Building Media Relationships in the Midst of Newsroom Instability

Newsflash: 90% of the reporters on the targeted media list you created in January are out of work. They’re not responding to your emails because they’ve packed up their belongings and gone home. Which is probably a change from why they usually don’t reply to you (ahem, spray and pray?). As newsroom staff dwindles, reporters’ roles and responsibilities are shifting and we’re left scratching our heads, wondering how to keep up with constantly moving, undefined targets.

Yes it’s true. The days of creating a media list and letting it sit unmodified for a year are over. No, the days of thinking of journalists as little more than another email address you blast your news to are over. But you know this. Change isn’t just coming anymore, it’s here. So, where’s the silver lining in these pink slip-laden newsrooms and inboxes full of bounced emails? I’ll tell you. As the number of reporters per publication declines, competition for coverage will become increasingly intense, forcing us PR pros to tighten up our game and play smart or be sent to the sidelines to cry on the bench.

Let’s face it. Those of us on the PR side of the fence have all broken a golden media relations rule (or two) at some point in our careers. But, now that journalists are spread more thinly than ever and copy/paste pitch snafus are posted by bloggers for a global audience to stone, we’re more likely to be held accountable for our transgressions. From the perspective of legit sources and busy reporters, that’s the way it should be. A shift from traditional, selfish, one-to-many PR tactics to progressive, mutually-beneficial, one-to-one relationships with journalists is what this industry has needed for a long time. Those who choose to adapt to the evolving model will thrive while those who choose to stick their heads in the sand will become obsolete. And, that’s good news for journalism as a whole.

Tips to Keep Up with the Changing Newsroom:

  • Take a note from Aretha—Think and Respect. Less journalists means more work and tighter deadlines for those left in the newsroom. That’s why building relationships with reporters built on an understanding and respect of their needs is so important these days. Take the time to really think about that pitch before you press send. Make a point to proactively include all the info you think they’ll need to cover the story. Write it in the same style that the reporter uses. Be a relevant resource and journalists just might thank you for respecting their time constraints in the form of coverage.
  • Keep Your Contacts Current. Nothing sets you up for failed outreach like an outdated media list. And, layoffs in the newsroom are causing lists to get outdated quicker than usual. If you don’t have the champagne wallet necessary to spring for a pricy subscription to a media database, go with the DIY approach to researching and updating your contacts. Trolling the web for editors and their beats on a regular basis is painful, I know, but that’s what summer interns are for!
  • Start a Rapport with Freelance Writers. Many newspapers are relying on freelance writers to replace staff writers. They won’t be listed on the editorial staff page of the pubs you’re pitching, so get creative. Do a search for freelance writers who cover your clients’ industries or search the recent article archive of relevant pubs to find contact info for freelancers. I’ve had great luck getting placement recently with this approach.

Remember, fewer journalists doesn’t mean there’s less work to do in newsrooms. Most journalists have more work to do than ever, with less resources to do so. This is the perfect opportunity for you to position yourself as a valuable resource for these overworked staffs. How can you be an asset for journalists?

Star Borner is a marketing and public relations expert and founder of Atlanta-based Papercut Marketing. Papercut is a boutique firm that specializes in creating one-to one-conversations between companies and their target markets. For more information, visit

(Photo Credit: Ed Kohler)


  1. Personally, I’ve found that niche and industry-specific publications have become a more important part of my media list. In addition to content becoming more and more niche-afied, I find that it’s a lot easier to get an MSM journalist to pay attention to your story if other people within you own industry have already picked it up. They google it, see that it’s got street cred, and then take it into the mainstream.

    To that extent, it’s almost as though you have to successfully pitch 3 niche stories to get one piece of mainstream coverage. But really, that isn’t that bad because you end up dominating the first page of SERPs with news about your company/employers/client that seems credible, and that’s really the mark of good, modern PR. After all, Google is the new front page.

    But yeah, freelance writers are an important part of that process. Between contributing to random blogs, maintaining their own, and freelancing the odd piece out to both industry and mainstream outlets, having a good rapport with a few established freelance writers will definitely help bolster the profile of your portfolio.

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