A lot has been made of the near 150 year old Seattle Post-Intelligence closing down its print division tomorrow to go strictly to web-content only. Newspapers have been struggling for many years now and it seems that the current recession has pushed a few over the cliff. The Post-Intelligence’s closure of its print department comes a couple weeks after Denver’s Rocky Mountain News closed its doors permanently. It now seems that the Tucson Citizen will also be publishing its final issue on Saturday. With the struggles that are being seen at newspapers across the country, how does this effect public relations professionals?
As with any change in an industry, there are some rough patches that will be seen as well as some great opportunities. Being an optimistic person, I’ll tackle the positives to be seen and then lightly touch on the negatives.
Innovative ideas that at one time would be dismissed are now being valued and accepted.
Voice of San Diego is a non-profit, independent web-content newspaper that does not charge a single penny for its service. Unlike many other newspapers that have ventured into primarily web-content based news, Voice of San Diego has very little advertising on its site. Its principle source of income comes from donations and unlike newspaper conglomerates, they do not have any stockholders that need to constantly see a profit. I hope that this kind of journalism catches on in other cities because it is also very beneficial for PR professionals. Voice of San Diego only has a few dozen staff members, so the information supplied by PR professionals creates a symbiotic relationship that allows both PR firms and businesses to work harmoniously with the news organization.
As previously mentioned, the Rocky Mountain News has left Denver for good, but the former newspaper’s journalists don’t think so. They plan on opening an online subsciption news site. In a similar manner, the Rocky Mountain News‘ new online site, INDenverTimes.com, will need plenty of content to attract the “50,000 by April 23” that the journalists are hoping to get. Where would these journalists look for the plethora of content needed to grow their new venture? To the trusty (maybe not the right word to some people) PR professionals who have plenty of information about businesses, organizations and events.
A decrease in newspapers could lead to an even greater distrust in journalism institutions.
I was once lucky enough to have a conversation with Len Downie, the former executive editor of the Washington Post and now a part of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University. I asked him his thoughts on the growing distrust that the American public has with news organizations. His response to me was that journalists should not worry if the public chooses to believe what they are printing. If journalists begin catering to what the public wants to hear, bias easily sets in. With the closing of newspapers across the country and newspapers caring more than ever before about what appeals to the public, bias is more prevalent than ever. Len Gutman in the Valley PR Blog makes a point that it goes beyond just the conglomerates and the economy in regards to newspapers crumbling left and right:
We can blame the corporate behemoths that have placed shareholder value over news value. And we can blame TV and the Internet. But ultimately we have to look at ourselves as a society and ask why we seem to no longer value real, hard-hitting, unbiased, journalism.
To bring this full circle as PR professionals, we need unbiased and quality journalism. The more newspapers and media conglomerates cater specifically to the public and ignore the journalistic principles that dominated newspapers in the 60s and 70s, the more people will become disenfranchised with news. People need to read the news because without the news, our industry is in just as much jeopardy as the newspapers.
Got a little more pessimistic than I thought I would, but I am still surprised to the lack of news coverage on the soon to be lack of news coverage. I addressed the positives and the negatives that I see in the recent fall outs of many newspapers, but what did I miss and what did I dazzle you all with?