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Posted on 08.02.2011

The Print Versus Online News Debate

Not long ago, when I was standing on the other side of the fence that separates public relations and journalism, my temper nearly got the better of me when a PR friend told me a story about scoring local news coverage for his client. My friend had coordinated interviews between his client and a reporter at the daily print newspaper, and the story was set to run in, let’s say, Wednesday’s paper. On Tuesday, a reporter from a competing news outlet pinged him, inquiring about the very same story topic. My friend had a good relationship with the second reporter, but he ignored the scribe’s calls, voicemails and emails. The reason for the elusiveness, my friend told me, was his assumption that the second reporter would post the news to his publication’s website immediately, endangering its chances of appearing as planned in the daily print publication’s Wednesday edition. (For those unfamiliar with the dynamics of local-market breaking news competition, a daily print publication is less likely to run a story after that story has been covered by a competitor. Scooped online, the daily may have opted for online-only coverage, too.) As a journalist, I was miffed. I wasn’t working for either of these news outlets, but I sided with the second reporter – he’d put in the work to dig up the lead, but was blocked from breaking the news. Just as I was about to berate my friend for his tactics, he insisted he had acted on orders – his client wanted to break the news in print, even if it meant risking lesser or no coverage elsewhere. I was shocked. Working for a mostly online business news outlet at the time, I didn’t realize some people still think stories in the print daily generally outweigh online coverage. For one thing, there are the statistics: New numbers from Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism show that at the end of 2010, more people were getting their news online than from print newspapers, and more advertising dollars were funneled to online outlets than their print brethren. In fact, the Pew study reports that “every media sector is losing audience now except online.” And there seem to be increasing benefits to online coverage – for example, websites largely don’t have to worry about chopping a 1,000-word story to fit into a 700-word space. And online content is becoming increasingly easy for anyone to find and access, thanks to RSS feeds, news alerts and the proliferation of social media and mobile devices. On the other hand, my friend retorted, a printout or a PDF isn’t the same thing as an actual news clipping. What do you think? All else being equal, is print or online coverage more desirable? Is this a conversation you’ve had with colleagues or clients? I’d love to hear your thoughts.  

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