One of the first rules of media relations is know the media. When
you know something about the environment in which journalists have
to work you appreciate their deadlines and their perspectives, all
of which helps to improve your skill in reaching them with your
story or news release.
During the past decade the news media, particularly private sector
newspapers, magazines, radio and television outlets, have suffered
from the same economic turmoil as other private sector organizations.
Globalization, recession, national and multinational mergers, and
technological revolution have significantly affected the business
side of the news media, which has caused upheaval in newsrooms across
The computers and computer networks have enabled the same news
reporting functions of ten years ago to be performed by fewer people
while the same technology has exponentially increased the amount
of news available for reporting. Consequently, there is more news
to be processed by fewer people. Staffing levels have been dramatically
cut, roughly 75% in radio, 50% in newspapers and 25% in television.
Furthermore, a dramatic shift in advertising revenues from mass
advertising to much more targeted marketing communications has drastically
reduced advertising revenues available to the majority of private
sector mass news outlets. The rise of direct mail, promotions and
specialized media has spread advertising revenues across a much
broader plane of media. The consequence for anyone submitting a
news story or media release - the "news hole" (the space
in which proactive news can be places) has dramatically shrunk.
Other trends include a maturing news media. Many journalists, those
who survived recessions, mergers and technological downsizing, have
stayed in their positions longer. The rate of turnover in the news
business traditionally is high but in major news markets such as
Toronto there is far less movement than ever before, partly because
fewer jobs are available. It still takes the average journalist
ten years to get promoted into major markets. Once they arrive,
economic conditions keep those reporters in their same jobs, rather
than moving up into editorial positions. Because of these factors,
journalists are older, smarter, generally more educated, and usually
more cynical than their predecessors. Cynicism often breeds distrust
making the current generation of news reporters more suspicious
and more formidable than ever.
Mark LaVigne, APR, is President of the Canadian Public Relations
Society (Toronto) and runs a media relations and media coaching
firm based in Aurora, Ontario. He can be reached at (905) 841-2017