How journalists work in 2016 and how PR pros can help them

By John FrithJuly 29, 2016

It’s tough being a reporter in 2016.

Besides the constant fear of layoffs and downsizing, the workload is incredible. It’s not just writing and reporting the news for print, TV, or radio anymore — you also have to worry about web videos, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and all the other social media demands that news organizations are increasingly demanding.

Last night, a group of four veteran communicators braved triple-digit heat in River City to tell a group of PR pros at an outdoor PRSA event what it’s like in the trenches, and how we can best serve our clients and employers in this brave new world we’re living in.

Despite all the upheaval, as someone who began my career armed with a notepad and a manual typewriter, the panelists all expressed hope that journalism will survive in one form or another.

The four brave souls were Kaitlin Lewis of Sacramento’s main radio news station, KFBK; Cathie Anderson, business columnist for the Sacramento Bee; Walt Gray, veteran TV anchor now with ABC10; and Kerry Shearer, a veteran journalist and PR pro who now specializes in livestreaming.

Here are some of the takeaways. As a PRSA chapter board member, I figure if you wanted to get the rest of the story you should have paid!

Social media is king.

Anymore, Facebook, Twitter, and web videos are as or more important than getting the story on the air or in the paper. Lewis posts video from news stories on Periscope and Facebook Live along with the station’s website, and since her listeners follow her on Facebook and Twitter she’s always posting there and promoting KFBK. Radio reporters are as interested in video as any TV crew these days.

Anderson records interviews with her phone and digital recorders, shoots video and edits it on her phone for posting on the Bee’s website. And the deadline to write the story is now, since stories have to be posted on the website as soon as possible.

Gray said TV reporters are expected to “share their beings with the public” and make a connection with them through social media channels. And since fewer people watch TV news today, getting a story posted on Facebook and the website quickly is a top priority.

Gadgets, gadgets, and more gadgets.

What made this rush to video possible is the quality of the cameras in today’s smartphones. Anyone can shoot broadcast-quality video and quickly edit it, add titles and post it.

Shearer showed off some of the many products available for professional and citizen journalists, including a motorized Gimbal mount that allows you to take steady images even while walking and panning the camera, a mini LED light called the Lume Cube that allows subjects to be property lighted, and an array of microphones to ensure decent sound quality.

He also urged power users to invest in a quality backup battery that allows you to recharge your phones five or six times. The worst thing that can happen to you, all four agreed, is if your phone dies while you’re using it.

Chapter President Patrick Storm also reminded everyone to hold your phone side to side if you’re shooting video, not up and down.

What does the future hold?

The industry continues to change at a breathtaking clip, but the panelists believe that journalists will continue to be important to report what’s happening no matter how the media shake out.

“What we do will still be done, but we have had to learn and adapt,” Anderson said. As an example, an intern approached her last week and basically gave her an assignment — to do a business story on the Pokémon Go craze. At first she could only think of what senior reporters would have thought had she told them what to do when she was first starting out, but eventually realized it might be a good story after all.

“It was one of the best-read stories of the day,” she noted wryly.

Gray thought in 15 or 20 years there might only be one or two TV stations serving a market like Sacramento, and that newspapers would be solely online.

One final tip

Gray said there was one sure-fire way for PR pros to get coverage. Work on holidays, when news crews are scrambling to fill hours of content and normal editorial standards are often relaxed.

“PR people should never take holidays off,” he said.