Last week, the Salt Lake Tribune cut their newsroom staff from 90 to 56 and announced they will stop publishing statewide news sections and reduce content in other sections. The Denver Post announced they will drop 30 positions. The Boston Herald recently went from 240 employees to 175. The reduction of reporters is a trend that has been going on since the digital became ascendant.
In 2000, there were 65,900 reporters in the United States, but by 2015, there were 45,800 reporters and their salaries had cumulatively diminished over those years to fall behind the inflation rate. Take broadcast reporters out of the equation, and pay for reporters is below the national average. The decline in job numbers fell mostly on the newspaper side, but local radio also took a big hit.
However, during that same time, people employed in Public Relations went from 128,600 to 218,000. That means the ratio of reporters to PR folks went from 1:2 to 1:5 in about 15 years. With the salaries reflecting the change, the average PR person will make over $300,000 more than the average reporter during a lifetime. Early career reporter experience is increasingly seen as a gateway to the more lucrative PR world and both job and salary trends are expected to accelerate.
With all those PR people bugging the overworked reporters for earned media (not to mention the real stories happening every day), is there any wonder it is extremely difficult to get news coverage for something that is not a crisis?
This changing dynamic means that many organizations will be the most visible when there is a crisis as threats to lives and property will almost always demand coverage. How well an organization handles a crisis response over a few days may very well affect public opinion more dramatically than a decade of PR efforts. This new landscape places more importance on being prepared, identifying risks, and continuously practicing for a crisis. It also means social media will continue to rise in influence as people will go wherever they can as quickly as they can to get information. And of course, the demand for immediate information from legitimate sources will be overwhelming.
The most difficult piece of all this is adjusting the thinking and processes built on old assumptions to recognize the change and be effective in the new world. This goes for senior management--who typically solidified thoughts about media in their early years--as much as anyone.
Copyright © Jim Whittington, 2018, All rights reserved. Academic use approved with notification and attribution.
Occasional thoughts on incident response, crisis communications, wildland fire, and other topics.
Docendo disco, scribendo cogito.
Copyright © Jim Whittington, 2019.