Tuesday, March 04, 2014

What the shift away from hard news means for your media relations

The tide's turning, and the news business is just now coming to grips with it. That's all I can conclude when I read recent columns like these:
  • If you read the weekend read here on Fridays, you saw that Margaret Sullivan, the New York Times public editor, looked at how little hard news is in the newspaper these days. "Even in this digital age, I’d argue, the printed front page is still a strong indication of editors’ news values," she writes, noting that on one recent day, she found just one front-page article of 13 that could be called news.
  • The Atlantic's Derek Thompson, in "The Facebook Effect on the News," writes "The stories and videos most likely to be shared, emailed and posted on Facebook aren't necessarily the newest stories, but they are the most evocative." He notes specifically that "our most successful stories on Facebook often aren't news-pegged—that is, they're not about recent or upcoming events. Instead, they are what journalists call 'evergreen' stories—essays about diets, Millennials, and happiness, studies on coffee and decision-making, or beautiful photos."
Having come out of the world of magazine journalism, where the "evergreen" topic has long been considered catnip for readers, I can only guess that these journalists dismissed this undercurrent because the genre of "what the people want" had no appeal to them as writers. At the recent annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, scientists interested in Engaging with Journalists wound up hearing this:
But there's no doubt that once you put publishing tools in the readers' hands, they will tell you what they want. And what they want drives the advertising train, in the end.

If media relations is your bag, that may mean just as many shifts. Those stories you could dismiss out of hand as "not being newsworthy" might garner your greatest engagement...and so rejecting non-news stories is not going to win the day. If you were counting on that as a way of controlling workflow, you'll need to think again. Letting journalists' feedback steer you in the right direction also may no longer work, particularly if they are as far behind the curve as the columns above suggest. So what do you do?
  • Identify your internal and external influencers: Who's sharing/tweeting/blogging about your topic within your company or organization, or outside it, with a large following? Which of those influencers are most credible and popular? Start measuring the reach of potential partners inside and outside your base. They're the new "reporters" you'll need, both to push out information and to help engage the audiences you want to reach. Yes, this involves legwork. Yes, it will pay off.
  • Rethink the data you're collecting and making available: Data's the new base of many stories, and the New York Times just hired a biologist with a PhD in theoretical physics to lead its "machine learning" team. What data do you have to offer? What data will you have in the years to come? Are you encouraging users and reporters to dig into it? Do you make it available in useful ways? It might shape the coverage you get going forward, newsy or not.
  • Lavish attention on the people who cover you like a blanket: That might mean refocusing your media relations love on trade publications, or those freelancers who really know how to mine you for information. Or that guy in Florida who just happens to like your topic and shares it with a wide following. Instead of categorizing your lists as you once did, make sure you're encompassing the full range of potential sharers.
  • Rethink your formats: I advocate the press release diet because new formats like blogs continue to prove more effective at getting your news, large and small, where it needs to go--and there's a reason why my post Instead of a press release: Options to add to your press release diet is the runaway number-one post with my readers. If you're not spending time reformatting your news to fit Twitter, Facebook and other social sites, you're closing a door to greater visibility and attention.
  • Use reader/member/donor/real person generated content: The people closest to you--members of membership groups, faculty in universities, consumers and retailers for product manufacturers--could be your best source of content. Create content for them, and ask them to create content for you. Readers and audiences love to see themselves reflected in what you're promulgating, and so do the rest of us.
  • Think "not the usual suspects" when it comes to breaking and hard news: Like Wikipedia. The video below is a lecture about a study of 3,000 Wikipedia articles about breaking news--from natural disasters to shootings and more--and what we can learn about how those articles were updated and edited.

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