Meeting the PR Challenges of the Shrinkng Canadian Media

The Canadian media is shrinking daily. Just last week, 15 Ottawa Citizen reporters left or took buyout packages, leaving the paper decimated. A couple of weeks ago it was 200 jobs at Rogers, before that 90 at Postmedia. Are we running out of journalists to pitch?

As communications professionals, we like to control the message. However, having fewer voices, perspectives and channels hurts everyone. With fewer reporters comes less opportunity for great coverage, more cookie-cutter articles, and a greater chance that one bad story or relationship can sink your outreach efforts.

At Postmedia, dozens of jobs were cut while maintaining the same number of publications. These new merged newsrooms are meant to provide coverage for both the traditional Postmedia newspapers plus the Sun Media publications. Is this real choice or simply an illusion to maintain appearances?

Lower quality content is a vicious spiral. Traditional media have such large audiences specifically because they have built up decades of trust by producing quality content. If this evaporates audiences will dwindle, advertisers will leave, and the whole thing falls apart. A reporter re-writing your press release might seem like a win, but if this kind of journalism starts to turn readers away, ultimately everyone loses.

The new concept has reporters filing stories centrally to be edited to fit the editorial style and tone of each paper. There is already evidence to suggest this isn’t happening. Recently, both the Ottawa Citizen and the Ottawa Sun published identical articles about Uber drivers asking for tips. Everything from the word count to the headlines was absolutely identical. Is this providing a range of voices on a hot issue? The same news sent down different pipes (even with a few edits) isn’t providing perspective, it’s glorified RSS.

It may be a hard sell to the dozens of journalists now out of work, but the media will always play a major role in how people in a free society get information. What may change, and indeed must change, is the structure of news organizations. Postmedia has been struggling for years to shed its old business model. This speaks to the enormous challenge traditional media organizations face in keeping up with technological change when burdened with legacy infrastructure, business processes and revenue models.

Communicators are using new channels to connect with their audiences, but they also seek the big numbers associated with traditional publications. Clearly reach matters, however so does authenticity. It’s a poorly kept secret that a lot of the performance metrics behind traditional media are as much a dark art as hard science anyway.

For all media industry professionals, it’s disheartening to see the role of journalists reduced to assembly line workers stuffing content down different coloured pipes. Our colleagues in the newsrooms deserve better than that and so do our clients.

A version of this article was originally published on thornleyfallis.com. Contact me if you have questions on this article or would like to discuss how to find new ways to connect with your audience.