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What Newspaper Layoffs Mean for PR


by Stephen Ursery

A couple of days ago, The New York Times announced it was cutting about 100 jobs in its newsroom. Since we’re a company founded by and heavily staffed by former ink-stained wretches, we were saddened by the news. Unfortunately, it’s been a tough few weeks for those who, like us, love the newspaper industry.

In early September, USA Today said it planned to eliminate up to 70 employees, with approximately half the cuts coming from the newsroom. Just last week, Freedom Communications decided to cease production of its five-month-old Los Angeles Register daily newspaper and also announced job reductions at its Orange County Register.

As industry observers know, the recent layoffs are part of a long-term pattern, as newspapers battle declining advertising dollars and dwindling circulation numbers. Still, one shouldn’t declare newspapers dead just yet, argues Rem Rieder, media columnist for USA Today in a recent column.

“It’s important to keep in mind that many newspapers remain profitable — the Times said it needed to make the latest cuts to protect that profitability — and the industry, despite its highly publicized woes, remains a $35 billion business,” Rieder writes. “That’s not nothing.”

“If they are to make it in the long run, newspapers will have to heighten their digital footprints and find new ways to attract digital audiences,” which will require plenty of “bold experimenting,” Rieder concludes.

What does all this mean for PR firms and their clients?

First off, don’t write off newspapers. Yes, their readership may have declined, but they remain powerful voices within their markets. Furthermore, with reporters and editors being stretched like never before, this creates more opportunities to provide them with story ideas and also means PR reps and clients should be prepared to help these reporters and editors as much as they can. (The same holds true for magazine staffers, of course.)

Secondly, PR programs should engage in some “bold experimentation” as well and not rely as heavily on print media as they may have in the past. To tell clients’ stories and position them as thought leaders, make use of a range of methods, from white papers and videos to online technologies such as SlideShare. At The Wilbert Group, we’ve had remarkable success with SlideShare, creating three presentations for North American Properties (which can be viewed here, here and here), and we’re now working on several others as well.

In short, the rumors of newspapers’ death may have been exaggerated, but the need for multi-pronged PR programs is very real.