The local newspaper of record was becoming the digital multimedia content provider of record. Teams now push out news via email, text, audio and video. Papers (and magazines) cover breaking news on their websites as it happens, so in our world of always-on communications there is no need to wait for the evening news on TV to catch up, tuning to CBS News or other radio source during the commute or strolling out early tomorrow to pick up the morning daily from your doorstep or driveway (which is still a fun morning ritual for some!).
Light said the challenge all newspapers face is how to make them relevant and useful beyond the printed version while creating new revenue sources (the No. 1 revenue source of old — fat sections of classified advertising — disappeared into Craigslist). The news organizations have smaller staffs. Reporters are now “content contributors,” which can include writing for the website, recording video and audio and taking photos. Feature stories are scheduled in advance for the print edition. Daily news conferences determine what hot web stories go into the print edition.
Positive for PR
The new model can be positive for PR professionals, providing they understand the reporters and their beats, be honest, be forthright and provide facts and information that make it easier for reporters to tell their stories.
Light said the key to media coverage: it is all about relationships. Whom do the reporters know? Light said the PR professional is in a weak position trying to pitch someone they don’t know. For building successful relationships on the news side, get to know the reporter covering the beat. Build a relationship and reach a level of trust where a reporter will rely on the PR pro as a valuable source. Light was asked about the traits of a bad PR person: rigid, demanding and untruthful.
On organization, Light said the old model was undisciplined, unfocused, and inefficient and it often took a long time to develop a decent story. As people grew up in the profession and gained more skills, they usually pursued fewer, bigger stories. Small but important pieces sat on the sideline. In the new model – Website first, then figure out what might make the print edition – writers have to be more productive. The challenge: be efficient and competent.
Finding Good Stories
Light said the U-T has cut down on the number of things it covers and built a more focused approach to finding good stories across the different news beats. He provided a quick litany of how to build a beat. What is the big story? What really matters? Whom do you have to know to develop the relationships that can lead to the story? Reporters need understanding and access. Big pieces grow from small pieces. PR pros can help.
With fewer editing layers, the U-T does suffer from an increased number of errors, Light acknowledged. He said he was not sure additional layers improve quality. The Street.com, for example, has no copy editors and is wildly successful. He wants his teams to “do it once and do it right.”
When asked about the new look of the paper, Light said the rebranding to U-T San Diego had been brewing for some time. Research showed the brand image suffered from many negative perceptions and misconceptions. The executive teams and advisors felt they needed to send a big signal that this was not the old San Diego Union Tribune.
Bye-Bye Local-Local News?
For competition, the hyper-local Patch phenomenon will fail sooner rather than later, Light said. The timing is wrong. The challenge of local-local news is that it is hard to make its scale. A publisher can’t succeed with a big staff and small audiences. You want big audiences with a small staff, he said. The more local you are and the more content creation you do, the smaller the audience.
Bottom line: Papers are being rebranded, refocused, dressed up in new clothes and sent out digitally to connect with readers and, now, viewers. For news junkies, the content is imminently searchable but I wondered if I would ever be comfortable reading my news on a smart phone, clicking on links to get more detail, scrolling to find other links to supporting sidebars or just browsing page to page for fun.
Next: The Copyboy Chronicles (where cut-and-paste came from)