Newsflash: No Fear

3 Jan

Before the official beginning of my illustrious career at the DQ 27 years ago, I delivered newspapers.

First, it was the Columbus Citizen-Journal, then The Columbus Dispatch. There’s nothing like a newspaper delivery job to make you appreciate the hard work of stuffing and folding papers (hard to wash off that newsprint) and collecting money from people who never seem to be home. While in high school, I was the feature editor for the school paper. In my late teens, I freelanced for a community newspaper called The Reynoldsburg Reporter.

Now, I work hard landing good client news as a PR professional. The sensation is not unlike the feeling of carrying your newspaper bag on a bike: You have to pull weight from the front bag and the back bag evenly, so you don’t get thrown off balance from the front or strangled from the back. (Those of you who’ve delivered papers know what I mean.) Despite my decades-long commitment to print media, I am considering the cancellation of my local paper delivery.

Because it’s official: The Web is now the more popular news source.

Some on Facebook have joined a group about not letting newspapers die. But all the positive thinking in the world can’t change technology. In the world of news, fast is good. And in a world quickly realizing that paper is expensive and environmentally wasteful, words are best delivered digitally. And so is the Sugar Daddy for print news–advertising. It’s no surprise that papers are getting thinner and thinner. The Cincinnati Enquirer just eliminated advertising from two of its seven daily papers. Technology is speedy and cheap, and the immediacy of the Web has overtaken the process of the printing press.

It’s time to admit that the newspaper as a vehicle for delivering news is dead. In fact, technology is changing the delivery of broadcast as well as print media. Every day, good people are laid off from media jobs. There are various services documenting the downsizing phenomenon in media. And some entertaining summaries of the fallen. This one documents the demise of magazines during 2008. It’s sad but true. The Web, with its lightning-fast delivery, has replaced the once proud newspaper carrier.

Large and universally known entities like CNN, Fox, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal are using technology to their benefit, leveraging all forms of media on the Web, blurring the lines between online, broadcast and print. They are not afraid to experiment with new media. It’s not a huge commitment to play with technology’s array of options and back out if it doesn’t work. Successful local media are finding their niche in community-focused stories that tell the human side of local events. Those who can best harness technology will remain intact.

Savvy PR firms are no longer pitching to the masses or trying to publicize the irrelevant. Like heat-seeking missiles, we are in search of the relevant news organizations, local, national or international, who have lured our target audience. And our pitching has to offer up visuals and a multifaceted story line. More than ever, our relevance comes from sifting through the various pieces of information and assembling a pitch package that includes all the right elements of news, delivered through the richness of multimedia.

Our pitching now had better include bloggers and citizen reporters. News organizations don’t always have the clout they once did. There are times when our pitches are first covered by bloggers, then picked up by the news organizations where they freelance. These days, there’s more than one way in–and we have to be prepared for the various points of access. This is not to be confused with pitching everything to everybody. We have to know our contacts. Relationships count.

This means setting the context for our pitches, and part of that comes from sharing mutual respect with the news media. Make no mistake, especially in the midst of constant turnover at news organizations, relationships make all the difference. What this means is that we have to be trusted sources for media, appropriately proactive in our outreach and reliably reactive when media ask us for ideas or access to sources.

New media is no longer new. These days, that’s old news. Case in point: Use of Twitter for press conferences and citizen reporter coverage of the recent Mideast crisis. Traditional and new media have become one. The best of both will remain when the dust settles.

If you’re not ready for the change that’s been underway for years, step aside before you get run over. If you are ready, come to grips with this newsflash: Constant change and progress have always been part of the news. The difference today is the speed of technology, driven by the higher proportion of the population with access to absorb and create the news.

Smart PR pros will embrace the change and help their clients navigate the unknown. Fear is not an option.

3 Responses to “Newsflash: No Fear”

  1. Gene at 10:05 pm #

    I’m afraid that you and many others are right that newspapers are dead (or at least terminal). But as someone who spent my college years training as a newspaper reporter and a decade working for newspapers and every morning since then getting my news fix primarily from the printed page, I find it a sad death.

    While it’s true that technology brings us news faster and in many more forms, the millions of websites devoted to news of a particular interest have diffused the sources of information, the yardsticks by which we judge credibility and have often blurred the difference between news and opinion. It may sort itself out in the end, but for the time being, watching newspapers trying to stay afloat is like watching an old and well-loved uncle struggling to breathe.

    • toknowbetter at 11:33 am #

      You make a good point. I think that there will always be a market for quality newswriting, so that news reporters are finding new ways to deliver their craft. If it gives any comfort, most of the bloggers that are broadly recognized and well-respected stay true to the separation of news and opinion. Smart readers are discriminating and don’t waste time with the others.

  2. Gene at 3:59 pm #

    Good post, by the way!

    I agree with much of what you say. I think savvy consumers will look for objective bloggers, and they do exist. But I personally would not want to rely on citizen reporters as a credible source of news gathering (that’s my bias as a former journalist). I also think many others gravitate toward sites that provide a point of view they agree with. I’m thinking of sites like Kos and Drudge. I saw recently that The Daily Show was in the lead pack when it came to news sources for younger Americans. John Steward actually does a good job of putting news in perspective, but no one would say he is objective. All of that said, “objective” journalism is a fairly recent phenomenon in America. In Colonial days right through the much of the 19th century, news organizations made no bones about where they stood and they covered the news from their editorial perspective. I think the real dilemma for those of us whose clients are looking for big hits is where to turn. With so many options, market share becomes spread thinly. That’s why I think today’s major news organizations — the ones you mention who have branched out into electronic media — will continue to have the most credibility for some time to come, and they will be mirror images of newspapers. Only the newsprint will be a thing of the past. Social media may someday pay dividends, but right now they seem to me to be primarily advantageous to marketing efforts.

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