If There’s No Newsroom, What Does It Mean for PR?

By on Friday, August 14, 2020

The New York Daily News, recently announced that it is closing its iconic and bustling newsroom. Tribune Publishing said recently that The Daily News, once the largest-circulation newspaper in the country (and the storied prototype for The Daily Planet. the fictional newspaper where Clarke Kent and Lois Lane met), was permanently closing its physical newsroom at 4 New York Plaza in Lower Manhattan. The chain is also closing  four of its other newspaper  offices.

“We have determined that we do not need to reopen this office in order to maintain our current operations,” Toni Martinez, a human resources executive at Tribune Publishing, wrote in an email to the staff that was reviewed by The New York Times. “With this announcement, we are also beginning to look at strategic opportunities and alternatives for future occupancy.”

So if there is no newsroom (or if the newsroom is going to become more like a drop in coworking space in the future someday), what does it mean for public relations practitioners?

It means that relationships with reporters are more important now than ever. Because if you know reporters well, they’ll read your email, and you’ll already have their cell phone number. Reaching out to reporters has become more challenging during the pandemic, because desk phones (in the newsroom) are often not answered. And voicemail messages may or may not have cell phone information for reporters. Like everyone else, many print journalists have been working from home, doing reporting where they could safely outside the home, and juggling family and home life responsibilities.

If there’s no newsroom – it means that story ideas or reporting projects that perhaps were ruminated on more in community one-on-one in the newsroom, will be discussed in virtual environments. I once visited the newsroom of the Washington Post at its old headquarters, to broker an anonymity deal for someone who was trapped in an untenable position and was being hunted by the press. I negotiated with the reporter one-on-one, and then waited at their desk while terms were confirmed with nearby editors. On the spot arrangements like that are not common in this business, but they may be a thing of the past or more stressful to negotiate, if there is no newsroom.

I think the collaborative nature of the newspaper story development process  will not be dead entirely even if there is no newsroom. Editors will still check in with reporters – it may just be by zoom or phone. Stories will still be written but reporting will become more solitary, with reporters working from home a lot and venturing out to meet sources and get information. Check out this site to find a very useful tool to create better written content.

Even this year’s presidential campaign trail reporters are working by zoom and from couches.

For local news, the metro desk is a key hub. If you had a story or local event but weren’t sure who to pitch it to, you could call the metro desk, talk to the editor, and hope that your idea would be  assigned to a reporter. One of my questions is – what happens to the metro desk if there is no newsroom? Is the metro desk’s phone number now assigned to a cell phone that the metro desk editor has to monitor? Metro desk pitches may be relegated to email now.

Television and radio are likely to continue their newsrooms in some form because of the equipment they use and broadcasts they deliver with on-air reporting, although home studios are becoming more common for a lot of people (see the National Association of Broadcasters list of what stations are doing). Photographers will continue to go out and get images and video footage, bu may now be working from home to get them delivered.

Tribune Publishing has not ruled out re-establishing a newsroom in the future – but in an era where cost-cutting, declining ad revenue, and news has become more nationalized – the return to the daily newsroom in the future may look very different than it has in the past. We may all be pining a little bit for Superman to sail in to save the day.

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, an independent PR practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media engagement, writing services, and creative design for publications and websites (contact to discuss your projectreview our portfoliosign up for our e-newsletter). She blogs about media relations, social media, public relations, and work-family balance. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven

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