Wednesday, June 19, 2019

How the mainstream media covered Trump's re-election rally

In case you missed the president's campaign launch in Florida last night, the coverage itself was an interesting study in how different outlets cater to their audiences. 

I picked traditional print media here, since the TV/cable news outlets (Fox News, CNN, MSNBC) skewed exactly they way you'd assume they would, but more so. Conservative media mostly wrote reviews of the rally, describing Trump's speech as if it was a performance, focusing on the size, tone, energy and enthusiasm of the crowd, quoting the lines that most energizes his base and avoiding any mention of factual errors or demonstrably false statements in his speech. Here's an example from the Wall Street Journal
The kickoff event was billed as a megarally to demonstrate Mr. Trump’s campaign prowess and to deliver his pitch for 2020. During his 75-minute speech, the president largely struck familiar notes, boasting about the economy and his judicial appointments while assailing the media and Democrats. Mr. Trump’s ability to energize supporters, such as the roughly 20,000 who packed the Amway Center, will be key as he begins a crucial phase in the 2020 contest... 
He continued to use 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton as a political target, complaining about polls that had predicted her winning the election, and suggesting that the Justice Department would continue to search for emails deleted when she was secretary of state. Many Republicans believe those emails were improperly deleted, and it was a rallying issue for Mr. Trump’s supporters during the last campaign.
Mr. Trump also said he would continue to “drain the swamp,” his metaphor for upending the political establishment in Washington. 
“That’s why the swamp is fighting back so viciously and violently,” Mr. Trump said. “For the last 2 1/2 years we have been under siege.” 
The event had all the hallmarks of the rallies that defined Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign. Thousands donned in “Make America Great Again” hats, chanted “lock her up” and “build the wall,” and waved signs that read “Four More Years.”
The left-leaning outlets decried his attacks on Democrats and mostly analyzed the speech itself, fact-checking his claims and debunking (or, occasionally, confirming) statements he made. Here's the Washington Post's mainbar:
At the Amway Center here, Trump told the crowd that his election in 2016 was the result of a great political movement that has been under attack ever since, despite what he described as the great successes of his presidency 
“We accomplished more than any other president has in the first 2½ years of a presidency and under circumstances that no president has had to deal with before,” he said, using the hyperbole that has marked much of his career. 
Trump’s argument for a second term then quickly became a rehash of grievances and false claims from his first campaign, along with a hit parade of Trump rally applause lines. He veered off script to rail at length against the “witch hunt” special counsel investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and revisited complaints about the media, “Crooked Hillary” and her missing emails. 
“They are really going after you,” Trump said of the list of enemies he laid out for the crowd. “They tried to erase your vote, erase the legacy of the greatest campaign and the greatest election probably in the history of the country.”

And he warned of the threats posed by immigrants, a focus of his presidency that has thrilled his most ardent supporters and caused his critics to accuse him of promoting racism.
The Washington Post's fact-check piece homed in on 17 statements from his speech, including this one, which more conservative outlets ignored:
“We passed the largest package of tax cuts and reforms in American history — the largest.” 
This is a Bottomless Pinocchio claim, our worst rating. Trump’s tax cut amounted to nearly 0.9 percent of gross domestic product, meaning it was far smaller than President Ronald Reagan’s tax cut in 1981, which was 2.89 percent of GDP. Trump’s tax cut is the eighth largest on record — smaller, even, than two tax cuts passed under Obama.
Media outlets that try to stay neutral offered some analysis that pointed out possible pitfalls in his reelection campaign or, in some cases, didn't cover it themselves at all, running AP copy instead (that's what we did at U.S. News). Here's Bloomberg's analysis

Trump wound up saying little new in his Orlando speech and he’s probably going to have to do much better if he wants a second lease on the Oval Office. While he’s successfully mobilized the emotions and resentments of a large portion of the electorate, and has commandeered the Republican Party machinery, the biggest fruits of his presidency have been enjoyed by cultural conservatives and his most affluent supporters. Other voters have now road-tested the unproven Trump of 2015 who promised to take a wrecking ball to the Washington bureaucracy, drain the swamp, and negotiate a series of political and economic deals that would benefit average Americans struggling with uncertainty. A significant number of those folks may review Trump’s original promises and find him lacking.

