People today are always on the look out for new and faster ways to get their news. According the 2011 State of the Media report, not only do they want to be able to find it and get it fast, they also want to contribute to, and participate in, reporting the news. This can be a boon to PR people looking for more coverage for their stories. Opportunities to act as a citizen journalist abound.
Technology advances have provided the tools that allow us to contribute and participate. Almost half of all Americans (47%) now get some form of local news on a mobile device.
Apple released the first iPad in April of 2010 and sold 3 million within 80 days. In January 2011, 7% of Americans reported owning some kind of electronic tablet – nearly double the number that owned tablets just four months earlier. 3 out of 5 tablet owners consume news on their tablets and many news publications have created a tablet app.
Digital cameras are shrinking in size yet their capability is improving. What would have taken a crew of at least 3 to 4 to do lighting and sound equipment, as well as post-production and editing can now be done on a smart phone and a laptop.
With apps for different film techniques, and edit software available on phones as well as tablets, the world of media has changed forever. People on the ground who witness events are sending images and video to the news stations. The Tsunami in Japan, the London bombings and the recent Norway massacre come to mind.
As musician and author Gil Scott-Heron said, “The revolution will not be televised.” And we certainly saw that as the Arab Spring of 2011 was tweeted and streamed live online, even as the authorities tried to clamp down on the media.
Citizen journalism doesn’t only apply to major political events or disasters. Citizen journalism is one of the hottest buzzwords in the news business right now. Many newsrooms are implementing some sort of citizen-journalism initiative. On the evening news you regularly see these words: “If you witness news in your area send us images and video.”
A citizen is not a journalist, simply because she uses Twitter and Facebook to talk about current events, but because when she does come across an unusual event, she acts in a journalistic manner. What does that mean? You have to find corroborating evidence, interview people involved, vet your sources, confirm information before sharing it, analyze what happened and provide context. then you need to capture good images and video and send it to a relevant news station as soon as possible.
As PR people we’ve been schooled in how to do this. We analyze news and craft news releases every day. If you do it right, tie your release to a current news item the media is interested in and then present it in the right format, you’re likely to see your news content on the evening news, in print or on a media website.
One example is a company that offers temporary office space. They saw a sudden spike in demand for their services during the severe winter storms blanketing Europe and the UK over the Christmas period in 2010. Thousands of business travelers were stranded on both sides of the Atlantic and they needed a place to continue working while stuck in a foreign country. The company cleverly correlated the data, and presented the information in a news release that emphasized the statistics and the trend tied into a major news event. Their story got picked up and covered by the mainstream media.
Newsrooms are under financial pressure. Some newsrooms, like Gannet newspapers, have recently placed news staff on furlough to cut expenses. That means there are gaps in the newsroom and news reporting. This creates a plethora of opportunities for citizen journalists and corporate communicators who craft good news releases and manage an online pressroom.
The Corporation for Public Broadcasting understands the value of citizen journalists – they are funding a $4.1 million grant to American Public Media to expand its network of “citizen sources” that help provide local news coverage across the country.
An intelligent PR strategy would be to cultivate this “citizen journalist” mindset among your fans and advocates. Help your loyal supporters contribute to and participate in the reporting of the news around your brand.
An energy drink discovered that a young man who was one of the top ‘diggers’ – people who post news to the social news site digg.com – is a huge fan of their brand and their Xtreme Sports events. They invited him to their next event, gave him access to behind-the-scenes information and allowed him to meet and interview some of his favorite Xtreme Sports heroes. This resulted in a flood of coverage on the Digg homepage. A start-up in Los Angeles discovered that two of the top diggers have a podcast that reaches college kids. Getting covered on this podcast is now high on their wishlist so they can get buzz going in relevant social networks that reach their target audience.
A list of the most popular news sites based on traffic figures from Alexa, a website that tracks traffic on most websites and reports on their statistics, ranks Digg at #8 with over 25 million visitors a month.
Another online news outlet that is climbing up the ranks fast is the Huffington Post. They’re right on Google News’ heels with 54 million visitors a month. A well-crafted social media news story with good images and video attached will find favor with bloggers, online journalists and editors.
At the Media Relations Summit in New York City the editor of The Daily Beast, Tina Brown, highlighted the fact that there are many online opportunities for PR news coverage, but says she rarely gets well crafted, interesting news releases she can use. Her advice? Partner with news websites looking for content.
A savvy supplement company that has a customer base of seniors reached out to social websites aimed at the over 50 demographic. They found that several of these sites needed regular health content aimed at seniors and the supplement company was delighted to provide them with articles by excellent health writers that focused on using supplements and vitamins to improve your quality of life. Almost every news release they crafted specifically for these sites was published.
Another avenue for citizen journalism is to write for an online news outlet – KPCC, the local NPR station allows local citizens to blog on their site. The Examiner allows people to start a column on their site. Of course the content has to be relevant, interesting and newsworthy – not promotional. Valerie Simon of Burrelle’s Luce writes the PR Examiner column.
About.com has guides for subjects – although it has been in existence for so long now there are not too many subjects available anymore. But it is possible to find a gap – for example there is no guide for Alzheimer’s disease. This would be a perfect opportunity for the Alzheimer’s Foundation to gain excellent exposure for their cause. There is currently no guide for senior health either. That supplement company could expand their online news footprint by taking on this citizen journalist position.
Learn to think like a citizen journalist. Discover all the ways your news releases could be used to “report the news”, become a resource for bloggers and media websites and if possible, report the news yourself.