Yes, the Media Changed While You Were Away. But You Can Catch Up

Did your company pull a Rip Van Winkle during the latest recession?

If you recall the old Washington Irving story, Mr. Van Winkle stumbled up into the Catskill Mountains prior to the American Revolution, drank a strange brew, got mixed up with some bowling dwarves, and promptly fell asleep for 20 years.

Similarly, about 20 months ago, as the economic decline continued to worsen, throngs of corporations determined it was best to stop proactive communications with the media. It is more difficult to communicate with confidence when your orders are dropping by double digits.

Now, as the economy and earnings are rebounding, many of these corporations are reawakening from their self-imposed quiet period, only to find that the media world has changed forever. Fortunately, organizations that broaden their approach to media relations will find numerous channels dedicated to mass communications.

In truth, the dramatic restructuring of the media predates December 2007, when the recession officially began. But the process has fed upon itself in accelerating fashion. From 2006 to 2009, roughly 13,500 full-time newsroom professionals, or about 25 percent of the nation's newspaper journalists, lost their jobs.

Today, favored reporters often are gone, victims of downsizing, buyouts or a career change. Local media have trimmed to the bone, leaving the reporters who remain overstretched and business beats uncovered.

Bankruptcy has become a common term, associated with newspapers in such major markets as Philadelphia, Denver, Minneapolis, Chicago and Seattle. The Wall Street Journal and BusinessWeek were sold. Newsweek could be next.

Replacing the old hierarchy is a new, roiling media world, filled with uncertainty and promise. Bloggers and news aggregators report news, rumors and innuendo at the speed of the Internet.

So-called "hyperlocal" news from your neighborhood, alliances between bloggers and national media and the rise of the citizen journalist are collaborating to create a whole new business model to communicate information within our society.

Consider that pre-recession, the micro-blogger service Twitter carried about 300,000 "tweets" a day. Today, that number is about 50 million!

Or that one year into the recession, Technorati identified about 70 million English-speaking blogs. Today, some experts put that number at 150 million.

Former journalist and media watcher Tom Foremski calls the current climate a media tsunami -- powerful, inescapable and capable of causing overwhelming change.

How to make sense of this new world and, just as importantly, reconnect to it?

It helps to disregard misinformation, let go of entrenched thinking and embrace a new approach.

  • First, set aside the widely held and inaccurate belief that the media are dying. More people are disseminating news than ever before. Their conduits are numerous, everything from the printed newspaper to a website, blog, tweet or video upload. Most importantly, the information channels these sources tap into are both far-reaching and available to your company's proactive efforts.
  • Let go of the old notion that the media deliver news to a waiting public. The practice of one-way communication, media-to-public, is fading quickly. Information is consumed in an increasingly social, two-way exchange. The media share information with, and seek information from the public. Consumers "like" or recommend media reports to their Facebook friends. Some 75 percent of online news consumers in the United States get news forwarded through e-mail and posts on social sites, according to the Pew Research Center.
  • Embrace the blurred boundaries between traditional media, social media and the 140-character tweet. The media certainly are. One of the most influential publications in Washington is a morning e-mail newsletter called Playbook, written by veteran reporter Mike Allen of Politico. The New York Times recently hired popular political blogger Nate Silvers and will feature his FiveThirtyEight blog regularly.

Consumers upload 24 hours of video to YouTube every minute. Every minute! The most frequent contributor group is citizen journalists, people who are not paid for their trouble but who are more than willing to share their information with the world.

Just this month, AOL and Forbes announced they will hire hundreds of journalists and recruit thousands of citizen bloggers in a transformative effort to become more competitive. Days after these announcements, YouTube launched CitizenTube, where citizens can upload their own breaking news videos. You can expect the media to mine these sources for videos to buttress their own newscasts and websites.

All of these changes represent new opportunities for companies to reconnect with the public.

Even Rip Van Winkle emerged from the mountains and eventually rejoined a changed community on the verge of revolution. Of course, he didn't have to contend with bloggers and citizen journalists. But we never said this was going to be easy.

If you'd like to learn more about this subject, please contact David Hertz at 216-241-2145 or

David's Blog: Media Inner View

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