The future of America’s newspapers

Amy Mitchell

Amy Mitchell oversees the Pew Journalism Project.

If you spent some time reading a newspaper in the last 24 hours, you are in the minority. According to the Pew Research Center, just 23 percent of Americans surveyed said they read a newspaper the previous day. In fact, today more than half of Americans get their news online.

These trends and others were the topic of discussion at an Oct. 30 PRSA-NCC 20+ LeaderPack luncheon where Amy Mitchell of the Pew Research Center spoke about the future of newspapers. Mitchell oversees Pew’s Journalism Project, and she shared her insights with about 30 senior PR practitioners who attended the event.

We all know journalists who have lost their jobs as a result of newsroom cutbacks. Stagnant advertising revenue, failure to adapt fast enough to digital technology and a culture resistant to change—these are just a few of the reasons for newspapers’ decline over the past decade. Yet, amid the glum news, there may be a glimmer of hope for newspapers, Mitchell said.

First, the bad news:

  • Print advertising revenue continues to fall.
  • For every $1 gained in digital advertising, newspapers lose $16 in print advertising.
  • 72% of total digital mobile display advertising goes to just six companies, and none of them are traditional media companies.

Now, some good news:

  • Tablet and smartphone owners are using these devices to read news. Nearly two-thirds say they get news this way weekly.
  • 78% of tablet users read more than one in-depth article in a sitting.
  • 72% of tablet users read an in-depth article that they were not initially looking for.

According to Mitchell, consumers are reading as much news as they are emails on their mobile devices, and newspapers are having some success in charging for this content though paywalls. Newspapers also are earning income from other sources such as consulting, conferences, delivery services and packaging their content for technology companies.

Mitchell noted that for the first time, The New York Times has more circulation revenue than advertising revenue. The Times has worked hard to win readers to its mobile platform, and it was one of the first newspapers to institute a digital pay plan.

In D.C., all eyes are on The Washington Post and what changes founder and CEO Jeff Bezos will make. Odds are, he will use his considerable technology acumen to transform the Post into a new kind of media company, one more focused on providing a service and less concerned about producing a product.

If you are interested in learning more about the future of journalism, Pew publishes an annual “State of the News Media” report. Here are six trends from this year’s report that are worth paying attention to:

  1. The effects of a decade of newsroom cutbacks are real—and the public is taking notice.
  2. The news industry continues to lose out on the bulk of new digital advertising.
  3. The long-dormant sponsorship ad category is seeing sharp growth.
  4. The growth of paid digital content experiments may have a significant impact on both news revenue and content. (Pew says 450 of the nation’s 1,380 dailies have started or announced plans for some kind of paid content subscription or paywall plan.)
  5. While the first and hardest-hit industry, newspapers, remains in the spotlight, local TV finds itself newly vulnerable.
  6. Hearing about things in the news from friends and family, whether via social media or actual word of mouth, leads to deeper news consumption.

Jay Morris is president of Jay Morris Communications LLC, an independent PR and marketing firm in Alexandria, Va. He serves on the PRSA-NCC and IPRA boards and blogs at


Pitching Media in the Digital Age: Journalists from Huffington Post & USA Today Weigh In


Arin Greenwood of Huffington Post talks for a packed lunch crowd while Gwen Flanders of USA Today looks on.

The Independent Public Relations Alliance held a packed house lunchtime program in April called, “Secrets to Getting Ink in Traditional and Digital Media” with journalists from the Huffington Post and USA Today. There was plenty of practical advice on pitching that will ring true for PR pros.Gwen Flanders from USA Today covers breaking news. She said pitches should be succinct and to the point (include the 5Ws and the H – who, what, where, when, why, how) and that pitching multiple people in the newsroom is frowned upon. Arin Greenwood  from Huffington Post’s DC page said that pitching multiple people is fine for them, so there is some wiggle room on this point, based on the outlets  being targeted.

