I thought I had read everything notable by Paul Graham, but here’s his piece about Public Relations.
PR is not dishonest. Not quite. In fact, the reason the best PR firms are so effective is precisely that they aren’t dishonest. They give reporters genuinely valuable information. A good PR firm won’t bug reporters just because the client tells them to; they’ve worked hard to build their credibility with reporters, and they don’t want to destroy it by feeding them mere propaganda.
If anyone is dishonest, it’s the reporters. The main reason PR firms exist is that reporters are lazy. Or, to put it more nicely, overworked. Really they ought to be out there digging up stories for themselves. But it’s so tempting to sit in their offices and let PR firms bring the stories to them. After all, they know good PR firms won’t lie to them.
A good flatterer doesn’t lie, but tells his victim selective truths (what a nice color your eyes are). Good PR firms use the same strategy: they give reporters stories that are true, but whose truth favors their clients.
Here’s his comparison about bloggers vs. journalists/PR people:
In other words, the readers are leaving /newspapers/, and they’re not coming back.
Why? I think the main reason is that the writing online is more honest. Imagine how incongruous the New York Times article about suits would sound if you read it in a blog:
The urge to look corporate– sleek, commanding, prudent, yet with just a touch of hubris on your well-cut sleeve– is an unexpected development in a time of business disgrace.
The problem with this article is not just that it originated in a PR firm. The whole tone is bogus. This is the tone of someone writing down to their audience.
Whatever its flaws, the writing you find online is authentic. It’s not mystery meat cooked up out of scraps of pitch letters and press releases, and pressed into molds of zippy journalese. It’s people writing what they think.
Far more seem to make money by showing expertise and then selling said expertise. In other words, they’re producing something useful for the world.
This makes sense on the face of it, but it also poses problems. Why should a blogger make money only if the blog is related to a stated expertise? (I guess this is a rhetorical question). The implication is that blogs must occupy some niche (the “Romanian Literature blog,” “the recipes with carrots blog” ) to succeed. But really, all we’ve established is that niche blogging makes it easy to secure advertising. That leads to the question of what content bring in the most ad dollars. And thus a whole series of compromises have begun to intrude upon a blog’s raw honesty.
In fact, I have several areas of expertise and have even started some niche blogs, but after a while, I just abandoned them and returned to my main blog to post stuff. Sure it looks weird when a post about Igmar Bergman is after a post about Linux drivers and some offcolor humor site. Sure, I could create categories and organize my site better. Come to think of it, I’m pretty sure I could have URLs that use categories as directories, and I think there is a way to use different themes for different categories. Frankly, though, I don’t have time to seriously explore that. That’s not a lame excuse, it’s just that the blog is of secondary importance. If I’m blogging, it’s mainly because I’m avoiding doing other more important writing or technical task. On the other hand, my blog is not so crappy as to make it impossible to find my most important writing.
Besides, I’m not interested in writing a weblog anyway. I’m interested in writing books. Later this year I’ll be releasing my ebook Noncrappy Things from my Blog. This will organize my best blogposts into a readable form. Should be fantastic!
Speaking of books, I should mention that I have been learning about docbook in depth for the purpose of creating ebooks. Gosh, you never would have known this by reading my blog, would you?
At the beginning of 2009, I vowed to monetize my online projects better. I still have not done this; it never has been a burning priority (though I have one literary project in which it will be a priority). I suppose I could use a WP theme that is streamlined for ad placement, but I have a 1000 more important things to do. Seriously.
That is why I am finishing this blogpost and moving onto something else.