What the Loss of Thousands of Media Jobs Means for PR

March092009 - the confirmation
This is a guest post by Alison Kenney.

Tens of thousands of journalists, reporters and editors lost their jobs in 2009 – what does that mean for PR?

According to a September 2009 report from Unity, the news industry has shed almost 36,000 jobs since Sept. 15, 2008, and more than 46,000 positions since Jan. 1 of that year, with U.S. journalists losing jobs at three times rate of most workers.

One of the obvious implications of this shrinking media landscape is that there are fewer places and people for PR professionals to pitch, prompting some forecasters to herald a sea change in the PR profession.  In other words, PR will cease to be a “media relations mill” says Doug Haslam who writes in his blog that:

Public relations agencies have actually made progress in scaling down the mass-spamming of media targets, at least in my experience (that’s not the same as saying it’s gone, of course). However, the reliance on media relations as the backbone of PR agency work seems to be getting its oxygen only from client demands to be in this or that publication.  When clients deprive us of that oxygen, we will be freer (or forced) to pitch our talents in other areas: strategy, social media, content creation and other more creative, effective pursuits. I can say from experience that clients are already clamoring for more strategic counsel vs. more of the same ol’ media relations. That’s a great, early sign of what may come.

While some people lament the “old” way of doing things, most reporters who still have their jobs will tell you that they are working in a new environment with deadlines, formats and competition that didn’t exist a few years ago.

Waggener Edstrom’s digital consulting director, Tac Anderson, recently blogged about the pressure on reporters to compete with bloggers, which can result in “reporters writing re-tweetable headlines which are sometimes misleading or stories being written with unchecked facts and inaccuracies.”  Anderson says:

The big tech blogs like TechCrunch regularly race to market with sketchy information with an inflammatory headline knowing that Mashable, NextWeb, ReadWriteWeb, GigaOm, etc will all run follow on posts with even less facts.  This results in the 1st article racing up Techmeme, Tweetmeme, trending topics, Digg etc and massive link juice and traffic.  We’ve even started to see traditional media take similar “Digg bait” approaches and as their revenue and staff get even thinner you will see more of it.

A recent L.A. Times story points out that it’s not just full-time media staff positions that are suffering: freelance writers are being compensated at obscenely low rates which is pushing a shift toward shorter articles with lighter fare.  This trend can work both ways for PR professionals – sure, there are fewer opportunities to pitch your story, and it’s more difficult to track down freelance writers and stay on top of their current projects, but it’s also an opportunity for PR pros with strong writing skills to place bylined articles and contributed content.

However, Chuck Tanowitz at Fresh Ground Communications cautions us to remember the standards and editorial ethics we admire in old-school journalism as journalism becomes a and everyone is empowered to communicate.

The massive job losses also mean that tens of thousands of journalists, reporters and editors are looking for new jobs and many are considering or already have joined the PR profession.   Reporters who take new roles as PR professionals, i.e. “hacks who turn into flacks,” can offer great pointers to the rest of us, such as how to understand media hierarchy and determine the right points of contact, how to develop relationships with beat reporters, bloggers or other media “managers” and how to become better writers and story tellers.  In return, it might be nice to help these reporters who’ve gone to the other side by showing them the ropes and explaining client service, budgets and PR’s role in the larger marketing landscape.

Alison Kenney is an independent PR practitioner with more than 15 years of PR consulting experience.  She is based on Boston’s North Shore and has worked with organizations in the technology, professional services and consumer industries.  She can be reached at [email protected].

Photo credit: Pete Fotos

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