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Media Relations: Lost in Transition

Todd Defren posted an article yesterday (Mainstream Media Relations: More Important Than Ever) that did a good job framing the importance of social media and traditional media relations in the overall picture of public relations practice.  I agree that right now it’s important to keep up good media relations practice while the entire mass media is in flux, but for a couple of different reasons other than the fact that traffic to news websites is up:

1. Opportunities: it’s terribly unfortunate, but the cuts that are being made to traditional news media operations are having a significant effect.  Increasingly less-experienced journalists are switching beats more rapidly, being thrust into more important roles, and journalists as a whole are seeing their workload increase considerably (as they’re expected to do the work of their laid-off colleagues).  At the risk of sounding opportunist, this means one has a significantly greater chance of reaching journalists on behalf of one’s organization (either to get attention, or to affect the outcome of a story) because overworked/inexperienced people appreciate assistance – even from the PR people they are traditionally wary of. 

That doesn’t, however, mean that one should observe anything but the highest levels of trustworthiness and accountability – relationships are still incredibly valuable.

2. Threats: just as the lack of stability and pressure can make it easier to present an organization’s viewpoint to an overworked reporter – it can also make it that much easier for misinformation to be published.  Anyone who follows the local Grand Rapids media has likely taken note of how merciless the anonymous commenters are on the increasingly-frequent proofreading mistakes and errors of fact that get published in the rush to break news.

PR pros need to be attentive (aware of the hot-button issues at play and constantly scanning their environments) and responsive (both to stakeholders and the media).

Case in point:  Recently a student attending a school that shares our campus contracted MRSA.  Due to a philosophical disagreement in our office about the importance of the story and its relevance to our audience, we didn’t end up sending out official notification until after the reporting of the case was mangled twice by a local TV station (which incorrectly reported first that it was one of our students and second that the student had contracted MRSA while our campus – none of which was true).

I hate to do the “toldjaso” dance, but I knew that [Hot-Button Topic] + [Confusing/Nuanced Information] = High Probability for Bad Reporting.

Social media is highly important – but for the forseeable future so is traditional media (particularly given that traditional media heavily influence social media and vice versa).

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