Don’t write off newspapers as yesterday’s news

The newspaper industry is evolving at unprecedented speed at the moment, and generating new opportunities for company spokespeople and those in PR. This extent of this digital transformation was brought out strongly at the Shift ’13 conference last month, put together by Newsworks, formerly the Newspaper Marketing Agency. For example, with the growth in worldwide readership of Mail Online, Daily Mail proprietor Lord Rothermere told the audience he now sees global media brands such as Huffington Post as his main competition, rather than domestic UK rivals – a stance that would have been unthinkable three or four years ago. Daily Telegraph editor Tony Gallagher said 75% of his newsroom’s output was now ‘purely digital’ and doesn’t appear in the newspaper at all – an extraordinary figure. The Telegraph is now producing 600 articles per day, 50% up on the output three years ago. There will soon be a regular afternoon iPad edition of the paper, containing the stories they are unlikely to have room for in the following morning’s edition. The Guardian has just launched Guardian Witness, specifically for user-generated content on stories the paper is covering; such input will now be specifically solicited in many cases.
These innovations suggest an industry that is fast re-inventing itself for the tablet and smartphone era, rather than in decline. In fact these so-called ‘news brands’ are as powerful in shaping opinions and setting the agenda as ever – sometimes more so; readership is actually rising, as people turn in a noisy digital world to names they recognise and trust. All the additional content creates more opportunities for the PR community, not fewer, and there is closer co-operation between the editorial and commercial sides of newspapers than before, giving rise, for instance, to a variety of sponsored supplements. There is even scope for video interview clip material on newspaper websites, if it can be made of sufficient interest. PR people who write off the papers as declining ‘traditional media’ as they fall in love with social media do so at their peril.