It’s no question that the American media landscape has gone through growing pains in the past few years. From “fake news” allegations that branched from the 2016 general election to the decline of print sales, it’s safe to say that the relationship between the media and its readers is in flux. Thanks to the pressure on the media industry to continuously seek online engagement as a key element in its current business model, public relations professionals now face the same pressures that incentivize reporters to develop articles that garner as much attention as possible.
Because of the tumultuous relationship between politics and media organizations, it’s easy to believe that American citizens’ trust in the news has declined. But new data shows that the pendulum may be swinging back. According to Cision’s 2019 Global State of the Media Report, trust in the media may actually be on the rise. In fact, only 63 percent of journalist respondents feel the public lost trust in media over the previous year, a number that seems high except when compared to the staggering 91 percent who felt that way in 2017.
While the role of journalism in our society isn’t dead, it is clear that it’s in a state of metamorphosis, and as the industry evolves, it’s important to remember that the public relations field also needs to adapt if it is to remain effective.
Where Journalism is Headed
Between budget cuts, a shaky business model and a larger emphasis on social media, journalism is now more than ever in flux. The biggest change comes from the move to online media and the role that social media plays within that relationship. According to Pew Research, the average unique monthly visitors to newspaper websites increased from 8 million in 2014 to more than 11.5 million in 2016 and 2017—a substantial uptick in only two years.
Not only does the mass exodus from print news mean that the pressure is on reporters to have an exclusive scoop, but it also means that they need to be the first to publish. Another symptom of focusing on digital rather than print is the need to receive a large number of clicks in order for a story to be deemed monetarily successful. According to the Cision report, 65 percent of reporters said that the availability of audience metrics—engagement measures such as the number of views, shares, and reposts—has changed the way they evaluate stories they are interested in covering. The old adage “if it bleeds, it leads” has never been truer in the age of click generation.
What This Means for PR Specialists
Because social networks and influencers are quickly bypassing traditional paper media, public relations practitioners have a growing opportunity to help our journalists colleagues with timely and relevant sources for the stories they’re working on. In the Cision report, 42 percent of respondents said that they work on stories no more than a day in advance, meaning PR agencies and their clients need to ready to engage with the news cycle swiftly.
This change in strategy has benefits for public relations pros because they are able to better build relationships with the reporter. In fact, 27 percent of journalists said that their relationships with PR representatives have become more valuable since 2018, compared to only 9 percent who had the same response the year before.
How to Build Lasting Relationships with Reporters
Despite the fact that rapid response pitches are king in 2019, journalists often receive a slew of emails from PR representatives every day, many of which are off topic or self-serving. To fight through this noise, it’s vital to be prepared with all essential materials and contacts when reaching out– especially when pitching a time-sensitive story.
Another key to building a beneficial relationship with a reporter is to value their time. There’s no question that reporters are extremely busy, so keep pitches short and remember that they don’t just receive your pitches. Ensuring the correct reporter is contacted is vital as well. While someone may be listed as a technology reporter, for example, it’s important to check what aspect of technology they cover. Do they cover consumer products? Business technology? Networking? The list can go on. But public relations reps need to do their research and ensure they contact the reporter with the appropriate beat.
It’s also important to consider the content you’re sending to reporters. It may come as a surprise, but 71 percent of journalists reported that news announcements and press releases are what they are most interested in receiving. This is followed by invitations to events and original research reports. While many PR pros spend their day perfectly crafting pitches complete with possible story angles, the most important part is to make sure the information is new and relevant.
Today’s hectic media climate will require everyone in the newsmaking process to adapt. For PR pros, the evolving industry will provide new opportunities to create meaningful and mutually beneficial relationships with journalists to ensure quality reporting continues.