National media battle locally for survival

While most of the conversation about news media going “hyperlocal” is about the creation of super-localized websites or blogs focusing on a town or neighborhood, an interesting battle is about to be waged in the nation’s largest market.

In a few short weeks in New York City, the Wall Street Journal is about to go “mano a mano” with the granddaddy of them all, The New York Times.  At the core of the battle is Rupert Murdoch’s long-time war with The Times, a battle he failed to win as the owner of the New York Post.  Murdoch, the new owner of the Journal, has always coveted the Times luxury advertisers and now with the Journal he has the more appropriate media vehicle to wage the war.  He is spending $15 million in this latest effort.

As is outlined in this Times article, the first salvo will be shot on April 12th, as the WSJ unveils its local New York section in NYC.  The focus will be some news, but lots of lifestyle, sports and real estate.

On or about the same time, ESPN will likely debut, the latest in its city-specific team of multimedia microsites aimed at giving sports news sources in cities like LA, Dallas and Chicago a run for their money.  In most cases, the worldwide leader of sports has hired long-time sports reporters in those cities to go head to head with their former employers.

This is an interesting trend and more like NPR and others are following to at least a certain extent.  While most news organizations don’t have the money, the will or the manpower to slug it out locally, these strategically-targeted efforts by established media brands to gain new markets and new advertisers bares watching.

This is different from just opening three-person bureaus to cover news in those markets, this is well-known media brands making significant efforts to compete in select markets locally for stories and revenue.

The fallout may determine the long-term strategies of these brands for the next decade as well as the future of national media outlets as we know them.

What do you think?  I’d love to hear from you.

Is this the future of newspapers?

Every night this week on the nightly news we've seen stories about newspapers laying people off, going bankrupt or about to (Philadelphia Inquirer, San Francisco Chronicle) or even worse just plain ending publication (Rocky Mountain News).

So what is the answer, what is the new model?  Is it Newsday's decision to start charging people to view online content?   Or is it a different model like the folks at tweeted to me this week.

In the model, you can sign up for daily or monthly paid subscriptions to view the actual newspaper online, ads and all.  This is great for us tweeners who get news on the web but still love the actual form of the old newspaper.

In addition, there are great search functions built in and the ability to download issues, save pages, share them with others, blog on them, etc.

While this model may not be perfect, it may be a stepping stone.  As others will more than likely follow the Newsday model, those of use who long for at least the look (forget about the feel) of newspaper will likely migrate to services like to get their faux-paper fix.

What VCU’s Mass Comm students taught me today…

Based on the number of college students we meet with for internships and jobs I have been concerned about the quality of education being offered by some college public relations programs.  Many times the folks we meet with just don't seem to "get it."  They don't seem to have the public relations acumen and general go-getter attitude we need at THP and I assume others need as well.

One of my other criticisms is that they are often taught by folks who are not now, nor have they for a while, been active PR practitioners.  They seem to be walking out of many programs with an education that is out of date on day one.

This is very important as today those of us who hire are looking for these folks to teach us about how and from where they get their news.  They are important to those of us who are learning about social marketing because they have "lived" it for a lot longer than we have.  They knew Facebook before Facebook was "cool" to us in the over-40 set.

Today, my biz partner and I had the honor of presenting a campaign case study to Anna West's @annawest) senior campaigns class at Virginia Commonwealth University's school of mass communications.  I'm happy to report that they absolutely destroyed most of my preconceived notions. 

(Shout outs also to Anna's colleague, Soo Yeon Hong and fellow serial Twitterer Adam Gainer ( @againer )

First of all, at VCU (Anna told us later), faculty is encouraged to freelance and consult thus making sure their own skills are up to date.  Most of the students in the program hold down jobs at the same time and therefore have respect for and knowledge of the working world, something that is critical since in many cases we are asked to solve business problems not just communications problems.

Second and more important, the class project they are working on is a REAL case study of a REAL business.  Not only that, they are partnering with their colleagues in a parallel advertising class to bring an additional level of real world experience to their project.  In many cases, PR firms collaborate with ad agencies to bring "integrated" solutions to the table for clients.  By teaming up, these students are learning both and good and bad things that can happen in this marriage.  For example, battling over messaging, planning, budgets, who will take the lead, the misunderstanding of what each specialty does well and doesn't do so well, all of these things come to a head when these disciplines come together.

Having worked as a PR practitioner at one of Ad Age's top ten ad agencies and working with a number of ad agency partners on a daily basis, I can tell you first hand that these challenges can be met but it does take experience, a willingness to listen, and the strength to stand up for the client and for your discipline.