Both Flanders and Greenwood prefer pitches arrive via email. Faxes don’t make it onto news desks, so don’t fax anything unless requested. Both recommend including the topic in the subject line (no teasing or coy headlines, no beating around the bush).

It’s essential that PR pros check their work and avoid type-os if they want for a pitch to be taken seriously by journalists. Flanders noted one public relations firm in particular, is notorious for sending out terrible press releases loaded with errors – she ignores anything the firm sends out.

Researching who covers a topic on the outlet’s website, is critical to making a successful pitch. Thankfully, because of the internet, doing this footwork is easier now than its ever been. “It’s your credibility and you should check your work,” said Flanders. “Do your homework and find out who the right person is.”

It’s important to note the perspective of the outlet when putting together your pitch. USA Today is a national newspaper that wants unreported national trends and does not want stories that have already appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post or other competitors. They love exclusives. USA Today especially likes trends that are popping up here, there and everywhere, but have not quite bubbled to critical mass yet. The Huffington Post DC page where Greenwood works is focused on DC based stories, not national ones (although they are routinely pitched national ones).

Deadlines for editors and reporters are constant now in this space. “If I’m at work, I’m on deadline,” said Flanders. She observed that she has double the duties she used to have and edits twice the number of stories she did a few years ago.

The digital world also means story enhancements – graphs, videos, photos, slide shows and interactive elements are more important – so mention these elemental possibilities when pitching a story. Greenwood noted that trying to call journalists at the end of the day is almost always a bad idea – as they are tired, grumpy, and generally trying to get things wrapped up so they can get out of the office.

The digital and print worlds have been on a collision course for a long time. In addition to ratcheting up the deadline pressure to a feverish and never-ending hum, the online world is also opening up new avenues for readership. Flanders noted that USA Today has 1.3 million print readers each day, but has double that number of readers online for its website.

For Huffington Post, readership is a key factor in decision making about a story. “The ‘clicky-er’ it is, the more likely we will write it up,” says Greenwood. Having a DC angle with a story line that stands out is critical for Huffington Post’s D.C. page. Greenwood said, “If it’s saucy enough, we will go for it. The less work you can make me do to figure out if we want to do a story,  the better.”

When it comes to follow-ups, both journalists expressed frustration with public relations staffers who do multiple follow-ups that intrude on their limited time. “Follow up once, not four times,” said Greenwood. And don’t be pushy, advised Flanders.

“Twitter is one more place to look for good stories,” noted Greenwood, when asked by audience members about how they use social media for news gathering. Stories featuring real and living people still reign supreme, said Greenwood.  Flanders noted that her reporters watch Twitter for story ideas, and that attempting to drum up artificial hype in social media is also noticed  (but not in a positive way).

Greenwood said she appreciates the work public relations professionals do and that she wants to hear from them with relevant story pitches. She also reminded the audience that Huffington Post allows blog posts that focus on issues (don’t be overly self-promotional) and op-ed submissions.

PRSA-NCC member and IPRA founding member Ami Neiberger-Miller owns Steppingstone LLC, an independent public relations consultancy working with nonprofit and association clients, with a special focus on supporting organizations assisting trauma survivors. This post originally appeared on her blog.

Message Development: Thinking Inside the Box

To start thinking about message development, consider the following questions:
• Your friend wants to try a new Italian restaurant for dinner. You’re craving sushi. How do you convince her to pick up the chopsticks?

• A CEO doesn’t see the value of starting a company’s twitter feed. What’s the best way for the marketing department to show him that tweeting can bolster the bottom line?

• A government agency wants to reduce the number of teenagers texting while driving. How do they convince “invincible” teens that this behavior is dangerous?
What do these questions have in common? The answer is the need for message development. Whether your goal to enjoy a sushi dinner or promote teen driver safety, the secret to success is developing messages that resonate with the audiences’ values and opinions.
How can you do that? Try using a message box. This tool offers communicators a framework for producing carefully-crafted messages that both respond to a particular audience’s needs and preferences while reinforcing how “the ask,” or desired action, relates to their values.

