Not long ago, I pitched a business story to the editor of an online community news site in suburban Chicago. While I was reasonably confident she’d be interested— otherwise I wouldn’t waste her time—her response still surprised me: “You can just post it yourself on our website.”
That was my first experience with an emerging trend among media. Strapped for time and staff, some news outlets are allowing organizations to post releases directly to websites. I call it DIY news, as in “do it yourself.”
As a career PR guy, a former journalist, and a lover of the Fourth Estate, I have mixed feelings about this trend. So I bounced the topic off a colleague with a similar career pedigree, but of much greater talent and learned insight: Matt Friedman, co-founder of Tanner Friedman
, a Detroit-area communications firm.
He, too, saw pros and cons. “Sometimes this is a way to get information publicly available that otherwise wouldn't meet the threshold of news in the current environment,” Friedman said.
The client wins, he explained, by getting the information in front of its target audience through a more credible vehicle while the news outlet gains extra page views. But there is a dark side, Friedman warned.
“There's handwriting on the wall that this system may not just augment news coverage, it may replace some or all of it in the not-so-distant future,” he explained. “That's potentially bad news for journalists, obviously, but also for PR because searchable content alone isn't going to get the job done for our clients.”
I agree with Friedman’s view. In the long term, I fear this is not a good development for either discipline. True, I got a good media hit by posting directly to the community news website; it showed up on Google Alerts and on the outlet’s home page. Had I not had that option, and had the editor turned down my pitch, I’d have come up empty. But what happens when these sites start being flooded with any and all “news” items? How robust will the editorial filters be?
While their skepticism has grown, people still expect news media to separate fact from fluff and falsehood
—which should be the starting point for PR professionals, too—and offer a credible product. When that standard isn’t applied to DIY news, how does that impact legitimate posts?
It’s a manageable problem if the news outlet devotes resources to assessing the value of the releases that are posted and ensuring they meet the outlet’s standards. But given the shrinking newsroom, does anyone believe that’s going to happen?
As a PR professional serving my clients, I’ll of course use the DIY option when it makes sense while holding myself to the high standards I expect among all good news media. I just hope this trend doesn’t lead to the future Friedman postulates.
Rick Chambers is owner and president of Rick Chambers & Associates. This story first appeared on the agency’s blog.