In an era of under-resourced newsrooms and over-pressurised reporters, the press release has become a powerful tool in the right PR hands. Some say this has led to the rise of ‘churnalism’, a phenomenon described by Wikipedia as “a form of journalism in which press releases, wire stories and other forms of pre-packaged material are used to create articles in newspapers and other news media in order to meet increasing pressures of time and cost without undertaking further research or checking”. But Mbali Msimango argues that good press releases can enable reporters and news editors.
During the last few years, the growth of online media has resulted in the shrinking of the traditional newsrooms and modified the role of journalism immensely. The consumers are reading news and sourcing their information via internet and cellphones where information is readily available in real time. Everything seems to have gone digital and this is hitting the newsrooms hard.
A survey conducted by Zogby International reported in 2010, 10 years from now, online will be the most common platform for news. With that said, clients need to know that the newsroom space is changing rapidly and we need to stay on top of our game.
Journalists have now realised that newsworthy content matters more than ever, which means clients need to bring forth effective newsworthy information to their public relations agencies.
Good public relations agencies are needed, and must be able to provide journalists with good quality press releases. Agencies need to work harder, and get high-quality information quickly for journalists to do their jobs better.
There are fewer niche writers today and many reporters cover several topics which means limited news coverage for clients and journalist’s can only pick the outstanding pieces. We cannot expect them to be experts on every subject. Thus, the PR practitioner’s role is to write a good press release that is topical and newsworthy. If you have got a good story, they will listen.
With this shift to digital, clients should also consider online media and familarise themselves with the new online journalists who will be able to cover stories on this platform.
Unlike the online advertising, in newspapers it is becoming notable that there is more advertising than ever before. The more advertising there is the more editorial space is available.
The Mail & Guardian says South Africa is strong in traditional media especially in the rural areas where radio and community newspapers are still dominant, because they are less expensive and deliver news that is relevant in those areas. This is a great opportunity for clients who want to reach rural markets because as these publications give clients the access to the consumer directly.
The world of public relations is changing rapidly while traditional media is evolving due to digital media. As clients need to adapt to this fast and new way of communication, digital media can no longer be ignored. We strongly believe that now, more than ever, written articles have to be innovative, news worthy and usable in all communications platforms.
We are recommending that clients to go through refresher media orientation programmes to familiarise themselves with the ever-changing media landscape.
Mbali Msimango is Practice Head Group at HMC Seswa.
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