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How do You Get Your Story Told when Newsrooms are Empty?

A new American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE) survey shows newsroom jobs have hit the lowest level since tracking began in 1978, leading to the question: How do you get you story told when there are so few reporters left?

ASNE reported that the ranks of newsroom employees shrank 10.4% last year, to 32,900 reporters. This continues the downward trend since the peak of 2001, when 56,400 worked in America’s newsrooms. Even more troubling, the economic recovery is not helping. Newsrooms shrank even more last year than the previous year. Also, the latest survey doesn’t take into account the newspaper layoffs and other departures this year.

The loss of reporting staff makes media relations all the more challenging, no matter how great the story, because editors often have no reporters left to assign to a story. Overcoming these challenges requires resourcefulness and relationships. Here’s three ways to help get a story reported in today’s constrained media climate:

  1. Go Big or Go Small: The ASNE survey found gains in newsroom staff in large-circulation newspapers and smaller ones. The staff at newspapers with daily circulations between 250,000 and 500,000 grew by almost 14%, and newspapers with a circulation of less than 5,000 increased employees by nearly 16%. A major national news story can almost always get attention, if it’s positioned and pitched properly. But those stories are rare. Seeking out the local angle and pitching it to the local paper will help create content that can then be shared with target audiences through social media, emails and other means. As always, having strong relationships with reporters and editors will make a big difference at any size newspaper.
  2. Do the Reporters’ Work for Them: With smaller newsroom staffs, reporters must produce more stories, so they have very little time to research and report each one. They also have more demands for each story, including producing web content, videos, Tweets and other online features. So making their job easier will help ensure they will have time to cover a story. Providing them with links to backup documentation and reports; journalistic photos and videos, if possible, and a fully developed story with all the facts they need will make a difference.
  3. Establish an Online Newsroom: Increasingly, individuals and organizations are hiring former reporters or enlisting staff to tell their stories for them in an online newsroom. They can then inform their target audiences via social media, email or other means that there’s a new story or series of stories they may wish to view on the website. UCLA, for instance, was a leader in online newsrooms, and you can see its online newsroom here.

Advertising is always an option. But it comes at a cost, both financial and to the credibility of the story. Generally speaking, a journalistic story will cost less and be more credible. Clearly, an online newsroom doesn’t have the credibility of a mainstream media outlet. But if the online newsroom’s content is written in a journalistic fashion, it will have more credibility than most ads.

As a footnote: Ken Doctor, a newspaper analyst, suggests that the title of reporter may soon go the way of such former professions as cigar maker, lamplighter or switchboard operator. Perhaps the new title will be storyteller or content creator.

Whatever they may be called, the demand for an individual who can tell a story and tell it well will continue. The storytelling skills that reporters have will continue to be in demand, whether they’re working in traditional newsrooms or on much newer and more innovative platforms.



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