A panel of Grand Rapids Press/MLive staff members gave a thoughtful and comprehensive overview of how the changes in print and digital distribution of news that launched earlier this month affect not only news consumers but public relations professionals.
Here are a few take-aways from the presentation and the questions from PR professionals in the room:
- MLive is a digital medium. That puts them in the same space (i.e the Web) at least partially with broadcast media. One editor responded enthusiastically to a PR pro's question about submitting video content. So, get on your game PR people--the "paper" is accepting b-roll and audio now.
- Also because of the digital medium, PR professionals should notice that the "paper" is a finite product but there is room for more coverage online even if the print product can't accommodate a story. News also breaks constantly online, so PR people have to stay on their toes.
- One of the new roles for journalists is "community engagement" manager (Todd Fettig). Just as PR professionals work to engage publics for their companies and nonprofit organizations, MLive is intentionally working on the same thing. This means encouraging reader response and expecting journalists to stay on a story after it has 'published.' As others have said, online media is making news not a product but a process. The word for PR pros? Don't just write letters to the editor or email reporters about their stories, jump into the "public sphere" of commentary on local issues. Just as journalists can't simply move on to the next story any more, PR professionals can't merely "count clips" but must adopt an attitude of continued engagement in media directly with the public.
- The Press and its sister publications in what was Booth Newspapers and is now the MLive Media Group are no longer completely separate. They are collaborating across the state. So the local news in one paper might be picked up in another in the same way as an AP wire story is picked up. Also, government, sports and politics reporting is statewide. So there are staff members in Lansing covering education and politics for Grand Rapids readers, and John Gonzales is covering entertainment for and from all of Michigan. This means PR professionals don't always have to pitch stories market by market in these cities and regions, but can see MLive as a statewide outlet if the news is in the right beat or a big enough story to make multiple editions.
- Speaking of sports, one local sports information director asked about the new portal being used for some high schools and colleges, in particular for less popular sports, to submit scores and game information to MLive. The PR pro wondered what would happen if negative news happened at a school--would MLive "bite the hand that feeds it" news in such a case. Paul Keep, former Press editor and now MLive editor of print, had a good answer: in the same way that their health section takes medical columns from local hospitals but they still cover health news, they will still do stories on local schools even if they've been receiving sports information from them. In my view it's not a big issue. Just as journalists and PR pros have always had to maintain a separation between advertising and editorial, now they have to remain professional about providing supplied information (clearly labeled as such by the way) and legitimate news coverage. In the case of sports scores, I would say that is factual information and with MLive not having the staff for the legions of sports and schools, this is a service to those schools and the public to find an efficient way to carry that information.
- Just as is happening across the country, MLive reporters and columnists will have their own "brand" as individuals in addition to the MLive brand overall. Each advertises their individual Facebook and Twitter accounts in addition to the official MLive brand pages. Many PR pros are already on top of this--part of media relations today means friending and following--and setting RSS feeds when possible--specific beat reporters and columnists relevant to your clients or organizations. Just remember to keep those relationships professional and remember that everyone is watching, as I noted in an earlier post.
It's a new media world. Have fun out there.