Standing in front of keen-eyed sixth form students, I delivered the blow of realism. Your career in public relations will be more digital than you can imagine. After pulling up the print circulation of broadsheet and tabloid newspapers from the past few years, the narrative was clear; most people prefer to read online than pick up a wad of print. It’s a simple behavioural shift, a natural progression for the UK that boasts an 89.8% internet penetration rate. Two days later The Independent announced its “digital chapter” ending 25 years of print, over 100 job loses are expected.
In my view the opportunities from an online only news site far outweighs print counterparts. Publications like The Economist have successfully built from selling words to podcasts, several app editions, maintaining an online community on LinkedIn; the trick is learning to monetise these avenues. Goliath newsrooms who keep 500+ staff tirelessly crafting top-quality journalism are shrinking, expected to be half the size in five years’ time. Even trade publications are becoming less frequent, even a side-project as journalists seek a full-time career elsewhere (it’s not uncommon this side career is in PR).
Five years ago I organised a meet the media event with top tech trade journalists, who piled into a creative space featuring bar and foosball table (standard creative room accessory!). One journalist took a look at the space and said ‘We used to have all of this 20 years ago, now PRs have the money’. I couldn’t help but notice one group by the bar discussing job concerns, talented journalists whose publications were struggling.
Where print declines, online soars. No truer is this when you manage to get an organisation coverage in the Mail Online, which is the most visited English-language newspaper website in the world with a whopping 60+ billion visits a month (see up-to-date stats here). Sod print, give me online. Especially as PR is in the business of managing reputation, a bit of print copy is tomorrow’s fish and chips wrapper – online is immortal.
As a blogger, the importance of online delivery in securing the business model of journalism fascinates me. In 2005 I cast my foot into the waters of blogging for the first time and the wider media described bloggers as disrupters of the traditional news model. Bloggers would lead the march of citizen journalists, common people who would be able to deliver news quickly and efficiently through sharing before newspapers.
This idealistic thinking swelled with the launch of the first iPhone in 2007 as nations became armed photographers seeking the next story. The Guardian eventually launched Guardian Witness to help capture and edit this modern news resource, especially important to understand the unbiased nature of reporting. It’s fair to say this disruption did not come to pass, whilst publications like The Huffington Post have roots in blogging, the real disruption would happen directly to newspapers.
When news exists online it has to play to the same economical rules of the internet; for bloggers and mainstream news organisations. In theory this means my blog could be matched alongside trade publications when it comes to search engine rankings and social media shares. This is essentially what journalist Heidi Blake described when she made the decision to move from The Sunday Times to Buzzfeed. If The Independent properly understands these opportunities by investing in the right talent, then the next year should see some worthwhile developments. Perhaps it should look at The Times and Buzzfeed for a comparison to find inspiration as a modern news organisation.
Far from The Independent being dead, the nation still knows it as The Indie. You won’t be able to buy it in newsagents but you can still access its journalism in seconds from your smartphone or tablet, I even get updates to my Apple Watch. However, its move to the digital space should be marked by all PR practitioners as a sign that media relations alone will not be enough to keep our work afloat over the next five years; reputation is no longer isolated to the barriers of print.