The web has changed how people consume news beyond recognition – that won’t come as a surprise to anyone reading this – but I’ve been thinking about what these changes mean to communicators in the public sector.
While the changes are, in part, about the rapid growth of social media, what’s also relevant is how “mainstream” media outlets are changing and how the practice of media relations.
Before the internet was around, news media was typically produced and consumed on an episodic basis – whether that was a TV news bulletin or a newspaper published every morning or evening.
And that rigid schedule meant a certain predictability to the news cycle – journalists had deadlines, which meant media relations officers had deadlines and everyone knew when the news became available in public.
But nowadays things are a bit different. While publication deadlines do still exist, they’re less important in driving the business of news than before.
Mark Borkowski sums the advent of internet-enabled media nicely on his blog:
Consider the net a wire service, a huge, powerful story feed where everyone who wants it can get the message at high speed – delivered to their mobiles the moment it goes up if needs be. Psy Ops campaigns on the net are simple and easy to run, but it’s ludicrous and hypocritical of the media to suggest that this evil propaganda device is a new phenomenon. It’s just running at the speed of thought now.
So what does this mean for media relations in the public sector?
Media relations officers need to understand the changing way journalists have to work now. Many media relations officers are ex-journalists, but if they’ve been on the PR side of the fence for more than a few years, they’re mistaken if they think journalism is the same as when they were journalists.
The advent of multimedia newsrooms means news needs to be produced quickly across print, audio, video and online – so when writing news releases and supplying supporting assets, media relations professionals need to bear that in mind.
And when producing this content, whatever it is, it’s more important than ever that it’s produced with the end audience in mind – not your internal stakeholders who need to agree it – because there’s no time in a typical journalist’s day to rewrite corporate marketing-speak into copy worth publishing or extensively edit your polished PR video into a segment that can be published onto a website.
The role of deadlines is also interesting – the pressure to publish fast means public sector organisations need to be ready to respond quickly – quicker than before – otherwise the story will go without a comment, quote or response – losing any chance of influencing the direction of the story at the early stage.
This means ensuring effective working relationships with colleagues throughout the organisation as well as making it more important than ever to prepare for issues that are likely to become news stories – requiring a strong and well managed approach to issues management.
The rapid changes in the media, both through the role of the internet and the evolution of traditional media organisations, are changing the role of media relations beyond recognition – and that’s before even considering the role of social media and how public sector communications teams need to evolve in response to that.