Last week, Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism published its annual “State of the News Media” report. The title gives a good description of what the report is about, but this year’s report is particularly interesting. I’ll be honest, I work at a newspaper and times really are tough. Walking in downtown East Lansing you’ll find shops that have been there for years are being shut down, and I know this is the case across the country. This is the sixth report, but according to the introduction, it is the “bleakest.” Consider these facts:
- Newspaper ad revenues have fallen 23 percent over the past year
- One out of every five journalists working for newspapers in 2001 is now gone
- Local television revenues fell 7 percent in an election year
- The number of Americans going online for news jumped 19 percent during the past two years
- Traffic online for the top 50 news outlets increased 28 percent
So, what do the statistics mean? It means a lot, but here are the six major trends described in the report:
- How to finance the newspaper industry is becoming more and more important, yet the solutions are not coming to fruition. The report suggests that the industry is not looking in the right places. In a recent AdAge editorial, the author said media executives are holding on to the idea that the news is a thing – but it really isn’t.
- The power is shifting from media institutions to the individual journalist – AKA the mommy blogger next door.
- News organizations are not focusing on their audience, they are focused on pushing content to the rest of the Web. Between Twitter, Facebook and other outlets, the media think it’s best to push their content in as many medium as possible. Is it working? I don’t think so.
- More media outlets are sharing because they have to – financially, at least. Will there be multiple television outlets in Lansing? Will there be two newspapers in Detroit? How many radio stations are left in Mid-Michigan? These are all things to consider.
- Political journalism is on the rise. The 2008 Presidential Election was a time for the media to cover everything related to the election – and beyond. I think we’re still in the honeymoon phase of the election in which everything the new president does is historic. The report discusses how America has become fascinated with “minute-by-minute” updates with politics – cabinet appointments, new bills and updates to the economic situation.
- The press was less of an “enterprising investigator” and more reactive and passive. Of course, the Freep reporting on Kwame Kilpatrick is an exception to that, but there is less and less investigative journalism going on. This is mainly because reporters don’t have time – after all, deadline was yesterday.
The full report can be viewed here.
There’s no way to put it softly – traditional journalism is not doing so well. I’m not going to write about the state of the media industry right now, but I think it’s an especially important time for public relations practitioners. Students are taught the media is one of the most important parts of the job, but because this industry is shrinking, PR practitioners need to get creative and innovative. Online media rooms are one alternative to lack of traditional media coverage, and David Meerman Scott suggests that PR people should recognize all kinds of people, not just the media, visit an online media room.
Our PRSSA Faculty Advisor, Russ White (the man behind the MSUPRSSA YouTube channel) and a University Relations employee, says people are coming to them for stories about MSU – he doesn’t have to pitch. Check out the MSU news site here; I also took a screenshot. It has stories, people, multimedia, podcasts and subscription capabilities. Their news site is just like a newspaper’s Web site. I don’t want to speak for them, but I think this is directly responsible for the shrinking media. MSU will always have a story to tell, no matter if the media will be there to cover it. These online media rooms make the PR job a lot easier if you take out the pitching component.
Because public relations practitioners have an increasing level of power when it comes to shaping messages, we need to remember to be honest and transparent. While I might be biased to PRSA, I like the WOMMA code of ethics, too. No matter what code of ethics you adhere to, PR practitioners must recognize they are content providers and need to tread cautiously when creating messages.
What do you think about the state of the media? How is it affecting PR? If this a good or bad thing?