Friday, May 18, 2018

On WGBH: School shootings, royal weddings, #MeToo, and Boston business issues

Recently on WGBH-TV's "Beat the Press," Adam Reilly, Dan Kennedy, Callie Crossley and I joined host Emily Rooney to talk about about how the media is covering the latest school shooting, the latest royal wedding, the latest racism-related business issue in Boston, and the latest #MeToo-related punishment on Spotify. Plus, of course, our weekly rants and raves -- my rave was for Wired Magazine's coverage of the news through the lens of science, and for the fantastic reviews by acclaimed food and travel writer Joe Ray.You can watch clips below:

As a school shooting unfolds in Texas, one local TV news station fact-checks live:

Are British tabloids hounding Meghan Markle's American family members?

On whether a Boston Seaport restaurant's business woes have anything to do with race:

On Spotify's reaction to the #MeToo movement:

Our weekly rants and raves:

Friday, April 13, 2018

On WGBH: Trump 'love child' rumors, a semi-apology, and media access to executions

Tonight on WGBH-TV's “Beat the Press,” Adam Reilly, Dan Kennedy, Callie Crossley, and I join host Emily Rooney to talk about Tom Ashbrook’s semi-apology, whether the media should have access to all aspects of executions, how the press has handled the rumors of Trump’s lovechild, and our usual rants and raves. (My rave was for these two projects at -- please check them out!) You can find watch the episode, broken up into segments by topic, below. 

On why the media is choosing to publish the "love child" story now:

On WBUR's Tom Ashbrook and his request for redemption:

On whether the media should be allowed to document all aspects of executions:

Our rants and raves:

Friday, March 16, 2018

Using technology to level the playing field in New York

Photo via

I had a great conversation with outgoing Chief Technology Officer of New York City Miguel Gamino earlier this month, when I moderated the fireside chat at the fireside chat at the Zahn Innovation Summit, held March 6 at the City College of New York. The full interview is up at U.S. News & World Report, but you can start reading excerpts from our Q&A right here:

Q: How do you see places like the Zahn Center and entrepreneurs in this city benefiting from being in New York rather than out West?

A: What I came and found (in New York) was this very rich and different ecosystem around tech, in large part because the people here are different and diverse, and I don't just mean that in terms of gender, color, ethnicity. I mean people's backgrounds, where they come from and where they're trying to go is much more diverse here than I've experienced on the West Coast.

And the industry (in New York) is diverse. If you're a tech person here, if you're an engineer, you're not just going and trying to get a job at Facebook and Google or the next startup. Here, software engineers are employed by JPMorgan Chase and food startups and biotech startups and light manufacturing ventures. So there are a lot of different angles.

If I were starting a startup again, I would do it here. Because of the people I can access to help me with that. … It's a richer talent pool and there's a lot of opportunity here because you've got so many different industries contributing to the growth of the tech industry.

Q: Your office's broadband initiative also really addresses equity and fairness. In the age of the internet of things, with access to information at our fingertips, it's easy to forget about the 30 percent of New Yorkers who don't have high-speed internet in their homes. How does that affect their daily lives?

A: For some people it might mean not getting to work because they way you go on transit is by buying a ticket on your iPhone. Or it might mean not being able to apply for a job. It's much more pervasive than my ability to stream Netflix or go on Facebook or chat with friends.

So, one (issue) is what it does to you, as a person, when you can't get online. But the deeper impact is the impact it has on the youth and people who don't have a choice.

