Just who is an essential worker anyway? 

That’s the question we’ve spent the last year trying to figure out collectively. Sure, a grocery clerk, healthcare worker or first responder is certain to make that list. But what about a journalist?

At the end of the day, isn’t their work just as vital? Isn’t keeping the public informed on the latest steps to combat the coronavirus, develop a vaccine and deliver economic relief to those that need it the definition of essential? 

Not if you’re looking at raw employment data. 

The Business of Journalism was in Trouble Long Before COVID-19

Between 2008 and 2019, well before the coronavirus hit, U.S. newspapers had already shed half of their newsroom employees. Ravaged by decades of shrinking ad revenue, sent plummeting as the Internet disrupted how the world consumes its information, many legacy magazines, print newspapers and regional broadcast affiliates were already down to skeleton crews pre-pandemic.  

Then the world stood still as two weeks to “flatten the curve” turned into a year of house arrest, mask- wearing and, yes, even pink slips for some unlucky reporters. Caught between a deadly virus and a business model grappling to remain functional even before the world went remote, journalists felt the brunt of COVID-19 more than most. 

And it’s not just local outlets that have closed or issued layoffs. Mainstream publications including The Atlantic, Buzzfeed, The Economist, Fortune, The Los Angeles Times, National Public Radio, Protocol, Quartz, Slate and more have all faced cuts. Specialized trade outlets likewise felt the squeeze, with FinTech and Health IT publications like Spirited Magazine, The Digitalist and Health Data Management all closing for good.

Much has been written about the industries hardest hit by the pandemic, such as the arts & entertainment industries, but the shrinking media landscape seems to not have received the level of attention it deserves. Alas, the cobbler’s kids have no shoes.

The Future of PR: Expect Tech Media Relations to Get That Much Harder

There’s quite a few consequences that stem from there being fewer reporters available at each outlet, let alone outlets left to publish their work. 

Most often, layoffs serve as a forcing function for publications to re-evaluate which topics its readers value the most. Like any business, they have to choose how to allocate scarce resources to deliver the best product or service they can. With fewer staffers to report the news, teams do their best to take on the workload of recently-departed coworkers, but they might have to make more tough editorial decisions while working several beats, all while conforming to a new standard set during the latest reorganization. 

However, as their journalists leave the payroll, these institutions are losing more than expansive coverage; they are losing something vital to their operations: institutional memory. There’s an incalculable ROI that beat stability and longevity provides. It’s harder to connect the dots between seemingly disparate pieces of information, for example, or to recognize trends before they become readily apparent. So coverage can take a hit as beats become less clearly defined. 

This also makes tech public relations so much harder. 

For example, for a company with an emerging technology that doesn’t clearly fall into existing categories, who’s the right person to pitch? And will they understand the technology well enough to grasp its importance? 

Consider another consequence of layoffs: the rise of freelancers, coupled with e-newsletters and social content production. The evolved business model not only forces journalists to take on additional work from former co-workers but they are often held to high marketing KPI metrics for each online story, such as clicks, retweets and time spent on page.  

These challenges add an additional layer to the fold when it comes to media relations. Knowing exactly who to pitch in this scenario takes experience, industry knowledge and existing relationships. Further, understanding these changes to the media environment and how they shape the ways in which journalists report the news is an important baseline for any spokesperson. Because having a better working knowledge of how journalists operate is useful in understanding what they need to get out of an interview – as well as how to frame a conversation to better land key messaging.

That’s when having a smart tech public relations team and the right expert can make all the difference. 

The future of PR is changing fast. To learn how to make messages stick in this environment, sign up for information on our SOUNDBYTE Media Training program.

Blair Ruth leads the ARPR cloud practice. She loves nothing more than building strategic communications plans to help clients tell their unique story to audiences who matter.

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