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The State of the News Media

By Mark LaVigne APR

One of the first rules of media relations is know the media. When you know something about the environment in which journalists have to work you appreciate their deadlines and their perspectives, all of which helps to improve your skill in reaching them with your story or news release.

During the past decade the news media, particularly private sector newspapers, magazines, radio and television outlets, have suffered from the same economic turmoil as other private sector organizations. Globalization, recession, national and multinational mergers, and technological revolution have significantly affected the business side of the news media, which has caused upheaval in newsrooms across the country.

The computers and computer networks have enabled the same news reporting functions of ten years ago to be performed by fewer people while the same technology has exponentially increased the amount of news available for reporting. Consequently, there is more news to be processed by fewer people. Staffing levels have been dramatically cut, roughly 75% in radio, 50% in newspapers and 25% in television.

Furthermore, a dramatic shift in advertising revenues from mass advertising to much more targeted marketing communications has drastically reduced advertising revenues available to the majority of private sector mass news outlets. The rise of direct mail, promotions and specialized media has spread advertising revenues across a much broader plane of media. The consequence for anyone submitting a news story or media release - the "news hole" (the space in which proactive news can be places) has dramatically shrunk.

Other trends include a maturing news media. Many journalists, those who survived recessions, mergers and technological downsizing, have stayed in their positions longer. The rate of turnover in the news business traditionally is high but in major news markets such as Toronto there is far less movement than ever before, partly because fewer jobs are available. It still takes the average journalist ten years to get promoted into major markets. Once they arrive, economic conditions keep those reporters in their same jobs, rather than moving up into editorial positions. Because of these factors, journalists are older, smarter, generally more educated, and usually more cynical than their predecessors. Cynicism often breeds distrust making the current generation of news reporters more suspicious and more formidable than ever.

Mark LaVigne, APR, is President of the Canadian Public Relations Society (Toronto) and runs a media relations and media coaching firm based in Aurora, Ontario. He can be reached at (905) 841-2017 or