seemed to perceive the SMNR as a potential tool to assist in compiling stories in an expedient manner since the SMNR contains an abundance of pertinent information on a given news item. It seems journalists viewed the SMNR as particularly useful for dealing with the time sensitive nature of the media industry. [The SMNR] would actually solve a lot of things. Like when I have to have a head shot, it could be here‌you know all the things that you have to ask PR folks for. This would make it faster for me. (Mary, editor for a daily newspaper in North Carolina)


The Social Media News Release Uncovered 24 Journalists also viewed the SMNR as a portal to additional information, simplifying the process of understanding and accessing information. Sometimes old-fashioned news releases get over written, too many adjectives. Straight forward and simple is best. (Charlotte, editor-in-chief for a daily newspaper in Florida) I think the benefit of the SMNR over the traditional word one is that it is Internet friendly. (John, deputy online editor for a daily newspaper in Florida) Further, since the SMNR instantly connects reporters to helpful online sources and information, some journalists felt the SMNR may help them make faster decisions regarding the newsworthiness of the information supplied by a public relations practitioner. I would say that the SMNR is‌helpful to a busy reporter and editor. So having the SMNR, at least you have a quicker way of getting at whether or not this is something that I need to deal with now or if this is something that can sit for a while. (Luis, journalist for a daily newspaper in Florida) Public relations practitioners agreed, commenting that the SMNR allowed journalists to construct a story by including the necessary elements that were previously sent only when it was requested without having to repeatedly contact the source of the release. In short, public relations practitioners see the SMNR allowing for information to flow more freely and faster from the public relations practitioner to the journalist and increasing the speed in which information can be found and reported. Thus, information that can assist the journalist faster will ultimately lead to a more positive view of the relationship with the practitioner since the practitioner can provide the journalist with the needed information quickly. I think in today’s environment, reporters will be asked to do more, and they will need something that can cut to the chase. (Lin, a corporate public relations practitioner for education in Florida)


The Social Media News Release Uncovered 25 I think that having all of the accessibility in the SMNR will enable journalists to get the story faster. For example, if we sent this SMNR to a print journalist, they will need a head shot, they might need a shot of the company headquarters, they might need the logo, audio, video, etc. (Stephanie, agency public relations practitioner in North Carolina) Online News. As a result of the faster news cycle, journalists are now more reliant on tools, including news releases, to assist in producing the daily quota of articles required for both the print and online versions of newspapers. With the pressures that we have in the industry now…fewer staff…we have to be more productive. We have to write more individually than we did in years past…That means to some extent as a PR person you may have an easier time now pushing something because the bar is lower to making something news when your news hole is infinite. (Ryan, blogger for a daily newspaper in North Carolina) In some instances, journalists are producing an article for the print version of a daily newspaper while also producing several articles for the web version to keep the website up-to-date with the latest news. The average reporter, it seems, is now expected to post multiple stories online daily while also working to publish the printed newspaper, subsequently making the news release an even more valuable asset for assisting with story ideas. I would say that 90% of [our online news] comes from news releases. (Susan, managing editor for a weekly business journal in Florida) We will always need press releases. There are times when we don’t know about something. We may have nurtured a lot of sources on our beat, but a press release is still a good fall back. (Michael, an online editor for a daily newspaper in North Carolina) Journalists, in particular, seemed to recognize that the SMNR would be a helpful tool for the creation of online news since it offers them a wide variety of elements to choose from when compiling a story.


The Social Media News Release Uncovered 26 I like all the different components. They are perfect. Photos, audio, graphics…one stop shopping for something we could put up online. (Michael, online editor for a daily North Carolina newspaper) Thus, the SMNR helps journalists cope with faster news cycles since it easily lends itself to the creation of stories suitable for online newsrooms. The SMNR Template is Not the Cure for Poor Writing Although journalists had consistently favorable attitudes towards the SMNR’s supplementary rich media content and the functional layout, many still stressed that “quality” content was an important factor for any news release. I think that reporters are smart enough that despite how someone writes a press release they are still going to be able to see through to what is a big deal, to see if the PR person dressed up something that is not a big deal. (Julie, journalist for a community newspaper in North Carolina) [The SMNR] is fine. It might get me to pay more attention before I hit delete, but it still is going to be what the subject is. (Mary, editor for a daily newspaper in North Carolina) The template is not as important as the information I need. (Ethan, journalist and blogger for a daily Florida newspaper) Overall, journalists believed that despite the introduction of new media tools, the most important thing in journalism is the ability to report the news in an accurate manner. Traditional journalism is here to stay. It’s just how you read the information that is changing…There is always going to be a demand for skilled journalists who question authority, who are skeptical, fair, and challenge to status quo. (Michael, online editor for a daily newspaper in North Carolina) Thus, as long as the SMNR is able to provide information in a well-written format, it seems most journalists would be receptive to the new template. RQ2: How effective is the SMNR in building relationships between journalists and public relations practitioners?


