With severe cuts hitting PR and communication functions, we have to ask how we can make it more relevant to the 21st century. The whole media industry is seeing on one of the biggest changes that we have ever experienced.
I was given the opportunity this week of seeing how a large evening newspaper is looking to make itself relevant to modern life. It involves local people, local newspapers and providing more than the 140 character news from Twitter. And it is an approach that makes interesting viewing for corporate communications. How can PR agencies and in-house teams take these elements to provide a more streamlined service?
So, what was it that I saw happening? Firstly, there was still a central core to all journalism of getting the news and getting it first. Breaking news and exclusives are still essential to the reporters. But in the 24 hour media world it is not always possible. In those cases it is about providing in-depth analysis a new slant or something from behind the scenes that would have gone unnoticed in the fast-moving consumption of news.
It also has required a rethinking of how the Internet is used. Many years ago the news appeared first in the printed pages and would then be placed on the web. Now, if there is a chance of breaking it first on the net then it is taken. And for the rest of the daily news, the web and now social media are being used to attract a new generation of readers.
The next phase of this evolution is to return to the roots of local newspapers. That is, to encourage readers to provide the news, to say what is happening and to be part of the local headlines. It is something that was highlighted in the Media Trust report and also supports the Big Society that the ConDem Government is so keen on.
If this change works then what it will do is secure the future of the local newspaper into a new, modern era.
But what can the PR and communication professional learn from this development by the local media?
The newspaper industry has gone through a very difficult time that has involved redundancies, mergers and the introduction of new production processes. This has had the result of making it a more streamlined operation. Every member of the team knows their role, knows what is expected and is clearly focused on delivering results. There is no individual ego that is evident. Taking this into account could provide the communication team going through tough cuts at the moment with the chance to reinvent itself. As numbers are reduced there will be no place for anyone who cannot clearly show what they deliver and how they are part of the team.
There is also a lot to learn from the set up of the modern newspaper news desk. A place where everyone has a role and a seat at the table, but on the basis of what they bring not who they are. The reporter is sat next to the web guy and near the photographer all under the watchful gaze of the news editor. How many PR and communication offices are split into smaller offices where each specialist area hides away unless they have to talk? In-house communication teams are in place to try to manage reputations and yet there is no central news desk to do it. Instead, we are often focused on having structures that reward the individual rather than the team, and they do little to support streamlined communication.
In periods of growth the creation of these structures is accepted. In 2010, this is a luxury that we cannot afford. We have to take a lesson from this local newspaper approach. A team that is focused on the one aim (in the newspaper to get the news first), working together (on the news desk) and each person knowing what they bring. Perhaps this is the rethink we need to move towards as we make tough decisions on where and how to use our budgets.
And as I said in the last blog ‘Big Society meets small media’ if the Media Trust recommendations lead to a change to the local media that provides communities with journalists, local news and local newspapers at the heart of their communities then maybe if communication and PR professionals take a leaf out of the newly written pages of journalism they too could be put back at the heart of their organisations and be even more relevant to the day job.
I must also thank the local newspaper editor and staff for allowing me into their world for a few hours.