The paper chase

What is it about the newspaper? Everywhere you look, we’re being told it’s a dying medium. Or worse, already dead. Exhibit A: Newspaper Death Watch, a website somewhat hopefully subtitled “Chronicling the Decline of Newspapers and the Rebirth of Journalism.” (I say “somewhat hopefully” because at least there’s something in there about a rebirth.) That’s a little better than all the doom and gloom “Print is dead” headlines that are so common they’re pretty much cliché at this point.

There certainly is no denying that print journalism ain’t what it used to be. But is it dead? I’m going to have to say “no.” Not because the outlook is so rosy or because I believe the future is anything but on the Web. But because it still feels alive, valuable and important, at least from a PR perspective.

Consider the New York Times. I consider it a lot in my job since it’s at the top of almost every “target publication” list around here. Print circulation: 916,911 (according to our partners at Cision). Not too shabby and we certainly are not opposed to reaching that number of people with one of our stories. But then take a look at the unique visitors to the NYT website: 15,280,400 per month.  (Okay, we’ll divide by 30 and look at it by daily visitors instead to keep it a little more even, but that’s still 509,346 readers per day.)

The numbers are pretty close. So landing a story in either the print or Web versions of the NYT should be equally celebrated, right? You’d think. But there is something about holding that piece of newsprint and seeing, touching your story in the actual paper that just kind of takes it to a different level.

Our PR team here at Notre Dame has had a pretty good success rate with the Times and other top publications. We place stories on the Web pretty much everyday. These stories are appreciated for sure, but it never fails, the real “oohs” and “ahhs” come when we’re in actual ink-on-your-fingers print. Why is this? I have some theories.

  • The real estate is more valuable. With papers shrinking in size, every quarter-inch of space counts. If a story makes it there, it’s seen as more important. Everyone knows the Web pretty much goes on forever so it doesn’t feel as special, even if it’s a great placement.
  • Too many websites. Clearly the online versions of top publications like the Times, Wall Street Journal, Chronicle of Higher Education, etc., are known quantities. They’re places we want to be, even if they’re sometimes perceived as runners-up to the actual print publications. But it’s harder to qualify the next tier of Web-based publications. While we media types may understand the value of a strategic placement on an influential blog or news site, without a prominent corresponding print publication, these sites may not quite rise to the definition of top media in many circles.
  • People are old school. Even though more readers get their news online than from newspapers, there will always be holdouts. In my experience, many of these are people who’ve enjoyed a lifelong habit of putting on their slippers and fetching the paper off the doormat, taking off the rubber band and leafing through it with their morning coffee. It’s a time-honored ritual and one I hope never completely goes away. But for these dyed in the wool print enthusiasts, nothing says “news” like the kind of paper you can use to swat a fly. (Which reminds me of a great ad for Newsday.) I suspect this will change with each new generation, but for now, for many in the PR business, our clients and bosses are morning paper types. It doesn’t really count unless it’s in print.
So what’s a PR person to do? Just go with it. Do our homework and research the best news sites out there. Make a case for the value of strategic online placement in addition to those coveted hot-off-the-presses clips. It probably will never be an either-or scenario, but I believe in time the true value of online media placements will emerge. And we’ll all have millions of unique reasons to celebrate.

6 thoughts on “The paper chase

  1. Great post Julie! I am one of the “old school” folks who loves the feel (and smell!) of a newspaper, especially on a Sunday morning. It’s part of my lifelong routine. And, swatting flies and spiders with anything else is simply not as gratifying.

    Also, love the way you write–Give us more Julie Flory please!

    • I have to admit my main interest in actual newspapers has always been primarily the crossword. Now that those are available on the iPad, I’m pretty much paperless. I agree though, lots of other good uses for newsprint. Around our house, it’s mostly to cover up the table when the kids are using paint and glitter!

  2. Me too Cynthia. I love curling up on the couch on Sunday with the paper and then doing the crossword puzzle. It’s a ritual I will never forsake.