What is news?

As some of you may have suspected, I posted a fairly routine press release yesterday for a reason. I’ve been wondering what exactly constitutes news, or, more precisely, what makes an item in our genre newsworthy.

The standard press releases–website re-designs, label signings, publicity deals, et cetera–form quite a bit of the news material on some websites. But are they newsworthy? Are they stories relevant to the average Southern Gospel fan, or are they just industry minutiae that only insiders care about?

What should constitute news in the genre, and if we apply that standard, how often does something happen that is truly newsworthy?

I’m not going to pretend to have all the answers. I’m just proposing the question and opening the floor. Sometimes blog posts resolve a dispute or answer a question, but often they are most useful when they start a discussion.

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32 Letters to the Editor

Southern Gospel Journal welcomes letters to the editor. We will post the most thoughtful and insightful submissions. Ground rules: Don't attack or belittle groups or fellow posters, or advance heresies rejected by orthodox Christianity. Do keep comments positive, constructive, and on topic.
  1. I asked something similar on my blog when SoGospelNews was posting press releases from individual artists who were announcing they were nominated for SoGospelNews awards (after the entire roster had already been posted on the site), and what I got was an anonymous comment (go figure!) saying that it was common practice and newsworthy.

    Personally, I’ve taken advantage of this before. I sent out a PR for the group I sing with when our site was revamped (as in COMPLETELY redesigned) simply because it was a way of getting attention. And it worked.

    It’s not about NEWS anymore; it’s about ATTENTION. “Hey, look at this, we haven’t recorded an album in two years, BUT….we just finished vocals on a new project that we hope to have out in a few months!! Don’t forget about us!” If our group had done that back when the vocals were originally cut, we’d have a year old press release before we ever got the CD released….

  2. I am an average Southern Gospel Music fan. I don’t care about publicity deals/signings, how many nominations an artist got for a specific awards show (Lord knows there are enough of them) or so and so signed with such and such.

    I want to know if my favorite artist(s) is leaving the road, switched groups or going solo. When an artist falls ill or passes (as much as you don’t want to hear it) it should be reprted.

    One thing I would like to see more of are street dates for new album releases. You rarely ever know when a new album is being released.

  3. Seaton, interestingly enough, at one point Chuck Peters at SouthernGospelReporter decided to quit reporting group changes. He decided that people were moving groups so quickly that it wasn’t newsworthy anymore.

  4. I agree with Seaton… I’d also like to hear more on the street dates for new album releases!

    I also like hearing the odd news/facts. Like when Mark Trammell ended up on that comedy show. That was great!

  5. The problem you’re going to have with release dates is that a lot of groups release a lot of their product independantly, which means it releases when they get it from the printer. There are no street dates, just arrival dates.

  6. I think the big thing here is that you guys aren’t the common fan. Fans of these artists want to know when the artist takes their dog out at night. That’s just the way the common fan is.

    As to the awards bits – I have to agree with whoever posted that comment. Daywind just sent out individual press releases about their artists Dove nominations after the initial list had been released.

    Look at it this way – the casual fan of Gospel music could care less about the Dove Awards. So, they aren’t going to be going out and looking for news on the Dove Awards. However, they are huge fans of Greater Vision. So, they wouldn’t normally know about GV’s dove nominations had Daywind not released the info about their noms. This let the fan know what is going on. After all – isn’t that the point of publicity – getting the artist out to the public?

    I think because people are so close to this industry and see the inner workings (like bloggers or close fans) they can get quickly jaded to things like this. For the casual fan – they love it.

    Why do you think a website like SoGospelNews.com does so well? Because it’s a FAN based site that give the FANS what they want. The FANS want this kind of news.

  7. Chris, I have to disagree with you. I don’t think that the common fan cares about all those little details. I’ve been a fan of SG music all of my life and the only information that interests me is news about a new album or group changeover. However, groups are going to put out publicity statements. It’s inevitable. While I don’t think most people care about what group is in the studio or who got nominated for an award that nobody has ever heard of (no reflection on your company’s respected awards show, Chris), the fact is the information is going to be put out there. We’re not a controversial enough (not to mention large enough) genre to produce newsworthy press releases on a daily basis. SG group members aren’t getting busted for drugs (thank God), signing multimillion dollar contracts, or starting a reality show. I’ll bet the polka music industry doesn’t have fantastic press releases, either.

