Monday, May 12, 2014

All the news we'll let you print

Public relations pros once loved weekly newspapers, for several reasons:
  1. They often had more space for feature stories and were open to running accompanying photos. Eager young journalists wrote long stories about our clients.
  2. Many were delivered free or at modest cost.
  3. Unlike a daily paper, they lived in our home for a week. The daily, once read, was recycled in anticipation of the next day's edition.
Most of this has changed. Weekly papers haven't fared much better than dailies as ad dollars have left the newspaper industry in favor of internet content. Dailies responded by trimming editorial staff and beefing up their online media presence. Weeklies rely more upon local advertisers and have a more modest business model, but their websites aren't a big destination for local news.
By noebse via
 Wikimedia Commonscontent. 

We have two weeklies in our town. One has been locally written and published for years. Its design is a little dated, but I credit the ownership for maintaining a skilled editor and writers.

The other weekly is part of a regional chain owned by a media conglomerate called Gatehouse that's swimming in red ink. It recently scuttled every staff reporter. A couple of editors now produce a set of cookie-cutter weeklies that are nearly 100% submitted content. In my community, most of the "editorial" content is submitted by the school district and town government.

Why wouldn't a PR person love the idea of a weekly running almost every news release it receives?

It's about credibility. Journalism is the fourth estate, holding government decision-makers accountable for their actions. Weekly No. 2 doesn't do that. It's an ad-filled version of the school district's newsletter. (Makes me wonder why the school district continues to produce and mail their own newsletter.)

As a PR person, I prefer the legitimacy of objective journalism. It serves as a halo for stories I generate. Weekly No. 2, now written mostly by the school and town PR managers, has no journalistic halo.

Weekly No. 2 and its sister publications no longer can boast about a commitment to objective journalism. They have ads and submitted articles. They don't serve their readers as they should, and most understand that the product has become unspectacular.

I began my career writing for a weekly paper. It paid more in mileage than in salary. But I learned how to interpret and de-cloak the balderdash of public officials. People liked to read the paper, and called to complain when they didn't receive it.

Who complains when they don't get Weekly No. 2?