The Rocky Mountain News published its last issue today.
The venerable daily is a victim of the terrible economy and the current upheaval in the newspaper industry. Its closing is not good news for Denver, and it’s certainly not good news for the publication’s staffers, some of whom were said to cry at the news.
I can identify with the pain they’re feeling. Newspaper closings and newsroom layoffs always fill me with a sense of loss. My father, prior to starting his own public relations firm, worked for the Newark Star-Ledger. I spent many early mornings as a child delivering that paper and, all these years later, my mornings still begin with the rustle of newsprint and ink stains on my hands.
Of course, the shuttering of The Rocky Mountain News is just latest in a string of bad news for traditional media outlets and, in all likelihood, a sign of more such changes to come. It’s also challenging news for the public relations profession.
With newsroom after newsroom struggling and other dramatic shifts in the media landscape taking place, what follows is a look at just some of the new realities to which public relations professionals must adapt.
- News is no longer a product, but a service. This definition broadens the role of journalists, who must now help consumers find the information they are looking for, make sense of it, react to it, and use it.
- News organizations and news Web sites are no longer final destinations. They are gateways to helping people find what they want on the rest of the site or the Web.
- The agenda of the American news media is narrowing. Two overriding stories—the war in Iraq and the 2008 campaign—filled more than 25 percent of the news hole in 2007. At the same time, a number of domestic issues, such as education, race, and religion, filled less than a single percent.
- The media is moving on from stories more quickly. Breaking news events motivate the media to “flood the zone,” before rushing to drop the underlying story lines.
The Project for Excellence in Journalism also found that, despite a plethora of new sources, citizen media is showing limitations. Its research suggests that blogs and public affairs Web sites are attracting smaller audiences than once was expected.
In addition, consumers who are bombarded with more media choices will take away less shared experiences. As The Atlantic notes, the fewer people who consume any given media product, the fewer there are to tell you how awesome HBO’s animated comedy ‘The Life & Times of Tim’ is.”
Finally, Editor & Publisher reports that, as demand for Web content increases, print deadlines accelerate, and cost limitations force cutbacks, newspapers are asking journalists to do more work remotely. “Mojos,” or mobile journalists, are now being equipped with backpack kits that include a laptop computer, cell phone, video camera, and audio recorder, and are spending most—if not all—of their time outside the newsroom.
Historically speaking, public relations flourishes at moments of monumental change like this. Which is why, despite the bearish changes taking place in traditional media, I’m still bullish on the future of public relations.
Michael Cherenson, APR, is Chair and CEO of PRSA.