In digital age, traditional media still needs support

People on my train used to talk a lot about sports. Now they talk about real estate.

People on my train used to talk a lot about sports. Now they talk about real estate. There's a kind of inertia to the conversations, as if everyone is in a state of shock over the economy, and at a loss about what to do.

Industry discussions are also becoming blandly similar in their content and vision. But the PR profession is better than this. We need to try to add another layer to our professional discourse, and play a role in at least envisioning a future. There are a number of key areas where PR can and should play a significant leadership role, and at the same time help advance at least an alternative view on what are becoming some accepted wisdoms. Over the next several weeks, I will be looking at these areas.

The first critical issue that begs for PR leadership is the ongoing debate over the future of so-called “credible,” or traditional, media. The foundations of PR are rooted in working with the media, however varied, high-level, and multidimensional the profession has become. PR should not abandon traditional media now, when it needs it most.

No one denies that user-generated content, social networks, and online communities are here to stay, and that they have fundamentally changed the way companies and brands need and want to communicate. But the value of traditional media coverage of key issues, people, and trends is still vital to a thriving PR program, as we see in our awards entries and campaigns.

That does not mean media and publishing companies don't need to evolve and retool their models. There is plenty of reason to hold producers and publishers accountable for not moving ahead with the times long before the digital era forced change upon them.

But as newsrooms are decimated and the contributions of professional reporters and editors are devalued, there is virtually no acknowledgement of what the PR industry stands to lose if some really significant media outlets lose their way permanently. With major markets like San Francisco threatening to shutter their biggest papers, no media outlet can be taken for granted.

It seems that there is some reluctance to take a view on so-called traditional media, at the risk of appearing to be out of step with the digital era. But the truth is that the PR industry needs to excite an orchestra of influencers and platforms, from face-to-face communications, to social networks, to blogs, to feature stories in Sunday magazines. It's trendy to join the chorus of those predicting the death of media. What is infinitely more sensible for PR leaders is to join the push to help media evolve and thrive.

Julia Hood is publishing director of PRWeek.

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