    However, the reality is that all groups are vying for their small slice of the pie. An easy and free publicity ploy is a news release to any of the SG blogs and fan sites. It’s going to happen. I have got to the point where I just ignore the chaff. Unfortunately, for sogospelnews and like sites, I don’t visit them as much because of the proliferation of non-important press releases. If I stop by the site, it’s usually to check out the message boards, not to gather the latest happenings. I find more value in blog posts that deal with the “big” news in Southern Gospel.

  8. For whatever it’s worth, unless a really big story breaks in the afternoon, I try to post each day on the biggest story of the previous day. Some days it’s a really big story, other days not.

  9. >>>One thing I would like to see more of are street dates for new album releases. You rarely ever know when a new album is being released.

    I concur, however, we just aren’t large enough of a genre to operate like the music world does. We really have a small percentage of label projects that could eben give a street date.

    >>>Unfortunately, for sogospelnews and like sites, I don’t visit them as much because of the proliferation of non-important press releases

    Obviously, you aren’t the normal fan or we would be out of business πŸ™‚ Besides, aren’t you also a performer? That being the case makes you not the norm as a fan as you look at things from more than a fans perspective.

    And for a little commercial — the news area of SoGospelNews takes up less than 10% of the entire e-zine. It”s a lot more than just the news. πŸ™‚

    In my personal opinion, I agree that 95% of the news items submitted are not really newsworthy, but, after 10 + years doing this, I have learned that it isn’t always what I think is newsworthy that matters to the fans. And considering that 10 years ago before the internet caught on, news of any kind was something you never heard until it was at least three months old, I’ll take this any day!

  10. I agree with Susan that prior to the arrival of the internet, it was hard to learn about gospel music news unless you were in the industry yourself, knew someone in it, or subscribed to a music trade magazine(Billboard, Cashbox, Singing News, CCM, etc.).

    I like things the way they are now better, too….despite the proliferation of rumors and out and out speculation common on the internet. Usually, rumors and such can be caught and exposed for what they are before they become harmful(though there is the occasional exception).

    Having said that, though, I don’t think casual gospel music fans routinely peruse the internet. If they come on that often looking for news and information about their favorite artists(or the music in general)I daresay they have crossed over into avid fandom.

    I suppose it’s fair to classify me an avid fan and/or observer, but even I am jaded by publicity announcements. What publicity agency an artist signs with or not simply leaves me cold. I could care less. I care more about what an artist is doing musically…and no, that does NOT include whether or not they’re in the studio at that time, laying down tracks, or minutiae of that sort.

    Personnel changes do interest me, but not ones involving groups I am not familiar with. If EHSS or the GVB get a new bass singer, that’s news. If the Heavenly Joyful Noise Quartet does, I can survive without knowing that until I see them perform, and they become a proven commodity in the gospel field.

    But as Susan also says, things that are not necessarily newsworthy to us personally may indeed interest many people wanting to know more about the gospel music world. Thus it behooves anyone purporting to present news of gospel music on the internet to be aware of what its’ readers might be thinking about or responding to in the gospel music community.

    Conversely, self-congratulatory blurbs about what a particular site is doing at a given moment can also turn off any casual readers. So we all have to stop and think before we put something on our sites…will people REALLY care about this?

  11. I’m just thinking out loud–I wonder if it would help certain sites (and no, I don’t have just one in mind) if they specifically branded themselves as dealing with Indie SG artists.

    Other genres have sites and even magazines devoted to only indie or pro groups, but not both. Of course, every genre has its indie groups on the verge of making it into the big time. (SG examples: Old Paths, Browns.) But generally industry observers can form a consensus, and if a website was upfront that its focus was indie artists, I doubt too many people would find fault with that.

  12. Inquirer,

    No disrespect, but you are not the average fan either, because of your work in radio. An average fan is one with no connections to the inner workings of the music industry, they simply attend concerts and buy music. And they enjoy reading even the most minor “news” about the people who sing this music.