The messages produced can be used separately or together to achieve a desired outcome. Sometimes, several message boxes need to be created for a particular audience based on themes or ideas that resonate with them. For example, one message box for the CEO could be focused on the business case for twitter while another could focus on how participating in twitter would reinforce company’s commitment to customer service.

The Message Box in Action

Let’s go back to the question about the government agency and their education campaign about texting while driving. The following chart defines each element of the message box and shows messages that could be used for convincing teens that texting while driving as a dangerous activity.

Type of Message Definition Example
The Ask The desired action for the target audience to take. Stop texting while driving.  
The Barrier Message This message counters an audience’s key misconceptions about the particular topic. There should be a message to refute each barrier the target audience(s) may present. Statistics, analogies and quotes are powerful tools for overcoming barriers. Barrier:
I only look at my phone for a few seconds when I text. I can still see what is going on.  Message to Overcome It:
Sending or receiving a text message takes a driver’s eyes from the road for an average of 4.6 seconds. That is the equivalent of driving the entire length of a football field at 55 miles an hour while blind. Is that a risk you’re willing to take?
The Value Message This message is used to connect with a value the audience has about a topic. Not texting while driving doesn’t just mean you will stay safe. It means you will keep your license and others on the road will be safer.
The Vision Message This message reinforces the value message point. It highlights the benefits audience members reap if they take the action in “the ask.”  If  you stop texting while driving, you can  enjoy the privilege of driving and staying safe at the same time.

Do you think that the message box could help you create compelling more messages for you and your clients? Let me know what you think.

Sarah Vogel is a Senior Account Executive at TMNcorp, a full-service communications company in Silver Spring, MD.  Follow her on Twitter @TMNcorp or connect with her on LinkedIn.


Attending the mHealth Summit this week reminded of several things I tell clients about how I approach a convention.

1. Actually have news. Don’t plan a press conference unless you are announcing the cure for cancer or  a $10 million prize for the person/company that creates a real Tricorder, as Qualcomm recently did.

2. Have a plan: know the outlets you want to be in and what your best-case headline would be.

3. Set aside specific times in your executives’ schedules to do interviews.

4. Prep your executives. My favorite prep is a notebook with a schedule, speaking points, press release, and “back of the book” with a graph on each outlet, each reporter and some clips. If your exec relies on a mobile device, give her an electronic version (or both).

5. Prioritize outlets and writers.

6. Do give exclusives to your top writers.

7. Don’t scoop reporters by blasting your news all over the internet before you talk to them.

8. Keep engaging writers long after the show.

9. Wear comfortable shoes [the first thing my PR mentor told me].

Vicki Stearn, principal of Think Out Media, is an adept generalist with an expertise in strategic planning as well as end-to-end communications implementation.  She is successful in a variety of industries and is currently expanding her practice to include the mHealth and eHealth sectors. Follow her at or @vickistearn.

When the Media Gets It Wrong: Why Language Matters when Writing about People with Disabilities

Text reading "Disabilities" above a drawing of an umbrella with the text, ".Visual, Hearing, Learning, Autism, Physical, Emotional, Cognitive" written in the folds and "Speech or Language" on handle


A few years ago, I was reading an article in the Washington Post that mentioned several political appointees with disabilities. All of them were intelligent and accomplished, according to the article, but I remember cringing when the columnist used the term, “wheelchair-bound,” to describe them. This was not the first time I’d seen poor word choices used to report on people with disabilities in mainstream media, and it would not be the last.

You may be asking, “What’s wrong with the term wheelchair-bound?” Well, first of all, it is not accurate. Bound, in this context, means “confined to.” This is not the case for people who use wheelchairs. Many people who use wheelchairs transfer out of them to sit at restaurants, drive, bathe and do all kinds of other things. Some of them only use wheelchairs on certain occasions, or also use other mobility aids. For example, one of the appointees mentioned in the article, Tammy Duckworth (who was recently elected to the House of Representatives, but at the time, was an Assistant Secretary at the Department of Veterans Affairs) also uses prosthetic legs.

