Tuesday, May 13, 2008

May Media Month--Newspaper Competition

If you've done media relations for a while, you are savvy enough to know that calling a reporter who has just written something nice about a competitor and asking them to give your company the same treatment just won't fly. Why, the reporter would (rightly) ask, should your competitive interests be of any newsworthy concern to me?

But, then if you've attended a "meet the media" panel at a WMPRSA event, you probably have heard a local editor complain about not getting PR information early enough to be out there at the same time as their competition. In some cases, this implies a day-early heads up so said news organization can print before broadcasters air the story.

Why, I want to ask, should the competitive interests of the local media be any part of our PR considerations? I mean, if it's about news and your news cycle takes day versus 10 minutes to get word out, so be it. Should arsonists give a heads up so crime reporters get good fire photos?

Well, for one, you have to maintain those media relationships. Editors have long memories, news can be subjective, and you may not get coverage or good treatment if you damage those relationships.

But, local dailies have it wrong if they think the timing of stories is a competitive issue. Newspapers can and should deliver depth. Studies have shown that most news consumers are alerted to the basics of a story by broadcast news and go to the papers for depth.

Beyond that, newspapers need to understand competition circa 2008:

  • they can get stories out as quickly as anyone else online (in fact MLive touts its "real time" stories)
  • they can go beyond photos and text to offer audio and video and compete with their broadcast counterparts. The Grand Haven Tribune, Holland Sentinel, Muskegon Chronicle and Grand Rapids Press are all offering video now. It's not a lot yet, and the production values are closer to Aunt Edna's vacation footage than broadcast news in some cases. But the technology is there. Across the country, some papers are equipping reporters with video cameras. Colleges are talking about curricula that prepares the next generation of journalists to be multi-media experts.
  • PR professionals can directly reach their publics via email blasts, RSS subscriptions, web casts, mobile media feeds etc. Some editors complain about that--that we have info online on our own web sites before they can publish it. Boo hoo. We are communicating directly to our publics. How or why are we obligated to give the news media an edge in a conversation we have with our publics? More important to PR folks is communicating honestly, quickly, transparently, and symmetrically. If the print newspaper isn't in that mix--that's business baby.

    Maybe they ought to think about the realities of competition instead of complain. They could adapt to new media, do additional reporting, engage the public in dialogue, adopt a different treatment, or something to add value to their own content. There is room for good journalism and good business to coexist. We in PR should hope the best for them. But increasingly, we have multiple avenues to reach our publics, and they have more ways of reaching us as well. Every once in a while, that might involve a newspaper.

    Anonymous said...

    Well said. Maybe GR will eventually get over giving the GR Press an advance and realize news happens "now" and everybody gets it at the same time...Which is why it's called NEWS.

    Steve said...

    From a newspaper man's perspective, let me quote a colleague of mine:

    "It's not the nature of my job to sit back and wait for a neat little press release to come out, especially when I know about it today."