The news that Johnston Press has gone into administration and then immediately bought out (minus a number of debts and obligations, including it seems, pension rights) is dire.
The PR industry should reflect on what this means for its clients and the industry’s own future and it should conclude that the industry has a moral obligation to act.
Johnston Press will not be the only ones.
The headlines have focused on the company’s major titles like The I, The Scotsman and The Yorkshire Post but nearly 150 titles now face a more uncertain future.
Who wins if some or all of these titles go to the wall?
Shady or incompetent public servants and all manner of criminals and fraudsters for a start. Because who will expose their failings and wrongdoing to the wider public and campaign for change?
Yes, there are lots of hyperlocal news sites and blogs who do good work but they cannot effect change without a truly large audience.
Who loses? The list goes on for ever but one of the big impacts will be that the national and international news media will lose a vital source of talent that cuts its teeth on newsdesks on regional weeklies and dailies.
That throttling of skills will mean an impaired ability to question the powerful and act as the conscience of the people.
The PR industry has an obligation to act to defend and protect the regional media for all of these reasons and more.
And it is in an especially strong position to do so.
Every day thousands of us employed in PR will advise clients and colleagues on media choices. We are an industry that (rightly) adopts a digital first stance and has also completely embraced the idea that digital platforms promise perfect targeting of message to audience with complete efficiency.
That second idea is bullshit (see also here here and here) and not understanding that it is bullshit means that money moves through ignorance from traditional publishers to digital only platforms without understanding the social consequences of dying newsrooms and the long term economic consequences that has for the PR industry itself.
The fewer editorial departments there are, the less important PR becomes.
So PR has a self interest in there being a vibrant traditional media with actual journalists doing original reporting as well as having a social imperative to support the benefits to us all that flow from that being the case.
The Government has now closed its consultation on the future of quality journalism in the Cairncross Review. As far as I can understand it from searching their websites for the word Cairncross, neither The CIPR nor The PRCA submitted a response. If that is the case, I struggle to understand why.
Every type of PR consultant or practitioner be they freelance, agency or in-house should be making the case to budget holders that traditional news media not only acts a channel to customers or stakeholders, but that supporting strong reporting is more than just a media choice, it is an act of corporate social responsibility.
It is not an equal measure of ROI between allocating budget to paid social and a partnership with an editorially led title.
Facebook, Twitter and Google will take your money but they will never use a penny of it to investigate wrongdoing in your community, in the markets you serve or in the authorities that govern you. All of that has a value which you are ignoring if you look at it in purely CPM/CPC terms.
Take a look at some of the examples of campaigns where news media takes on an issue for the greater good. http://www.localmediauk.org/Making-a-Difference
What value do you place on a robust, independent media that makes a difference whether you buy their product or not?
Here are four things you can do:
Evaluate your media choices between efficient short term tactical impact and building brand awareness in the long term. http://www.localmediauk.org/Consumer-Catalyst
Make the case to your clients that allocating budget to traditional media publishers has profound and subtle benefits that cannot be measured in a crude ‘bang for your buck’ way. Here is a good place to start https://www.newsworks.org.uk/roi
Take a “news first” rather than a “digital first” approach to media choices - will your strategy work on its own terms, without the need to for you to promote it?
Buy a newspaper several times a week. While you still can. You really don’t want to see the day when that’s not possible.