Why PR Should Be Paying Attention to the Turmoil at The Oregonian

The Oregonian logo

Changes at the Oregonian last month triggered gut-wrenching hoopla.

Naturally, a slew of media watchers weighed in with my favorite headline compliments of the Columbia Journalism Review (CJR), “The Hamster Wheel is institutionalized at the Oregonian.”

Ouch!

On the surface, this might look like inside baseball, journalists bitching about the state of their profession. No one wants to be relegated to the hamster wheel, not even the hamsters.

Why should PR care about a metro daily with a print circulation that tips 185,000 and page views commensurate of a metro reach?

What’s taking place at The Oregonian reflects a bigger trend that absolutely has relevance to PR, an accelerated push by daily newspapers to find favorable economics in their online properties.

Take a look at the following slide from The Oregonian presentation to employees – leaked to the media, making for an ironic double entendre – that calls out the content goals:

The Oregonian Employee Policy Presentation

The third bullet highlights the expectation that reporters will publish a minimum of three posts per day. Keep in mind this writing is on top of the reporters’ workload for the print product though a post might be a riff on article earmarked for print.

Such journalistic throughput requires a turn-the-crank mentality. It’s the difference between making a single point in a discussion and capturing the complete discussion.

Of course, if a single point is going to serve as your narrative, it had better be a darn good one – defining “darn good” as something informative, useful or amusing and ideally not in the public domain. In short, storytelling techniques still count.

Which brings us back to the opportunity for PR.

PR-generated content is still largely tuned to news announcements that sit in the public domain and full-blown features. To align with the changing makeup of daily newspapers, we need to be building out “single-point” content that still offers exploration and, yes, storytelling. Visual assets are also part of this equation as one glance at The Oregonian’s online business channel shows:

The Oregonian Business News Page

The upshot –

The demand versus supply ratio when it comes to content for online dailies can work in PR’s favor.

The CJR story closes with the following line:

“Here’s the bottom line: Real journalism should make people smarter. If your readers are losing IQ points reading your stuff, you are doing something wrong.”

All I can say there’s more nuance to “real journalism” than helping readers qualify for Mensa, although I did enjoy the CJR journalist channeling the 1982 best-seller, “Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche.”

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