Journalists Share Insights on the Evolution of Cannabis Coverage

By: Alexia Garcia

Since Identity’s founding in 1998, our agency has been securing media coverage of all kinds for a robust client portfolio, from professional services companies to consumer brands and attractions.

As cannabis became legalized in Michigan, Identity has expanded its client portfolio to cannabis brands, becoming Michigan’s leading cannabis PR firm while supporting some of the largest medical and recreational marijuana organizations in the Midwest. 

Every media story our team secures teaches us something new about the state of media today, and cannabis stories are no different. We’ve learned valuable lessons about this unique industry, and we’re always looking forward to what’s hot and will spark the interest of audiences across the state. 

Recently Andrea Trapani, managing partner at Identity, and Jordan Walker, account manager with experience on a number of cannabis accounts, hosted a virtual panel to help our industry colleagues learn more about covering this blossoming industry directly from the source.

Meet the Media Covering Cannabis

Key media decision-makers at notable Michigan media outlets pulled back the curtain on the evolution of cannabis coverage during the Meet the Media Covering Cannabis panel, presented by PRSA Detroit

Throughout the event, Gus Burns, cannabis industry reporter at MLive, Al Johnson, planning editor at Fox 2 Detroit, and Lee DeVito, editor in chief at Detroit Metro Times gave us direct insight into what pitches resonate in their newsrooms, what stories they want to tell, and some of the nuances of covering this industry.

The Michigan cannabis industry continues to face the challenges of gaining mainstream appeal and overcoming stigmatization, and these three individuals shared how media outlets have had to adapt their approach to covering the industry, resulting in a storytelling shift surrounding cannabrands and their products that meets the interests of news consumers today.

Longtime Roots 

In the late 2000s, a majority of cannabis coverage focused on health-related benefits and therapeutic uses of marijuana.

Lee DeVito noted that Detroit Metro Times was one of the first publications to get in on the discussion as an alternative outlet, with longtime coverage since the publication’s inception and a cannabis column starting around 2010. He added that, over time, the publication carved out a niche audience of Michigan canna-isseurs who are extremely sophisticated and savvy. 

While there are still areas of Michigan that don’t allow for recreational distribution, including Detroit, Lee also noted there are still stories coming from the city, including a social equity plan meant to address racial disparity.

The takeaway: There’s always a story to be told, even when it’s not as obvious as a product announcement. 

The Market is Maturing

With new provisioning centers opening almost every week, grand opening events are no longer newsworthy in Michigan’s mature market. Gus Burns said the story has to “deliver more” to readers. This isn’t all that different from other stories agencies like Identity might be pitching, but shows the evolution of the industry and coverage in recent years.

Whether we pitch a personal success story, an innovative new product launch or a behind-the-scenes tour, Gus noted that lifting the veil is essential in communicating a brand’s impact and resonating with the audience.

This is especially true for MLive, as a statewide outlet with a broad point of view. Financial stories are also something particularly of interest to his beat as a cannabis reporter, but Gus also notes he’d be interested in hearing more insights of the industry and stories that aren’t typically told, like what happens when product is spoiled and needs to be disposed of.

The takeaway: Think creatively about your brand, your products and your processes to share unique insights that aren’t as mainstream or have never been publicly shared.

Anticipating the Future

As time passes, cannabis usage will only become more normalized in our world. Al Johnson added that journalists in the newsroom must overcome their lack of comfort with the topic, because it can be a barrier to coverage. Plus, if their outlet won’t cover it, someone else will. 

He noted that since FOX 2 has started including cannabis coverage in its broadcasts, they’ve told some great visual stories, but he knows there are more out there, especially in Detroit. And cannabis-focused stories are for everyone, even if they sometimes appear to be political. Most importantly, Al shared how open he is to considering any idea, even if it ultimately isn’t a fit.

The takeaway: As cannabis becomes more mainstream with conversations about federal recreational legalization on the horizon, now is the perfect time to share anything and everything we know about the topic and capitalize on capturing the audience’s attention.

Although the insights shared during this incredibly educational virtual panel may seem unique to the cannabis world, they can also apply to every other industry and can help shape the stories we tell in the future, for all clients.

These insights shared directly from media contacts serve as a solid reminder of what the media considers to be newsworthy and which stories will garner interest with audiences in communities we’re targeting.