Spring semester begins January 25, and once again I ask myself what to teach my PR students about media relations as the upheaval in media continues at a rapid pace.
Ironically, a lot of the news these days is about news organizations themselves. And the news is bad, especially about newspapers — bankruptcies, layoffs, and ever-diminishing revenues. It appears that the list of publications that have become extinct grows weekly. Many have gone online exclusively.
According to American Journalism Review, there were 1,408 daily newspapers in the U.S. last year. Most are small, with only 395 dailies having circulation of over 50,000. Gannett remains the largest newspaper company in the U.S., operating 84 dailies, but it only accounts for a modest 12.5 percent of the nation’s daily newspaper circulation.
Historically, many cities had two dominate newspapers, but no more. Most recently, Seattle, Denver, and Tucson ceased to be two-newspaper cities.
Efforts to save newspapers run from calling for a federal fund for newspapers to underwrite local news reporting to consolidation, thereby further diminishing the number of newspapers.
Highlighting the troubles is the recent revelation that the executive editor of The National Enquirer plans to enter for a Pulitzer Prize the paper’s coverage of onetime Democrat presidential hopeful John Edwards’ scandal. Long dismissed as a mere supermarket tabloid, it was the Enquirer that broke the story of Edwards’ relationship with staffer Rielle Hunter and her baby, which Edwards just admitted was his after months of denials.
As if what passes for journalism these days hasn’t fallen far enough, that this “disreputable tabloid” scooped the big dogs adds insult to injury. Where were they? They either missed the story or chose to ignore it perhaps because of Edwards’ political party affiliation.
True, print journalism is only one part of an effective media mix, but that part appears preoccupied with its own survival. Newspapers’ historical place as gatekeepers is increasingly called into question with the ascension of citizen journalists and bloggers. Social media must now be an essential part of strategic communication/public relations planning and management.
Therefore, I must instill in my students an understanding of and appreciation for all forms of media and how to effectively use them. My instructional philosophy and practice at Towson is built on integrated marketing communication (IMC). Under an IMC construct, a media mix is essential. The practitioner uses a mix of what works best to achieve his/her goals. It is neither all social media nor all print and broadcast nor all advertising.
Several of my former students have jobs with well-known PR firms at which they are responsible for Word of Mouth, or WOM, departments. WOM is essentially consumers providing information to other consumers. The agency account reps drive the buzz about a client’s products or services. They facilitate the conversation via social media.
But yet, the traditional print media hangs on. Therefore, it must still be part of an effective media relations strategy.
But how? The cornerstone is the online newsroom, as long as it is set up and maintained correctly. An online newsroom provides journalists with 24/7 access to important information. But to be relevant, it must conform to fundamental, time-tested rules of what makes information newsworthy, such as:
- It must be timely, for news means new.
- The information must be important to key publics.
- It must be interesting.
- It should have a local angle, hitting close to home for publics.
My students, like working professionals, must learn that effective media relations means understanding the characteristics of all media, how best to use each, and how to select a proper mix. There is a rich mix of media from which to choose these days, but in the end, the basics of sound media relations still apply, even to those newspapers that remain viable.