Even people who cannot transfer out of their wheelchairs by themselves are not “bound” or tied to the chair; rather they use it as a means to get around. If you rely on your car, because there is a lack of public transportation in your town, are you “car-bound”? Why not simply write that a person “uses a wheelchair”? (For more about language and disability, check out Emily Ladau’s excellent blog post, “Reflections on Language through the Lens of Disability“).

This is not a matter of “political correctness” or people being “overly sensitive.” There is a reason language about certain groups of people (e.g., women, minorities) has evolved over the years. Some words are no longer acceptable, because they are offensive or hurtful. Any woman who has been called “honey,” “sweetie” or “dear” in the workplace by an older male colleague can attest to what it feels like to be demeaned by words, even if that was not the intent.

Disability advocates have been fighting the battle to get the media to use appropriate word choices when writing about people with disabilities for decades. Judging from what I’ve read recently, while there has been some improvement in this area, there is still work to be done. It should not be difficult to stop using antiquated phrases like “wheelchair-bound,” which re-enforce old stereotypes that people with disabilities are victims, and yet sometimes it feels like members of the media have been slow to adapt the way they write about people with disabilities. I believe these changes do make a difference – that they go a long way to altering perceptions of people with disabilities – so I will continue to fight for them, both professionally and personally.

The push to advocate for word choices that are respectful to people with disabilities isn’t limited to members of the media. Special Olympics has been leading a very successful and important effort called, “End the R-Word,” for the past several years to spread public awareness about how offensive and demeaning using the words “retard” or “retarded” in a derogatory manner is to people with intellectual disabilities, their families and friends. One young man in a video on the site illustrates the point perfectly when he says, “I’m not retarded. I’m Eric.”

Special Olympics and many others involved in the movement were very vocal with their criticism when political pundit Ann Coulter used the “R-word” on Twitter to describe President Obama following the third presidential debate. There has also been public outcry over the use of the “R-word” in movies, such as “Tropic Thunder” and “The Descendants.”

Thanks to the “End the R-Word” campaign and others, progress is being made. Recently, film director Adam McKay agreed to nix the word from the upcoming sequel to “Anchorman,” CNN reported positively on the campaign and last year, when comedian Rick Younger used the R-word on The Today Show, host Kathie Lee Gifford immediately told him, “We don’t use that word here.” Perhaps the most effective part of the campaign, however, is the “Not Acceptable” public service announcement, which compares the “R-word” to slurs used against other minority groups.

Some recommendations for writing about people with disabilities include:

  1. Using the word “disability,” rather than “handicapped”;
  2. Avoiding the use of the words “normal” or “normally” as a comparison to people with disabilities (e.g., People who speak with a stutter often experience more difficulty on job interviews than people who speak normally.);
  3. Avoiding terms that project a negative connotation (e.g. wheelchair-bound); and
  4. Not overusing the word “special,” as in “special needs” or “special populations.”

A note about person-first language: The use of person-first language (i.e, “people with disabilities” rather than “disabled people”) is preferred by some people with disabilities, but not all. Many people with disabilities, particularly in the deaf and autistic communities, prefer identity-first language (i.e., “autistic” or “autistic person” rather than “person with autism”).

Writing about people with disabilities (of which there are nearly 57 million in the U.S. alone) in a respectful, positive manner isn’t difficult. Simply following the guidelines above and advocating for members of the media to do the same will go a long way in helping to change perceptions about people with disabilities, so they are fully included in their communities and the workforce.

Diana Zeitzer is the communications director for She is a proud Penn State alumna, who enjoys running marathons and performing improv comedy.

Updated October 2015

Reaching The Asian and Latino Markets Is Easier to Do Than You Might Think

Dottie Li

Want a hot tip? Consider sharing your news items with publications that focus on the D.C. Metro area’s Latin and Asian-Pacific communities.

Editors representing those diverse audiences offered insiders’ views on how to get coverage in their publications during IPRA’s November luncheon. They also spoke of the growing impact of media outlets that reach diverse cultural communities.

