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Staying relevant

It doesn’t happen very often, but occasionally an angry contact, usually trying to persuade us not to write a negative story, will explode with “You’re not The f*&#ing Wall Street Journal“!

I found the best answer is usually, “Well you’re not [f*#&ing] Jeff Immelt either”. Undignified? Well, yeah…

Even so, the usefulness of our angry reader’s insult might be waning. These days we’re all the Wall Street Journal, or none of us is, not even the Wall Street Journal.  So why aren’t we all taking advantage of this moment, instead of constantly carping about what we are losing? As a spokesperson for media companies that aren’t  The Wall Street Journal, I can see that we’ve never had a better opportunity to enrich our readers’ experience. Most of us are not doing it.

We spend a lot of time in the media worrying about the business model, but too little time focusing on relevance. Relevance is someone getting so angry at your publication that they will resort to silly insults to try and shame you into capitulating. When people stop caring, they stop yelling, and then stop reading.

Relevance is not demonstrated by ad dollars or circulation metrics alone. It is better tested through the relationship of the reader to its outlet, and in all the metrics that we evaluate - from page views to  uniques to good old fashioned pass-along readership - don’t bring us closer to understanding what we need to do to stay relevant.

I believe that many publications are growing more and more out of touch with their communities, even as we seem to be that much more engaged because of the immediacy of our digital networks. We are losing the personal connections that foster truly great journalism. Reporters are so busy blogging and twittering they don’t have time - or, rather, they don’t take time - to venture out and sit across from a table (or bar) from a contact and get at the unexpected, and the real.

I’m not going to round this off with a pithy answer. I just feel in my bones that we are missing a trick, as a media community, at a time when we don’t have to follow the herd to succeed. I hope to delve into this more during the coming weeks. Please note, there are no links in this post. In my all-too-sporadic blogging efforts, I was way too caught up in finding good stories to link to. I almost forgot that I have plenty of material without them.

4 Comments so far

  1. Wes Pedersen on September 18th, 2008

    You’re on to something, Julia, and it’s a positive woven into a *@^81
    negative. Any feelings of personal relationships that may have existed with a newspaper are being sucked into oblivion by digital gadgets. Reporters are so busy answering wee phones and texting stories that many can’t find the time to lunch or get tanked with a source at a bar where nobody knows your name.
    Reporter blogs are not the relationship builders some newspapers believe them to be. They have become almost separate entities, the newspaper forgotten,
    as readers vent their rage on the writer or seek to impress other bloggers with their grasp of the situation at hand or their familiarty with expletives.
    As for print, consider PR Week. Ten years ago, when it introduced itself to readers in the U.S., it was a friendly, lively read. It doesn’t have much of that spark these days — too sanitized, too pretty, too slick, too bland. That can easily translate into reader alienation. I know you molding PR Week to accomodate the growing number of women who are making PR their profession and doing so well at it. But it really does look sometimes almost like a magazine for young brides.

  2. Julia Hood on September 19th, 2008

    To use texting parlance LOL, particularly the last line.
    But I know you have a serious point to make. PRWeek HAS changed over the years, and we have cause to examine that more closely now that we are gearing up for our 10th anniversary in November. I think we have changed for the better in virtually every way.
    Where you see slick, I see confident. Not cocky, but secure in the knowledge and insight we bring, as well as the relationships we’ve made - most of which we would not have dreamed of 10 years ago.
    It wasn’t long ago we had reporters chronically reporting that so-and-so marketer or VP “will never talk to us”. We don’t have that problem now.
    What I also see from my perch is our restless drive to innovate all the time. That’s most apparent online, and Keith and I are both resolved to never be “satisfied”.
    But I will say, I think that the whole relationship-building aspect of journalism is harder to instill than ever - not PRWeek per se, but across the media board. And I hear it from the PR side too - fewer relationsips being forged with reporters.

  3. Wes Pedersen on September 19th, 2008

    It’s a discussion we have had before. My feeling remains: You are spritely personally; PR Week does not get enough of that on to its pages. Insofar as this blog is concerned, I am delighted to see that you will be expanding your horizons. You’ve been focusing essentially on one.

  4. Bonus QOTD: 9/24/08 « Chris Thilk on September 24th, 2008

    [...] 24, 2008 · No Comments Julia Hood: Relevance is not demonstrated by ad dollars or circulation metrics alone. It is better tested [...]

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