The Social Media News Release Uncovered 27 Whether a story runs depends, to a large extent, on the social capital accrued between journalists and public relations practitioners (Hazelton, Harrison-Rexrode, & Kennan, 2007). Most interviewees – including both journalists and public relations practitioners – identified the importance of professional relationships in achieving organizational goals. When journalists were asked what types of news releases grabbed their attention, consistent with past research (e.g. Turk, 1986; Curtin, 1999), most commented that they were more likely to use news releases originating from practitioners with which they had established a relationship. Most of the press releases that I would respond to would be from people that I already have an established relationship with. (Ryan, blogger for a daily newspaper in North Carolina) I’m on email all day long so the subject line doesn’t matter to me. I do notice who it comes from. It is more likely that I notice the email address before I notice the subject line. (John, deputy online editor for a daily newspaper in Florida) The major themes that emerged regarding the ability of the SMNR specifically to enhance the relationship between journalists and public relations practitioners focused on 1) the accessibility of the sender, 2) the convenience of the information, and 3) the use of the “just-the-facts” approach. The SMNR was also identified as a potentially helpful tool for blogging and online journalism in particular. Accessibility of the Sender Most journalists interviewed stated that having multiple ways to access the sender of the information played an important role in whether or not a journalist would respond favorably to the information being sent, and subsequently, to the person who sent it. The SMNR’s format provides a variety of contact information at the top, which most journalists saw as an especially positive feature of the SMNR.


The Social Media News Release Uncovered 28 Having Skype numbers and IM addresses are really helpful, especially IM addresses since it is much faster. IM has the best of phone conversations and email together. IM you can take at your own pace, but you can reach somebody instantly. You are not waiting around for a response like you are from email. (Eric, online editor for a daily North Carolina newspaper) I also like the idea of having other ways of getting a hold of people. You know it is very frustrating when you want to jump on a story and can’t get the person. (Ryan, blogger for a daily newspaper in North Carolina) For me, [the SMNR] is helpful as a way to contact people. (Ethan, journalist and blogger for a daily Florida newspaper) The SMNR is actually helpful in a sense because it gives you more ways to talk to the journalist. (Stephanie, agency public relations practitioner in North Carolina) Convenience of Information Another advantage of the SMNR noted by most journalists was that the SMNR provides information in a manner that is very convenient for the receiver to understand and use. According to Lex, a journalist for a daily newspaper in North Carolina, the SMNR “takes advantage of the abilities of the web” and is useful in making information more convenient, which ultimately creates a more positive feeling towards the sender of the release. What I like about it is some of the audio, photos, and graphics are available as links and not clogging up my inbox. I can go find them if I need them. (Ryan blogger for a daily North Carolina newspaper) I also like links. It is something you can go to to get more information… and I mean specific links. For example if I am reviewing a product, I’ll need to provide our designer with images… .if that is in the press release or at least attached, it saves time as opposed to having to contact the company PR person and ask them to send me images or direct me to where I can get them. (Ethan, journalist and blogger for a daily newspaper in Florida) The SMNR is pretty straightforward. I like it because it looks simple. It doesn’t have to be too fancy. I think that what is going to make this interesting or not, is not so much the format because the format recedes after you have gotten used to it, but the content. The content is organized in such a way that is extremely


The Social Media News Release Uncovered 29 helpful to people in my position. This is what I value. (Luis, journalist for a daily newspaper in Florida) Most public relations practitioners agreed, commenting that the helpful information provided in the SMNR offers more journalistic fodder on which to build a story. The SMNR is actually helpful in a sense because it gives you more ways to talk to the journalist…I think giving more information is helpful to the journalist. (Stephanie, agency public relations practitioner in North Carolina) We are definitely moving towards more and more [online tools]…As long as I am making it easy for them to do their job and it comes electronically, I feel like [journalists] will use it. (Ann, corporate public relations practitioner for education in Florida) It gives you all the information you need. If you were working with a reporter, you would want him to believe that this is not your standard form for delivering information, that this version was just for them…this would be very helpful and very practical. (Bill, corporate public relations practitioner for an entertainment company in Florida) One public relations practitioner, however, disagreed. He noted that the extra steps needed to assemble the rich media content in the SMNR would merely be a wasted effort on his part since he felt the convenience of the information was not an important factor in building relationships with journalists. If the paper wants a picture, they are going to come and take it. Now if it were available, would they use it? When I look in the paper and see pictures, I don’t see a lot of ‘courtesy ofs.’ It’s their own people usually taking the shots. I keep toying with the idea of doing MP3s instead of a quote. It is not something you can do very easily and for what? I’m not sure. (Doug, corporate public relations practitioner for a healthcare company in North Carolina) Just-the-Facts Approach The SMNR presents information in a clear “straightforward” manner, which was viewed quite favorably by journalists. This just-the-facts approach was seen as a more


