A Proposed Solution To The Catch-22 Of Industry Paywalls

“Don’t pitch me unless you’ve seen my reporting and know my beat."

This is a common refrain of journalists who are clearly frustrated (and rightfully so) by public relations professionals who constantly pitch them – often repeatedly – with sources or story ideas that are far outside their coverage area, either topically or geographically. But the solution – reading the reporters’ articles – offers a glaring catch-22. PR pros can’t read the journalists’ articles if they are hidden behind paywalls. I say, give us a pass.

Journalists need targeted pitches

According to two recent industry surveys: the Cision State of the Media Report (May 2024) and Muck Rack’s State of Journalism (March 2024), 70% to 80% of journalists feel the pitches they receive are not relevant to their coverage, and only seven percent of journalists consider pitches they receive to be relevant more than half the time. 



They are absolutely right. This happens way too often. Even more regrettable is that many of the offenders are just too lazy (or overworked or badly trained) to do the required research before pitching the journalist. 

Those practitioners who resort to “spray and pray” tactics sully the good name of professionals who do take the time to read and understand a journalist’s work, their audience, and even their personal interests and pitch preferences – we see you, West-coast reporter who works on East-coast time and prefers pitches via email before Noon PT.

Many professionals in my circle, especially those of us with nearly three decades of experience, were taught – both in college and in the field by great mentors – that research and proper targeting are the gold standard of the practice. Before claiming a spokesperson is worthy of a journalist’s attention, a good PR representative will read at least two or three of their target’s articles, as well as conduct additional research, including other outlets’ reporting on the topic (including trades journals) and industry reports.

But here’s where a major breakdown occurs. 

The good content and data are often – and more recently, almost exclusively – hidden behind paywalls. A lot of paywalls. Sometimes very expensive paywalls – I’m looking at you, Newsday and Financial Times.

According to the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, in the U.S., 76% of leading newspapers are “operating some kind of online paywall,” and the average cost of each subscription (often after a short-term trial) is just over $15 per month (nearly $200/year). At the high end, certain industry trades can cost up to $5,000 per year.

Paywalls prevent the process

A typical “generalist” PR firm with offices in New Jersey and Long Island, with up to 10 clients in various industries (education, entertainment, technology and business), would need to spend more than $6,000 per year on the bare minimum of subscriptions just to keep up with relevant national business, local market and select industry trade media (see chart). This represents only one local and one industry trade outlet per category and does not include the potential cost of paying to research new outlets upon entering a market or pitching new business.

Sure, there are “bundle” options like Apple News +, but with those you get basic – not full – access to all of the content in the publications on the list. For example, Apple’s subscription includes most of the stories in the Wall Street Journal’s culture, lifestyle, personal finance and careers categories, but limits access to finance, economy and markets news, for which a separate annual subscription is required. There are short-term discounts, but an active PR firm dedicated to doing the appropriate research needs full access indefinitely, not just a few weeks or months. 

So, here is my solution: Give public relations professionals unlimited, paywall-free access to online news content. Let us roam free to research and analyze coverage. Enable us to identify which reporters are covering which topics, get a sense for how they write, and evaluate what types of sources they typically use in their coverage – or whether or not they typically interview experts, etc. 

Feel free to vet us – force us to register and submit our credentials – like we often request of journalists when issuing “press passes” at our events.

Providing PR professionals a backstage pass will help everyone involved. We get to do our jobs better, and journalists will hopefully get a break from incessant misdirected pitches. 

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