In schools, for example, we're spending a lot of time and money and we're really proud of progress we're making in classrooms. We make a bunch of progress, a bunch of investments, to do things in our classrooms to modernize them. And we're proud of that, because it's our effort to keep up with the global competition. But what if your child goes home to an internet-connected home, and mine doesn't? And their homework has been assigned online, or they have to do research for their paper online. Your child, regardless of any other factor, has a significant advantage over mine – maybe one that can't be overcome. Because mine won't be able to do that homework nearly as well as yours will, or maybe at all. So, in some ways, if we're really focused on the equity piece in the U.S. or in New York City, those folks who do not have access at home would be better off if we stuck with stone tablets and paper books, because at least they'd have the ability to compete with the classmates they have in their classrooms. Of course, then the rest of the world would eat our lunch.

So that's a long way of getting you to think about the fact that this is not a luxury, it's not just about the talking points of inclusiveness and diversity. If we're really serious about making opportunity available to people in every corner of New York, and if we're really serious about New York competing with cities around the country, and if we're really serious about this city and this country competing with cities and countries around the world, it's no longer optional, when you break it down that way.

Q: I've been told that you hate the word "innovation." Why do you hate it, and what word or words would you prefer people use?

A: I wrote a little blog post about it some time ago. I think it's not only "innovation" but other terms that get thrown around, and they mean nothing because they mean anything or everything. It's all in the eye of the beholder. So, if you're an agency in government or a big company or whatever and you're still using typewriters, then implementing Microsoft Word is going to feel like an innovation, because you're equating the word "innovation" with progress. You think you're innovating, but you're just implementing – you're implementing something that has been there for a minute, you're just maybe late to the game.

And then you have what I call iteration, which is when you were at the implementation phase, but now you're thinking creatively about how to use it differently – and so you think you're innovating, but you're really not, you're iterating. You're taking something that's existing, tweaking it a little bit or changing your business processes to be improved by the use of technology. Again, in that moment, it feels like progress that we inappropriately call innovation.

And then there's the last category, which I think is the breakthrough, the disruptions – the stuff that really has the 10x kind of impact on things and people outside of your organization. They are are more than just business-process improvements, they are fundamental shifts in paradigm. In the current moment, that's things like blockchain, A.I. – not Bitcoin, Bitcoin is an iteration on the disruption. It's a function that has a really strong, obvious use-case, but the real disruption is the underlying technology.

And so the reason that I did that early on and I broke it down into those three buckets, the whole point was to set up that NYCx was intentionally going to be focused on that last one of the three. Because there's people truthfully everywhere in the organization that should be actively doing the other two. … If you're not careful, if you lump it all together, then every time you go into a conversation about innovation, the oxygen in the room gets sucked in that direction, to the things that are easier to understand, easier to measure, less risky. And I wanted to intentionally carve out this space where we could allow ourselves to engage with those high-impact, 10x potential disruptions to make sure that we didn't miss an opportunity to take advantage of that.

Read the rest at at U.S. News & World Report, and look for recaps from the summit on Twitter: #ZahnSummit.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Dr. Farhang Mehr, 1923-2018: Zoroastrians Mourn the Loss of One of Their Brightest Lights

I was honored to be asked to help Dr. Farhang Mehr write his memoirs as a Permanent Legacy Project for the Seventh International World Zoroastrian Congress. I knew of him through my grandmother, Roda Mistry, the first Zoroastrian member of India's Parliament; she had met him during a trip to Iran in the 1970s. After more than a year of interviews and casual conversations in Dr. Mehr's cozy home in Newton, Massachusetts, I had learned not just about his incredible life experiences, but about the rich heritage of the religion and culture I had been born into and his hopes and dreams for the future of Zoroastrianism. The memoir morphed into a full-fledged biography, a project much larger in scope than I had anticipated, and even now, nearly 20 years later, I'm grateful to both Dr. Mehr and his wife, Parichehr, for their patience as this then-young journalist learned how to become a biographer on the fly.

