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Posted on 02.23.2012

What Does Media Consolidation Mean for Public Relations?

During the past few months, I’ve been fascinated by an ongoing story of media consolidation in Philadelphia. It has gotten me to thinking about how the collapse of competitive news markets across the country is affecting the public relations business. If you’re not a news junkie or a fan of all things The City of Brotherly Love (I’m guilty of both), let me fill you in on some of the highlights of the story.  This summer, the newsrooms of the broadsheet Philadelphia Inquirer, tabloid Daily News and their website, Philly.com, will merge. The news outlets have shared ownership since the 1950s but remained fiercely competitive in separate newsrooms for decades. Last fall ownership group Philadelphia Media Network, citing economic conditions, decided that combining newsrooms would help cut costs and reduce duplication of efforts.  Last week the company announced a round of layoffs – 37 positions – as it prepares for the newsroom merger. As a consumer of news and a former journalist, my first reaction is one of complete dismay. After all, these consolidations always mean fewer working journalists, and therefore fewer reporters out there to ask the tough questions, hold people accountable and bring us the news we need to stay informed. But from a public relations industry perspective, I’ve started to wonder if there could be a small bright side to this otherwise grim trend. Yes, media consolidation means that there are fewer outlets available to carry clients’ news. In the Philadelphia example, it’s unlikely after the newsroom merger that the Inquirer and Daily News will cover many of the same stories, so PR pros with a story local to Philadelphia should see reduced chances of placement in both papers. Conversely, could this type of consolidation also mean that PR pros have the opportunity to develop deeper relationships with individual journalists because there are fewer relationships to maintain? So instead of splitting time and energy between reporters A and B covering the same beat at two competing papers, you can focus on building a relationship with only with reporter A, ultimately increasing your chances of coverage via that reporter. Or, perhaps, I’m just trying to find an upside where one doesn’t exist. What do you think? How is media consolidation affecting the media relations efforts of PR pros? Do you see any bright side in this trend? Let us know in the comments section.  

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