Editors. Reporters. Columnists. These are three traditional job titles in the journalism world which have been around for over a century. They’re the main players that make up the journalist line-up that you’ll find in every national newspaper in the UK today.
Recently, though, it dawned on me just how much this line-up is changing. Sure, editors, reporters and columnists continue to be the so-called top jobs in journalism, but there’s been a significant shift in recent years in terms of topics and sectors that are being covered, how the media is responding to changing demand from readers and the critical focus on digital.
While the below isn’t a completely exhaustive list, you’ll find what I believe to be the most interesting changes that every professional working on – or responsible for – public relations needs to be aware of.
The freelance dance
While we tend to think of ‘the gig economy’ being made up of the likes of musicians, drivers for ridesharing companies and delivery jobs, it refers to anyone working on a short-term contract or freelance – and that includes journalists and writers. The gig economy as a whole has boomed in the UK in recent years and the media has benefited from this; the number of freelancers contributing to newspapers and magazines feels at an all-time high.
You may think that’s great, as it means there’s more journalists to reach out to, but it can make placing stories more of a challenge. Many years ago, there may have been one or two people per publication suited to the story you could offer. Now, there’s an army of freelancers who are technically relevant. The problem is that many of them offer a general service whereby they cover multiple topics to fulfil the needs of the publication – for example, they’re not simply health reporters covering developments in the health sector, but instead might cover health alongside all sorts of different types of consumer stories. And they’re not always available – some might work reduced hours, only cover stories their editor delegates to them, not make their contact details publicly available, or have certain rules you must abide by, such as not doing interviews.
So, do you pitch to an editor in the hope they pass the story to a freelancer? Go direct to a freelancer and hope they pick it up and sell it in to a publication you think is suited to your story? Pitch to a reporter, but then go to a freelancer later if the journalist isn’t interested? Well, they’re all valid options, depending on the situation and story. This is where good PR work comes in – there is no fixed rule; an effective media relations practitioner just knows.
The age of social
With social media now king of the internet, and a critical tool for media outlets to share their content and reach their audience, many of the top stories we read each day are posted by dedicated Social Media Editors on Twitter and Facebook.
There’s a misconception that these Social Media Editors post what they’re told to. This couldn’t be further from the reality – they have autonomy to post what they believe is best for the channel and its audience. Sometimes, that means developing the content themselves or at least helping in the process. As such, this makes them a target in public relations campaigns.
A story that is right for social media and has the potential to go viral may not immediately capture the imagination of a traditional journalist. Liaising with a Social Media Editor on ideas is a different route to coverage – since they can champion an idea internally and work with journalists to develop the content they need for social.
Given how social channels are proving essential for securing click-throughs from the likes of Twitter to a media outlet’s website, and how those higher visitor numbers help secure advertising money, Social Media Editors will likely become more commonplace at bigger outlets, especially the nationals and those with a consumer and entertainment focus.
News been framed!
While social media has already established itself as a critical part of media outlets’ procedures, we’re also seeing video content become widely used on their websites. The Independent is an excellent case in point. Even a brief visit to the home page and you can quickly see how many stories have a video embedded on the page – simply look for the red play button in the bottom left corner of the thumbnail images next to the headlines.
While occasionally a video is useful support content for news, the primary reasoning I can see for loading every page with a video is to increase advertising revenue. Before each video plays, usually there’s a short advert. The Daily Mail is also adding videos to each page, but it’s mainly adverts in the bottom right hand corner and not related to the news story you’re reading.
The Independent has a team of video journalists, who research, produce, film, edit, and even present news pieces for the website. Like Social Media Editors, these journalists should be considered as targets for public relations campaigns. Working with them to develop, or at least submit, video content enables them to embed video on the page featuring your story, while also contributing to their ad revenue.
Welcome to the party, the environment
It’s not often a topic or industry not already widely reported by journalists will boom in importance or coverage. The likes of sport, politics and business, among others, have always had dedicated departments, with their own reporters and editors. It’s impressive, then, that the environment is forcing itself into the mainstream and demanding that publishing houses and newspapers give it more airtime.
Historically, environmental news and opinion would’ve been covered by the relevant department it was linked to. For example, if it was a story about business impact on the environment, if it was covered then it would have been done so by a business reporter. And while this is still the case for some newspapers, the growing national interest in the environment and sustainability issues has inspired others to create new departments and hire dedicated environment journalists. The Guardian and The Times are leading the way in this, and I expect to see others follow suit. Who knows, even the climate change naysayers in the right-wing media may eventually indulge a readership that demands more news on the topic.
Are we bidding farewell to investigative journalism?
“Bloody hell, how much?!” – is what I imagine goes through the minds of editors when they see the final bill for a journalist’s nine-month long investigation. Throw in the costs of being taken to court or the costs of fighting an injunction and the bill grows even larger.
As newspapers continue to face the challenges of lower hard copy sales, the investment in investigative journalism has seen a drop. They simply don’t consider such high costs as worth the time, effort and resources at this point in time.
Is investigative journalism dead though? Definitely not. There will always be stories, whether taken on by hunches of journalists or resulting from whistle-blowers, that require more in-depth investigations. In the short-term, we’ll see publications selecting them more carefully to avoid court action, but long-term, once they’ve established a steadier business model, investigative journalism could well be in vogue again.
As public relations professionals, we must stay on top of these changes in how the media operates and who does what. The way in which we secure coverage is changing rapidly and there’s never been more importance placed on the need to be as considered as possible in who to contact, about what and how. Yes, these changes pose new challenges, but there’s plenty of opportunities for us all too.
Tim William, senior account manager at Firefly Communications