By Shannon McCormick, Media Relations Manager
It’s a disappointing trend, but not the first time we’ve seen it—newsrooms cutting staff in the last quarter of the year, in many cases right before the holidays. At MediaSource, we hear that sadly, this year may turn out rougher than most.
Our journalist friends and media contacts tell us their newsrooms are in transition, confronted with unexpected exits from some of the biggest names in news such as CBS, The Wall Street Journal and Gannett. A Sinclair-owned station in Toledo will now outsource most of its work, and The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review printed its final edition before it converts to an exclusively digital outlet. This trend follows similar cuts across America’s national and regional news organizations over the last quarter of 2015.
Why does it appear the 2016 cuts may be even deeper? It’s possible that higher than average newsroom budgets were associated with election coverage. Our contacts who are exiting aren’t political journalists, they are newsroom veterans. But Poynter is reporting that both Bloomberg and Univision waited until after the election to shrink their newsrooms. It’s possible that newer staffers hired during the pre-election expansions are being retained while more experienced (expensive) journalists are getting pink slips.
End-of-year job cuts are not new for media companies. If they are more extreme this year, what does this mean for those of us in PR?
We are sad. People we’ve come to communicate with regularly, look forward to talking to and counted on for feedback, clever quips and well... coverage are now looking for work. We worked closely with these journalists because we ‘clicked’ with them. We counted many of them as friends.
We can’t forget the survivors. The journalists who did not get pink slips are typically as shocked as those who are leaving. They’re struggling with, "how does this affect me?" and hustling to fill the holes left in the workflow. Newsrooms will be doing more with less staff. That means the survivors are busy and often stress out. PR pros need to be patient while the dust settles. Be sympathetic when requests have shorter turnaround time or feedback is slower. The survivors are working their way through significant changes in an atmosphere that probably isn’t all that positive right now.
Our jobs just got harder. The roster at any news organization is ever-changing as they recruit new talent and opportunistic journalists seek new positions. Staying up-to-date has always been crucial to our success. When so many changes happen at once, it requires those of us who work with major media outlets to sharpen our skills and listen more carefully to what's going on in each newsroom to determine how their needs may change along with their staff.
We need to think like journalists. The more work we can do to shape a news release into a news story before sharing it with a reporter the better. If we can share in the burden of true news development, our stories have a chance at standing out. Plus, the journalists we work with will find their jobs a little easier in this busy time.
Success will involve offering multimedia. High-quality photos, video and audio matter more when newsroom staffing shrinks. Media organizations want to tell robust, visually compelling stories. But if there aren't enough staffers to set up shoots or staff to travel and work on location, the best thing we can do for them is offer high quality, news-style content to them.
In a time when jobs are disappearing from an industry we admire and carefully follow, we have to remember it isn’t about us. This is about the journalists-turned-job seekers uncertain about their professional futures and the cutback survivors now being tasked with even more work. We can’t change the decisions their corporations make or the trends within the industry, but we should keep in touch with the journalists who’ve become part of our professional, and sometimes personal, lives. We may not collaborate on stories with these professional friends anymore, but we are certainly richer for knowing them. We can also think carefully about how we go about our day-to-day work as it impacts recipients in newsrooms. We have some power to deliver what they need, when they need it and be a force of positivity in what we all know can be a grueling news industry.