Dr. Mehr rose through the ranks of academia and politics in Iran, shaping economic policy there before fleeing persecution during the Islamic Revolution and settling in the United States. An accomplished scholar, dedicated public servant, and pillar of the Zoroastrian community in diaspora, he died on March 4, 2018, in Southern California. He was 94.

“A thriving Zoroastrian community and a prosperous Iran were my twin dreams,” he said in a 1999 interview for his biography, “Triumph Over Discrimination: The Life Story of Farhang Mehr.” “These dreams were constantly in my thoughts, and their realization is my life’s goal.”

Born in Tehran on Dec. 11, 1923 to Merhaban and Paridokht Mehr, Dr. Mehr earned Bachelors of Science and Bachelors of Laws degrees from Tehran University before traveling to England to earn a Masters of Laws degree from the London School of Economics at the University of London and a PhD from the University of Southampton. He returned to Iran and took a position with the National Iranian Oil Company, heading their International Contracts and Industrial Relations department while also serving as an advisor to the Minister of Commerce.

Dr. Mehr was able to combine his expertise in law and economics with his love for his country by serving in Iran’s Ministry of Finance, where he helped guide economic policy as the Director General of Oil and International Relations, Governor for Iran in OPEC, Director General of Economic Affairs and Monopolies and, eventually, Deputy Minister in charge of finance and economic affairs.

He was nominated to become Iran’s Minister of Finance, but was prohibited from serving in that capacity; only Muslims could hold the title of minister and Dr. Mehr, a devout Zoroastrian, was disqualified due to religious discrimination.

“My religious identity was public knowledge, and my every action was a translation of my beliefs,” he said in 1999. “I fully observed and respected the Muslim customs and traditions, consciously extended equal treatment to the followers of other faiths, all while remaining devout to my own religion. I believed then, and still believe, in a civil society.”

“In a civil society, Zarathushti citizens should be politically active,” he continued. “Without power or access to power, survival and progress are unattainable.”

Persuaded to remain in politics, Dr. Mehr became General Deputy Minister of Iran, and later served as Acting Minister. When he objected to the prohibition against non-Muslims, Prime Minister Amir Abbas Hoveyda appointed him to be Deputy Prime Minister of Iran -- the first non-Muslim ever to serve in the highest levels of the Iranian government.

“I resisted exchanging my religion for a higher political office, and I refused to sacrifice my heritage at the altars of prestige and political acceptance,” he said in 1999. “As such, I was able to set an example for other Zarathushtis in Iran, one that I hope will continue.”

Dr. Mehr eventually resigned from government service and became the Chairman of the Board and Executive Director of Bimeh-ye Iran, the largest insurance company in the country. In this capacity, Dr. Mehr reshaped the insurance industry, creating a new regulatory agency and a new college of insurance to train agents in Iran and other countries.

His illustrious career extended to positions of great responsibility in higher education, including teaching positions at Tehran University, the National University of Iran, the College of Insurance, and the country’s military academy. He was president of Pahlavi University in Shiraz for eight years, guiding the school to greatness and polishing its reputation on the world stage.

In 1981, Dr. Mehr was forced to flee from Iran to avoid religious persecution, risking his life during a perilous journey through Turkey and eventually finding freedom in the United States. His wife and children joined him and they settled in the Boston area, where Dr. Mehr taught international relations at the Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies at Boston University.

But he did not limit himself to the classroom. Dr. Mehr authored more than 80 articles and 12 books, including “The Zoroastrian Tradition, An Introduction to the Ancient Wisdom of Zarathushtra” and “A Colonial Legacy: The Dispute Over the Islands of Abu Musa, and the Greater and Lesser Tumbs.” He retired from Boston University as professor emeritus in 1997, later moving to California.

“When I left Iran, I also left my dreams for that country unrealized,” he said in 1999. “But I carried within me my dreams for the future of Zoroastrianism, and I continue to work toward strengthening the fabric of the Zoroastrian community in diaspora.”

