4 ways journalism changes are affecting PR

Social media, online retail and a rapidly changing culture are disrupting decades of journalistic practices—and that means PR pros have to adapt to get their messages out.

Over the last decade, technology, society and culture have drastically changed not just the jobs journalists do, but how journalists do their jobs.

How do you define ‘journalist’?

A journalist is someone who writes articles, makes TV or radio content or covers events either in an objective way (yes, we know objective is a loaded word) or for the benefit of their audiences.

Just couple of decades ago, there weren’t as many choices for how to produce, consume and distribute news. The public could subscribe to a print publication or choose between a few news stations each night.

The rise of digital-native media companies and niche outlets have made it harder to judge who’s influential to your audience and difficult—if not at times impossible—to determine what publications act in a “journalistic manner.” With so many outlets, it’s harder for PR pros to vet and determine who and where to pitch.

For reference, here’s how Muck Rack currently defines a journalist for verification on its platform:

  • Be a professional journalist: This means you are a full-time journalist, producer or freelancer (with current bylines) employed by a verified, recognized media outlet.
  • Freelancers: Freelancers must work primarily as journalists to be included. This doesn’t include self-published work or writing for outlets that lack Muck Rack’s journalistic standards.
  • Photo, video and multimedia journalists: This includes full-time multimedia journalists, radio/television producers, video journalists, photojournalists, etc. that are employed by or freelancing for verified, recognized media outlets.

How the role of a journalist has changed

They say the only constant is change, a sentiment that definitely applies to the world of journalism.

Here are four of the top ways the role of a journalist has changed, and how these shifts impact their PR counterparts.

1. PR pros outnumber journalists 6 to 1.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the newsroom is shrinking— there are now 6 PR professionals for every journalist.

In a recent Occupational Employment Survey, the Bureau revealed that newsroom employment in the U.S. dropped 23 percent between 2008 and 2017. Nearly a quarter of jobs in the industry have vanished in less than 10 years.

This drastic drop in journalist employment is countered by a boom in the PR industry, both in the number of opportunities available and the average salary. Today, PR pros are making on average $16,000 more than their journalist counterparts.

What does that mean for media relations? It’s harder than ever to get media coverage, so PR pros must customize their pitches, tailoring each message to specific reporters.

2. The digital revolution has changed the way journalists find news.

In the past decade, social media and other tools have emerged, aiming to make life easier for journalists and PR pros, with mixed results.

Thanks to the continued rise of social media, journalists have unprecedented access to their audiences, putting them closer than ever to the content and story ideas their audiences care about. While this makes social media a great place to do research and make connections that may not have otherwise come about, it also makes the hunt for an exclusive more competitive.

In a Q&A with Muck Rack, FOX 2 Detroit anchor Roop Raj explained the importance of social media to the profession: “I use social media to source stories and discover the world outside my newsroom.”

He goes on to explain, “I was assigned the reporting duty of finding Michigan connections in the Las Vegas mass shooting that happened in October of 2017. I used social media exclusively on my flight there to track down five, unique Michigan connections on the ground in Vegas.”

Lucky for PR pros, journalists are much easier to access thanks to social media.

3. Journalists are responsible for building their own brands.

Reporters are now responsible for sharing their stories far and wide, and some are even tasked with making sure they stay in the news cycle for as long as possible (as well as driving traffic).

Now, journalists are working hard to build their own brands, share their work and build audiences of their own.

Consider this tweet from Digital Producer Supervisor at ABC13 Houston:

While social media is an effective tool for communicating breaking news, it also makes the lifespan of a news story much shorter than it used to be.

According to Muck Rack’s Annual Journalist Survey, more than 41 percent of journalists consider the potential “shareability” of a story when deciding what to write about, and 68 percent of journalists worldwide track how many times their stories are shared on social media.

Journalists work hard to share their stories on social media, and PR professionals can further develop their own relationships by sharing those stories, too.

4. PR pros (and the general public) have increased access to journalists through social media.

Social media has brought PR pros closer than ever to the media.

With the help of social networks like Twitter and solutions that enable journalists to communicate what they’d like PR pros to know before talking to them, PR pros can gain insight into a reporter’s tone of voice, opinions on relevant topics and easily browse their recent work.

Consider this fun example from Golin, which represents a major pet brand:

“We targeted and pitched a specific reporter many times without gaining traction. After we saw on Twitter that her cat knocked her computer off her desk, we sent her a package of cat toys and a note saying we hoped the toys would keep her cat occupied. This helped us to build a relationship, and since then, this reporter has covered many of our stories. This interaction helped forge a true relationship. “

Pre-Twitter, this PR pro never would have the insight that a journalist’s cat knocked her computer off her desk. It almost seems irrelevant, right? However, you can see its relevance in how it helped Golin to build a valuable relationship that has resulted in actual earned media coverage.

How does the future look?

The evolution of the journalism profession has had a profound impact on both public relations professionals and the general public. Despite the many changes brought on by the digital revolution, there continues to be an ongoing need for a free and honest press.

No matter how much both the journalism and PR industries change, one simple fact remains: these two industries need each other and will continue to work together and rely on one another for many decades to come.

Mike Schneider is the head of marketing for Muck Rack, where he helps to shape the company’s strategic development and growth of marketing, brand and revenue. A version of this article originally appeared on Muck Rack, a service that enables you to find journalists to pitch, build media lists, get press alerts and create coverage reports with social media data.

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