Off the Record

Can PR Breathe Life Into the Newspaper Death Watch?

September 17, 2015

If you have been in PR, you get to know reporters as more than people on the other end of a phone or email. You realize they are important to your local outlet; that these individuals do more than primp before getting on camera or check their AP stylebook before posting a long article.

These are hard-working people in the media, specifically in the newspaper industry, who provide the backbone of our community’s information. It is a real pleasure that people in PR can call them colleagues, and some of us “hybrids” can call them friends. 

And then you see them get displaced about as easily as Mark Zuckerberg at an upscale haberdashery. It hurts a little to watch these reporters being cut loose without blinking, all because of advertisers taking their business elsewhere.

We all know where that far-off land is located — online.

Question: Why isn’t there a national PR campaign to help the newspaper publishing industry? Why aren’t the communications and marketing professionals of each of these newspapers getting on a phone (or in a Google hangout, for crying out loud) and figuring out what they can do together?

Today, it seems no one is safe from the publication guillotine. The stalwart of the New York sports scene, Mike Lupica, was let go by the New York Daily News. Mort Zuckerman ensured everyone in the newsroom realized that no one is safe with this cut.  And why? He just lost $30 million in publishing costs, so when you and the one of the highest paid guys on the staff can’t come to terms, someone has to go.

Unfortunately, that pink slip sent shock waves throughout most newsrooms yesterday.

The publishing industry has become newspaper Darwinism, and so far, the fittest has been the Internet, leaving a copious amount of “former” journalists in its wake. There have been reports of 70 jobs cut from USA Today in what was called “a bloodbath.” The O.C. Register had a slew of buyouts recently when its knock-off brand L.A. Register failed to gain any audience. From the New Orleans Picayune to our hometown’s The Dallas Morning News, no paper is immune from the buyout and no reporter can stray from the fear of getting whacked.

Reporters tell stories and share news, but no one seems to care because the hottest, newest website has bloggers that cuss, spread rumors, spew venom, and opine on whatever is trending. So, instead of trying to discover the fountain of youth and rediscover their brands online, why aren’t those in the newspaper industry working harder to go where the news is — online? At least, that’s the impression, which brings us to this:

PR, you have a job to do.

This is not what hacks do. It’s what flacks do. (No disrespect folks who get offended so easily.) And if you don’t do it, PR people, you won’t be doing much of anything outside of asking people with whom you network, “Would you like fries with that?”

How do we know? It’s what some reporter friends of ours are doing now.

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