His dedication to his faith and community was a driving force throughout his life. As a very young man Dr. Mehr was focused on fostering unity and securing rights for Zoroastrian youth in Iran; he served in leadership positions in Anjumans and cultural associations in Iran, England and the United States, and was a founding member of the Ancient Iranian Cultural Society and the World Zoroastrian Organization. While in Boston, he was active in establishing and supporting the Zoroastrian Association of the Greater Boston Area, gave speeches at Harvard University, the World Zoroastrian Congress and the North American Zoroastrian Congress, and mentored countless young Zoroastrians, encouraging them to understand and live their faith.

He personified the most important tenets of the Zoroastrian religion -- good thoughts, good words, good deeds -- and worked tirelessly to create unity and inspire the Zoroastrian community to evolve and “work toward the greater good.”

“As a single entity we should be showing love, upholding justice, exercising compassion, working for peace, engaging creatively in constructive work,” he said in 1999. “These goals cannot be achieved with the current social and religious attitudes of our fractured community. Though at times difficult, some traditions can -- and should -- be modified as social conditions demand change.”

Dr. Mehr was awarded a FEZANA Lifetime Achievement Award for his service to the Zoroastrian community worldwide, an honor bestowed upon just five others in the history of the organization.

He is survived by his devoted wife, Parichehr Naderi, and their children, Mehrdad, Mehran and Mitra Mehr, whom he adored with all his heart.

Dr. Farhang Mehr: Hopes, Dreams, and Aspirations

It's been nearly 20 years since Dr. Mehr asked me to help him write his memoirs as a Permanent Legacy Project for the Seventh International World Zoroastrian Congress, and out of all of our many, many conversations, the ones that I remember most fondly are the ones in which he described his hopes, dreams, and aspirations for the Zoroastrian community worldwide. He called himself "a Zarathushti by birth and by choice" -- a revolutionary idea, given the view that Zoroastrianism is both a race and a religion. He passed away on March 4, 2018 (you can read his obituary here). Here is an excerpt from that chapter of my book, “Triumph Over Discrimination: The Life Story of Dr. Farhang Mehr,” where he shares those hopes in his own words.

This is what I call “The Zoroastrian Odyssey.” Zoroastrianism and Zarathushtis are undergoing a tumultuous intellectual and spiritual voyage: An effort by Zarathushtis in Diaspora to preserve their cultural identity. Knowledge about one’s religion and culture, one’s history and heritage, are some of the tools needed in order to make this Odyssey successful. Other tools required for the journey are freedom of choice, protection of human rights, protection of the environment, global solidarity, and cooperation with the democratic process. Zarathushtis must be dedicated to good thoughts, good words, and good deeds; tolerance and inclusiveness are essential to achieving our goal of maintaining a strong and solid community. We must hold fast to this dream.

I cherish other dreams for the future.

I dream of the preservation of Zarathustra's teachings, which make up the core of Zoroastrianism, and of the preservation of the meaning behind our rituals and customs. The core of our religion is the beliefs and doctrines contained within the Gathas. They are everlasting and unchangeable. They give us the strength to undertake our mental quests. The rituals are described in the literature accompanying the Gathas. The actions of the rituals appeal to our senses. Imbued with meaning, the rituals are a manifestation of the faith, a reminder of our demotion and commitment. Without meaning, rituals become empty motions, devoid of significance. The core and the rituals together are necessary in order to maintain faith. It is possible to be open-minded and acquire new and different political identities without sacrificing one’s religious identity. … When our youths understand the significance of our rituals, they are better prepared to take our religious community into the future, armed with understanding and religious knowledge, confident in themselves and their heritage.