The Social Media News Release Uncovered 30 helpful means of assisting journalists to craft news stories, and subsequently also more likely to succeed in having the information published by the journalist. If we like you on some level because you are accessible, straightforward, helpful, and don’t waste time, you will be more likely to have your idea considered. (John, online editor for a daily newspaper in Florida) What we are looking or in a news release are the facts, the statistics and the contact person that we can get a hold of because we are not going to take flowery writing and just reprint it. Just give me the facts. That is helpful. (Susan, managing editor for a weekly business journal in Florida) Most public relations practitioners concurred, suggesting that breaking down the information into simple, manageable “bits” is beneficial because it is “simple and to the point” and doesn’t waste journalists’ time by using vague or convoluted language. [The SMNR] needs to be a headline service…I like it because it is short and gives you the “Joe Friday, just-the-facts.” (Lin, a corporate public relations practitioner for education in Florida) However, at least a few public relations practitioners felt that the traditional news release was more effective at conveying the facts in a simple manner. The SMNR is still complex. I know that you can pick and choose want you want to put in it but I still think a news release is a simple way for somebody to look at it and… be aware of something. (Sara, corporate public relations practitioner for a technology company in Florida) The SMNR as a Helpful Tool for Blogging and Online Journalism With the increase in blogging, a need to target bloggers with information has emerged. The SMNR may be able to serve as a tool through which bloggers can obtain information and build relationships with public relations practitioners. Journalists, especially those with their own blogs, felt that the SMNR was well suited to target bloggers since the SMNR is “Internet friendly.” [The SMNR] is the type of thing that might get a blogger’s attention, even if it didn’t get an editor’s attention. But this [SMNR] would help a blogger because he


The Social Media News Release Uncovered 31 could provide the reader of his blog with more content without too much pain. (Eric, online editor for a daily newspaper in North Carolina) Another journalist noted that if the information was not suitable for the print edition of the newspaper or the online newsroom, he might put it up on his blog since a blog needs to be constantly updated. You have to look at [new media] from a strategic standpoint. That’s the one reason I was a little skeptical of the [SMNR] because I honestly don’t need all of this for every single press release, you are just going to clog up my hard drive. But there are some cases where this would be useful…If there is nothing going on and it’s a great picture, I might put the picture up…(Ryan, blogger for a daily newspaper in North Carolina) The rich media content in the SMNR also made it appealing to journalists who blog on a regular basis since it provides essential and necessary visual elements for blogs. Bloggers are always looking for photos, screen shots, and video. Especially in technology, it is necessary. (Ethan, journalist and blogger for a daily newspaper in Florida) Yes [the SMNR] would help with my blog. There is a scale of technical expertise that our bloggers have. Some are much more technical than others, who are very comfortable with embedding video in their blog…We have a couple of really active bloggers that would love to have [the SMNR] for their blog…the general mill press release is so one dimensional. (Michael, online editor for a daily newspaper in North Carolina) The SMNR is Only One Small Tool in the Arsenal Yet, despite mostly positive feedback on the SMNR, most interviewees recognized that relationship building between journalists and public relations practitioners was dependent on multiple factors and the SMNR was only one small tool in the arsenal. Despite some consensus regarding the usefulness of the SMNR, most interviewees recognized that building a relationship required other efforts, most notably, personal contact – above and beyond sending out news releases.


The Social Media News Release Uncovered 32 [W]e will take the news release and literally deliver it. That works well because we have a one-on-one and we can tell them why we think they should run it. (Sara, corporate public relations practitioner for a technology company in Florida) You use the release, the picture or the Internet as a complement to help people to understand what product, what service you are providing. You can use this SMNR but also keep in mind that you have to get out there and talk to people. (Lin, corporate public relations practitioner for education in Florida) We get a lot of information from [PR folks]. It is a good relationship that we have with companies and PR firms because they let us know what is going on. With that being said, I much prefer when someone calls me with a hot tip because that tells me they are not sending it to my competitors. When they send out a press release, it kind of makes me sad because I know everyone got it. (Susan, editor for a weekly business journal in Florida) Conversely, several journalists believed that email or other communication via the computer could be sufficient in developing personal relationships. One journalist in particular discussed at length relationships with public relations practitioners developed exclusively through social media. There are a lot of people I don’t really know. Because of the nature of the blog, I am trapped in the office. I have to rely on emails and the Internet to learn what is going on. I get regular emails from people whom I have never met, Facebook friends I don’t really know; people I only know through online correspondence. (Ryan, online blogger for a daily newspaper in North Carolina) RQ3: What other factors are important to consider regarding the future applications of the SMNR and/or other ways of subsidizing information to journalists? While initial conversations regarding the SMNR focused on attitudes toward the new format and its potential for enhancing relationships between journalists and public relations practitioners, interviewees also discussed how their perception of social media in general might ultimately hurt the credibility of the SMNR. Other ways of using social media to subsidize information to the media were also discussed.


