Digital or PR – what is killing newspapers?

I read with interest the comments from Worcester News deputy editor John Wilson who claims it is PR for public bodies that is the real threat to journalism.

He argues that it isn’t the Internet or the rise of social media that is the real threat but rather organisations that are having direct contact with citizens and developing their PR activity. There are some interesting points in what he says but I think it misses the point.

For many years organisations such as the police, emergency services, and local authorities have been trying to find ways to communicate with the people who rely on their services. This has been through direct leafleting, local events and groups such as neighbourhood watch and residents associations. Developing lines of communication is nothing new it has been happening for generations.

The only difference with the current situation is that with the technological developments of new devices providing access to the Internet and social media there are easier ways to deliver messages. Rather than just relying on public meetings and spending lots of money on printed material, messages can be sent widely at the touch of a keyboard or on a mobile phone. Frontline staff can share information from wherever they are.

But it is so much more than that. The development of social media has given new and interesting ways for organisations to have conversations with people who are interested and may need to use the service. It has brought an immediacy that while challenging is really liberating for businesses that are prepared to step into the world of social networks.

It is easy to blame the organisations or the relevant communication staff, but Mr Wilson needs to recognise that all public bodies are no longer in control of information. When he talks about police, fire etc breaking news on social networks I would have to disagree. As recent events have shown, it is local people who will be the ones breaking news on social networks and will be providing commentary, photographs and video. All that public bodies can do is ensure that they are operating in an open and transparent way. It is for people to make their own minds up about what they see, hear and learn.

Mr Wilson states: “Make no mistake, they (organisation PRs) are our real competition and if we do not tackle them head on we will surely founder.”

It is a very unhelpful declaration of attack on organisations that are identifying ways to improve their services through better communication. I believe that it is the development of technology that is the real issue for the media, as it has given the ability to break and report news to everyone wherever they are and whoever they are. The issue for the media is for them to find a relevance and position with the public who are now finding and digesting news in a more sophisticated way.

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3 Responses to Digital or PR – what is killing newspapers?

  1. webpage says:

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  2. Ben Proctor says:

    We do need to hold on to the fact that journalists have a vital role in a democracy to hold the powerful to account. I do know of comms teams who see online media as a way to avoid the inconvenience of local media scrutiny. That’s obviously undesirable.

    It is important that public bodies make themselves accountable to the people they serve. As you point out leaflets and public meetings aren’t the only tools in the box right now.

    Ultimately local media need to make a profit. If taking on local PRs sells papers then I guess that’s what they will do. But public bodies shouldn’t stop doing the right thing for their citizens because media conglomerates are losing money


  3. anna lowman says:

    Great post. I think journalists and organisational PRs can co-exist side-by-side. John Wilson seems most concerned that newspapers are no longer the first to ‘break news’. That’s the part that he needs to adjust to. Yes, newspapers might not be the news breakers anymore, but as he says himself in his article, they are there to bring meaning to the story, balance sources and give readers more in-depth information.
    The rise of PRs on social media is great – it brings transparency to news like never before. The public can see the information issued from the PR, plus the interpretation delivered by the journalists. It ensures both sides remain more accountable for the information being released and I think, develops greater trust.


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