Why Trade Pubs Suck (and some journalists, too)

by Dave Zornow

Jan 16 — Today’s top story in Mediapost declares a big win for Rentrak, a competitor to Nielsen’s TV ratings virtual monopoly. The Chief Research Officer of CBS Corporation Dave Poltrack,  says the broadcast network and the cable CBS Sports Network have signed on as subscribers to Rentrak’s TV Essentials service. Mediapost.com, broke the story at 9a today.

MediaPost editor Joe Mandese’s lead uses the word currency in quotes. Which strangely enough isn’t exactly what Rentrak’s press release said.

“Rentrak’s analytical solutions provide a single-source framework that will lead to more effective use of the television medium and, more importantly, to the documentation of that effectiveness,” said Poltrack. “Working with Rentrak, our goal is to advance this transition to a new era in television advertising execution.”

Which bring us to the Why Trade Pubs — and sometimes journalists — suck.

  • Kudos to MediaPost for breaking this story and leading with it (as of mid-day, only Broadcasting/Cable had the story — their piece a copy and paste from Rentrak’s press release. TVWeek, AdAge and MediaBistro didn’t feel the need to push it out there so fast.) But here’s a tip for Joe Mandese, and every other editor: no one cares about who gets a story first except other journalists. That Internet thing really has leveled the playing field. But the truth is this: being first hasn’t been important since the age of afternoon newspapers and newsies crying “extra, extra, read all about it!” Yes, cable news obsesses about being first and getting it right later — but shouldn’t print journalists set their ethical sights just a little bit higher than the standard set by the Fox News Channel, CNN and MSNBC?
  • David Poltrack has been an active supporter of every upstart competitor to Nielsen for the past 30 years — which includes AGB, SMART and ScanAmerica (among others). No knock against Poltrack about being out in front — the world doesn’t change unless visionaries and risk takers champion new ideas. However, that’s an important fact that was omitted from the story which readers should know: many of those early bets didn’t pay off (although CBS rarely has risked real money for these early endorsements. It’s still a good bet if little is wagered and nothing was lost!).
  • Mediapost’s Mandese doesn’t like Nielsen and frequently goes out of his way to highlight the TV ratings company’s faults — sometimes being a little bit fast and furious with his facts. Mandese’s use of the word “currency” is a lift from a quote in the press release, citing what Rentrak President Bill Livek said: “We are excited to add CBS to our expanding client list of networks, agencies and stations and are confident that our Advanced Demographic currency.” Sorry kids, but that’s not the same thing as Poltrack saying CBS will be using Rentrack as currency. Nor does it include reaction from skeptical agencies as to whether or not they will accept estimates based on Rentrak data.

What frequently disappoints me about writers and editors at trade pubs is that they leave obvious questions unanswered and are willing to write what sources say without context or balance. Yes, this is a big deal for Rentrak to get a CBS endorsement — and it probably will do good things for their stock price. But will it alter the way that Spot TV is bought and sold? I don’t think so. Was it worth running as a lead story?

Vendors, PR flaks, cable news pundits, political consultants — we expect these sources to spin stories to meet their needs. It would be nice to think that trade pubs have higher standards.

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