The Social Media News Release Uncovered 33 The Credibility of Social Media and its Effect on the SMNR Many interviewees – particularly public relations practitioners – felt that lack of credibility associated with social media has damaged their overall perception of social media in general, and thus, would rather not use social media or encourage the use of social media through the SMNR. Some practitioners felt that social media, especially blogging, lacked ethical guidelines while other practitioners blamed the increased speed of news cycles, not social media itself, for hurting the credibility of social media. One of the things that we have counted on as public relations professionals is that when it comes to traditional media, it has for the most part, a really strong ethical boundary that journalists tend not to cross and the information they tend to want is accurate, fair, and balanced…I just worry about the credibility [of social media] in the future and when we can rely on any of it. (Melanie, corporate public relations practitioner for a technology company in Florida) The whole idea of journalism is finding out the facts. I don’t think that bloggers are there yet…One expectation is that a blogger is going to go to both sides and look at the information; that they are going to be open-minded and objective about it. I don’t think that is what bloggers are. (Sara, corporate public relations practitioner for a technology company in Florida) I do think [social media] is making the news cycle go even faster that it already is. It’s already 24/7 but now it is down to seconds. I think sometimes it makes the news very rushed. I think the 24/7 news cycle has hurt the credibility of mainstream news, more so than bloggers. (Stephanie, agency public relations practitioner in North Carolina) The SMNR offers a wide range of tools through which practitioners can communicate information to both traditional media and new media outlets; however, if public relations practitioners do not view social media as credible, it seems unlikely they will use the social media elements of the SMNR when constructing messages to distribute to the media. Yet some public relations practitioners, especially those with more experience in social media, did believe social media to be a credible way to disseminate a message.


The Social Media News Release Uncovered 34 I am very interested in social media tools because they are all about the dialogue and the conversation. I think more PR people are learning about them but not everyone is really aware of the tools or how to use them and how to use them in conjunction with all the traditional media. (Stephanie, agency public relations practitioner in North Carolina) Journalists, on the other hand, seemed to have more positive attitudes toward social media. According to Ethan, a journalist and blogger for a daily newspaper in Florida, “The [SMNR] is adopting tools that everybody else is adapting” which allows journalists and public relations practitioners to now connect and share information in a variety of ways. Journalists recognized that social media allowed them access to additional information in a very timely manner. I know print journalists are using social media a lot more in their reporting just in the last couple of years. It is making their reporting richer. (Eric, online editor for a daily newspaper in North Carolina) A lot of PR people are starting to add me as a friend on Facebook or talk to me on Twitter. Throughout the day, there is a running dialogue that goes on. (Ethan, journalist and blogger for a daily Florida newspaper) I have occasionally gone on my blog and written, ‘Hey we are doing a story on this, if anyone is interested, get in touch.’ A couple of times it has been fantastic…(Ryan, blogger for a daily newspaper in North Carolina) Therefore, it seems journalists who have a positive association with social media are more likely to value and appreciate the social media elements of the SMNR. Other Ways to Subsidize Information to Journalists While discussing how the SMNR could be used to subsidize information to journalists, several practitioners mentioned other means they were using to accomplish the same task. Thus, the growing use of other new media forms of information subsidies, beyond traditional news releases or the SMNR, suggests that the SMNR may not be as useful to disseminate information in today’s digital world as initially thought.


The Social Media News Release Uncovered 35 One specific tool that was discussed by both journalists and practitioners was Twitter, a social media tool that allows users to write short statements or questions that can be read by anyone in the user’s network. One public relations practitioner shared how she had used Twitter to develop relationships with key journalists. I, myself, Twitter. I encourage my clients to Twitter. I talk about where I am, what I am doing, interesting things I have read, etc…I have not pitched a story successfully through Twitter but I have worked on building some relationships with people on Twitter so that I can pitch in the future… (Stephanie, agency public relations practitioner in North Carolina) Several journalists also acknowledged that they had used Twitter to help gather story ideas and information. I have over 450 people who follow me on Twitter, some are PR people… I might put it out there that I am looking for information on something and the PR people who follow me on Twitter will respond and give me ideas. (Ethan, journalist and blogger for a daily Florida newspaper) Yes, I have used Twitter to help get information for a story. (Lex, journalist for a daily newspaper in North Carolina) Other ways mentioned by public relations practitioners to disseminate information to journalists included Facebook, blogs, and newsletter emails. There are a lot of networks in [Facebook] that are sharing information, ideas, and stories…I go out on the blogs for reporters and watch for tips and watch for story ideas…(Melanie, corporate public relations practitioner for a technology company in Florida) I see [blogging] as a very useful way to get information out. (Stephanie, agency public relations practitioner in North Carolina) I was concerned that I was not reaching all the people in our community that I thought was necessary. I did not know if I could count on my local newspaper to do it. We started to create a little of our own social media. It is an email product that we distribute. It has graphics, photos, and some video. We use it to say ‘Here is what is going on,’ to correct grossly inaccurate news stories, and to make announcements. We send it to [customers], elected officials, every journalist, and every schoolteacher in multiple counties…because they shape the stories and


