As I sat down to write my final edition of Media Brands, I revisited some of the reader feedback I've gotten over the past year.
Although there were a few nasty missives - inevitable for any columnist, I'm sure - the input was by and large positive and often reflected some agreement with the angle I've taken on the media. Most of the appreciations came when I was most critical of the media. The largest single response was elicited by a column that decried the media's own PR failing and, somewhat playfully, suggested that news outlets form a trade group to better articulate the industry's failings and explain its successes.
I wrote this column in April, on the back end of a very trying period for the journalism profession and its image. It was in the wake of the Jayson Blair and Jack Kelley scandals and at a time when reporting rarely transcends he-said, she-said stenography and when commentary is often no more than partisan screeching. At that point, there was perhaps more reason than ever for PR pros to distrust the media and, while there's no defending the Jayson Blairs or less obvious defilers of the trade, I argued that journalists do a lot of good that doesn't get any notice.
To my surprise, most readers who responded were skeptical of that point and, in their skepticism, they took a rather resigned view of the news media, which could perhaps best be generalized as the belief that the news industry is fouled beyond repair. I found this striking, but not as striking as the related discovery that in all my dealings with media relations pros very few are willing to take some responsibility for the media's current state, as well as its future. PR pros too often see the media as something going on somewhere else that they occasionally have to deal with, rather than a dynamic industry shaped by many forces, not least the way PR people do their jobs.
This is a long way of saying that it's crucial for PR people to take an active role in creating the media they want. Instead of idly hoping that blogs will be a potent segment of media in the long run, it's important to make it happen, by working with the people who write them, understanding their intentions, motivations, strengths, and weaknesses. Instead of wishing that journalists had a better understanding of the competitive landscape in a client's industry, go beyond the press release to provide that background information.
This may sound like an overstatement, but PR people often don't realize how important they are to the media world. They control news flow. They make and break news cycles. And they have a hand in determining the outcome of competition among journalistic outlets. And while smaller news holes make serving clients more difficult, shrinking newsrooms and the additional layers of responsibilities being heaped upon reporters can actually be a boon as journalists become hungrier than ever for people who understand their predicament and are willing to help make their lives easier.