How Traditional Journalism Has – and Has Not – Changed in the Digital Era
By: Katie Higgins
It’s no secret that the journalism industry as a whole has undergone a seismic shift in the past decade. From the unprecedented popularity of social media platforms and the economic collapse of the late 2000s, to today’s charge to mobile and the ever-shortening news cycle, traditional journalism has had to evolve.
At a recent PRSA Detroit seminar, journalists Christopher Kirkpatrick of the Detroit Free Press, Cindy Goodaker of Crain’s Detroit Business, John Schultz of DBusiness and moderator Walter Middlebrook of The Detroit News weighed in on what has – and has not – changed in traditional journalism and the print media world.
The New Newsroom
In the nation’s last major economic crisis, newsrooms were hit hard. Many newspapers and magazine publications were forced to close, and nearly every publication had to severely cut staff and services. For most, business has now stabilized, however the new newsroom is a much smaller band of reporters and editors who have to make do – and produce more coverage and news content – with much less.
This means it is more critical than ever before for PR pros to do their homework and get to know the publication they are pitching. Editors are working through thousands of press releases and pitches each week, and if your story doesn’t fit their beat or the publication, it will be deleted. It is more imperative than ever to pitch wisely and get to know the publication’s staff to gain a reputation as an efficient and timely resource, rather than someone who sends out mass pitches.
The Data Dump
Even weekly and monthly print publications now run an up-to-the-minute news website, and they need help curating timely content. Through the increasing consumption of digital news in an online or mobile format, digital analytics can chart how many people have clicked on the headline, how long the average user stayed on the page, even how far into the story they read. To some extent, this data helps guide the modern editorial process. However, each of PRSA Detroit’s panelists agreed that this information should be viewed with caution, and a good editor can take a story’s popularity into account without letting it drive the news of the day.
This data also means that news outlets are paying closer attention to how their websites look and how mobile-friendly or responsive they are, and the results are telling. When the Detroit Free Press debuted its new website design, mobile traffic to the site tripled. The PR takeaway is this: Keep an eye out for concise stories that have a strong visual component. Mobile users are looking for crisp, compelling and new information in an attractive and easy to digest package.
Same Story, New Tricks
Journalists have always had techniques to get attention for their stories, whether it is through a compelling headline, dramatic photo, or placement on the front page. Today, journalists have more tools in their arsenal: they can use focused keywords, tags, optimized news websites, blogs and sharing on social media.
This means that while tighter, shorter stories that involve lists or an ongoing trend play well with a digital audience, editors are still seeking the same stories they always have. Breaking news, investigative reporting and human interest features are the backbone of the newsroom. This is great confirmation for public relations folks: Compelling features and hard news stories will always have a place in the media. You just have to find the right publication to place them.
Combined, the Detroit media panelists have several decades of experience in traditional journalism and have experienced firsthand innumerable changes in the newsroom. Publications and PR pros alike have to alter their paths to keep up with new trends and technologies. While much has changed over the years, each journalist believes that great stories will always be told at great publications, and that curiosity, thorough investigation, and a certain way with words will always be the foundation of great journalism.