Commentary

Old School Media Is Still Relevant, For Now

For all the funerals planned and obituaries written for traditional journalism -- those things called newspapers, magazines, broadcast television, oh, and radio -- one would consider them finished. Just how many years of revenue and circulation declines can an industry endure before packing it in?

Plenty, it seems.

Without question the last five years, or even 10, have not been kind to traditional media. Its influence has shrunk from a global superpower to merely a component of an increasingly diverse set of media outlets all vying for attention and relevancy. I liken traditional media's current power position to the United Kingdom following World War II: Stripped of its empire status, the war-torn country reemerged as a component of Western power, no longer its sole mover and shaker, or indeed master.

In response to a rapidly remade media landscape, PR firms have rightly shifted their focus to all things digital. Can you imagine a PR company -- or any successful organization -- not relying heavily on the digital space to advance their company or client's brand?

Our clients now expect digital competency as a matter-of-fact and not some retainer-plus extra. Many of the college graduates knocking on our door have been using Facebook for a third of their lives, they prefer texting to talking (which we try to undo) and some have even earned their Masters in social media.

But for all the hoo-ha over social media, it's essential that companies, especially PR agencies, remember the UK analogy. Traditional media, may be a shell of its former self --at least in terms of average profit margins -- but it persists. Our industry gives so much lip service to integration and being multi-channel. Perhaps it's time we listen to our own advice and not jettison traditional media from the marketing mix?

At a recent mobile marketing summit in New York, I sat next to the mobile marketing director for USA Today, and talked with several digital media directors of magazines that many would consider very traditional - only they are far from it.

Their digital model has and continues to evolve as they realize that traditional media still does have a place -- and is it not in the coffin. The PR industry shouldn't forget this either.

In its annual report on American journalism, the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism, highlights some positive news hinting that the worst of traditional media's die off has ended. Newspapers, once a bulwark for our industry, saw its weekday circulation numbers contract by 5% in 2010. While not fantastic, the losses in 2009 were twice that. Revenue too, saw, similar declines, (a drop of 6.3%) but that softening was nowhere near the death spiral of 2009 where revenue atrophied 26%.

The revenue picture looked even brighter at cable news, network television and local news outlets, as all three saw growth. Overall local news and radio faired the best, as many stations added early morning programs. For instance, in 2010 69 US cities offered a 4:30 a.m. TV news program, up from 28 in 2009. Radio, which has long since found its niche on car dashboards, saw revenue tick upward by 6% in 2010 after an 18% fall in 2009. Finally, magazine ad revenue was flat, compared to a 26% drop in '09. While readership/viewership struggled, all traditional media outlets combined still enjoyed many millions of consumers.

As for the fine print beneath the big picture?

The reports of old school media's death (in all its forms) are exaggerated. Americans continue to rely on traditional outlets -- along with newer ones -- to consume information. They are still relevant to many of us, as least for now.

My advice to my PR peeps?

Don't turn your back on traditional media. Not yet. Remain plugged in with your broadcast and print contacts - don't overlook them for lure of likes and RTs. While the media pie has gotten bigger and there are more pieces to cut, you never know when you might need them.

Winston Churchill, England's WWII Prime Minister, cautioned against looking too far ahead into the future, saying, "Only one link in the chain of destiny can be handled at a time."

Let's wait and see how the future media chain links connect and how that affects the destiny of traditional media before we sever those ties for good.

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