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Will Journalism Survive?

This question dawned on me in 2008, the year that the newsroom workforce declined 11%* due to the perfect storm of an ailing economy, a shift to digital platforms, and the rise of social media, particularly Facebook. As seasoned and well-respected print journalists faced stunning layoffs and newspaper ad revenues were in freefall, the concern was personal. I earned my degree in journalism and started my career as a magazine editor before transitioning into public relations. While that decision removed me from working directly in the field on a single title, it immersed me in a much broader universe of media, initially print and broadcast.

With the possible demise of traditional media, would the need for professional PR services decline? Would the shrinking media pool soon morph into a “new journalism” comprised of everyday people with a Twitter handle and a point of view?

That brief moment of introspection was followed by a tumultuous period marked by additional editorial staff layoffs and early-leave “packages.” Traditional media ad revenue continued to decline while digital versions struggled financially. Social media platforms burgeoned, offering curated content for targeted constituents. And a host of bloggers, ranging from pink-slipped professionals to, yes, everyday people with a Twitter handle and a point of view, appeared. Increasingly, the emphasis on readership and viewership statistics gave way to MUVs. As the transformation from traditional-only to traditional-and-new media progressed, a new order began to take shape. We can see clearly now that a new journalism has emerged.

The media landscape has stabilized, providing a much more complex array of offerings for content-hungry consumers who want news whenever and wherever they are. This points to the need for journalists who are able to write in parameters ranging from 140 characters to mobile app content to 3,000-word think pieces. According to Pew Research Center’s 2015 “State of the News Media,” mobile apps currently rule: “At the start of 2015, 39 of the top 50 digital news websites have more traffic to their sites and associated applications coming from mobile devices than from desktop computers.”

Additional facts from the study:

  • Though newspapers continue to lose print circulation — 3% down for weekday and Sunday circulation in 2014 — digital news portals (both legacy and digital-only) continue robust growth, fueling an insatiable need for well-composed content;
  • Broadcast news is alive and well with network news up 5% and local news seeing a 3% increase in evening news viewership. (Only cable news is down — 8% across Fox News, MSNBC and CNN);
  • While newspaper ad/circulation revenues continue to decline (4% in 2014), revenues are rising in local, network, cable TV and digital ads, with mobile advertising up 78% since last year;
  • Nearly half of web-using adults report getting news from Facebook, where news delivery is influenced primarily by friends and algorithms.

So, will journalism survive? It is surviving, with journalists at all levels migrating to where their skill sets, experience and compensation can be matched to ever-evolving media outlets. As for PR, this marketing tool has never been busier nor more vital as practitioners keep ahead of the curve by monitoring media — legacy, digital-only and the still “Wild West” world of social — and educating clients on the best ways to curate the right, most influential targets for client messaging.