By Chuck Malloy

Take it from this experienced news hound. Personal relationships with reporters and editors are more important than ever for those in public relations. It also helps to add a dash of compassion and understanding for the jobs they do.

While personal relationships have always been a big part of the PR business, the ground rules are a little different in a time when newsrooms are cutting their staffs and adjusting priorities. Kenton Bird, director of the School of Journalism and Mass Media at the University of Idaho, tells me that the hardest-hit papers are mid-sized metros such as the Idaho Statesman and Spokesman-Review (Spokane). Smaller papers, such as the Lewiston Morning Tribune and Moscow-Pullman Daily News have been relatively stable in staff size.

This information is important to know for those in public relations, because it defines how you should work with the media.

I spent four years writing editorials at the Statesman and in recent months I’ve had the pleasure of working there on a temporary basis. As with many other newspapers throughout the nation, revenue numbers have declined. Bill Manny, one of the top editors at the paper, told members at a Boise Lions Club recently that the Statesman has about half the staff it did at its peak in 2006. Also, a veteran reporter told me that workloads for the staff have increased by about 40 percent as a result. Resources have been stretched even more with the addition of the weekly Business Insider in Boise.

As a result, you might not get timely responses from editors and reporters to e-mails or telephone calls. If you are a PR specialist, that’s where “compassion” and “understanding” enter the picture. Newspaper people aren’t the only ones facing a time crunch. Getting return calls from radio news people, or talk-show hosts, can be difficult as well. Television stations have reduced their camera crews significantly, forcing them to be a one-man show. So there is a lot of stress on all levels of the media.

“They go non-stop and the best needs to be fed,” Bird said. “Return of phone calls and e-mails become a lower priority.”

Bird, a longtime friend of mine since our “salad” days at the old Daily Idahonian in Moscow, notices other changes in the newspaper business.

“Stories that at one time would involve four or five sources now involve one or two,” Bird said. “A reporter that might have covered mostly higher education at one time is now also covering K-12. The pressure to produce breaking news from the Web is up there, too.”

A PR specialist must be aware of the various demands on reporters and editors in all news fields. Here are some tips for working more effectively in this ever-changing environment:

  • Be aware of the time demands on reporters and find ways to get around the deadline crunch. On the newspaper end, “If there is a day of the week that a reporter doesn’t have to produce something for the daily paper, take advantage of that,” Bird said.
  • Know who you are dealing with. Make an appointment with reporters and editors and visit with them personally. Find out how you can best work with them. But don’t be a time vulture. Often, an hour meeting with an individual can add two hours to a work day.
  • Recognize that the game has changed and that a news release is more likely to end up in print with few, if any, changes. Bird tells a story about an online paper in Western Washington that took a Washington State University news release and ran it almost verbatim, with a staff reporter’s byline. Most papers do not go to that extreme, but a release is more likely to run if it is well written, well researched, and conforms to the newspaper’s style.
  • If you submit a news release and it doesn’t run, or is not part of a television or radio newscast, don’t whine and complain. Find out what you need to do to be successful next time.
  • Don’t submit junk releases – those designed to put your company, or boss, in a favorable light. Editors and reporters can smell junk releases, or fluff, from a mile away.
  • Explore outlets beyond print and electronic media. The communications business has come a long way from the days when newspapers, television and radio were the chief sources for information. Websites and social media, such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, have opened new doors for communications.

I have spent more time in newsrooms than I care to admit, and have seen a lot of changes. Change produces new challenges for both the reporter and public relations professional, and that can be somewhat nerve-wracking. But after talking with my good friend, Kenton Bird, I feel more optimistic about the future.

“The challenge for students in journalism is as high as it has ever been,” he said. “I feel optimistic about what opportunities await. We tell freshmen that about half of them will get jobs that don’t even exist as they enter the university. This produces a cause for caution, but it’s always a cause for hope.”

For graduating students looking for jobs in PR, “they’re doing quite well,” Bird said.

I’d say the opportunities go beyond doing “quite well” if they keep up with the ongoing changes in the newsrooms and adjust accordingly.

Chuck Malloy, a longtime Idaho journalist and communications consultant, is a co-chair of programs with Capital City Communicators. He also is a motivational speaker for the Boise-based Diabetes Support Network.

Category: Board Blog

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