Too many baskets for your eggs - where to pitch in the digital age

R adhaika and Sarah Jane attended the PRCA’s ‘World of Media’ event in Manchester on Thursday, where the tug of war between print and online journalism was in full swing.

A real juggling act

The internet is a ravenous place. Stories are guzzled, digested and regurgitated in all manner of forms before a print journalist has even managed to proof-read their final draft. This major shift in the journalistic landscape was discussed by 5 experts at the PRCA’s event: Editors Richard Moriarty (The Sun) and Kevin Gopal (Big Issue North), alongside freelance writers Angela Epstein, Becci Vallis and Louisa Gregson.

Moriarty was the first to highlight the tough decision-making which takes place on a daily basis in the newsroom. Editors are having to judge whether it’s worth holding a story back for their print issue or if releasing it online will have more of an impact, both in terms of “clicks” and sales. Competitors who take the plunge and post a breaking story online are perceived as having the edge, even though the story may have been initially unearthed elsewhere.

These pressures, alongside shifts in reading behaviour, have led to online journalism and print taking on distinctly different roles. Newspapers are now more often “Sunday morning” reads, with in-depth analysis pieces and big pull-outs on culture, travel or property. Everyone on the panel agreed that specialist publications are the ones most likely to survive, as cataclysmic news stories are shared via “push-notification” updates on our smartphones.

Know your expert

However, just because a publication specialises in one particular area doesn’t mean that the information it spreads is correct. An exasperated Becci Vallis went on to explain why this is the case. As the number of blogs and grass-roots news outlets grow, there is a damaging climate where those with little or no expertise offer their views on products, lifestyle choices and politics. This has created a hotbed for bias and inaccuracies.

One example Vallis gave is the rise of make-up influencers, who record themselves trying new cosmetic products and offering their “honest” opinion despite brands telling them what to say as well as paying them. In some cases, trusting viewers have followed the “expert” advice of the beauty blogger and have consequently suffered severe skin reactions, which is reflected in the increase in visits to dermatologists for this very reason. Unlike the rigorous checks that take place in the newsroom before a story reaches the reader, content such as these beauty vlogs are shared with the world without undergoing an approval process. Vallis both predicted and recommended a return to real experts, such as beauty journalists in her own field.

In a similar vein, the panel discussed the role PR professionals have in finding authentic outlets for their clients. Though clients may want to piggyback on current social media trends such as influencers, it is important to find true reporting experts in order to avoid a branding crisis. Hence PR specialists must go with their gut and take an unwavering stance on authenticity.

Storytelling is your heart and soul

The evening ended with a passionate ode to true storytelling. Journalists want to be wooed and a formulaic press release simply isn’t going to cut it. Angela Epstein relayed an anecdote about discovering a riveting and unlikely account of a father with a “spare kidney”, who was donating it to his sick daughter. Epstein only stumbled upon the tale whilst reading the last paragraph of a disappointing press release. Epstein urged that this was a lesson for all PR professionals, and that PRs need to “give journalists the meat of the story first, details later.”

It left us with plenty of food for thought and provided some real insight into how the digital age has changed journalism. Is print dying or is it gearing up to make its comeback? Music records turned into cassette players, which then evolved into iPods. But now, you can buy your favourite album on a 10-inch vinyl record whilst doing your weekly grocery shop at Tesco. We might have moved away from printed newspapers and magazines in the past, but now we’re ready for their revival.

The author

Radhaika is a trainee account executive based in the Manchester office

More about Radhaika Kapur