PR Start by Nick Lucido

How to start in the public relations industry.

State of the News Media 2009 and PR

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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:

  1. 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.
  2. The power is shifting from media institutions to the individual journalist – AKA the mommy blogger next door.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

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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?

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Filed under: Public Relations, Social Media, , , , , , ,

Gaining Necessary Writing Experience

I attended a presentation last week given by Dr. Richard Cole and Andy Corner, APR. Dr. Cole is the Department Chair of APRR at MSU and Andy is an instructor in the department. They have been working on some research about the level of writing skills associated with entry-level public relations practitioners.

Dr. Cole blogged about the specific findings here, but here is a quick summary. The survey reflects the views of 848 PR practitioners from PRSA.

  • Only 14 percent of PR supervisors think their subordinates are good writers
  • Writing for the media amounts to around 20 percent of the entry-level PR practitioner’s time spent in the day
  • Supervisors graded their subordinates less than 3 out of 5
  • Nearly half the respondents have been reducing expectations of entry-level writing skills

Basically, we need to get our act together.

I think there’s a lot of reasons why this is occurring. First, if you look at the more seasoned professionals, many of them have degrees in journalism and/or worked at a newspapers. Now, many schools have a public relations major and that’s where much of the PR industry is recruiting from. Another reason. While I don’t have any research or stats to back this one up, it’s something I have noticed. Shannon Paul once told me that the future of the public relations industry will need to be able to balance new media with traditional practices, and I think that’s the best approach a student can take.

Writing

If  you’re not a journalism major, you can still saturate your degree with writing courses. I’ve found that my political science, English and foreign language courses to be the most useful now that I’m learning a different form of writing. I studied French all four years in high school and that taught me more about grammar than I ever learned in any English class (sadly). At least within my circle of PR students, many of us are intimidated by a “low grade” in a writing class, but sometimes we have to bite the bullet to make the most of your degree.

Here are some resources to improve your writing in addition to your classes:

  • Copyblogger. Read it. No questions asked.
  • Various AP Style exercises: Newsroom 101, Platform Magazine, OK Cupid.
  • Your internship experience should include not only agency and corporate components, but a writing component as well. Work at your college newspaper, write for various departments and offices in the university.. anything. Just make sure you have a supervisor who is willing to make your projects bleed.
  • Join the conversation on-line. Writing a blog will let you make those embarrassing mistakes that lead to you being called out. Just make the mistake and learn from it.
  • Proofing your work. Honestly, I used to never read my work (shame, shame) and I learned the hard way that this really is essential. By printing off your column or release and reading it over, I’ve learned some valuable lessons about proofing and writing.

The bottom line is that you need to be a good writer to be a solid public relations professional. That doesn’t mean you need to write a certain number of press releases, opinion editorials, etc. Remember when I talked about being a strategist rather than a tactician? Learning to be a good writer should be part of your career strategy.

How else can students improve their writing? Can writing only be improved through classes? Are there any other resources we should know about to help improve writing?

Photo by churl on Flickr.

Filed under: Professional Development, PRSSA, Public Relations, Social Media, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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