Navigating the 2020 Media Landscape
I came across this Instagram post from @prgirlmanifesto and couldn’t help but relate. I’m not sure any of us could have imagined the 2020 we live in today. Not only have the COVID-19 pandemic, protests for racial justice and the upcoming Presidential Election rocked our country to its core, they’ve also drastically altered the media landscape and how we do our jobs as publicists.
So, in the interest of better understanding how the media – particularly those in Boston – are approaching their coverage, I attended InkHouse Boston’s "Meet the Press" Panel with Katie Lannan (State House News), Jon Chesto (The Boston Globe), Phillip Martin (WGBH) and Hilary Burns (Boston Business Journal).
We discussed structural bias within the news business, how the COVID-19 pandemic, protests and the election have impacted reporting, and what types of stories they’re currently covering. Below are a few of the most important takeaways from the discussion.
COVID is still dominating newsrooms
I think most people assumed that day-to-day reporting would have returned to “normal” by summer. Boy, were we wrong. On the contrary, stories and coverage of COVID are still dominating newsrooms. In fact, announcements that would have been major news at this time last year are being covered in a fraction of that capacity.
As the economy reopened, reporters have been given some leeway to cover non-COVID related stories, but it’s still difficult to find coverage that isn’t related in some way. All four reporters agreed: you need to have a very compelling story to get covered without a COVID angle.
Also of particular interest is how these topics collide. For example, how is COVID impacting Black Americans, and therefore the Black Lives Matter movement? If you have a client that can add value to that conversation in a genuine, meaningful and insightful way, then you’ll likely find yourself with a number of pitch responses in your inbox.
Diversity is here to stay
When asked what changes have been made to newsrooms as a result of the BLM movement, one thing was unanimous across all four outlets: diversity in both sources and content will be a priority moving forward.
The Boston Business Journal developed its first ever list of Largest Minority-Owned Businesses in Massachusetts; the Boston Globe has assembled a dedicated newsroom team to cover policing issues; and WGBH is searching for more stories from people with their boots on the ground (not just the folks in power). Additionally, AP’s style and media outlets across the country have started capitalizing Black when used in a racial, ethnic or cultural sense.
Overall, newsrooms are trying to redefine what makes a good story. We’ll be seeing deeper dives into long standing issues and stories that highlight minority communities – with a focus on the obstacles that face them.
Advice for PR pros
When it comes to media relations, keep in mind there are two narratives that are defining our generation – and the ripple effects are enormous. It’s important to understand that the world looks drastically different than it did a year ago, and writers have different priorities.
As I mentioned above, topics that would have been front page news last year are receiving only a few lines in today’s paper. Even the most creative campaigns and major mergers are below the fold. As a result, you’ll need to counsel your clients and, if needed, adjust expectations and revise KPIs. At the end of the day, you’ve been hired for your expertise and media prowess, so take the time to educate yourself on the issues and counsel your clients as needed.