The media world is facing an unprecedented crisis. Here’s how PR needs to adapt.

The media landscape is looking desolate. But PR pros can still thrive.

Media is in crisis. PR can help.

Josefin Dolsten is a public affairs director at Bryson Gillette.

The last six months have seen dramatic cuts across the media landscape — hitting a range of prominent publications like the Wall Street Journal, which recently made another round of cuts, Los Angeles Times, which let go off a quarter of its newsroom, and Washington Post, which offered buyouts to more than 240 staff members. Outlets like The Messenger and Vice have simply shut down.

This follows years of significant downsizing, with the U.S. having lost one-third of its newspapers since 2005.

Though there have been times in the past when newspapers worried for their survival, such as with the spread of radio and television in the 20th century, these fears proved unfounded. But this time around, it’s not about competition but the fact that the very profit model behind newspapers hasn’t proven sustainable in the digital age, according to Michael Stamm, a professor of media history at Michigan State University.

“Nothing has emerged to take the place of the ad revenue that supported the news organizations,” Stamm told me in an email.

Billionaires like Jeff Bezos and Patrick Soon-Shiong have tried to buy up struggling newspapers, but the results have been rocky at best. Meanwhile, experts have suggested different models — such as philanthropic and public funding.

It will take time for the industry to figure out a new path forward. During this transition, it is crucial for PR and media strategists to be agile. We can no longer continue with business as usual and expect the same results.

To be successful at this time requires a nimble mindset and a forward-looking approach. Here’s how to do that.

Consider freelancers

I often see both clients and fellow PR professionals prioritizing staff writers over freelancers when pitching. But at a time when many of those who were laid off from major media outlets have shifted to freelance reporting, we can’t afford to overlook this valuable talent pool.

In fact, freelancers are usually more open to pitches than those who work full-time at one publication as they aren’t receiving regular assignments from an editor. As publications try to manage lower budgets and increasingly rely on freelance writers, it is key to cement relationships with independent reporters.

Explore new outlets

As more established outlets flounder, new publications and mediums will emerge. Julia Angwin, formerly of The Markup, recently launched Proof News, where she and her team will draw on scientific methods to conduct investigative journalism.

Podcasts continue to grow in popularity with an estimated 192 million Americans having listened to them, which is more than ever before. And newsletters continue to be a growing platform for journalism, with reporters like Erin Reed, who covers LGBTQ+ rights on Substack, and Casey Newton, who covers technology and democracy on his newsletter, Platformer, making waves.

It’s important not to overlook these types of outlets. Though their reach may be smaller than traditional media outlets, they are a great fit for pitching niche topics as their readers are often highly engaged.

Pitch more selectively

Recent layoffs have accelerated a decline in newsrooms and media outlets that has been happening for decades.

Journalists are stretched thinner and are no longer able to be specialists focused on one beat. In other words, reporters are having to cover more topics and are also getting inundated with a wider swath of pitches.

Successful PR has always been less about blasting press releases and more about tailoring outreach to reporters — but this is now more important than ever. That means taking a second and even third look at every pitch before sending and when in doubt, nix sending it until there’s something newsworthy to share. Pitching reporters stories that simply aren’t cutting it will only make them likely to ignore future emails.

Advocate for journalism

Most importantly, as we face this media crisis, it is crucial for the PR community to advocate for the importance of a healthy news industry. There is an obvious reason why: a big part of PR is secure media coverage, and this will get harder and harder if newsrooms and outlets continue to shrink.

But beyond self-serving reasons, having well-functioning and diverse media outlets is crucial to maintaining a thriving society and democracy, which is something that we should all care deeply about. This is the time to strengthen our support of the media by getting involved with organizations advocating for a free press, subscribing to local media outlets and calling out those who attack journalists for simply doing their job.

Learn more about upping your pitching game during PR Daily’s Media Relations Conference, June 5-6 in Washington, D.C. Learn more.


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