The cry that “the media is dying” has been echoing for years now, but the latest data from the Labor Department (as reported this week by Bloomberg) is especially dire. It’s predicted that journalist jobs will decrease by 9% from 2016 to 2026. When they leave the newsroom, where are all these professionals going? The data shows that they’re moving into public relations jobs – whether in agencies or internally at corporations. Meanwhile, over the same 10-year period, PR specialist roles are anticipated to increase by 9%. Last year alone, PR jobs exceeded those of reporters by more than six-to-one.
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A number of factors are contributing to this exodus, from budget cuts to stress. USA Today just ranked newspaper reporter as the #3 worst job in America, based on job security, median salary and stress – reporters aren’t just worried about deadlines, but in today’s increasing political climate they often have to contend with pageview pressures, angry readers and even death threats.
Digital transformation and new opportunities for media consumption are also forcing traditional print media to adopt new business models. Warren Buffett recently said that the newspaper industry is “toast,” driven largely by declining ad sales. To combat this, outlets like Forbes have built their model around paid contributors, The Wall Street Journal and Washington Post leverage paywalls, and others like TechCrunch have subscription models where certain premium content is restricted to paying insiders (i.e., Extra Crunch). And publications are once again embracing subscription models, but updating them for the modern age – for example, The New York Times has licensed Amazon Studios to show its Modern Life column. One creative solution to keeping newsrooms afloat is the emergence of a charity model with more than 200 non-profit local newsrooms popping up to help sustain “news deserts.”
In light of the Bloomberg article, a segment of journalists have taken to social media to share their thoughts on colleagues joining the ‘dark side’ by taking on PR roles. Arguments ranged from saying that PR pros just ‘spin’ the news, to complaints about ineffective PR people clogging reporters’ email inboxes with spam pitches. The major point that stood out to me when scrolling through my Twitter feed – which is largely comprised of press – is the fact that we need journalists to provide people with an unbiased view of the news.
I started my career in a local newsroom, and I moved into public relations for many of the same reasons cited above. I’m also saddened by the decline in journalism jobs and wholeheartedly agree with the need for quality journalism to shed light on important issues. When I was a journalist, the industry felt like it wasn’t modernizing – not to date myself, but the newspaper I worked for barely had an online presence and we still used fax machines. Public relations felt like a natural shift and an opportunity to continue applying many of the skills and elements that I loved about journalism – research, writing and crafting a compelling story. Looking around PAN today, some of the most effective PR people I know got their starts in journalism.
That said, I don’t view PR pros as a threat to journalism as some have suggested. Rather, PR pros and journalists need each other – we help to develop the sources and assets that reporters need in order to tell unique and compelling stories. For every bad pitch mocked by journalists on Twitter, there are many more thoughtful, compelling and actionable story ideas that relate to the news cycle and to that journalist’s beat. It’s those pitches that journalists rely on. The lines between media and what was traditionally viewed as marketing or advertising have also blurred, making PR pros even more important in developing news content. For example, the rise of executive thought leadership has led to an increased focus on providing compelling, third-party advice – if this content is just ‘spin,’ it’s not going to be featured in a publication.
Ultimately, the entire communications industry is in the news business. We all – journalists and PR pros alike – were drawn to this business because we’re passionate about the news, love telling a compelling story and believe in the importance of sharing those stories with the public. As the news industry continues to evolve, PR pros and journalists will need to work together to ensure our mutual success.