The New Journalism: What the Media Industry Evolution Means for PR Pros

Changes ahead in Journalism

By Scott VanSickle

The Hoffman Agency, San Jose

Throughout my career, journalism and the media industry have been changing; and there is no end in sight.

This industry transformation began with the emergence of the Internet, and the pace of change has steadily accelerated in the past decade. We have witnessed a stream of bankrupt media properties and a trail of layoffs that has prompted some in the industry to proclaim the end of quality journalism as we know it.

For public relations professionals, dealing with the editorial staff layoffs has been particularly traumatic.

After spending years developing relationships with key editors and writers, we have had to re-learn how to secure interviews and placements for clients, realizing that those contacts we used to rely on could be cast out into the cold, cruel world at any moment.

The growth of social media has even motivated so-called “gurus” to predict the death of public relations.

To paraphrase Mark Twain, the death of journalism and PR has been greatly exaggerated. The truth is less dramatic.

Journalism is not dying, and neither is PR.

Yet the business models have changed, sparking a digital Darwinism, where only the properties that can attract and monetize readers will survive. Today’s media and blogging properties are much leaner, operating with a fraction of their former staff and accepting more contributed content.

As venerable media brands have disappeared, we’ve seen new, highly viral properties emerge, which often take a more provocative, interactive approach to capturing and reporting news and commenting on trends. Sites like Business Insider, GigaOM, Mashable, ReadWrite, TechCrunch, VentureBeat and others emerged in the mid-2000s, and properties like TheNextWeb and TheVerge continue to enter the market.

As PR professionals, we can identify a few fundamental changes that are forcing us to evolve the way we engage media and influencers. Here are those changes in a nutshell:


Growing Importance of Freelancers

 Many of the best, most experienced journalists have become freelancers, often writing for multiple media properties. PR pros who establish trusted, productive working relationships with these freelancers gain a significant edge, learning of stories in advance of their being researched.

Freelancers track those professionals who can tip them off to good sources and provide the colorful anecdotes that attract readers, spark controversy and generate the metrics that can increase their compensation.

Even better, by earning the trust of a good freelancer, the PR pro can often secure insight to multiple publications, boosting overall coverage through one valuable relationship.


Increased Emphasis on Storytelling

Don’t get me wrong. Journalists have been seeking great stories for generations. 

Yet as online metrics continue to increase, reporters and bloggers increasingly seek compelling, even controversial stories. Note that the media outlets that are growing and thriving are those that spark discussions, generate comments and motivate readers to tweet, post and share with their social networks.

Product- and company-focused pitches fall flat today, as writers demand a broader perspective and a strong, defensible point of view.

Journalists seek anecdotes that illustrate key perspectives and insights – and entertain readers enough to drive fresh tweets, social media posts and viral growth.

Instead of becoming immersed in product speeds and feeds, journalists seek gripping narratives, conflict and drama.

Give them what they need, and they’ll remember you as a good resource.

The changing dynamics of media and influencer relations is a conversation that could fill pages. Yet one rule for successful engagement remains the same. Help writers create and tell a compelling story, one that will attract readers, and they will remember you and reward you with more opportunities.

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