“Newsrooms are lazy and media owners are cheap”

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Above: Dominic Kalipersad and Golda Lee-Bruce at the event. Photo by Mark Lyndersay.

BitDepth#1141 for April 19, 2018. An author edited version of this story appeared as “A conversation about communications” in Newsday on that date.

When the Public Relations Association of Trinidad and Tobago (PRATT) gathered last week to discuss Facing the Challenge of Earned Media in Modern PR, it might have been reasonable to expect a discussion of the challenges that PR professionals face in placing their statements and releases in an increasingly fractured and fragmented media landscape.

To be sure, there was some discussion that set out with those concerns as a destination, but what followed became more of a dissection of the challenges that traditional media faces in a communications age that favours immediacy and digital presence.

From the first question posed to the panel onward, it was clear that the new media landscape and its impact on traditional media weighed as heavily on the minds of PR practitioners as it does on journalists.

“What,” asked Nicole Duke-Westfield, president of PRATT, “has been the biggest change in the last five to ten years in media distribution?”

The rise of digital media and the disruption that has ensued,“ responded LoopTT’s Laura Dowrich-Phillips.

“People no longer need the media to capture and share information on their own. People are now getting their news in real time, and now media must rally to bring filtering to it.”

“Our challenge,” added Golda Lee-Bruce, Deputy Head of News at CNC3, ”is not to report on what you are reporting, it is to bring value to what you are sharing.“

Earned media, according to Duke-Westfield, who moderated the evening’s discussion, are statements and press releases that are published and broadcast at the discretion of the media and are not paid for column inches or broadcast minutes.

There were a few attempts to bring the discussion around to concrete issues arising from the new media landscape.

Daren Lee Sing and Laura Dowrich-Phillips at the event. Photo by Mark Lyndersay.

“Advertisers and PR people did not understand what digital was, “Dowrich-Phillip said of her experience with the Loop network of regional news websites.

“Until Loop, digital was one arm of what was still traditional media. It took a while for people to understand that we weren’t going away. That we didn’t have a scheduled time for publication or broadcast. That once we have the information and we are good with it; it goes live.”

“You need to examine what your message is and who is your audience. Then you go to where they are,” advised Lee-Bruce.

“You need to understand how the media operates, when the deadlines are and how to mesh your message distribution with that reality.”

There was some spirited discussion about emails with PDF attachments (bad idea, as per here) and the advisability of sending captured media (video, audio) to newsrooms.

Best practice? Send the entire unedited video of the speech/event via digital download with notes on what times on the clip hold newsworthy/soundbite potential for faster scrubbing through the media. Double points for providing transcripts of those parts of the video or audio clip.

“I think practitioners should do an internship in newsrooms to understand the field in which they are working,” said Dominic Kalipersad, veteran journalist.

“Understand the publication. Journalists are storytellers, when we get releases or information that need work, then that’s something I have to work through. 

Practitioners don’t seem to know the people they are sending the releases to. This is not a science, it is an inexact art and it’s about relationships.”

“People consume information differently online, so consider recasting the information differently,” said Dowrich-Phillips. “Try a listicle. Submit a video.”

“Know the times when the news is slow and time difficult to place material when the media house is starved for content.”

Despite the many articulated concerns by the journalism professionals on the panel about the quality and focus of releases and information provided, there was also room for a robust discussion about the role of media in what is very much an evolving ecosystem of call and response in modern communication practice.

Most of the questions about the failings of traditional media in TT to respond to fundamental changes in information consumption fell to Daren Lee Sing, President of the TTPBA who consistently pointed out that he could only speak with authority about his experiences as General Manager of Gem Radio Five.

“Newsrooms are lazy, and media owners are cheap,” said Kalipersad.

“Legacy media has spent millions on equipment and staff, know that their days are numbered, but have to continue to earn money while preparing to transition to digital media, And they have to get there.”

“I find it unusual as an older journalist that I have to convince younger journalists that they should be participating in the digital space.”

“With the advent of media like Loop,” Lee Sing said, “we engaged in almost a year of discussion about whether to let digital in. The TTPBA is not all media; it is the publishing and broadcasting association of Trinidad and Tobago. We are not the journalists, we are the managers and owners and we continue to look at several areas of change, including developments like digital TV.”

By the end of the event, the discussion had spun wildly off anything resembling public relations concerns to general worry about prevalent trends like the illiteracy of urban radio.

And perhaps that’s a good thing. All communications increase in value when the audience is primed, informed and ready to receive it and good media paves the way for good PR.