In case you missed it, there has been an earthquake in the media industry. According to “The Challenger Report”, over 500 journalists were laid off in January alone, up 1,660% from December, reflecting a news business that has been shaken to its core. Journalists were let go at Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Business Insider, Time Magazine, NBC News, Sports Illustrated and most recently CBS News as part of broader cuts across Paramount Global. The latest round comes after 2023 marked the worst year for journalists since COVID turned the world on its axis in 2020. Additionally, there also have been numerous newsroom walkouts, including the most recent ones at Conde Nast and Forbes as rumors spread about more job cuts to come. The aftershocks of these earthquakes alsohave triggered more outlets to flat-out close-up shop. Less than a year after it launched amid great anticipation, The Messenger shuttered effective immediately.

The decline of legacy news has been happening for some time. As bad news continues for the news industry, we ask ourselves: “how did it get this bad?” The media business is shrinking rapidly at the national, regional, and local levels. But why? The digital revolution and the rise of social media platforms have transformed the way people are consuming content. Behavior shifts have led to massive declines in ratings and readership, hurting revenues. With less money, quality suffers, which in turn further hurts revenues. It has become a vicious circle that is unsustainable. As people seek news from non-traditional sources, it also further blurs the lines between influencers and journalists.With a new generation of consumers getting their news from TikTok, it begs the question “are traditional journalists going the way of the dinosaur?”

As Americans prepare for a momentous election year, we as communications practitioners must accept our new reality. The election year has potential to fuel even more misinformation and it will be more important than ever to be a good partner to journalists as credible sources. Some things to consider when developing an earned media strategy in today’s environment: 

  1. Newsrooms are overworked and understaffed. If your story is not newsworthy, it will not make the cut. The story must stand on its own merit. 
  2. Building relationships with journalists is critical. Reporters don’t have time to take a chance on a PR rep they don’t already trust. Get to know their beat and the stories they write about. Make it relevant to them. 
  3. Make it easy for journalists to write your story by giving them the resources and access they need.
  4. While attention to traditional news sources is in decline, the average American still spends nearly 13 hours a day on different channels and devices. Refresh your corporate newsroom, which has become an even more critical channel for publishing reliable content and driving owned social channel activity. 
  5. Maximize the full power of the PESO model including ensuring content is discoverable for search engines and shareable on social. Combine earned strategy with paid tactics and leverage executive platforms to personalize delivery across their premium networks.
  6. Embrace influencer marketing. Our data-led, audience-first approach using OmniearnedID can identify influencers who can unlock access to qualified audiences, bridge the trust gap, and drive action. Activating influencers forge authentic, positive connections with target audiences, and in many cases, are less likely to attract detractors or negative sentiment. 
  7. If your story needs to be branded to be a win, don’t be afraid to shift gears to paid branded content. Getting earned branded mentions is difficult in this environment when the media industry, now more than ever, is looking for more revenue generation. A branded pitch will most likely be forwarded to the sales team unless it’s organic to the news cycle. 
  8. There are more freelancers in the business than ever before, which adds an additional layer of approvals to get the green light for coverage as they also must pitch your story. Make sure you’re broadening your media universe to include these writers. 
  9. AI is already being embedded into storytelling to improve efficiencies, increase relevance, and maximize impact. With new generative solutions launching every day, how we package and present stories is surely going to catalyze new creative approaches. 

I graduated college with a journalism degree and worked in news for many years. The number one journalistic ethic I learned was to seek the truth and report it, while minimizing harm. As an earned media strategist, I wrote a piece in 2020 about the COVID impact on the media landscape and then another piece in 2021 called “The Quest for Truth”. I explored how Americans started losing trust in the media before the pandemic even started. Growing consumption of opinion-based journalism and increased reliance on social media for facts has led to increased confusion and distrust. Now almost 3 years later, I must wonder if there is a source anymore for unbiased truth seekers. 

I remain optimistic that traditional media will not become extinct. If the pandemic taught us anything, people crave credible information. As the battle against dis/misinformation continues, people are going to continue to demand a media institution they can trust. Like any evolution, we just need to be willing to adapt and that may require throwing out “traditional” ways of working. By embracing the discomfort that comes with change, a whole new era of opportunity emerges.