Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The shrinking newsroom changes the game for PR

When the New York Times announced yesterday that they had to eliminate 100 newsroom jobs in a mere 2 1/2 months, it was a chilling arrow shot across both the media and PR professions.

Job loss of any kind is miserable and debilitating. When you sit back and think about 100 reporters and editors losing their jobs, it's an incredibly large number of people who will take buyouts or be shown the door. If you are a regular reader of the Times' excellent reporting, than imagine what a gaping hole in coverage will be made when that many people are gone by the end of the year.

As a public relations professional, I'm encountering the kind of sea change that reminds me of when local and national TV networks began trimming their staffs in the late 80's. Because of manpower shortage, publicists were forced to become amateur TV producers, organizing segments and providing props if they wanted their segments to air, a trend that is still in force today.

For print and the web nowadays, my role has expanded unconventionally as well. For a research client, I have to provide more analysis to accompany the data than ever before because there are not enough reporters to do the job. I'm encountering more editors who are singlehandedly balancing print and web editorial duties. The AP's Houston bureau chief told me she had only three reporters there, so unless there was something earth shattering, she could not afford to take somebody off business, political and sports coverage.

Clearly, there are going to be many stories and beats that are going to fall between the cracks and left behind. From a reader's perspective, we're not getting a complete picture of what's going on in the world. From a public relations perspective, our windows of opportunities are smashed and shrinking.

Social media has forced us to become our own wire services. We are our own distributors. With a lot of moxie and persuasion, we have to use Twitter, blogs, Facebook, StumbleUpon and other vehicles to carry our message and news. It looks increasingly like it's going to be a "change or die" scenario ahead.

Yet, there are still many public relations pro's -- more than you would think -- who don't know their Facebook from their checkbook. Many sign up, make a few friends, and leave it lying. I've run across a lot of professionals who have less than 10 connections in LinkedIn, and I know they are not that unpopular. One unemployed publicist I know is so clueless online, that her friend e-mails her Monster, PRSA and PR Week job ads daily because she has no idea how to have them sent automatically to her. Business Wire's "Lost in MySpace" beginner seminars for learning social media always packed them in.

So when you read about journalists, editors and bloggers being let go, no matter where they are, those big bells should be ringing like the opening of the AC/DC song from Back In Black. It's a wake up call that the game is changing.

1 comment:

Ellie Becker @elliebpr said...

Drew - You are so right on. Recently I had dinner with an AP friend who told me that 158 reporters had just been laid off. Having spent a lot of time understanding and navigating the new world of PR, one of the most important things we have to do -- and truly the greatest challenge --is to educate our clients that the old way doesn't work and that we can lead them into the new promised land.