Monday, June 14, 2010

Print Media Learning Readers Have Value

Print journalism may not be dead, but print media is going the way of the railroad. That was the message from Bill Conroy, of the San Antonio Business Journal at the June PRSA luncheon. In the years before social media, according to Conroy, media dominated one way communication. Conroy noted that Marshal McLuhan’s mantra “the medium is the message” served to reinforce the power of the press. He referenced this relationship as the hypodermic syringe model, a painful one for the audience to absorb.

Now with Facebook and Twitter and thousands of other social technologies dominating our lifestyle, everyone has journalistic power in the new two way communication model. This is difficult for media companies to accept, but Conroy was confident that the money stream will catch up to social media because they are perfectly poised to deliver quality content.

Conroy told the audience that print media still draws advertising revenues and cited some statistics that show health in his own paper, but said that the ad revenue structure is still changing. He suggested that media outlets “have to have a message that makes you a must-read.”

Offering the gamely suggestion that objectivity has been used by the media as a smokescreen because they owned the conversation, Conroy believes that a more symbiotic relationship with audiences was needed. He even went so far as to say that “the people that matter most are the readers, and frankly, we forgot that in the arrogance of (wanting to) dominate the market.”

For public relations practitioners who have always struggled with this arrogance, it seems like a fairytale ending that local print media actually acknowledged the power of readership. Conroy continued by saying that media need to have a more symbiotic relationship with audiences, giving them stories in the form they want it. And he even suggested that media will need to offer “less lecture and more dialogue.”

One thing Conroy said will not change for print media are the principles of fair reporting, honesty and lack of bias. This is an important statement to public relations practitioners who often suffer at the hands of newer, citizen journalists who don’t play the rules of the game between news media and PR folks. Time-honored principles like full disclosure, embargoes, conflict of interest and ethical behavior have not necessarily been adopted by the online community in the devotional way to which the public relations community has grown accustomed. It’s anyone’s guess if some of those principles will carry on in the new world of journalism.

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