Media Industry Declining, Public Relations’ Role an Overlooked Factor

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It feels like public sentiment for the media is at an all time low, and much of that is truly deserved. “The media” as many call it, is indeed biased by and large, but it’s not in regards to a political agenda. The bias is towards getting eyeballs and getting paid. Media outlets are biased towards producing the stories that will require the least effort and cost.

And everyone has had a role here in causing the severe decline of the media industry. Consumers want news, but refuse to pay for it. Most consumers are more interested in junk and fluff than what actually matters, and they don’t click on banner ads, so native advertising and sponsored content popped up.

News outlets insulted the intelligence of their consumers by presenting them product placement as “news.”

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And the Public Relations industry was more than willing to play along, insulting the intelligence of the journalists they pitch their stories to, and thus creating a vicious cycle of one side reinforcing one another in a race to the bottom. The decline of media and journalism has often been discussed, but one of the most significant factors contributing to its degradation has gone overlooked- the PR/Media Relations angle. Which I’ve really started to experience it, first hand, in the past year.

Sadly, reporters have been complicit in this, and we’ll get to why that is.

PR people, who love to tell you the extremely condescending and egregiously shopworn cliche “there are way more of us now than you,” don’t really care to give you access to anything anymore. They don’t seem to care if you actually show up or not these days, they just want you to copy and paste the press release.

That’s the vision of what they believe the “news” story should be. And when you present them with alternative viewpoint, they look at you like “404 error: file not found.”

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Oh, you need to speak to someone for your story? Sorry, we can’t be bothered to work too hard to make that happen. You need quotes to work with? Take the statement attributed to the subject of the story (which is fake, we actually wrote it) and use that.

All of this phenomena is something I’ve encountered much more doing stories that aren’t sports related/involving sports. (Although the NWSL can be bad about this, as is MLS when it involves an individual superstar) When access in the sports world is limited or bad, much has been made of it. However, I’ve found that the sports world actually provides much more access, and in a wider capacity, than many other realms. Sure, it’s most often in a press conference format where everyone else gets the same stuff, but it’s a lot better than nothing.

Which is what I’ve gotten from a local movie theatre and their media mailing list, an opportunity to see a prominent figure in the world of finance speak at an investor conference, a rock star speaking at a local economic club, a financial news network’s conference and a beach volleyball tournament (okay that last one is sports).

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With the movie house, it’s bunch of emails that subject headed “MEDIA ALERT!!!” but inside is nothing but “hey, we are showing a new movie now.” And then maybe, sometimes it’s “let us know if you want a screener copy of the movie.”

It’s sad to see bigger organizations that should have better PR becoming as poor as the individual free-lancers who send you emails with subject head “STORY TIP” and it’s just spam or “I’ve got some exciting news to share” and it’s just a product promotion.

They basically just want you to do pro bono publicity for said product. And when you respond to them with “this isn’t news, it’s product placement,” they look at you like you’re a creature that resides (according to rumors) in Area 51.

Where does this brazenness come from? Why do they expect you to act this way? Because so many journalists have complied. They do copy and paste press releases or they do run non-sensical garbage and tell you that it’s news. How many times have you seen the “new items at said fast food place” story on the local news?

PR people only care that you bring brand awareness, and sometimes, to them the Instagram is much more important than the article. Although it’s worth noting that “influencer economy” is starting to crumble too. And how much value is in there in the currency of likes?

My photo of that prominent figure in American financial history got only five likes on Instagram, one of which was from the cat, and another from my niece. That’s a photo I was not supposed to take, as photography, much like video or audio, was forbidden. “Hey, but you can take notes” I was told.

Oh gee thanks. And on top of it, they misplaced my name being on the media list. With of course the in-house PR blaming the outside firm they hired to plug the event, and vice versa.

That’s a huge thing in PR these days- no one taking accountability for their adverse actions nor apologizing for them. (Which of course is symptomatic of society at large right now, it’s not just in the news gathering business)

The real “fake news” or “alternative facts” is when you call someone out for their incompetence and/or lack of professionalism. It’s like this guy in a driver’s ed video I watched in high school said: “there are two things that no one will ever say about themselves- that they’re a bad driver or a bad lover.”

This landscape has given rise to a new term: “access journalism.” It’s a euphemism for glorified promotional material, and it is rightfully a pejorative. However, those who are producing access journalism pieces aren’t doing it to try and obtain/maintain some kind of competitive advantage. They’re doing it just so that they can even have access to begin with.

That’s how far things have fallen. And I certainly don’t have the answer, I just know that it’s an antiquated and  broken system, in dire need of an overhaul.

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank.net, which is partnered with News Now. Banks, the author of “No,  I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry,” regularly appears on WGN CLTV and co-hosts the “Let’s Get Weird, Sports” podcast on SB Nation

You can follow Banks, a former writer for NBC Chicago.com and Chicago Tribune.com on Twitter here and his cat on Instagram at this link.

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Comments

  1. Hey, Paul, keep up the work, but you know you only named 10 players for your predicted Spurs line-up vs the Foxes. Such a disadvantage! Wow!

  2. hahahahaa. thanks for the heads up!
    typos happen. My bad. sorry.

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