The Social Media News Release Uncovered 36 influence the kids. (Bill, corporate public relations practitioner for an entertainment company in Florida)


The Social Media News Release Uncovered 37 Discussion This study examined the attitudes of journalists and public relations practitioners toward the SMNR and its potential for building and enhancing relationships. Other social media channels for subsidizing information to the media were also discussed. Despite the acknowledgement that other channels and tools are available to disseminate information to the media, every public relations practitioner and journalist interviewed admitted to still using news releases on a regular basis. This finding is supported by a recent national survey that found 94% of journalists and editors use submissions from public relations practitioners (Arno, 2009), suggesting the continued relevance of news releases in supplementing information to the media. This is not surprising given the fact that most journalists now have to produce content for both the print and online versions (Huang, 2007). Thus, the SMNR has the potential to serve a valuable agenda-building function for organizations and the press. The SMNR is an Effective Information Subsidy The SMNR, by definition, is an information subsidy in that it provides information in a convenient and cost effective manner to the news media. As an information subsidy, the SMNR has the potential to be extremely effective, perhaps even more so than the traditional news release, since the SMNR not only provides written information but also visual information in the form of rich media content. Given the constraints and expectations associated with market-driven journalism and today’s 24hour news cycle, it has become especially vital to not only disseminate text information but to also distribute additional content, such as photos, videos and audio pertinent for developing for a story.


The Social Media News Release Uncovered 38 The SMNR may be more effective than a traditional news release since the SMNR is multi-dimensional. The SMNR has the ability to instantly connect a journalist to information, which allows newsworthiness to be determined faster, research to be conducted quicker, and compilation of rich media content to be completed sooner. Since the SMNR provides access to all of these tools with the click of a mouse, the SMNR may be particularly useful as an information subsidy. While one could argue that an online media kit already assists journalists in obtaining information faster, the SMNR combines all of the elements of a media kit into one Internet-friendly document that can be conveniently viewed in the body of an email. Since journalists are now often required to write multiple stories for online newsrooms, the SMNR may become a valuable tool through which journalists can quickly glean information to assist in their reporting. The SMNR as a Relationship-Building Tool In order to understand whether or not the SMNR is an effective tool for building and maintaining relationships, social capital theory was used as a lens through which interviewees’ comments regarding the SMNR were examined. Social capital is especially important for public relations practitioners since the more social capital that is accrued, the more likely a practitioner is to succeed in achieving organizational goals since the necessary relationships with journalists exist. The three dimensions of social capital theory outlined by Hazelton, Harrison-Rexrode, and Kennan (2007) include structural, relational, and communication. Figure 1, which emerged as a result of this research, depicts the most noteworthy perceptions of the SMNR by both public relations


The Social Media News Release Uncovered 39 practitioners and journalists. The perceptions are broken down into the three dimensions of social capital. The structural dimension of social capital focuses on the connectedness of the “social actors� within a network (p. 95). The three aspects of the structural dimension that influence social capital are access, referral, and timing. Access refers to the usable connections an individual has in a network, and thus must exist for social capital to be accrued. It seems the SMNR may act as a tool for enhancing relationships between public relations practitioners and journalists since it instantly connects the journalist to the public relations practitioner. The SMNR encourages access through a multitude of channels and thus allows the journalist to choose the access point that is most convenient. Many journalists, especially online journalists, believed that the inclusion of rich media content is becoming a necessary component for online newsrooms, especially since rich media content is being adapted by many of the top media sites (Huang, 2007). This is an interesting point for public relations practitioners to bear in mind when considering how to create messages. The convenience of the information and the ability to access information faster, allows the journalist to determine the newsworthiness quicker. The journalist may subsequently be more likely to view the practitioner favorably, thereby strengthening the relationship, since the practitioner is able to give the journalist faster access to desired information. This point is illustrated in Figure 1. Referral is the degree to which a person can find information through the connections of others (Hazelton, Harrison-Rexrode, & Kennan, 2007, p. 95). The SMNR does this by connecting journalists to information and sources, which may be able to provide additional information on the subject at hand. Given this potential for forming


