War-saturated US media opening up to general news

NEW YORK - With the war in Iraq now in a mopping-up phase, battle coverage has loosened its stranglehold on the media ever so slightly.

For instance, The New York Times last week, in what could be a bellwether move, did away with its daily pullout section dedicated to the war and returned pages to its front section.

But that does not mean that the most desirable outlets are suddenly able to accommodate a wide variety of stories. The cable news networks, morning news shows, and newsweeklies are still focusing on the post-war action, and the spread of SARS and the ever-sour economy are on deck as the next big stories.

As a result, security experts, stories with economic tie-ins, and war pitches rule the day. And it remains difficult for other stories to break through.

"It's a notch easier than it was a month ago, when the war began," said Jerry Schwartz, CEO of G.S. Schwartz & Co., who said he's still relying on wartime pitching, including attempts to grab the attention of trade and long-lead publications.

Overall, PR pros said they've viewed their improvements by measures. A "no" from an editor or producer is suddenly encouraging, if only because the refusal is evidence that a press release was read or a pitch was heard.

Haber's advice: "Proceed, but proceed with caution. We're living in difficult times right now. Anything can happen. You must have a contingency plan."

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