On the social marketing side some interesting sidelights:

  • When I asked how many of them were personally using "social marketing platforms, only a few raised their hand.  But when I asked how many were on Facebook all of them did.  A reminder to keep the formal vernacular out of the conversation and to keep it simple.
  • Facebook beat MySpace and Twitter is on the come but not there yet in this class of 30 or so.
  • When I proudly was about to launch into the "David Gregory ( @ davidgregory) responded to my Tweet last night" story, I asked first "how many of you know who David Gregory is."  Not one person raised their hand.  Obviously, the new host of NBC's Meet the Press needs to do more to court the 20-something demo.
  • While we spent most of our time doing our favorite campaign presentation (our stellar long-time work for, work mainly done by folks that we've hired to make us look good), we did do a little on social marketing.  My sense there is that while this group has been on SM platforms in the personal life, they are only now beginning to tap into how it can become a part of their burgeoning professional lives.

Is it in this area, that I challenge them and the PR educators to bring them up to speed and quickly.  We in the working world are not only looking to these folks to bring their ambition to the table so they can help us, we are also looking to learn FROM them as well.  The more they know about social marketing and how it reaches people like them and their age, the more value it can bring them (and us) as they enter a pretty tough job market in the days and months to come.

PR 1.5 and the end of journalist competition?

One of the many things I love about Twitter is the ability to share ideas and thoughts about marketing with people from literally all over the world.  It's great to hear different points of view from marketing vets to those still in school.

One such moment came the other day in the form of a Twitter reply from @tyfn or as he is known to his friends, Phillip Jeffrey from Vancouver.  Phillip posted "@jonnew The future of news may be in collaborative efforts (e.g. pooled resources with same photographer to cover an event)."

He then pointed me to this recent article in this AP story (somewhat ironic) on the Editor and Publisher website, detailing stories of content sharing that I had heard of before.  For example, the Washington Post and Baltimore Sun plan to share content on Maryland-related coverage.  The Dallas and Fort Worth papers plan to trade some sports coverage (they still will battle over the Cowboys, however) and so on.

This on the heels of WUSA-TV in Washington DC announcing a move to have reporters shoot their own video.  In my day in TV news, this was called one-man-banding and while the equipment now is much lighter, I'm sure the reporters are not happy about it.

These are just some of the ripple effects the bad economy has had on journalism, that coupled with flat out job cuts and outlet closings provide an interesting set of issues for PR folks both 1.0 and 2.0.

On the 1.0 side, we will mourn the days of more reporters, more competition, more traditional folks to pitch to, etc.  Added to that is the lack of time reporters can now spend on your pitch.  Recently we have also seen a dramatic increase in the amount of work reporters expect PR people to do for them relying on PR people more than more to provide subjects around which the reporter can localize or personalize the story.  The bottom line:  Less reporters, with less time, relying more on PR people, with less of an ultimate payoff for the organization or client because of lack of space.

On the 2.0 side, we expect those folks to resurface online and in blogs.  My guess though is that this group will inherit some of the issues there traditional brothers and sisters are saddled with, as PR folks migrate over to this group as well.

Both sides will also be mourning the lack of competition at least for the time being for as those in the 2.0 camp will argue that there will be plenty of media to cover stories online.  The truth is in the short term they will lack the money and manpower it takes to cover the stories in the same manner that their traditional counterparts in the past.

As another one of my Twitter friends, John Sternal @sternalpr points out, it is unreasonable to expect social marketing platforms like Twitter to provide the depth that traditional media does.  While Twitter broke the recent "Miracle on the Hudson" since one of the people on the plane sent a tweet seconds after the landing, Twitter, at least as currently configured will not be able to write a profile or an in-depth stories about it in 140 characters.  It can only provide a link to one somewhere else.

I have no immediate answer for PR folks in either camp, or for those like me who are somewhere in the middle.  It is something we'll keep tabs on together as the dust settles.

For now, I mourn the beginning of the end of media competition as we knew it.

INews? Is this the future of newspaper?

A couple of posts ago I made my fearless prediction of 2009, that one major newspaper would go to an online only model and give permission to the industry to follow along.

In his column today, David Carr of the New York Times speculates on an ITunes-type model, where people would pay-per-article like they pay for songs.

Interesting idea and one of many being kicked around in publisher's offices across the country.  Another is the Sporting News Today model, where a newspaper-looking file is delivered to your email each morning.  For those who haven't yet subscribed, you need to.  It is very cool looking and is very newspaper-like down to the full page ads.

For PR folks like me this is all very intriguing as we see the model change and contemplate the outlets of the future.

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