Since the advent of the printing press, professional opinions have helped shape our own. From Hearst to Murdoch, from Cronkite to Brokaw. Huge companies that employ thousands of trained journalists have helped us understand what’s good and bad, and whom to embrace or fear. Not for long. This is not a flesh wound. The Internet killed old media; it’s just not dead yet.
The First Cut is the Deepest
That innocuous and ugly first banner ad on Hotwired.com spawned an information and interaction demon that it swallowing up media as we know it. The proliferation of free online content via Web site, e-mail newsletter, and RSS feed has become the hemlock for media companies. Newspaper ad sales dropped 14% in Q1 2008 alone. A 200+ year institution with a 14% drop in a quarter. Amazing. And the other shoe has begun to drop. Christian Science Monitor goes digital. Detroit Free Press and East Valley Tribune print just three times a week. Every newspaper in the country (and most magazines and TV stations) have reduced their news staff considerably. This, of course, results in decaying journalism: more wire copy, fluff features, less investigation, etc.
Decaying journalism reduces readers, subscriptions and ad revenue even further. It’s a vicious cycle that cannot be stopped. You don’t have any money so you lay off reporters, your news gathering starts to atrophy, people cancel their subscriptions, forcing you to lay off even more reporters.
Someday, You’ll Yearn for Larry King
“Serious” journalism as we know it will be gone with the possible exception of subsidized news outlets and egghead journals. Because there won’t be any budget to do much meaningful reporting, “news” will become a collection of personalities, each “spinning” a tiny scrap of information and making their living micro-casting their shtick to a highly-targeted audience. This “Perez Hilton Effect” will make news cursory, instant and increasingly salacious as bloggers fight for page views using overly dramatic headlines.
PR is Needed More Than Ever
There’s been a lot of chatter about the role of PR in a new media world dominated by consumer-generated content. I believe PR is actually more critical under those conditions. The explosion in information outlets will make it even more difficult for companies and organizations to communicate at any scale without PR help. Is an in-house corporate marketing team going to do outreach to 350 blogs? Maybe, but not likely. How about 3,500?Plus, a single corporate misstep will go viral instantly, making online crisis management through social media and video response a huge service opportunity for public relations professionals. Just ask the folks at Motrin whether social media accelerates the feedback loop.
This will require PR types to manage relationships with many “prosumer” news outlets, and even if they don’t engage in social media and conversation marketing per se, they’ll need to be technologically adept and highly trained. Instead of using Bacon’s and ProfNet to build a media list, they’ll use Radian6, Twingly, PitchEngine, HARO, MicroPR or whatever the semantic Web brings next.
Putting the Relationships back in Public Relations
Because bloggers absolutely insist on being pitched in a highly personal fashion, the key service will be slowly creating meaningful relationships with them. Good PR professionals that have always emphasized the power of relationships over the power of broad, batch distribution will succeed more than ever.
As a news consumer, I mourn the death of old media. I loved reading stuff made from trees, and I appreciated (as a former journalism major) the role of the media in keeping our society informed and orderly. But the genie is out of the bottle. Everyone is about to be both a consumer and a reporter. And for PR firms, the murder of old media isn’t a threat, it’s an opportunity to become an even more important part of the overall marketing and communications arsenal.
This article was written by Jason Baer, a social media and PR 2.0 consultant, speaker, and author. He writes the Convince & Convert blog and works with several public relations agencies that are members of the Worldcom PR Group.