The Social Media News Release Uncovered 40 connections, the SMNR may be able to help enhance the journalist-practitioner relationship by offering the ability to immediately connect with the public relations practitioner, relevant sources and information. It is important to note, however, that some public relations practitioners felt the improved access to information diminished the need for personal contact with the journalist; therefore, some practitioners viewed this aspect of the SMNR as a hindrance to relationship building. (See Figure 1.) The structural aspect of timing is also an important factor in using subsidized information, such as the SMNR. Timing refers to the degree to which information can be obtained in an appropriate and timely fashion. The journalist must not only be able to reach the practitioner quickly, they must also be able to access the information needed to write a story quickly. The SMNR is well suited to assist in not only providing this type of information for traditional journalism but also in providing information for online journalism and blogs. (See Figure 1.) With the increase in the speed of news cycles, the ability to access information in an appropriate and timely fashion has become crucial to 1) the success of the release (i.e. it generates a story) and 2) the journalist’s opinion of the public relations practitioner. The SMNR allows the journalist to determine the newsworthiness of the news release faster and therefore get more accomplished in a shorter time span. One helpful aspect of the SMNR noted by journalists was the use of bullet points. This feature allows them to quickly decide if the content of the release will be of interest to them. However, several public relations practitioners felt that the format of the SMNR, particularly the bullet points, did not allow them to control the message as well as a traditional news release, which uses paragraph writing. Since bullet points are much shorter, and often not even


The Social Media News Release Uncovered 41 full sentences, this change was viewed by several public relations practitioners as a way of leaving the information open to more journalistic interpretation than a traditional news release. Also, since the bullet points encourage practitioners to simply write the main facts, several practitioners felt that the SMNR would ultimately be less persuasive and therefore, less successful in attaining story placement. Some argued it limited the ability of the practitioner to convey the importance of the information to the journalist and worried the SMNR did not allow for them to frame the story in their own way. These practitioners felt their sense of control over content was diminished with the SMNR. From the social capital perspective of timing, journalists also felt the SMNR provided them with the necessary tools and information to create an online news story or a blog post. Since the SMNR includes links to relevant information and rich media content, journalists seemed to agree that the SMNR was more helpful in providing content that is web-ready. With the growth of online journalism, it is important to consider how journalists will create stories, and since this study showed that more journalists are writing for the web, it may be necessary to provide them with information in an Internet-friendly format, such as the SMNR. All of these elements can lead to positive attitudes towards the public relations practitioner and this is extremely important in creating and maintaining relationships, and thus important in creating social capital. The relational dimension of social capital depends on the trust and strength of social connections. Since it has been shown that even having weak connections in a network can be beneficial (Granovetter, 1983), it is important to create positive connections whenever possible and by whatever means possible. The SMNR is one way in which a public relations practitioner can create a connection with journalists since, as


The Social Media News Release Uncovered 42 previous research has shown, journalists are likely to view practitioners who can supply them with relevant, newsworthy information in a convenient manner as beneficial (e.g. Curtin, 1999; Turk, 1986). However, some journalists, particularly those who view news releases in a neutral or unfavorable manner, may be unwilling to open and read a news release when no prior relationship exists. From a social capital perspective, the SMNR may be more apt for maintaining relationships with journalists, not building relationships. If the journalist is unwilling to open the release from the practitioner because there is no prior relationship, then the SMNR alone will not likely build relationships between a journalist and public relations practitioner. If a journalist, however, does open a news release from a practitioner because of a past connection, the SMNR can help enhance and maintain the relationship since the SMNR provides access to information, sources, and rich media content in a fast, convenient manner. Therefore, based on this study, it seems the SMNR is effective in aiding in relationship maintenance but it may not be the best tool for building relationships. The communication dimension of social capital suggests that human communication is necessary to building relationships (Hazelton, Harrison-Rexrode, & Kennan, 2007, p. 95). Obviously, the SMNR communicates information to journalists via the computer and removes much of the human element from the communication process. With the move towards online journalism and blogging, most journalists interviewed preferred to communicate and receive information via the computer. Since journalists preferred communication via the computer (e.g. email, blogs, social media sites, etc.), perhaps the SMNR does aid in the creation of social capital since it communicates information in a manner that is preferable to some journalists. Of course those journalists


The Social Media News Release Uncovered 43 who prefer face-to-face or voice communication may view the SMNR as an effective information subsidy but not as a relationship-building tool. Public relations practitioners viewed the SMNR as an additional channel for communication with the journalist, although most practitioners also preferred to incorporate a more personal form of communication as well. (See Figure 1.) The preference for more personal communication may eventually prove to be futile since it seems as though journalists are beginning to rely mainly on computer-mediated information and as a result, the way in which personal relationships are created is changing. Thus, the way information is shared and communicated in the future will most likely need to transpire fully via the Internet. In short, the SMNR contains several of the elements necessary for public relations practitioners to maintain relationships with journalists. It may be somewhat useful for building relationships, as long as it is used in conjunction with other efforts. Thus, although the SMNR provides useful and timely information, there may be other, better ways to build social capital. Journalists all conceded that the existence of a relationship played an important role in whether or not they would open the news release at all. Thus, the SMNR may be more useful as a tool through which relationships can be maintained for two reasons: 1) the SMNR is more straightforward and is less likely to waste a journalist’s time, and 2) it contains much more information than a traditional news release, thus allowing the journalist to write/create stories more expediently. Is the SMNR Really Social Media? The social media news release, or SMNR, was created in 2006 by SHIFT Communications and was named for its incorporation of social media elements in the


