The New J-School: Building the Case for Traditional Media

Today’s post is the second in our series introduced in January on Bateman Banter called The New J-School in which we examine the evolving nature of journalism in today’s digital age.

If you at all pay attention to decreasing ad revenue trends, you’ll find yourself in good company in assuming that traditional media are becoming more or less irrelevant, or at least not very profitable. After all, this sentiment is often coming straight from the horse’s mouth itself. Case in point: The Economist’s on Newsweek going up for bid, calling it “bad news in a business that is supposed to be more resistant to technological shock and structural declines in advertising than the newspaper industry.”

You don’t say.

Another prime example? A month or two ago at the SXSW Interactive Conference in Austin, I attended a panel on “How to Save Journalism.” One of the panelists, the publisher of USATODAY.com, was bold enough to suggest the media need to consider breaking down the sacred Berlin Wall between editorial and advertising to keep traditional media relevant. This elicited a number of gasps from the media-heavy audience, who hold that Berlin Wall near, dear and absolutely sacred (and, in my opinion, rightly so).

If the publisher’s words didn’t represent a fundamental shift in traditional media and their growing pains, I don”t know what will.

Still, I understand why a publisher might think this way. With the explosion of online content, media today have endless Web analytic tools to measure value for advertisers right along with reader engagement to ensure that content stays fresh and everyone can keep their jobs. Yet, media simply writing for the almighty click wouldn’t be a good thing for anyone.

Traditional media’s struggles to stay relevant hit home after returning from Austin. I found myself in a meeting with a client who turned to us, the PR team, and asked, “Does traditional media coverage even matter anymore?”

Damn right it does.

Just look at the recent study by Pew Research on the state of news media. If you’re at all interested in media trends, the study is required reading and apt to shift some of your common misconceptions about traditional media.

A few choice nuggets:

  • 80 percent of the links on blogs and social media sites lead back to U.S. legacy media
  • The vast majority of the top news sites (67 percent) are still tied to legacy media
  • While new media are growing, their ranks among the most trafficked sites are still small

A huge part of our job here at Bateman Group is to keep our finger on the pulse of media trends like these and try to stay one or two steps ahead of change. What’s happening is that extremely targeted, thoughtful coverage in the business or trade publications still has the power to move mountains… and then some. We see it happening to our clients every time they receive coverage in their most coveted publications. The calls start coming and the leads pile up. Coverage like this may just be harder to come by these days, which is where a good PR firm that knows the ins and outs of working with traditional media comes in handy.

Of course, the hopeful statistics about traditional media in the Pew study run in parallel with equally gloomy ones, as well as signs pointing to the continued growth of new media voices on the Web. Social media certainly cannot be ignored either.

This leads me to a key question: Given the changing media landscape, how much focus do you think should be given to traditional media vs. social media in PR programs? I certainly have my own opinion (hint: it depends), but eager to hear yours.