    You stated: “I don’t think casual gospel music fans routinely peruse the internet. If they come on that often looking for news and information about their favorite artists(or the music in general)I daresay they have crossed over into avid fandom.”

    I disagree. Anyone using the internet usually surfs to the things they are most interested in. They may not spend all day doing it, but it is not unusual to find they surf 3-4 times a week without being more than an average fan.

    I would dare surmise that most people who respond to this blog and others like it (even message boards) have some connection to the industry side of things thus disqualifying them as an average fan. NOTE: I said most πŸ™‚ The difference or demographic of readers for our message boards verses the main e-zine are polar opposites. The main e-zine attracts the average fan, whereas the message boards and blogs tend to attract the fan/insider (a fan who has some connection to the workings of the industry).

  13. Susan, out of curiosity, would you call me an insider?

    If so (!), how much would it take for someone to be an insider?

  14. Daniel, that would work if our industry could afford to support it, but currently it can’t and barely supports what it has.

  15. …I think we cross-posted.

  16. Daniel,

    At this point, I would call you an Indie Insider. πŸ™‚ I’m not even sure I’m an insider in the purest sense. LOL Seriously, though, once you have an economical interest in the industry in some form, as a performer/artist, writer, publisher, producer, et al then you cross the line from an average fan to a fan/insider. How much of an insider is debateable for sure, but nonetheless you are no longer an average fan.

    We are an unusual industry because we are made up of so many fan/insiders. What works in general music-dom, doesn’t always work for southern gospel. This is why it is essential that we build the “fan” base. The fan/insider can’t keep supporting all of the industry. (This may be off-topic)

  17. Fascinating viewpoint.

  18. Well, I’m not an insider. The only reason that I would even look at the press release in question is because I’ve met Chris and Amy before, sort of a “hey, I know them” sort of thing. If it was a company other than Southern Spin, I probably wouldn’t spend my time reading it. As it is, I only read the first sentence and skimmed the rest.

  19. Susan,

    I never said I was an average gospel music fan, whatever that may mean.

    In fact, if you’ll reread my post, you’ll see I characterized myself as an avid fan, which I certainly am, in the least. (I would say that anyone who listens to gospel music at least 70% of the time he or she listens to any music at all is certainly an avid fan. That is my percentage.)

    And I would restate that anyone who surfed on a gospel music related website on a fairly regular basis(defined in this case as 4-5 times a week)would probably be an avid fan ot the genre as well, as opposed to a merely casual one. I can’t say that is true in every case certainly, but I would be willing to wager that I would be right more than I would be wrong about that.:-)

    I cringe when anyone links me to the gospel music industry, but I’m willing to concede that because I do a gospel music radio show for a fairly large radio station, have friendships with artists and other professionals, and that I also(proudly)write for SGN, I at least have a peripheral position as an industry “insider”.

    But even so, I don’t think that would disqualify me in the least from being able to relate to the “average” gospel music fan, because I deal with so many in my work and correspondence.

    Further, my radio training has given me a certain amount of insight into the tastes of the average consumer and how to orient my work toward reaching particular consumers.

    This discussion has given me inspiration for a blog topic of my own…thanks, everyone!:-)

  20. News is the summary/report of some happening written by a person or organization that has some knowledge or on the edge of some knowledge who has an some form of objectivity since they do not derive a benefit from the story the write in way, shape or form.
    The person or entity might “know about” the subject but does not know the subject as well as the subject of story or the insider of the story.
    Many times an objective story is written newspaper style with a lot less fluff, often it is not free flowing or has some mistakes in the story like spelling Russ Taff as Ruff Taff.
    Mistakes in secular news story is more impressive to me than a smooth flowing press release because I know that message of Jesus Christ is being spread into all the world, not just the saints.

    Press release is a story written by a person or organization that should know the inside information about subject to create a favorable impression to be transmitted to people of influence to inform the masses. Unlike news stories, the writer of the press drives some form benefit in many ways, shape or form.
    You can tell it is press release by the smooth flowing style of reading and might appear in many different outlets in the exact wording format as written.