The Social Media News Release Uncovered 44 template. Although the SMNR contains elements that are considered social media tools, the SMNR itself is not social media; it is more rich media content in that it contains interactive media with links to other social media outlets. Rather, the SMNR acts as a portal to social media. The SMNR is, to some degree, a more technologically advanced version of an electronic media kit. Some of the social media tools that the SMNR includes are RSS, del.ic.ious, Technorati, and Digg. These tools allow a journalist to decide if the release should be shared with the larger online community. Therefore, the social interaction is not necessarily occurring between the journalist and the public relations practitioner, but rather between the journalist and an online audience. Thus, while some components of the SMNR are traditional social media tools, the perceived role of the SMNR by journalists and public relations practitioners in this study seems to serve more of an informational function that a dialogic function. Based on the findings of this study, it seems the SMNR is a helpful tool, but may have been somewhat misnamed. The findings suggest that not only does the name misrepresent the tool but it may also result in unwarranted prejudice since several journalists and public relations practitioners did not view the term social media in a positive light. The renaming of the SMNR would not only increase an understanding of the function that it serves but it may also change the attitudes of both journalists and public relations practitioners towards the SMNR for the better. The SMNR Improves Information Sharing for Online Journalism and Blogs With the increase in the popularity of online journalism and blogging, many journalists felt that the SMNR was an effective tool that could be used to communicate


The Social Media News Release Uncovered 45 information. Online news stories and blogs often link to relevant information and incorporate rich media content, which are two major features of the SMNR. The inclusion of these features may help create social capital between journalists and public relations practitioners since an essential component of online journalism and blogging is being provided to aid in story creation and information sharing. Hence, the features of the SMNR are especially appropriate for communicating with non-traditional media creators. As an information subsidy, the SMNR is particularly helpful since it subsidizes information but does so in a way that allows the online user to instantly glean facts as well as view rich media content. The interactive tools of the SMNR thus make it more appealing to bloggers and online journalists since it has much more opportunity for interactivity, a key factor for online news. Similarly, the SMNR lends itself to the creation of social connections for communicating and information sharing with a whole new audience of new media creators and users in that it acts as a portal to social media sites where relationships can be further developed. This study showed that relationships could develop online just as well as they could through more traditional methods, such as face-to-face communication. Thus, since some aspects of the necessary elements exist for the creation of social capital (i.e. structural, relational, and communication), the SMNR has real potential for creating and maintaining relationships between online journalists and bloggers and public relations practitioners. Concern Over Lack of Widespread Use of the SMNR Most of the journalists and public relations practitioners interviewed expressed concern over the lack of widespread use of the SMNR. Some journalists felt like their


The Social Media News Release Uncovered 46 colleagues, especially the more seasoned ones, would not know what to do with the SMNR since it visually differed from the traditional news release and it incorporated many new media tools with which they would be unfamiliar. However, most interviewees acknowledged that it would simply take time for every journalist to become familiar with new media tools and ultimately the SMNR. Some public relations practitioners also felt the new format of the SMNR might be too complex, either too complex to create or too complex to understand. Additionally, some practitioners noted organizational restrictions regarding the format of news releases would make it impossible to adapt the SMNR into use. For example, one practitioner’s company had very strict guidelines regarding the format of news releases because they valued consistency over creativity. If the SMNR is to be adapted into widespread use, there must be willingness from public relations practitioners to create and gather the information necessary to assemble the SMNR, along with the willingness to relinquish some control over the content to journalists.


The Social Media News Release Uncovered 47 Limitations and Suggestions for Future Research The purpose of this study was to examine how public relations practitioners are using new media technologies, such as the SMNR, as a relationship-building tool and how journalists perceive the SMNR in the current technology-driven market. This study involved a qualitative analysis of perceptions of both journalists and public relations practitioners. While the sample size was small, it is believed that information saturation was obtained. Nevertheless, expanding this study to involve more participants may yield additional insight regarding the SMNR. Further, the participants for this study were limited to two states, Florida and North Carolina. Participants from other areas of the country may have yielded different responses since the attitudes’ of public relations practitioners and journalists towards new media technologies in other areas may have been drastically different. Another limitation to this study was the lack of awareness of the SMNR. Only a few participants were aware of the SMNR template and no one had developed or received one. This lack of awareness meant that judgments were made based solely off of the template and explanation during the interviews and not personal experience with the SMNR. Information regarding how other new media technologies are being used to build social capital would be a reasonable expansion of this study. Similarly, with the rise of many other new media tools, it would be interesting to explore how journalists and public relations practitioners view the introduction of so many new media tools into their field. Research in the future may also examine attitudes toward social media applications, including other forms of social media that may serve an information subsidy function.