I dream of the formation of a large and flourishing Zoroastrian community.
A living religion must also have a vibrant community rich in real religious commitment. Without a community of practicing believers, a religion becomes nothing more than a museum, an artifact, a relic to be viewed by the curious and studied by historians and scientists. We should maintain a community of Zarathushtis in mind and in heart, treading together the path of truth and righteousness. As a single entity we should be showing love, upholding justice, exercising compassion, working for peace, engaging creatively in constructive work. Together we should be practicing good thoughts, good words, and good deeds in order to reach a community-wide goal of enlightenment and unity with Spenta Mainyu and Ahura Mazda. These goals cannot be achieved with the current social and religious attitudes of our fractured community. Though at times difficult, some traditions can -- and should -- be modified as social conditions demand change. In a civil society, issues can be resolved through discussion and the application of reason, goodwill, and compromise. Compromises should not be confounded by hypocrisy, but should come through constructive confrontation and a willingness to work toward the greater good.

I dream of creating unity within the Zoroastrian community. In a quest for survival and in an attempt to fight social ills, the Zoroastrian community has split into three distinct ideological groups: Traditionalists, Reformists, and Moderates. The division in and of itself is not a threat to the solidarity of the Zoroastrian community; it is merely a sign of spiritual awakening and religious revival. In the modern, free world no religion is monolithic. Doctorinal diversity is a product of freethinking -- a value cherished by Zoroastrians and mandated by Ahura Mazda. Religious understanding is no longer the domain of the priesthood; every individual is entitled to knowledge and has the right to study and make inquiries into religion. It is a personal choice. The threat to community solidarity comes, then, not from freethinking, but from intolerance. … Liberty is the most previous of Ahura Mazda’s gifts to humankind. It is a component of divine law. The right to liberty is so undeniable that Ahura Mazda does not curtail humankind’s actions, even in regard to one’s choice of religion. Intolerance is not a tradition sanctioned by the Gathas. … The acceptance of people born to non-Zarathushti parents is not a threat to the survival of the religion. The tradition of non-acceptance is a threat to our very existence.

I dream that the spirit of Zarathushtra will live on in our youths. We, the elders of the Zoroastrian community, charge out youths with maintaining the ideals of Zoroastrianism. It is up to you, especially those of you living outside of Iran and India, to prove that Zarathushtis have the talent, motivation, strength, and benevolence needed to flourish in the next millennium. You must lead the way. You must do what is right for righteousness sake. You must be vigilant, working hard to protect and promote Zoroastrian values, and to keep the eternal flame alight.

I am confident that my dreams will come true, and that Zarathushtis will not only survive, but also excel in the years to come.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

PR Tips from a Journalist

I get a lot of PR pitches every day. A lot. Some are way better than others -- those get read. The rest end up "spiked" -- that's old-fashioned newspaper-speak for "deleted." The worst of those end up being inspiration for my #PRFail rants on Twitter (like this and this and this and this).

PR friends, you don't want your pitch to end up in one of those tweets.

Luckily, there are plenty of things PR people can do to improve the odds that their pitch gets noticed. I spent part of this afternoon with my friends at Team LEWIS, talking to their staffers about what PR professionals absolutely must do -- and absolutely must not do -- to get on a journalist's good side. Here are my notes:

