Changing Newspapers Demand Changing PR

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Story at a glance:

  • Massive layoffs have changed the way newspapers do business; they’re now even more short-handed and time-crunched than ever.
  • Newspapers need quick-turnaround content to help fill pages.
  • How to position and pitch yourself to editors, so you can be featured in the news.

Back in October, I was a beneficiary of the sadness sweeping newspapers across the country — more than 20,000 layoffs since 2008 (and that’s a conservative estimate).

Here in Tampa-St. Petersburg, one of our two major dailies, The Tampa Tribune, laid off about 30 veteran reporters and editors in June, in a desperate effort to balance its books. It didn’t work. The paper laid off 165 more employees just last week.

Their loss was my gain. Penny Carnathan, an award-winning reporter and features editor, is now our Creative Director/Writer. She brings to News and Experts not only her talents, but her insights on how newsrooms have changed in recent years. Just four months ago, she was the person on the other side fielding our press releases and story pitches. As the editor in charge of the Tribune’s Sunday features section, which included a books page and its food section, she decided which releases to pursue and which to ignore.

Penny says the many layoffs changed the way she and other editors do business — the Trib’s 2011 cuts were two of so many, she lost count. I say that means we have to change too.

I asked Penny to share in her own words what the changes mean and how we can leverage them. Here’s what she said:

With fewer reporters and lots of empty pages to fill, editors are doing more planning ahead to ensure they have content, for both their features and their “breaking news” pages. They no longer have the flexibility or manpower to jump on “dailies” that don’t involve a police officer being shot or a house burning down. Tempting as it might be, they likely can’t follow up on an “urgent” notice about today’s Make-a-Wish holiday shopping spree.

  • Plan Ahead. If you want your event covered, let the newspaper know about it two to three weeks ahead of time.
  • Help Out the Reporter. Provide local interview sources – local is a priority for local papers – so the reporter doesn’t have to spend time tracking down “real people” for the story. For instance, to pitch a story on a Special Olympics event, you would ideally line up a local athlete and parent who are ready and willing to be accessible to a reporter. Better yet, line up an athlete with a touching story. If you’re an author, get creative. Think about the businesses who can benefit from your strategies and get one on board.
  • Make It for a Good Cause. If you’re hosting a special event, including book signings, find a way to make it charitable or a service to some greater good. Newspaper editors are more inclined to cover events if they benefit others. Again, take the reporter legwork out of the process by finding a beneficiary who can talk about what the event means to him or her.
  • Pictures in a Snap.  Offering good quality, high-resolution images gives you another leg up; photojournalists are being laid off too.

Understanding the time and staffing crunches newspaper staffs face make you a respected and appreciated source of content.

One last note, Penny says it’s worth the time you take to research who does what at the publication you’re targeting. Newsrooms are reorganizing and that means they can be a bit chaotic. Stay on the phone until you find the person who knows for sure who should receive your information (often more than one person). The payoff is well worth all that time repeating your story over and over again.

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