    Might be an unfair comparison but let take a look in the area of politics.
    The news in the political worlds comes from people or organization that gathered information from public presentations or actions by the object of the story.
    It is the duty of the hired PR people have the object of the story to be seen in the most favorable setting.
    It is the duty of news reporter to write an objective story based on happenings not the reporter’s viewpoint.
    Injecting viewpoints gives credence to being a biased news reporter.

    Many times in the political world, PR people have to work after something happens.
    When happenings is not going their way, they talk about lowering the expectations of the end results.
    They talk about how we are in this process in the long haul.
    Now, the PR people hand the ball over to political strategist who might be also known as spin doctors.

    There is a tendency for news reporters to lose their identity.
    Some news reporters becomes the subject of the issue of the day and not reporting the news.
    Getting caught up in the excitement of news can lead to the news reporter losing their focus & objectivity.

    We have to guard against getting caught up in the excitement of the process that we lose our focus.
    Losing our focus would lead us down a dangerous road.

    Let me leaving you with this link to a blogger who is a singer, speaker and teacher who says “Just Sing It….. ”

  21. GospelMusicFan,

    Simple question: What exactly was your point?

  22. Grigs,

    We all (the Unthanks) think of you as a friend and have for years! Even if you read the release for no other reason than it is from Southern Spin, and even if it is only a casual skim, the PR has served its purpose. πŸ™‚ I believe there are countless others who do the same thing. Newspaper readers rarely read every item word for word, but will skim through to the highlights of what interests them. I don’t expect every fan/reader to read every sg press release either.

  23. Susan, I would consider myself a normal fan, in spite of traveling with a quartet. I’ve followed the groups, purchased concert tickets, and bought hundreds of CDs, tapes, and records since I was a child. I don’t know what constitutes an insider, but I don’t think I fit the bill. We don’t travel the “typical” SG circuit, we’re definitely independent (no label money has been thrown at our projects), and we don’t have the privilege of singing with mainline SG groups on a consistent basis. I say that to point out that my viewpoint isn’t shaped by my allegiance to any one area of the industry. Now if one of the requirements of being a normal fan is an interest in the “minor” news, then I guess I fit somewhere in the middle. And, from what I hear from my other SG-loving friends, I’m not alone. I don’t dispute the fact that there are some who are interested in what group was in the studio or who was interviewed by a certain program, but I would venture to guess that those fans are few and far between. My point is that there is little big news to report in the Southern Gospel field.

    Out of curiosity, how do you figure out what news fans are going to be interested in? Do you have a way outside of the comments to gauge the popularity of a news item? It would be interesting to see what trends develop there.

    And, by the way, I was rightly corrected by you. Your particular site does have a lot more than a news section. However, I first started visiting your site to get the latest in Southern Gospel news. It’s the minor stuff that has turned me off. I agree with your assessment that 95% of the info is not newsworthy (and, full disclosure, I’m sure my group has released a statement or two that would fit in that category). Your artist spotlights and your guest commentaries are strong points in addition to what I see as your greatest service to the “normal” fan: the SGN messageboard.

    I go back to my earlier observation that “an easy and free publicity ploy is a news release to any of the SG blogs and fan sites. It’s going to happen.” If I want to read it I will. If not, I’ll just ignore it and go on my way.

    I’ve enjoyed the debate. Daniel, you hit a hot button!

  24. Here is a question that I would like to ask softly. There seems to be WAY less postings on the SGN message boards over the last several months. You can look at them and see very little new most of the time. The website traffic may be the same or greater (I have no way of knowing) but there does seem to be less message board traffic.

    Susan, is this the case and why? Have people lost interest. There is so much else to read on the site maybe that is priority now. I think it is a great site BTW.

  25. Mark,

    Good question. Posting is down, but traffic isn’t. Doesn’t seem to make sense, but those are the facts.

    I follow several different message boards on the net including several message boards geared towards message board administrators and message board posting is down currently all over. It seems that the trends have shifted to be more “community minded.” Blogs and social networks are the current trends and that is fine because SGN’s goal has always been to be more of a community and not just a message board.

    Most likely trends will switch and message boards will again re-surface as the “hot” thing. Either way we haven’t seen it affect us in a negative way. Our stats have continued to grow and we are happy. Of course we are always looking for ways to improve and we welcome input and suggestions.

