Media Relations - Then and Now

What in the world has happened to media relations?


In the late ‘90s and early 2000s, media relations worked the way it had always worked: A PR person pitched a feature story on a business or brand to a journalist. Most journalists of this era considered PR pitches a necessary evil – they didn’t like PR “flacks” for the most part, but they recognized their usefulness in bringing forth ideas and sources that helped put stories in the newspaper. Not every pitch was accepted, of course, but good pitches were. These were the glory days of media relations.


Somewhere around 2005, Craigslist and internet behemoths like AOL, Yahoo!, Google, etc., starting wreaking havoc on the news business. Online put pressures on print and broadcast ad revenues and drew readership and viewership away from traditional news outlets – newspaper, TV news, magazines. One by one, news outlets began to fold or make drastic cuts, reducing staff from hundreds of reporters and editors to newsroom complements under 50. There are now far fewer reporters and editors in newsrooms, and the ones who remain are overworked and focused on breaking or hard news. The newspaper has less space as well, due to reduced advertising. There’s no longer time or space for the optional feature story. So now, when PR people pitch a story, they tend to hear … crickets.


How to cope in this environment? For the best chances of a successful pitch, make it hard or breaking news, and even then, don’t expect more than a brief mention in the newspaper. For features, make it as fun as possible, because entertainment has grown as a segment of news in demand these days. Tips on timely topics may get notice, and events that support the community are more likely to be covered than brand launches or purely corporate hoopla. Your best bet: Forget traditional media and publicize your news yourself – on your website and social media platforms. If you can make a big enough splash, you might get traditional media’s attention through the back door.

Mary Ellin Arch worked in journalism for 35 years as a reporter and editor, for such news organizations as Gannett and Associated Press. She switched to public relations in 2008 and has operated her own business, P46 Communications, since 2018. Contact her at mary.ellin@p46communications.com for PR consults and to discuss workshops and other trainings.