It’s been a bad week for newspapers. The Rocky Mountain News closed its doors today. Earlier in the week The Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News announced they are filing for bankruptcy less than three years after the current group of owners bought the papers. They join The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times and The Minneapolis Star-Tribune as the latest major market print media casualties.
Other major market newspapers are in trouble: the venerable New York Times and established newspaper chains McClatchy and Media General have halted payment of stock dividends. The huge Gannet Co., publisher of USA Today, cut 4,000 jobs in 2008 and is trying to sell assets to stay afloat.
Smaller markets are not immune. Journal Register Co., suburban-Philadelphia based parent of the New Haven (CT) Register and 19 other small daily newspapers in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan, filed for protection from creditors a week ago. Smaller regional newspapers used to be the most profitable because of local ads, lack of competition, and broad community support; Journal-Register shares were trading at less than a penny on Tuesday.
As a former major market print and network broadcast journalist myself, my directory is filled with the records of veteran former journalists who were fired in the past year, or who took “voluntary” buyouts. (Too often if you’re a journalist over 50, you take the buyout because if you don’t, you may well end up on the street soon after with no package at all.)
This has huge ramifications for PR and corporate communicators. The fact is that a good number of your old media contacts in newspaper, radio and local TV newsrooms are either no longer in the business, are looking at new careers, or are too busy coping with diminished resources to have time to hear your pitches. Just as the news media business landscape is going through wrenching change, we communicators have to strip ourselves once and for all of the illusion that media is as media was.
There will always be some major newspapers and news broadcasters. But they will be fewer. Our interaction with reporters will change as they increase their own direct communication with the public via their traditional news organizations’ online and wireless media platforms. And that doesn’t include the exploding blogosphere and other non-traditional social media conduits for news, information and conversation. Your own clients or bosses are already reaching the public on their own via webcasts and podcasts, bypassing editorial gatekeepers.
As a professional communicator how are you adapting to what’s happening? How do you define media relations today? What media skills and experience of the last 20 years do you find are still of value, and what do you have to throw away and learn anew? Does the blogosphere offer you valid media outreach options?