Journalism Moves From Product To Service

The Editor and a Reporter. Photograph by Vin Crosbie.

During most of the 20th century, public relations and communications professionals built relationships with journalists with the goal of placing a story in a newspaper, magazine, or on television or radio. Early in the 21st century, there’s much less courting.

Media relations remains important for PR and communications professionals. But with fewer journalists, shrinking newspapers and dwindling audiences, how journalists do their job is changing.

“Journalism, in the broadest sense, has changed today from being a product to being a service,” said Amy S. Mitchell, the deputy director of the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. “It has changed from a product that I’m going to give you — here’s what we’ve produced, take it for what it’s worth — to being a service, to serving many more roles that just reporting the news.”

Mitchell spoke at the annual joint meeting of the Community Service Public Relations Council, the International Association of Business Communicators and the Public Relations Society of America on Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2011, in Frontenac, Mo.

Reporting the news is a “critical role, a crucial role,” Mitchell said. “The journalism of today must do more. Journalists today must understand their different audiences — the audiences that are going to find them through search, the audiences that turn to them every day, the audiences that are going to help contribute to their reporting.

“They need to understand different platforms to so their content is not platform-agnostic. Many people were talking about this three or four years ago and said your content could flow freely and seamlessly from one platform to another without really having it matter if it’s on your iPhone, website or in a print product. But that’s not what you want to do.  You need to make your information platform-specific. Consumers understand the difference and the different values that each platform brings. As news providers, we need to understand that difference and put information out that is built to work in that particular platform. And, yes, that means more work.”

Journalists interviewing people. Photo by Kewei Shang.

Instead of producing content for consumption by the masses, journalists must now spend more time on analyzing the value of the information they are gathering. Mitchell’s research found that the vast majority of news that’s consumed is coming from traditional news outlets.

“We’ve done a lot of different research projects that look at how news is being created and how it is getting out to people,” she said. “We tried to examine a news ecosystem and picked one city to study.”

They chose Baltimore and examined more than 60 media outlets covering the metropolitan area in some capacity. All content produced was studied during a period of a few weeks. They tracked stories to see where the content or information was first created.

“More than 90 percent of what was originally reported was coming from legacy outlets–local television, radio and newspapers,” Mitchell said. “There were a lot of other outlets that were involved in the conversation, discussion and analysis. But the actual reporting of information was coming from the legacy outlets. But those outlets are giving us information at greatly diminished capacity.”

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