The End of Media Relations – Part 3

The End of Media Relations – Part 3

Part 3: Vice Vice, Baby – 5 Facts Squeezing the Media

Remember the song, Under Pressure, by Queen? It’s got that syncopated bass intro that sticks in your head: dun dun dun da da dun dah. Vanilla Ice used it to set up his song, Vanilla Ice–Ice Baby. No matter what you think of that song, it’s got 75 million views on YouTube, sooo…hey, that’s something. Here’s a link if you want to throw yourself into a 1990 time warp for a few minutes. That bass line popped into my head as I was writing this post. In this part 3 of the series, I’m going to talk about the vice the news business finds itself in these days.

A quick recap of the posts I’ve done on this subject so far will help orient you:

  1. When the Associated Press decided to sell content to America Online, Yahoo! and Google – who then turned and gave away the content for free – the three-legged revenue stool of traditional newspapers: newsstand sales, subscriptions, and advertising got hammered. People stopped paying for content because when something is free, it has no value.
  2. That phenomenon has pushed newsrooms in a couple of directions: in-depth-investigative or into content creation that can be sold through syndication. For the latter, the cost of content creation is being driven down the curve dramatically by software tools like Wordsmith, an algorithm that writes articles based on content scraped from SEC filings or NCAA box scores, to name a few. According to one news article (written by a human), “The AP only adopted automation last July, but it already pumps out nearly 5,000 automated stories a quarter.
  3. And I ended my last post by crabbing about the fact that algorithms don’t do lunch, and therefore, the relations part of media relations is starting to fade from our business. I’m doing what I can to stall the inevitable by doubling my efforts to get reporters and editors to coffee or lunch, but these interactions are getting shorter and more transcriptional. After several tries, I finally got a reporter to meet me the other day for lunch, but before we even had a chance to shake hands and sit down, he had asked me three fairly direct questions about a couple of clients. I had to fend him off using my media training skills just to get to the appetizer course.

It may be a symptom of the “more-connected-and-less-social-than-ever” age we live in, but less-than-perfect lunchtime manners aside, it’s plain to me that the dynamics of the news business are changing the wiring of a lot of journalists. I think it’s because they’re being squeezed hard in a vice between five important facts:

  1. Streamlining. Although the digital audience is increasing, online sales account for between 10 and 15 percent of newspaper advertising revenue, and thirty of the largest digital-only news organizations account for only about 3,000 jobs industry-wide;
  2. Conditions. Downsizing is one jaw of the vice, high turnover through reporters leaving the business is another. Who can blame them? The job of newspaper reporter was recently named the “Worst Job of 2015” by the job search website CareerCast, which ranks careers on the basis of four core criteria: environment, income, outlook, and stress. Reporters couldn’t even outrank lumberjack or prison guard on the list;
  3. Income. The Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment Statistics report shows that at a median income of $44,360 annual pay for reporters was $2,080 less than that of average wage earners as of May 2013, the most recent month for which data is available;
  4. Downsizing. Local TV news employment was at 27,300 in 2014, down about 400 from the previous year;
  5. More Downsizing. The number of full-time U.S. daily newspaper journalists has dropped to 36,700, down from a peak of 56,400. The Washington Post newsroom is down from a high of more than 1,000 to around 650, the Los Angeles Times newsroom shrunk from 900 in 2007 to just 550 by late 2011, and Gannet’s USA Today is down to a newsroom of around 400 from roughly 600 at its peak a decade ago. In commenting about cuts at The New York Times, deputy executive editor for Digital Ian Fisher said, “I don’t want to say we’ve gotten used to it, but there’s some level where people understand we’re not the institution we used to be.”

So here we are: robots don’t do lunch, and journalists are almost in a place where they can’t leave for lunch for fear of becoming another statistic. Where does that leave the media relations business?

Well, if news isn’t the same institution it used to be, then part of the answer is that our work has to change to adapt to the new landscape. Media relations pro’s have to rely less on lunches and coffees and more on creating content robots like to eat. If you’re a client of a media relations firm, then this will help you understand why it is when you ask our agency, “do you know X reporter from Y publication?” our answer is likely to be, “we used to.”