The first thing you absolutely must do: due diligence

Good editors remind their reporters to trust but verify their sources, and PR people should do the same with their press lists. Make sure you do your due diligence! That means you must:
·      Know the journalist: What does he currently cover? Does she still work for the same publication she did last time you reached out? Does he use his full name or a nickname? Does she prefer emails or phone calls? Is "Chris" male or female?
·      Know the outlet: Take a look at their latest two or three issues, or at their website (and not just the home page! If the website has multiple landing pages or sections, take a quick look at as many of them as possible). Do they still cover the same topics or products they did before? Is your client or product a fit?
·      Know what’s already out there: Who are your client’s competitors? Is there something similar already out there? What makes your client different from them?
·      Know what’s already been written: Has the publication or reporter you’re pitching to written about a similar product before? If so, it’s unlikely they’ll write about your client, and may be irritated by your pitch.
·      Know your product: If a reporter responds to your pitch and wants to know more information, have that info handy and reply right away. Saying “I’ll get back to you on that” is the same as saying “We’re not really ready to have you write about this right now.”
·      Know your audience: Who is going to buy your client’s product? Does the reporter or publication you’re pitching to reach that audience? I wrote about parenting in the mid- and late 2000s. The babies I wrote about then are nearly teenagers now, so, no, I am not interested in your client’s range of organic, cruelty-free, hypo-allergenic, hand-curated, small-batch baby products.
Other things you absolutely should do:
·      Proofread. We all make mistakes, but a silly typo in a press release can make both you and your client look bad. It makes a good journalist wonder: How much reliable information are you going to give me if the data in your press release is incorrect? How much attention to detail is put into the product if you don’t know the difference between “their, “they’re” and “there”? Also: Get my name wrong and your pitch likely will be spiked. Do it again and your email address is added to my spam list, which means I’ll never see any of your pitches again.
·      Be clear. Use easy-to-understand, everyday language to describe your client or product. Unless you’re pitching a white paper to a research firm, there’s no need to use academic terms, and most reporters absolutely hate marketing jargon.
·      Be brief. Reporters are busy – they don’t have time to scroll through three pages of email or listen to a two-minute long voicemail to find out what you’re pitching. Stick with who, what, where, why, and how — who you are, what you’re pitching, where it is located (if it's an event, where it fits into the market if it's a product), why it’s significant or different from the competition, and how to get more information.
·      Remember that you are asking the reporter to help you out. It’s not the reporter’s job to give your client publicity, it’s your job to persuade the reporter to consider your pitch. No one wants to deal with an overly pushy or demanding PR person. Be considerate of the reporter's time; if you’re calling on the phone, the first thing out of your mouth after “Hello, my name is _______” should be “Do you have a minute to talk?” or “Is now an OK time to chat?”
·      Make it easy for the reporter to get what he or she needs to use your client as a source or promote your product. This includes having your contact information visible in a sig at the bottom of your email (if you’re sending a hard copy of a press release, have CONTACT and your name, email, phone and social media handle at both the top and the bottom of the page; if you’re leaving a voice mail, start by introducing yourself and giving your callback number). Even better: Set up a media page for each client on your website, and house hi-res and low-res images, press materials, bios, and contact information there, so if the reporter loses (or spikes) your email he or she can still access assets -- and reach you -- easily.
·      Offer samples or access, if appropriate. A good reporter will not write a review of or promote a product or service he or she has never tried. Offer access or a sample (and a way to return it, like a postage-paid box, if you want it back) when you make your request, but be advised that many organizations do not allow their staff to accept gifts (or keep samples) that are worth a lot of money.
Things you should absolutely not do:
·      Don’t automate your pitches or blast the same exact pitch to multiple people. Not only does in increase your chance of including an error, it increases the possibility that your pitch will be irrelevant to a reporter on your list.

