The Pop in Pop City

When I posted about Pop City, it turns out I wasn't skeptical enough. Cori Shropshire's writeup this morning makes it clear that the site is Pittsburgh eye-candy, nothing more. (Pittsburgh eye-candy? Is that an oxymoron?)

* "a marketing tool for Pittsburgh"
* revenue comes from developers who have paid to advertise their properties as "the featured place to live"

Best of all, the site wants to write about all the cool stuff happening in Pittsburgh that "no one is writing about." "Our mission is to document the transformation of Pittsburgh and reframe how people view the city."

Reframe the view? Things no one is writing about? If you want to reframe how people view the city, give people the city the way it really is, not a developer's glossy wish-based brochure. And pay attention to the world around you! Have these people ever looked at the Internet?


8 Responses to "The Pop in Pop City"

Harold D. Miller said... 3/04/2006 1:43 PM

Last time I checked, the region wasn't exactly flooded with sources of information about the many positive things that are happening here. Last month, a $700 million Boston-based software company decided to locate a product development facility in the region creating 125 jobs (see, and it didn't even get a mention in the Post-Gazette.

Somehow I doubt that the readers of Pop City will be so naive as to see it as their only source of information about what's going on in the region. They'll have plenty of opportunities daily to be bombarded with information about all of the negative stuff, and so at best Pop City will provide some much-needed balance. Why does Pop City have to tell the bad as well as the good, when so many other sites and publications have no obligation to tell the good as well as the bad?

What would happen if the entrepreneurs of the world spent all their time telling potential customers about the weaknesses of their product relative to competitors, rather than focusing on its strengths? The answer is obvious, and it applies to Pittsburgh as a product in the world marketplace, too.

We are far more likely to fix the problems that do exist if we believe that the fundamental product here is strong and worth improving. Why waste time fixing anything if it's just a hopeless cause?

Those who believe that the negatives exceed the positive in the region must also thereby be admitting that their talents are so limited as to make them unable to move anywhere else with a better postive/negative ratio. Surveys show that the many people who do move here every year seem to think they've made a good decision, despite the best efforts of Pittsburghers to convince them otherwise.

People can support the region's marketing efforts without somehow thereby forfeiting the right to raise criticisms and work for improvements. Other regions have figured out how to do both successfully, and we can, too.

Mike Madison said... 3/04/2006 3:15 PM

There's plenty of good stuff to show off in Pittsburgh without dressing it up as PR. And positive fluff about the region doesn't sell. Fluff is never credible. Readers want honesty, and forthrightness (not apologies) about Pittsburgh's weaknesses makes the good stuff more effective.

The bottom line, though, is that if we're all in sales, an effective sales job doesn't begin with telling the customer what a wonderful product we have. An effective sales job begins with finding out what the customer wants, and what the customer needs.


Harold D. Miller said... 3/04/2006 8:05 PM


I agree that "fluff" doesn't sell, and I don't see Pop City as either fluff or a developer's "glossy wish-based brochure." I'm not sure how anyone could mistake a story about the Port Authority's 28X as fluff -- a pure PR approach would be to hide the fact that we have little buses running to and from the airport, rather than a snazzy light rail system.

You're absolutely right, good marketing is finding out what the customer wants/needs first, and in fact, there has been plenty of research done that shows quite clearly that there are a lot of customers out there who want what Pittsburgh has, but who don't know that Pittsburgh has it. So this publication is filling a need.

There's nothing wrong with revenue coming from developers paying for advertising. Newspapers sell advertising every day.

My vote is to support the publication as a much-needed effort to give greater visibility to the positives in the region(thereby matching the attention already given to the negatives), and to give the editor and publisher constructive feedback when stories are inaccurately or unfairly positive.


rustbelter said... 3/04/2006 8:52 PM

Maybe if we brand the region like cereal it will all work for the best. Maybe all we need is a giant Kool Aid pitcher down by the point fountain. We can have a big Pittsburgh is Kool booster campaign or have a Burgh version of Farm Aid, called Kool Aid.

Pittsburgh: Kools You To The Core.
We can attract new people here, since everything else is 50 years behind the times we'll be the last to suffer from the effects of global warming.

Every day I hear that sound I hop right out of bed 'Cause Rice Krispies cereal Is singing in my head.

Mark Rauterkus said... 3/08/2006 2:27 PM

All the king's horses and all the king's men will not be able to fix Pittsburgh again. Can't happen. Won't happen.

However, once the people engage (again) and the king's people and assets are told to become deliberate interactive elements -- and that is the RADICAL shift from how it works here now (and in the recent past) then we'll be able to flourish.

The fluff of the site (in my eyes) is because the interactivity is absent.

The POP thingie will be a sink. It will burning resources, money and careers even. But, the king's court has plenty of deep pockets. Trouble is -- the king is broke and the people are too. The city is going over the brink.

If Harold D. Miller wanted to be part of a real debate -- bring it on.

And, this even goes to the core as to why the other Mark, Mark Cuban, wouldn't be able to cope here again -- as in your other posting.

Think again!

Anonymous said... 3/17/2006 8:52 PM

The branding stuff is a distraction.

We need to reform our government and economy. Perhaps a website detailing how all these little municipalities and school districts could be more efficient would be more substantive.

We need more pressure only elected leaders.

Anonymous said... 3/19/2006 8:23 AM

Given the work that I have seen with this team's other sights, I suggest you read the articles that they post instead of pre-judging.

They are interesting and refreshing compared to most of the "journalists" articles that want to win a pulitzer prize every week by regurgitating negative news.

Saying you don't want to read the articles because you don't like where their dollars come from, should keep you from reading the paper if you don't like an ad.

Read the content!

Mike Madison said... 3/19/2006 9:05 AM

There's an important difference between something like Pop City, on the one hand, and a real newspaper, on the other hand. At a real newspaper, advertising and editorial functions are separate. Who buys the ads and what the paper writes have nothing to do with each other. (At least, that's the ideal. It doesn't always really work that way.) At Pop City and similar publications, the ads and the content are *supposed* to work together. The whole point of the operation is to promote the companies whose products and services are featured. Many of those products and services are worthwhile and deserve greater visibility. But we shouldn't ignore the connection.

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Pittsblog 2.0 is written by Mike Madison, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh. Send email to michael.j.madison[at] Mike also blogs at, on law and technology. Chris Briem of Null Space drops by from time to time.

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