Journalism is here to stay, so listen up

typewriter, iPad and television

This week I got a chance to attend a local Public Relations Society of America National Capitol Chapter sponsored panel session featuring multimedia news reporters. I jump at any chance to listen to journalists, especially when they are willing to talk about the shifting sands upon which the industry is currently built. 

Most of the journalists’ comments were standard, run-of-the-mill recommendations that basically came down to telling PR people to “do your homework enough to know what I cover before you bother me with a story pitch.” Each panelist member was more than diplomatic in their admonishment, especially considering the 150 PR people in the audience.

The panel included Scott Hensley of NPR.org (@scotthensley); Jayne O’Donnell of USA Today (@JayneODonnell); Noam Levey of the Los Angeles Times (@NoamLevey); Greg Otto of the Washington Business Journal (@gregotto); and James Politi, of the Financial Times (@JamesPoliti).

It is important to listen to these journalists. While we can question the long-term viability of printing news on paper, the truth is that news consumption is still very strong. We might not want that news rolled up on our doorstep every morning, but we are still consuming the news. And, that means journalists are not going anywhere soon, although the way in which they report and deliver news will undoubtedly change dramatically in the next few years.

Consider this. According to the Pew Research Center, 50% of American adults get their news from the internet. Just 29% said they got news from a newspaper. TV, meanwhile, is the king overall with 69% of Americans saying they watch their news. But, probably not for much longer. A whopping 71% of young people (18-29), and 63% of GenX’ers (30-49) primarily get their news from the internet.

It is no surprise these days that mobile is driving news consumption. With more than half of Americans owning a smartphone, and more than 43% owning a tablet device or e-reader, mobile is a well established trend. But what’s interesting is how news consumption is a major part of that mobile experience. Again, according to Pew Research Center, 64% of tablet owners and 62% of smartphone owners say they got their news from mobile devices in 2012.

According to researchers, tablet owners spend more time with news and more engaged. And those who get news from the internet tend to see more bias in news and tend to graze – skim multiple news outlets – for their news. There indeed are many things worth considering and understanding in this new world of media relations.

What remains clear and unchanging, though, is that journalists are still the front line story tellers. We need them. We need to help them, understand them and work to support them – all for the benefit of our transportation agencies and the customers who are served by those agencies.

Scanning through my notes from the session, here are a few takeaways that I think are worth sharing:

1. Reporters – like all of us – are busy. And, the demands of today’s media environment requires that reporters and news organizations function in a constant news environment. So, while there are unique rhythms in every newsroom, there generally is not a good time to pitch reporters that will not interrupt a deadline – they’re always on deadline. That means knowing just a little bit about the reporter, the best, the publication or news outlet can make a huge difference. Do the work and customize the pitch to fit the reporter and her beat. It’s easy.

2. Smart pitches and good experts are still critically important to journalists. That is why it is important to think like a reporter. Watch the news and be ready to respond when news breaks. Knowing who your subject matter experts are is critical. But go a step beyond just having the name and email for the reporter. When something happens, let the reporter know you and the source are standing by, that you are ready to be interviewed, and that you a specific take that will add value to the story.

3. Today’s reporters are not just writers and investigators. They also are responsible for graphics, video and photos. When pitching a story, make sure you are clear that video b-roll is available, that you have photos and that you have data for a graphic.

Have some other tips? Feel free to add them.

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Author: Lloyd Brown

I am the director of communications for the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. I enjoy running marathons and triathlons, playing guitar and spending time with family. My professional interest is in how social media and new technology shapes the communication relationship between government and the general public. I have a Master’s degree in Communications and Leadership from Gonzaga University in Spokane and a bachelor’s degree in Communications from Washington State University.

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