Addressing the group were Alberto Avendaño, associate publisher of El Tiempo Latino, a Spanish-language weekly newspaper and website covering local and international news for Washington’s growing Latino population, and Dottie Li, writer/editor of Asian Fortune, an award winning English language newspaper serving all Asian Pacific Americans since 1993.

Both Avendaño and Li were united in their opinion that to reach the niche markets, PR pros need to provide information that appeal to the particular audiences. They also agreed that niche-ethnic publications need to make professionalism a goal in their print and broadcast outlets. Avendaño said, “The presence of good quality niche outlets will help improve perceptions and help Americanize the communities.”

Alberto Avendaño

Li said Asian Fortune is designed to appeal to the cultural interests of the broad Asian community, whether Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese or other members of this population. She said that her publication focuses on what readers want to know, including stories about how Asians are making their way in America; Asian cuisine, arts and theater personalities; as well as any other news that highlights Asian culture. She said, “We may review a play at the Kennedy Center that has a Korean playwright, or an Asian American race car driver who has made it big.”

Avendaño pointed out that niche publications, as he calls them, are making an impact in mainstream media. The presence of niche publications is also increasing sensitivities and

cultural awareness about the various communities. While the diverse market publications are separate from the mainstream, he believes the trend is towards more complete coverage of ethnic news. He said, “In the future, media companies are going to have their fingers in many niche publications and broadcast outlets.”

The program provided practical information vital for helping today’s PR pros learn how to reach the growing and diverse population markets in the Washington area. Said Susan Rink, of Rink Strategic Communications, and IPRA membership co-chair, “This was one of the most informative IPRA programs I have ever attended. I wish everyone could have heard it.”

Thanks to IPRA program committee member Dana Vickers Shelley for arranging the event.

Vicki Robb of Vicki Robb Communications is an independent PR practitioner with over 20 years experience, specializing in media relations for traditional, social and online media. She can be found on the web at

How “The Avengers” Boosts PR Results

By Michael Smart (MichaelSMARTPR)

I will be sharing a bunch of media pitching tips and techniques during the Nov. 2 seminar for PRSA-NCC. I’d like to share one in advance.

I’m big on using pop culture to land positive placements. Here’s an example….

A sober and geeky disaster analysis company landed several dozen media placements, including Bloomberg, the Guardian, and Gizmodo, with one connection to the movie “The Avengers.”

The analysts worked up an estimate for how much it would cost to repair damage to Manhattan caused in the film’s climactic scene. The answer ($160 billion) is beside the point – isn’t the idea alone a great way to naturally create a story journalists and bloggers would love to tell?

Keep in mind, I’m not talking about merely offering your experts as sources for ongoing news. That’s working great for prominent divorce attorneys in the wake of the latest celebrity breakup, but is not a surefire way to ensure you are a part of the resulting stories.

Kinetic Analysis Corp got loads of free publicity — that is on-message for them – by delivering a value-add to journalists and bloggers already looking for new angles on the year’s top film. Instead of offering themselves as one source among many who could comment on a given natural disaster, they produced a deliverable that required mentioning them in any resulting story.

So next time you’re chatting with your friends about a pop culture phenomenon, take a few minutes and brainstorm any potential ties your organization might have.

Not just what you can SAY about it, but what you can DO about it.

You might surprise yourself and end up with the next media relations blockbuster.

To register for “Perfect Pitching: Winning over Journalists and Bloggers in the New Media Landscape,” click here.

Michael Smart, principal of MichaelSMARTPR, has been landing top-tier coverage for 14 years. He’s also trained more than 3,000 communicators across the globe how to boost their media and blog placements, including pros from Allstate, Disney, Verizon, Edelman, Fleishman-Hilliard, the EPA, a U.S. Senator’s office and many other companies, associations, and non-profits, large and small. Michael has twice been a top-rated presenter at the PRSA International Conference, and he partners with PRSA to offer daylong pitching workshops and national webinars on the topic.