Not a day passes but someone predicts a future that holds better prospects for the endangered giant panda than traditional newspapers. Maybe it’s just my imagination but even some comms and PR folk seem to have started viewing the press as they would a partner whose looks have faded and whose habits are beginning to grate.
Journalists used to dominate the world for PR types. It might be an uneasy relationship at times, but that’s primarily what we were employed for. But then social media grew into a swan and some found that more glamorous and easier to manage than a cynical old hack. As newspaper circulations continue to dwindle and social media and digital platforms gain, it sometimes feels as if PRs are falling out of love with the press and those who produce the news.
All of this got me thinking. What would the world be like for the comms department if we woke up tomorrow and the traditional news media had simply disappeared?
For a start, there would be no press cuttings to review. We’ve all had breakfasts spoiled by the press clips now and again, but after many years of cuttings with our cornflakes, would we miss them, and how would PRs see the news headlines before anyone else?
We’d also have to work an awful lot harder to create buzz. Journalist-produced stories are still critical to getting social media humming about our clients, our businesses and our brands. Our messages would, I’m sure, meet a more cynical audience without the presence of those trained in shorthand and with a nose for news to separate the wheat from the propaganda. Tom Foremski said almost three years ago, all companies are now media companies. That is certainly true, but the impartiality that the press bestows on our ‘earned’ stores bestows credibility on ‘bought’ content too.
The day job would certainly be less sociable. Interacting with journalists who know what they’re talking about is usually more engaging that reacting to random posts or tweets on a computer or smartphone screen. Our smartphones would also ring less frequently with reporters on deadline asking interesting (read awkward) questions.
Today, PRs earn our rent when the grizzlies are on the scent of an exclusive. I doubt our paymasters would sanction the same price premium for what we do if there were no awkward journalists to manage. The commute to and from work would feel longer too.
Call me an old analogue, but I love newspapers, warts and all. They help keep our government, our institutions and our brands relatively honest. When those institutions step out of line, which they’ve done quite a lot of late, the press help put them back in their box. I’m not convinced that social media alone could do that.
The majority of new millennials don’t buy newspapers. They get their news, mostly for free, on social platforms. But if they lived in a world where news is produced only by untrained ‘citizen reporters’ or, heaven forbid, by PRs driving corporate agendas, the world would be one big advertorial where opinion would significantly outweigh fact.
It’s true that paid for journalism as an industry is under significant financial pressure, and that pressure impairs the journalist’s ability to operate in the way they’d like.
So if you haven’t done so in a while, buy a newspaper tomorrow. Or take out an online news subscription. It’s easy if you try.