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:
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.