·      Don’t rely on spellcheck. Spellcheck only picks up on words that are spelled wrong, not words that are used inappropriately. Take this phrase, for example: "Sew, adz eye rote bee four...” Not a single word in this phrase is spelled wrong but, obviously, not a single word in that phrase is used correctly. Also: Spellcheck won't tell you if you've spelled my name correctly or not. Both "Lylah" (yes!) and "Lyla" (no!) would be flagged as incorrect, while "Lydia" (also no!) would sail through.
·      Don’t send anything as an attachment. In this day and age of malware, phishing scams and hacking, most emails with attachments end up stuck in a spam filter. If they get through, the chances are high that a reporter will never open the attachment. If your message doesn’t get read, your pitch is worthless. Got a large file to share? Host it on your site or on Dropbox and make it available to download. Got a video to share? Host it on your site or use YouTube or Vimeo so it can be either downloaded or embedded. The only time it's really a good idea to send an email attachment is if you're sending materials that the reporter has already requested and you know they're expecting your email -- and, even then, there's still a risk of infection from a virus or malware.
·      Don’t expect them to click on links. Links can lead to phishing or malware sites, but it's also a good idea to avoid sprinkling them like confetti throughout your pitch because that's like forcing reporters to take extra steps and extra time to help you. It’s fine to offer a brief rundown and then suggest they go to your website for additional information or assets, though.
·      Don’t try to flatter them. Sure, we love it when people say they love our work, but if you say you love the last product review that I wrote, and I haven’t written a product review since 2009, I know you’re being insincere (and that you haven’t done your due diligence). Ditto praising all the articles I've written on health care reform (zero in the past many years).
·      Don’t be too casual. Do not start your pitch with “Hey, Beautiful,” “Hi there, sweetheart,” “Dude,” “Hey,” or “What’s up?” unless you know the reporter well in real life. This is a business relationship. A too-casual approach will make you and your client look unprofessional. (And, yes, I really have received pitches starting with all of the above greetings.)
·      Don’t be cute or gimmicky. Do not snail-mail a package with confetti, perfume or glitter. Do not send cookies or candies for no reason. Do not send a card with a noisy, pre-recorded message. Do not use gifs or other animation in your emails. It’s distracting and annoying (and reporters hate it when animations or graphic-heavy emails crash their ancient computers).
·      Don’t be a stalker. If no one responds to your email or voicemail right away, it’s fine to follow up a few days later. But don’t keep emailing, and for goodness sake, keep the phone calls to a minimum – not only is the writer likely fielding other pitches, he or she is also trying to, you know, write.

Friday, June 16, 2017

On WGBH: Interviews with conspiracy theorists, columnists and campaigns, and more

Tonight on "Beat the Press," Dan Kennedy (Northeastern University), Jon Keller (WBZ) and I join WGBH's Callie Crossley and Emily Rooney to talk about the media. We're discussing Megyn Kelly's upcoming interview with conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, whether newspaper opinion columnists should disclose their political ties, what role the media plays in the politics of violence, plus our rants and raves. Tune in at 7 p.m. on WGBH, or click on the players below for the various segments!

On interviewing conspiracy theorists:

On the media and violent political rhetoric:

On opinion columnists and campaign ties:

Our rants and raves:

Thursday, June 1, 2017

On WGBH: Trump, the Paris Deal, Health Care and More

I joined Scot Lehigh of The Boston Globe and Republican lobbyist Jessica Tocco on "Greater Boston" for a discussion (with host Jim Braude) about the president's possible plan to withdraw from the Paris climate deal, how the GOP-crafted Obamacare replacement is faring, and whether former FBI Director James Comey's anticipated testimony will make a difference. If you missed the broadcast, you can catch up by watching the clip right here:

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

#FakeNewsBoston: Talking about journalism in a post-truth era

Lylah M. Alphonse at the LEWIS #FakeNewsBoston event on May 18, 2017.

When I'm not in the newsroom at U.S. News & World Report, you can find me talking about the news on WGBH's "Greater Boston" or "Beat the Press" and at various speaking gigs along the East Coast. Most recently, I was in Boston to talk about the fake news phenomenon at an event hosted by LEWIS, an elite PR and marketing group run. Here's a Storified synopsis of what we discussed.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Friday, March 17, 2017

On WGBH: Prying vs. privacy on "Beat the Press"

Back on WGBH tonight, this time on "Beat the Press," where I'm talking about the media with host Emily Rooney, Dan Kennedy of Northeastern University, WGBH News’ Callie Crossley, and Boston University College of Communications Dean Thomas Fiedler. Tune in at 7 p.m., or watch each segment of the show here:
Fake Forecast - National Weather Service withholds information:
Prying vs. Privacy - Popular podcast motive called into question
Much Ado - Rachel Maddow’s scoop on Trump's tax returns falls flat
Pool Problems - Should partisan outlets participate?
Rants & Raves - The panelists offer their rants and raves over some of what happened in the media world this past week