How NOT to Promote Voter Registration

Elle magazine may have had good intentions, but their strategy to encourage readers to register to vote was terribly misdirected. Here’s the tweet that Elle sent out to its followers:

The catch is that Kim and Kanye are NOT breaking up, and the link provided takes users not to a news story but to a Voter Registration website. What some have called “trolling for good” is anything but good for media credibility which is already suffering from years of decline.

Some saw the stunt as a slap in the face of young women who are frequently depicted as politically unengaged and only interested in celebrity news.

Which led Elle to tweet an apology for the original tweet; a reminder once again that social media gone wrong is a constant threat to brand credibility.

Dear Rolling Stone…

…please stick to music. Believe it or not, the magazine used to have a reputation for quality investigative journalism. But recent high-profile ethical failures have tarnished that seanpennreputation. First it was the campus rape story that was retracted after the accuser’s story disintegrated. In this case irresponsible journalism damaged not only the reputation of individuals and the UVA campus community, it did damage to the cause of those working hard to reduce sexual assault on college campuses. You can read about the debacle here.

The Sean Penn interview with El Chapo puts another nail in Rolling Stone‘s coffin when it comes to journalistic integrity. According to an interview with David Folkenflik on National Public Radio,

the agreement that Rolling Stone made was extraordinary and, I think, wrong. It agreed to allow Joaquin Guzman, the real name of El Chapo, to review and demand changes in the article before publication. Rolling Stones says he chose not to do so. But what an abrogation, what a relinquishment of editorial control and authority.

Another reason for concern is the role of Sean Penn. We’ve seen other attempts at celebrity activism fail miserably. Remember Dennis Rodman’s basketball diplomacy with North Korea? When celebrities inject themselves into serious news stories, the story is often overshadowed by the celebrity’s fame or political baggage.

Perhaps the best thing to come of the interview was the capture of El Chapo. According to the AP as reported in the Washington Post,

Associated Press quoted Mexican authorities saying that Penn’s contacts with Guzmán helped them track down the fugitive in a rural part of Durango state.

UPDATE: Sean Penn feels terrible regret over his interview with El Chapo.

An Out’rage’ous Newsweek Cover?

Newsweek magazine was once a leader in the news weekly genre. But that was a long time ago and Newsweek is now struggling to attract readers. One technique they’ve employed is the sensational cover photo and headline. According to an article in the Huffington Post, “The conservative Daily Telegraph called it a ” sickening piece of shock journalism that cheapens a once great magazine” and compared it to the anti-Muslim film that sparked the protests.”

This YouTube video captures some of the outrage directed at Newsweek and other journalists.


In response to criticism about their cover, Newsweek invited the public to chime in with their own take on the events recently unfolding in Islamic nations around the globe. They invited people to post to Twitter using the hashtag #muslimrage which was quickly hijacked by Muslims and non-Muslims alike. You can find a collections of some of the tweets, and images of Muslim Rage at Gawker.

This mocking response to a serious issue demonstrates the challenges facing media companies who give up control to their readers/viewers/users. Listen to this NPR story about the Twitter backlash.

Yesterday’s LA Times points to a recent article in Foreign Policy magazine in which the author suggested,

that the increased democratization brought by the 2011 Arab uprisings and social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter helped break down the barriers between cultures and tamp down the cycles of outrage compared to the previous protests over Danish cartoons in 2006 that left hundreds dead.

It may be too soon to tell if democracy and social media will have a lasting positive effect on relationships that have taken centuries to grow apart.