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Fewer journalists: PRs, write the news yourself

Two newspaper giants are now showing some small hope on the financial front. But the net gains were made in large part by slashing thousands of journalism jobs in newsrooms across the nation. For PR pros who lost contacts and are trying to rebuild relationships with these decimated outlets, a strategy may be to think pitch second, make yourself indispensible to those left behind first.

The McClatchy Co. owns 29 daily newspapers, including the Miami Herald. On Tuesday, McClatchy reported net earnings of 30 cents a share for the second quarter of 2000. Analysts had thought McClatchy might lose $6.45 a share.

Shortly before that, the Gannett Co., which owns USA Today and is the country’s largest newspaper chain, also reported net earnings of 30 cents a share. In the second quarter of 2008,

morelocalGannett lost $10.03 a share.

Both companies experienced ad revenue losses of more than 25 percent during the quarter compared to one year ago. The improvements were driven by cost cutting, according to newspaper consultant Ken Doctor. “That’s what was behind the “surprising” Gannett and McClatchy earnings this past week, not revenue growth” he blogged.

During the past year, McClatchy let go approximately one-third of its workforce; Gannett eliminated more than 3,000 jobs, announcing 1,400 cuts last week.

Relationships with journalists at those newspapers have been shuffled or eliminated. Opportunities to rebuild those connections won’t truly occur until the newspapers themselves have healed – not anytime soon – or non-traditional PR techniques are mixed with everyday tactics.

PR practitioner Sarah Evans has built a national reputation in part by running and creating two major online PR chats: VidProCo, a video chat where PR experts answer questions from peers; and #journchat, a top trending weekly live chat on Twitter between PR professionals, journalists and bloggers.

She notes that many of the newspapers where McClatchy and Gannett cut jobs are small dailies. With those newspapers, toss the old press release format out the door, she said. Instead, submissions should be written in newspaper story format, and send photos also. With drastically reduced staff, small newspapers are hurting for content.

“Editors have really appreciated press releases written like stories,” she said.

Evans is communications director at Elgin Community College in Elgin, Illinois. She was also in PR for five years with Advocate Health Care, the largest health care system in Illinois.

She said key to dealing with small dailies in this new environment is to submit items that have NOTHING to do with one’s job. Don’t think in terms of contacts lost, she said. Think about the local newspaper needing news now more than ever, and submit it. Thus when your pitch time comes, it may even be welcomed. “You want to become their go to resource,” she said. “Sometimes I’ll just be driving down the street, see something interesting, and take a quick photo and send it in.”

At larger dailies where jobs have been eliminated, Evans notes that newspapers like the Chicago Tribune and New York Times are creating hyper-local Web pages. Evans said she has had success approaching the Tribune through the TribLocal Web pages.

These Web pages have the potential to allow one to integrate one’s message both online and in print.

“You can tell your whole story there about stakeholder XYZ. I’m encouraged (by the Web editors) to post as much relevant information as possible,’’ Evans said. “Sometimes the material gets picked up elsewhere on the Web, and it may be considered for the print edition.”

–Michael Blankenheim

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