By Jonah Bromwich, PepperDigital

Dramatic blog title, I know.  And I wouldn’t be so dramatic if I didn’t have (a little)something to back it up.

This past Sunday, respected British newspaper The Guardian published a story entitled The Robot Journalist: An Apocalypse for the News Industry? The story was focused on the rise of robot reporters, which use a set of algorithms to take data and turn it into news.  The ostensibly human Guardian reporter was quick to point out the “irony of the rather poor first-quarter earnings of the New York Times being reported into the Forbes database by a series of algorithms.”

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The onset of machines taking over the field (or at least contributing significantly) presents a series of interesting challenges to those of us who work hand-in-hand with journalists on a daily basis.  It seems to me that the real question is, now that machines are capable of doing this kind of work, is it in our best interest as PR people to promote them?  Should we cheer them on as they storm the storied halls of the fourth estate?  Or should we stand up for our historical partners, support the evil we know rather than the one that we don’t?

In some ways, dealing with robots would be far easier.  With digital processing speed, they probably would take the time to read each and every one of our pitches.  Their “circling back” with editors would take place instantaneously and though they might speak in monotones, they’d never be blatantly rude.

But though these things sound attractive (and maybe the press should take a lesson from the inherent advantages of their competition) the reporter—public relations bond can’t be denied.  Sure we occasionally pitch reporters somewhat robotically, but we also talk to them, take the time to listen to their needs and interests, collaborate to bring them interesting stories and bring our clients some great media wins.  With robotic reporters, that all-important human interaction would be gone and we’d be left working in a cold, metallic industry.

If anything, the onset of robotic reporters should make us cherish the things we get from the ones we’re used to working with.  We should make sure to personalize our pitches, to ask reporters if they have a moment to speak before barging ahead with our own needs.  To empathize and recognize the humanity that helps to build lasting relationships.

Besides, have you guys seen the Matrix? Or Terminator? Or Blade Runner?  We definitely want to avoid that kind of situation, even if it takes being snapped at every now and again by a reporter staring down a deadline.

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By Jonah Bromwich, PepperDigital

The idea of “harnessing the power of the internet” has become a bit of a cliché, so it’s funny to think that, after more than ten years, both individuals and companies are still relatively clueless when it comes to doing just that.  The translation from internet activity to practical value is a leap that hasn’t come easily to everyone—and we’re still wowed anytime someone manages to make that leap successfully.

That’s why I’m so impressed by a site I’ve just found out about: Change.org.  The website understands that the internet works as a kind of virtual assembly room, in which people are all too willing to share opinions and feelings about any little thing.  So it serves as a forum for assembly—organizing that chaotic mass of opinions into something both manageable and serviceable.

The site plays host to a large number of petitions which are created and promoted through social media by anyone who has a cause worthy of following.  By spreading their message and collecting members online, worthy causes are able to develop bases, whom they can then proselytize to get involved in an offline sense, whether it be meeting in person to protest or contacting government officials en masse.  By appealing to people’s causes online, the petitions are able to gain huge followings, because they’re incredibly easy to sign and spread and because they negate the space that usually separates people who are trying to draw supporters to a cause.

change.org, community organizing, non-profits, NFPs, daily show, Hillary Clinton, Saudi women's rights, Ben Rattray, Jon Stewart, Facebook Activists, Social Media

Change.org has already enacted significant political gains.  For example, after 22,000 users petitioned for Saudi women’s right to drive, Hillary Clinton switched her position and started clamoring for that right.  It’s pretty impressive that a group of what we usually term “internet trolls” working in unison were powerful enough to enact such a policy shift from the Secretary of State.

The internet in its most basic form is a collective space, where people spend a lot of their time.  By organizing this space and mobilizing users, Change.org is able to enact change, in a quick, convenient, 21st century way.   As founder Ben Rattray put it on The Daily Show last week, “the power that people have to make a difference right now is far greater than ever before.”  It will be incredibly interesting to see how sites like Change.org allow individuals to enact real change through virtual assembly, and to imagine the way that this could improve customer service, political accountability, and a whole host of other areas in which regular people’s opinions can no longer be ignored.

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Ben Rattray
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog The Daily Show on Facebook

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By Jonah Bromwich, PepperDigital

Here at Peppercom, we keep our ear to the comedy ground as well as the comedy grapevine and the comedy newswire.  So of course we took note when one of our favorite comedians, Parks and Recreation star Aziz Ansari announced that he was releasing his newest special, entitled Dangerously Delicious, straight from his website, azizansari.com.  In doing so, he is following in the footsteps of luminaries Louis C.K. and Jim Gaffigan, both of whom announced plans to release specials on their own websites, sidestepping traditional distributors like HBO and Comedy Central and taking power into their own hands.

The New York Times recently ran an article summarizing the trend, which quoted CK as saying “I don’t have to go, ‘Here’s this product,’ to whatever company, and then cringe and shrug and apologize to my fans for whatever words are being removed, whatever ads they’re having to watch, whatever marketing is being lobbed on.”   And it’s true.  This is an assertion of independence from talented artists with loyal fans, taking power into their own hands through the use of digital platforms.

What lessons can we take from this development?  There are several:

1)  As usual, digital capability allows any entity an enormous amount of power. The simple ability to release content on one’s own schedule, without censure or the need to wait for approval ensures that customers or fans are getting the unadulterated product which they most likely signed on for in the first place.

2)  This kind of freedom allows a person (or a brand, or a company) to add all kinds of signature touches that might be wallpapered over by the corporate-speak required by traditional distributors.  For instance, C.K., in his comedy release, included the typical offer to subscribe to Louis CK updates by email.  However, rather than check that box automatically, as almost any service asking if you’d like to subscribe will do, C.K. assumed that people wouldn’t want useless emails about him cluttering up their inbox.   This is a small touch, but it makes a big difference in terms of customer/fan loyalty and allowed C.K. to further express his gregarious personality.

3)  Doing what you want gets you press. Ok, this isn’t always the case.  However, using the digital capacity that’s already available to you in a new or different way is attention grabbing.  It makes people see new uses for old innovations (this is basically just a cool use of streaming video and the internet) and realize that most of the new technology that’s come along in the last twenty years still hasn’t been utilized in the way that it could be.

Louis C.K. was able to make 1.1 million(and that was in January) by taking his special straight to the people and while figures on Anzari’s special haven’t been released yet, there’s been plenty of chatter surrounding his new release (more than there would have been for just another televised special.)

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