“Old” Media: More, Not Less Powerful

Representing our clients to the media has become quite a difficult task, given the current painful death of the traditional media in the U.S.

Every day there’s another article about a newspaper or magazine publishing company that has cut 100, or 200, or 500 jobs. I read a report earlier this fall about unemployment in journalism that confirmed what all of us in the communications industry already suspected: the rate of unemployment is considerably higher in journalism  than for the society as a whole. Close to 36,000 journalism jobs disappeared between September 2008 and September 2009. Most of them are in the print media.

The destruction of the news media in the U.S. is both national and local. Downsizing has affected network TV and nationwide news publications such as The Wall Street Journal and Time. But city newspapers have been folding one after another, also.  This has led to a couple of noteworthy trends: the American news media is becoming more centralized, and in the process, a few media outlets are becoming much more powerful than they ever were.

In many countries there is one national communications hub city where all the important media are located. While New York is the biggest American news media center, there are influential media voices in Washington, Chicago, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Dallas, Miami, and many other areas.  Now, however, several once-prominent local news organizations are gone and others are severely weakened.

For example, The Rocky Mountain News in Denver died this year after being published for 150 years. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer also stopped print publication this year, after 146 years. And the The Washington Post just announced it was closing all of its U.S. bureaus and will rely on its Washington-based reporters to cover the news either remotely or by flying in and out to visit a news scene.

The consequence of downsizing and centralization is that local news isn’t being reported as thoroughly as it used to be. In addition, many local newspapers now rely solely on outside sources – syndicated material and wire services – for all non-local news, such as science and technology news, book and movie reviews and national news.  An example: only two or three of the top 10 daily newspapers in the U.S. still do their own science reporting and write their own book reviews.

Only a few big city papers are strong enough to produce a wide range of content, and those papers are selling their content to all the others.  So while the American news media used to be decentralized, the current destruction of traditional media has led to growing centralization. As a result, those few big papers, along with Associated Press and Reuters, are now immensely influential, since their content is used so widely in place of locally-produced content.  This is ironic, since the biggest print media outlets are being eviscerated, too, and the staff cuts keep coming. 
It’s healthier in a democracy if there are more, rather than just a few news gathering organizations controlling media content. While we’re going through a very dark period in American journalism right now, I’m hopeful that there will eventually be a total restructuring of the news industry that will bring it back to health and bring us back a greater variety of news sources and more thorough news coverage.

–Lucy Siegel

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5 Responses to ““Old” Media: More, Not Less Powerful”

  1. Jay Gronlund Says:

    Great summary. Can’t agree more with the risks of fewer news sources but maybe the pendulum will somehow swing back so that more journalists would still be needed, albeit in a different role? Not sure what that would be however. Wishful thinking? Jay

  2. akira odani Says:

    Thank you for the timely piece on the decline of mainstream media. I was listening to a promoter of a NASCAR racer yesterday, a young man of about 30, who told me that the new information sources are the users, who generate their own contents, mostly video and text-messaging stuff, the shallow and poorly written versions, through twitters, facebooks, etc. I think you and I and our generation is slowly being pushed aside believing that information need to be edited, checked for authenticity and readability. The consumption of information is all time high, but few want to pay for it anymore.

    So what do we do? I think we need to join them, rather than despising them or rejecting them. That means I need to learn all the new tricks of media. You are already doing this via your email and blog, etc. I have a long new way to go.


  3. Shira Miller Says:

    Hello Lucy. Thanks for the insightful analysis. These changes have greatly impacted the way we practice PR. Today many of our consumer campaigns reach out evenly to influential bloggers as well as traditional media to offset the declining impact of print. I find this both exciting and scary. The greater number of voices social media offers is offset by the fact that bloggers can write anything they like without regards to journalistic standards. Would love to see what you think about working with social media in a future post.

  4. Bridge Global Strategies Says:

    A reply to Akira: some of the written and video content being produced and posted online (on blogs, web sites, YouTube, etc.) is of professional quality. Some of it is being written/produced by journalists. A hell of a lot of journalists are out of work now, and many of them are providing online content, sometimes for profit, sometimes for no profit. There is actually a group of out-of-work professional journalists that has gotten together to form a new online “collective” of sorts. These journalists intend to work together to provide content, on a paid basis, to others (news media).

    A lot of the outreach that we are doing in PR now to online content providers, which some like to call “social media” relations, is really nothing more than old-fashioned media relations but aimed at journalists online. Some of the bloggers weren’t journalsits before but are doing a great job of journalism now.

    Certainly, a huge amount of what is online is trash and not reliable, though. This makes it more important than ever that we teach our kids how to judge what they read and question what’s true and what isn’t

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