Do you want the truth about newspaper journalism; a story the newspapers themselves rarely tell? OK, here goes…
It’s a dead man walking; fatally ill, because almost no one under 45 buys a newspaper.
The brutal decline has hit long-established newspapers all over the UK like a series of runaway trucks aimed at the same elderly group of pedestrians.
It would be safe to assume that your local daily paper, for example, has lost at least 80 per cent of its circulation and journalists in the last 20 years.
It’s a shocking decline. You’d think there’d be more reports about it, except “We’re Doing Really, Really Badly” is not a headline any business wants to put out.
I started as a journalist in 1979 on the Northampton Chronicle and Echo, then a daily. It was housed in a big, scowlingly modern building constructed the year before, with its own huge printing press that made your desk upstairs lightly vibrate when it roared into action.
But that was then. Now the Chronicle and Echo is a modest weekly, selling far fewer per week than it used to sell every day. That ‘modern’ office was demolished in 2014, aged just 36. There’s now an Aldi there.
The last ‘Chron’ office I saw looked like some bloke’s house. And not a wealthy bloke.
So, newspaper journalism is dying. Next year, more dailies will turn into weeklies, and more weeklies will turn into Aldis.
So how does this affect you, PR professional? Oddly, your job just got easier.
You see, nearly all those sickly newspapers are still going, in ever-tinier shared offices; desperately pretending to their dying band of readers that they’re bigger and healthier than they really are.
But have they got enough staff to feed their acres of newspaper pages, their websites and all those fiddly blogs, Facebook pages and Twitter feeds?
As a journalist for nearly 40 years, I can solemnly promise you this: they haven’t.
Whatever they say to their readers, however hard-working and resilient their journalists might be, they need outside copy like the Arctic Circle needs outside fruit.
This is a window of opportunity for PR – until the newspapers actually start closing down, when the game changes again.
So first, write your press release. Fill it with detail specific to the story. Include quotes from relevant, named sources. Write brightly, without jargon. Try to balance the demands of your client with what a member of the public might reasonably want to read. And include a picture, because the newspaper you’re contacting probably sacked all their staff photographers in 2014.
And now the tough bit: find your journalist. This is no longer a straightforward task.
As a weekly newspaper journalist covering a small East Midlands town (I won’t say where; a mate still works there) I had my office in a town 12 miles away and an editor I never met in a different town again, 38 miles away.
Other journalists contributing to my newspaper (e.g. Property Pages or What’s On pages) worked from offices in distant fourth and fifth towns.
And in one sudden and shambolic office move, we lost the entire cuttings library, including bound copies of our newspaper going back to the mid-19th century. I hope they’re in a sixth town, but they may be in a skip. I know; it hurts me too.
Anyway, get your press release right, locate your lesser-spotted journalists and you can create a series of contacts which will help you as you help them.
Journalists need good, reliable PR copy more today than at any time in the history of journalism. But they won’t admit it. Not until they’ve been sacked mid-sentence and are sitting ruefully opposite you in your burgeoning PR office.