By Luke Graham, former Business Features Writer, City A.M.
Last month, while speaking to a group of PR professionals during a web seminar, I was asked what I thought would happen to news media as a result of the Covid-19 crisis.
I predicted that many journalists were likely to lose their jobs. With advertisers tightening their spending in the face of a broad economic recession, newspapers and websites would struggle to fill the gaping holes in their budgets, making job cuts and redundancies a necessity.
Of course, this was not a hard prediction to make. Many news outlets were already under stress and running on thin margins even before Covid struck. According to Press Gazette, more than 2,000 roles at UK-based news organisations were at risk of redundancy, with cutbacks across the industry, from the Daily Mail to the BBC.
Papers and magazines that relied on commuters travelling to and from work in major cities have particularly struggled as a direct result of government guidance for people to work from home. The Evening Standard is expected to sack up to up to 115 staff. And my (now former) employer, the London business and finance newspaper City A.M., was forced to cancel its planned return to print and make several editorial roles redundant — including my own job as the paper’s features writer.
Losing my job was of course a huge disappointment as I loved working for the paper, but it did not come as a total surprise. The fact is, many more journalists are likely to lose their jobs before this pandemic is over, and some news organisations may even be forced under.
But what about those journalists who have managed to keep hold of their roles? Simply put, they have more work to do than ever. Between a global pandemic, the worst recession since the Great Depression, and a chaotic US presidential election, there is a staggering amount of news to cover between fewer staff members.
This is where the PR industry can come in and lend a helping hand. Overworked journalists will need more help than ever to find engaging people and business owners to profile for interviews. They’ll need assistance sourcing informative and enlightening quotes for their stories. And section editors will need help sourcing content to fill their pages, such as feature articles and op-eds that can make sense of what’s going on in the world, that provide some optimism and offer solutions to the problems evident in our society.
Those editors and journalists who work closely with PR professionals may become more reliant on their help in the months to come. This is an opportunity for PR consultants to build new relationships with journalists or leverage existing ones in order to help solve problems within the newsroom while getting their clients more exposure.
And what of the journalists who have been let go? Some may retrain altogether, or hold out for a recovery in the media to get back into the newsroom, but others may consider switching over to PR. That could mean agencies bolstering their ranks with talented ex-journalists or experiencing some healthy competition as former journalists decide to start their own firms.
This is clearly a challenging time for news media, but looking at the situation optimistically, it could also be an opportunity for the media and PR industries to build a closer working relationship. Together, they will help one another struggle through and ultimately survive this pandemic.