Friday, January 26, 2007

Local Editors Discuss Digital

In a week when TIME magazine announced more layoffs, the Boston Globe closed foreign bureaus, and the LA Times revealed plans to integrate the paper with its Web site, it was interesting to hear at yesterday's WMPRSA meeting what three local editors think of the blending of paper and digital news vehicles.

I had the privilege of moderating a panel including Tim Gortsema of the Grand Rapids Business Journal, Rod Kackley of MiBizWest, and Paul Schutt of Rapid Growth Media. Just like the national level, our local media landscape is ever-changing and includes a diversity of digital opinions among local journalists.

If you click on the links above, you'll notice some of the differences immediately. GRBJ reveals full content only to subscribers, unashamedly. They don't want to cannibalize their print product, and they do want to offer something special to subscribers. MiBiz allows free access to current issue and archived content, viewing the Web as an extension of and driver to their print product. Both GRBJ and MiBiz ensure that the print and online versions are different, utilizing the Web for breaking news to compete with broadcasters. Rapid Growth is new and entirely Web based, and therefore is understandably free access. Not only that, they work aggressively to syndicate content (via RSS) to get their content out there as much as possible.

Schutt, of Rapid Growth, spoke repeatedly (and in my view, correctly) about the "culture of the Internet" being characterized as free and dialogue based. They are working to allow reader feedback and forums. The other two editors either expressed blatant opposition to that or admitted they haven't had time to work out that sort of online functionality so far.

Opportunities for PR folks abound--we can link our sites to this online content to show that "credible, third-party coverage" of our organizations and clients. We can use the archives for research on our industry, competition, and other aspects of our more transparently mediated environment. We have a new venue for breaking stories and reaching what Rod Kackley called "WMDs"--White Males at their Desk--in the middle of a workday. We can hope that once the "digital divide" is crossed we'll be reaching all sorts of publics in appropriate and timely fashion. However, Kackley also suprised when he said he is less interested in event-driven news than in themes and issues. Keep that in mind for your pitches.

But for my thinking, the best lesson came from Gortsema, who was glad to participate in yet another media panel yesterday for one reason: he got to meet some of us in person. He likes to put faces with names. "Your job isn't done when you hit the send button," he reminded. Too true. Arnold movies notwithstanding, no amount of technology will ever replace humanity. The truly savvy PR person doesn't get seduced by technology, but remembers that PR is about relationships, with all publics, including the media. The best way for us to deal with digital media is to remain essentially human.

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