The Social Media News Release Uncovered 48 Twitter, for example, was discussed by both journalists and public relations practitioners as beneficial for developing story ideas. Future research should also investigate how blogging is changing traditional journalism and public relations since changes in how the information is presented could possibly change how information is written, created, distributed, and targeted.

Conclusions and Implications Essentially, the results from this study suggest that some sort of change in how information is presented to journalists may be both necessary and welcomed. The SMNR is one possible solution since it combines many of the news media’s demands into one document. Public relations practitioners who fail to recognize that new media is changing the way information is written, displayed, and distributed, may find their message dismissed or disregarded.


The Social Media News Release Uncovered 49 Ultimately, this study found that the SMNR allows for more information to be disseminated to journalists in a timely manner. The SMNR also allows for the information to be displayed in a wider variety of media outlets such as online newsrooms and/or blogs. Finally, while the SMNR may not be the best tool for creating relationships, it does have the potential to aid public relations practitioners in maintaining relationships with key publics, such as journalists, and thus allows for the creation of social capital. Journalists remain dependent on information subsidies, perhaps even more so now. Since many of the features of the SMNR are preferred over the traditional news release, it seems clear that there is a place for the SMNR in the marketplace. The SMNR serves as a one way through which the traditional news release can be modernized for the web. Brian Solis (2009), social media expert, stated, “SMRs effectively package disparate social content strewn across multiple social networks in one contextual, market specific dashboard.” The SMNR format, overall, seems to be effective in catering to the wants and needs of journalists, yet is seemingly having a difficult time gaining acceptance from public relations practitioners. Until public relation practitioners recognize that the way information is disseminated to journalists in changing, they may face an uphill battle. The following implications are important for public relations practitioners to consider:  Public relations efforts in the future should focus foremost on the newsworthiness of the information.  With the rise in online journalism, more efforts should be geared towards providing information that incorporates rich media content, perhaps even more so than text.


The Social Media News Release Uncovered 50 ď ś Despite advances in technology, public relations should still focus on relationship building to enhance social capital with journalists. ď ś Relationships should be created and maintained not only with traditional journalists but also with non-traditional journalists, such as bloggers.


The Social Media News Release Uncovered 51 Figure 1. Perceptions of the SMNR as a Relationship-Building Tool

Dimensions of Social Capital Public Relations Practitioners  

 

 

Key facts only are limiting Discourages personal contact

Aides relationship maintenance More needed to build relationships

Another channel for communication Prefer more personal communication

Structural Access Referral Timing

Relational Trust Strength of social connections

Communication Personal connections

Journalists   

Convenience of info Faster access to info Can determine newsworthiness faster

Aides relationship maintenance More needed to build relationships

 

Preference for computermediated communication Viewed favorably as straightforward form of communication


The Social Media News Release Uncovered 52 Appendix 1. SMNR Template


The Social Media News Release Uncovered 53 Appendix 2. Interviewer’s Guide Background 1. What is your job title? 2. How long have you been working in the journalism/public relations field? 3. Journalist: What types of news do you typically report? PR Practitioner: What types of releases do you write? News releases in general 4. Journalist: How often do you encounter news releases during your daily work? PR Practitioner: How often do you write news releases? 5. Tell me about your thoughts on news releases. 6. What is the most common way that you send/receive news releases? 7. Which way do you prefer to send/receive news releases? 8. Journalists: How often do you use news releases, either as an idea for a story or use the whole release in place of a story? 9. Journalists: What types of news releases catch your eye? 10. Is the format of a news release appealing to you? SMNR 11. What would you change about a news release? 12. Have you ever heard of a social media news release? 13. If you have, what do you think of the new format? 14. What do you feel are the advantages of the social media news release? 15. Journalist: Does the new format make it easier for you to conduct additional research? 16. Journalist: Does the new format increase the chances that you will run the story presented? 17. If you haven’t, here is a template that was developed by SHIFT Communications in 2006. The social media news release, often referred to as the SMNR, is a new version of the news release that breaks up the information usually found in a news release into sections and also uses new media technologies to provide additional access to information. What are your thoughts on this new format? a. Is this new format more appealing? b. If so, what about it specifically appeals to you? c. What do you not like about the SMNR? d. What changes would you suggest? e. Journalist: Would you prefer public relations practitioners to use the SMNR over the traditional news release? Would receiving a SMNR increase the likelihood that you would run a story on the presented topic? PR Practitioner: Would you be more likely to use an SMNR now that you have seen the format? 18. 19. 20.

Are you familiar with new/social media? Which technologies do you use? Do you think that the SMNR will become more common? Do you have any additional thoughts on the SMNR?


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Enhancing Social Capital between Journalists and Practitioner? The SMNR Uncovered  

Social Media News Relase

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