Media Morbidity in West Michigan?

Maybe it’s the Halloween season, but two events I attended last week seemed to have a morbid view of media. First there was the AimWest event with the teasing title “What Has Happened to Journalism?”  The very next day, the West Michigan Chapter of PRSA hosted its monthly luncheon on the subject “Is the Press Release Dead?”

Cue the scary music. Do the zombie walk.

What Happened to Journalism?
AimWest bills itself as an interactive organization, so the panelists discussion of journalism, prompted by moderator Bob Taylor, was in that frame. It was a good discussion, with lots of audience interaction. And far from being gloomy, I would say the discussion was straightforward and even exciting. The event could have been named ‘What IS Happening to Journalism.’

A few of the common themes that came out:

  • journalism is moving from ‘gatekeeper’ model to sharing system;
  • related to the first point, news is not so much a product, but a process as the story never ends with comments, replies, updates etc.;
  • social media provides a ‘first draft of history’ these days, but MSM (mainstream media) provides the authoritative second draft;
  • there are things to do first and things to get right–the reputation of professional journalism is at stake, and lots of things on social media are not correct;
  • citizen journalism does not replace MSM but it does fill gaps, it’s more inside-out from the community than outside-in to the community;
  • MSM has a form of responsibility in the public sphere to correct bad information, not in the sense of policing the blogs, but in sharing factual information when they have it;
  • individual journalists have personalities and unique audience as much or more than the institutions they work for because of social media;
I would add that there are still a few ‘scary’ things about journalism in the current environment. These don’t apply to all media outlets, but there is ample evidence of journalists doing less reporting and more ‘curating’ and ‘aggregating’ other content. This is done for economic reasons, but a long-term view would say such weak repackaging is less of a service, and therefore less value, for media consumers. Also, the stories that are reported can often be done for financial reasons, called “market-driven” journalism, in which the news is still seen as product to be sold and not information of democratic or personal value to citizens. 
My own question about the notion in public relations that all companies or organizations should be ‘media organizations’ (i.e. provide original content directly to the public vs via MSM) was answered in typical fashion from journalists–that the public will trust a third-party journalist more than claims from a company. True to a point–but my own research shows that the nature of information, the interests of the consumer, and the prior reputation of the organization are equal factors. In many cases the MSM does not report certain subjects, and they may not do so thoroughly, so the public satisfies its need to particular information from a company, nonprofit, or government web site, YouTube channel, Facebook page, blog or Twitter account.
Is the Press Release Dead?
Meanwhile, at the WMPRSA event, I was  delighted to learn that the press release is not dead. (Please note sarcasm intended). Of course, when the presented is from Business Wire, one can expect that intimations of death of its primary product are intentionally exaggerated to boost attendance. 
I would say the theme here is that the press release is alive in the sense that most journalists still say it is a primary source of news. But some, maybe even many, news releases are walking zombies. In other words, they need more life in them, using the new interactive tools available, such as multimedia options for actualities as MP3 files, video embeds, hyperlinks throughout the release, and the whole thing written with SEO (search engine optimization) in mind. We teach all this in our media relations class at GVSU, so it was good to hear the affirmation. 
Business Wire, PR Newswire, PitchEngine and other service providers can help PR pros do this. But it is also possible to do yourself in an online newsroom, getting some help from IT or using a simple blog or other CMS option. Although, I met the president of PitchEngine at the PRSA Conference earlier this month, and the basic service is free! 
The point is, you’ll see “the press release is dead” as event titles and ranting blog posts again and again. The thing to remember is the press release is still a useful tool, IF you use it well. And it can be more alive if PR pros take advantage of multiple tools that make it more interesting not only to journalists but the public directly as they engage your organization online and in social media. For proof of this, pay attention to the advanced measurement tools that come with using multimedia and interactive press releases. It might add some life to the way your clients and bosses see the value of media relations as part of what PR people do.

4 thoughts on “Media Morbidity in West Michigan?

  1. Amen!! In some cases newsrooms are behaving as advertising departments did in the 70's and 80's with their hands out, “Where's my ad for this week?”I wonder if some public institutions are breathing easier these days with reduced newsroom staff and a lack of time and direction for investigative stories?


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