Public relations and giving print a chance

I received a nice comment from Meg Roberts about my posting yesterday on public relations and newspapers. Meg is a runner and a PR student. Hard to beat that combination. I hope that Meg and other public relations students and young professionals will read this blog and comment often. I really believe that their perspective on public relations and public relations education benefits us all.

This morning at 5:30 a.m. there weren’t many runners or cars on the roads. Maybe because it’s Christmas Eve; maybe the 25 mph wind was a deterrent to the few others in my neighborhood who run before the sun even thinks about getting out of bed. But I got my six miles in. And when I came home, there was The Plain Dealer in my driveway and the Akron Beacon Journal on my porch, both encased in plastic bags. That got me thinking. First, I only subscribe to The Plain Dealer on Sundays. Maybe one of the editors read this blog yesterday and made arrangements to have a copy delivered to me today. If so, that’s great marketing. But, more likely, it’s an attempt to take customers from the ABJ. That’s another story.

But here’s the point, I like reading newspapers, magazines and blogs online. It’s immediate. You can see video and hear audio. Gee, just like TV. And you can engage reporters, editors and bloggers with immediate comments and feedback. So far so good.

But I love reading the print edition. For those of you who have not read a newspaper on anything other than a computer screen for a while, I encourage you to try it. To steal and modify a saying that was widely used when my generation was engaged in our war in Vietnam: “Give Print a Chance.” Try it. You’ll like it. The printed version is actually pretty well organized. And you can navigate it with almost no training. Just go to the section you are most interested in at the time and turn the pages.

The real point though is that newspapers are changing the print editions. Maybe to attract a new generation of readers. Maybe to drive more eyes to their Web sites. I don’t know the answer. It’s a question I’ll ask Lauren Rich Fine next time I have a real-world chat with her at Kent State. But regardless, public relations pros need to understand the changes that are taking place throughout the news media, print, broadcast and online.

Consider The Plain Dealer. It’s making an effort to feature only local stories on the front page. You can check that out yourself by getting the newspaper. Or you can read an interesting article by Rick Edmonds, “Plain Dealer’s All-Local Fronts,” that was featured on Poynteronline on Thursday, Dec. 20. I suspect that the Akron Beacon Journal is making an attempt to highlight more local stories as well, but it may not have enough resources to make a substantial change. The great thing about blogging is that you can say something like without knowing anything about the management decisions involving content or the resources available to the newspaper and its staff. Maybe Jan Leach knows. Jan was the editor of the Akron Beacon Journal. Now she is an assistant professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Kent State. I’ll ask her next time I see her.

But as newspapers – and the so-called traditional media in general – continue to evolve, more emphasis on local coverage in print isn’t the only thing that’s going to change. New technology means we’re going to have to understand how to engage reporters not just with words but with audio and video. I haven’t quite sorted out the implications of the so-called social news release. But I guess it’s coming. It means that we’re going to see stories develop more quickly and remain public longer. Changes involving the news media — print and online — mean that we better figure out how to be available 24/7 – and how to monitor more effectively what is being said about our organizations and respond accordingly. (Check the blog by Mindy McAdams. It’s on my blogroll).

Regardless of the changes resulting from new technology, for public relations pros the same standards will continue to apply: build relationships with reporters and editors, be ethical, be responsive and responsible and know what you’re talking about, in news releases and in interviews. And be as available during a difficult story as you are when pitching the newest and greatest whatever.

And try reading – in print – at least some of the newspapers that are important to you and your organization. Go ahead. Give print a chance. It’s still about content. And about excellent writing, which I believe you get a better sense for in print than online.

Tomorrow is Christmas. It’s the one day of the year when I know I’m not going to run. Most likely won’t write anything either.

Hope everyone has an enjoyable and restful holiday. And especially at this time of the year, consider the things that are really important. I’ll bet news media story placements don’t even make the list.


5 responses to “Public relations and giving print a chance

  1. Rob-

    Back when I was a journalism undergraduate, the Beacon Journal was a GREAT newspaper. Ahead of the curve on all fronts – reporting, photography, design, etc. Sad to say, it has been a downhill journey for 20 years, with the last two years bringing a noticeable drop in quality.

    I always found the PD lacked a vision. That has changed in the last few years. The emphasis on local news and return to long-form writing are smart moves and should be copied by other newspapers. The PD also has a great website, in my opinion. I check it out every day – it has a nice mix of breaking news, opinion and political news and columns.

    I would say the PD has a blueprint for how a newspaper in the 21st century can succeed.

  2. Tim,

    Thanks for your comment. I completely agree with you. The Akron Beacon Journal used to be a great newspaper — maybe due in part to the Knight legacy. Today, however, The Plain Dealer is a much better newspaper — with a strong Web site.

    You work hard to help develop young professional writers in classes at Kent State so I hope you’ll agree with this. Writing and content still matter — and I think the PD has the edge here and may well be a model for the direction newspapers are going in print and online.


  3. Let me look at the lighter side of this discussion, since I’m late arriving.

    The Plain Dealer is the superior newspaper when compared with ABJ. That’s sad, but no longer debatable. But since the ABJ carries the New York Times crossword puzzle, I must have it.

    Yes, I can get the Times puzzle online. But unlike you, I don’t care much for reading newspapers online. It’s too damned hard to find stories.

    Now, about that paper being on your porch in a plastic bag — where do you rate, man? My ABJ carrier doesn’t believe in plastic bags (must be an environmentalist), but I don’t bother complaining any more, as nothing changes.

    If these folks only knew that my subscription is entirely dependent on that crossword puzzle.

  4. Bill,

    The guy who delivers my ABJ helped coach my son’s high school soccer team. I think he still has some sympathy for me for all the years I spent attending games, driving to practices, etc. (Loved every minute of it.) You remember those days.

    And I’m not smart enough to do the crossword puzzle. So I don’t even try. There’s enough stress in life.

  5. I used to work with a copy editor, a Harvard graduate, who did the NYT crossword in PEN. Resented the heck out of him!

    Happy New Year!

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