    Thank you for asking what we thought, I appreciate it. There are many times I wish we could do a round table discussion with our readers. it would be fun and helpful.

  26. Keith,

    You are a fan, no doubt, but once you pursued a career, whether professional/full-time or semi-professional/part-time your perspective changed.

    You might think the fans that want to read about who signed where or with whom are few and far between, but you are incorrect in that thought. It is actually the other way around. And remember that just because you didn’t find the Gardner’s Press Release of interest didn’t mean that their “1000 fans” felt the same way. In this industry there are as many regional groups with almost as large of a fan base as many of the pros.

    I remember when people where saying, “Who is the Collingsworth Family? I’ve never heard of them.” i remember Deon making the statement that they (Collingsworth) sold more product than most well-known pro groups; and people scoffing – no way! We are fans of an industry that doesn’t operate like the rest of music-dom. We really are mostly an Indie Industry.

  27. Susan,

    You are probably right. You know one of the things about message boards is that they get real redundant. (highest, lowest, favorite, ect) SN boards try to combat that by having one giant thread for a specific group but then most people don’t want to wade through it looking for new posts.

    I do think the content of your site is greatly improved. It is one of the only places to get an honest review of a cd as well.

  28. Thank you Mark, I appreciate your comments.

  29. My point is distinguishing the difference between news and a press release.
    News has been described in my earlier reply on this thread.
    A well written press release in the prefect setting can make a very favorable impression.
    That is good.
    Releases can be distributed by a service like this: [EDIT, 11/8/10: The link is broken and has been removed.]

  30. All,

    We’ve spent quite a bit of time here talking about what is not news. What is news?

    More to the point, what types of stories would you like to see covered on this blog and on other websites?

  31. Susan,
    I absolutely disagree with the assumption that my perspective changed once I joined a group. I’m still interested in the same news stories I’ve always been interested in. I’ve been traveling for 2 years now, but my likes and dislikes haven’t changed (at least in regard to my thoughts concerning the inane press releases some groups put out). And that has been the primary basis of my “beef”. Daniel just happened to hit my hot button. I agree with you that we’re closer to an indie market in many ways than a full-blown music industry. However, that doesn’t change the fact that there is a lot of chaff released as “news”.

    Now, when it comes to who signed with who, that is news. In response to Daniel’s question, my opinion of real news is album releases, information about special Southern Gospel events, group turnover, SG people being interviewed by secular media, awards, and so forth. My complaint is with “silly” posts such as who had a concert rained out, or who visited a little radio station in MS, and so on and so forth.

    Susan, I don’t want you to feel as though I’m attacking your website. I have the same disagreements with many other Southern Gospel sites. I happened to mention yours by name because I was responding to Chris’s observation. Your organization has done a great job of creating a cyber SG community and I commend you for it. And, I appreciate your fair coverage of regional and professional groups. SGN was the first media group to highlight the Collingsworths, if I remember correctly. In fact, it was about that time that I started consistently visiting the site. Obviously, you don’t write the press releases, you just post them. My difference in opinion has to do with what merits a post. When I get brave and committed enough to run my own site (or SG blog for that matter), I’ll let you guys dog me for my methods. Thanks for your interaction.

  32. Yes, message boards can become VERY redundant, and threads have a high tendancy to drift off topic rapidly (Singing News is a prime example)
    I’m not bashing that at all, I enjoy the singing news forums, and am a member myself. The point that I’m getting to is this: alot of the matierial mentioned on such sites can be classified as not being news, but exceptions exist.
    For example, I first heard about Jonathon Willburn leaving Gold City on the SN forums.
    But on the contrary, most of the posts after the initial one basically all said the exact same thing: (a paraphrase) “I’m suprised, and will miss him. Hope he and Gold City does well in their future endeavors”
    As stated earlier, reading close to 3 pages of that is redundant, and NOT NEWS.
    Another example, a thread about the Kingsmen with close to, or over 1300 replies is tedious to go through trying to find info such as when their new project is comming out, who is the latest singer, when “such and such project” came out, who was on it, and if it’s still in print, ect.