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Strategic Communications: Life After Newspapers

Newspapers are not yet extinct, but they’ve been on the endangered species list for years. The issue for traditional “media relations” professionals has become two-fold. The first issue is pitching content to fewer newspapers and the second is the fact that most of these remaining print media targets have fewer reporters and editors and less readership.

According to the Pew Research Center, the estimated total U.S. daily newspaper circulation (print and digital combined) in 2017 was 31 million for weekday and 34 million for Sunday. That represented a decrease of 11% and 10%, respectively, from 2016.  Declines registered were highest in print circulation: Weekday print circulation decreased 11% and Sunday circulation decreased 10%. This is not a new phenomenon. The papers remaining have been on a downward slide for at least a decade.

Many newspapers which have folded or are on life support have failed to move readers online, where frankly the vast majority of people are now getting their news. If you ever witness a person in a coffee shop reading a print newspaper you can pretty much guess they’re over 50. Exceptions would be nationally distributed newspapers like USA Today, The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times – all of which you can find online. And not coincidentally, the Wall Street Journal and New York Times have led the pack in making people pay for their online content. But these are exceptions and although newspapers aren’t going to disappear tomorrow – the options for media relations professionals sharing client news are dwindling. Or are they?

Local Television News

Local television stations have beefed up their news coverage, offering more lifestyle, news magazines, interview shows and roundups. Almost every news department at local television outlets have morning shows begging for guests to fill out a five-day schedule, in addition to Saturday and Sunday morning public affairs and lifestyle shows.  Add that to the fact that the old “6 o’clock news” is now aired at noon, 4, 5, 6 AND 7 p.m. (and some start as early as 3) and then again at 10 and/or 11 p.m., and you have a lot of space to fill. We have found that pitching to television stations, in many cases, is better for our clients because we get to share a visual image, introduce executives and most stations post the stories online, which we use to drive traffic to their websites. 

Radio 

Terrestrial radio stations are also on the decline as far as listenership goes, but are still prime client spots for long and short form interviews on talk shows (which actually seem to be growing in number). From news and political shows to 24-hour news stations, producers and news directors have a lot of time to fill. Many of these stations also, like television, post their interviews online which can be used as well to drive traffic and raise your visibility.

Podcasts 

We are based in Detroit and my frequent comment about the local entrepreneur flavor here (though an exaggeration) is that everyone in the city either has a new energy drink they’re launching or a podcast. The good news here is that it’s a lot easier to find out if a podcast has an audience than how many energy drinks are being sold. I listen to podcasts frequently in my car, as I’m sure many of you do, and this is the radio equivalent of “cutting the cable cord.” Being able to download podcast subject matter that affects your life, hobbies, business and family (and rewinding and replaying) is a great advantage for your ride or short attention span. From a communications perspective, popular podcasts on iTunes, Google Play, Podbean, Stitcher, etc., are all measured online for you to determine their listenership. Some have higher national (and global) listenership than your local or national radio talk shows. And most NEED guests.

Blogs 

Many blog sites have taken over where newspapers have failed and some are making good revenue. How? While newspapers depend on advertisers (as do some blogs), the most successful blogs have cut through the “journalism wall” by becoming “pay to play” outlets for news. As a former journalist I used to recoil at the prospect of paying for a story to be run, but times have changed and some of the best-read industry blogs are worth paying for placement because of their devoted and “industry/product specific” content.

Social Media 

Needless to say, you don’t have to take your story and use conventional media avenues to get attention. Many companies and individuals skip the media altogether and share their insight or news through Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, etc. The warning here is that if your followers on those social media channels don’t reflect the people you really want to reach, then you’re not going to get much of the response you expected.

The one constant in life, as morbid as it sounds, is that everyone dies. Newspapers are going to die quicker than most of you. The good news is that there is new life emerging in a re-energized local news element (TV and Radio) and in newer vehicles (Podcasts and Blogs), which communications professionals should be using to get your news out.  Any communications professional that complains about a dwindling opportunity in public relations because of the state of newspapers and their dwindling staffs, probably needs to be replaced.

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Mark Gilman is president of PitchNoise, a division of Inbound Lead Solutions. With 20+ years experience in public relations, branding, and marketing, he specializes in providing visibility, strategy and market differentiation for emerging and mid-size privately held businesses and non-profits as well as individuals.

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