Journalism's New I-Team

The New York Times this week announced plans to eliminate 100 additional newsroom jobs. That’s a whopping eight percent of the newsroom staff. While we’ve (sadly) gotten used to hearing these kinds of announcements from smaller papers across the country, this one really stings. As a former reporter, I can't help but wonder how many more layoffs it will take before journalism as we know it ceases to exist.

The continued cuts at newsrooms throughout America presents a myriad of problems, not the least of which is the stress being placed on those reporters lucky enough to still have jobs. NYT Executive Editor Bill Keller acknowledges this, saying “I won’t pretend that these staff cuts will not add to the burdens of journalists whose responsibilities have grown faster than their compensation.”

Think about it – in the “old days,” each beat had its own reporter. One person covered crime exclusively, another handled healthcare, while someone else wrote about business and so on. Because they “specialized” in a specific area, they were the resident experts on that topic, be it criminal trials, public policy or education. In this “new journalism,” reporters are saddled with anything and everything, and often expected to handle subject matter they know little or nothing about.

Sure, employing fewer reporters saves money, but at what cost? When assignment managers and editors heap story upon story onto the shoulders of already-stressed journalists, something has to give…and more often than not, that something is accuracy. Saddling reporters with more assignments than they can handle means less time for fact-checking and interviewing, and we’re seeing the results of that daily in our newspapers, in broadcast and on the web. Rushed, inaccurate reporting can quickly tarnish a news outlet’s image and empty its proverbial pockets through expensive libel lawsuits.

But here’s the good news. We, as PR professionals, can help.  The days of dedicated investigative reporters may be gone, but we can make ourselves the new “I-team.” We can work with journalists to make sure accuracy doesn’t suffer. We can share the burden of doing the research, compiling background and lining up the right people to interview. Sure, in a way it’s self-serving, since our basic motivation is getting coverage for our clients, but I’d argue that in most cases, we’re also helping journalists do their jobs, and do them well. If we can convince reporters to see us as partners rather than flaks, everyone wins – the client, the PR pro, the reporter and maybe even journalism as a whole.

As always, we welcome your thoughts.

-Contributed by Amy Erickson. Follow her @amyerickson