Do hacks and flaks still need each other?

News people vs. public relations/communications representatives. It’s an alliance that has been at times as comfortable as … say … dogs and cats. But each side knows the importance of the other’s mission and have operated as professional – and sometimes wary – partners.

However, with the industry is such a state of flux to the point that the many newspapers may cease to exist in the next couple of years, are those in the PR/communications field still consider newspapers as a viable vehicle to get their message out?

I posed that question to a number of public relations professionals recently to see if they were worried about the newspaper industry. The overwhelming response was, yes, they are. While many still say newspapers are among the best avenues to direct their message, they also realize emerging and new technologies … especially in social networking … also provide them with opportunities that newspapers currently don’t.

The message was, more or less, yes, we still believe in newspapers, but we’re getting the lifeboats ready if the ship sinks.

“Newspapers can reach a wide audience with lots of different interests. But if you narrow down your strategy, wouldn’t it be much wiser to focus on relevant media?
” says Michael Reuling of the Netherlands. “For every subject/interest, there seems to be a blog, magazine and digital TV-channel nowadays. Focusing on the mass is still important, but if you can reach your target-group otherwise, do you really need a (print)newspaper?”

U.S.-based PR professionals are a bit more cautious outlining their relationship with newspapers. Newspapers are still an important part of their overall strategies, they say, and credibility still plays an important role in that strategy. Ironically, only a few were willing to go public with their thoughts, many saying they did not want to jeopardize existing relationships.

“Newspapers add credibility to PR,” says Robin Parkinson, an L.A.-based marketing and communications consultant. “So … down the road, if printed newspapers disappear, that a news Internet site might be approved say, by The Washington Post, or the NYT, it thereby validates a news site.”

Parkinson’s observations back up a recent Poynter/APME survey that shows online readers will trust news sites that are branded by newspapers they trust.

That is certainly good news for struggling newspapers. If your brand is credible in print, it’ll remain credible wherever else you go.

But as newspapers trim down their sources, some PR people see their importance increase as publishers look for content to fill their pages.

“As first-level journalism resources, such as staff writers and wire services, are stretched thinner than ever before, newspapers are increasingly turning to public relations sources for material,” says Bob Dixon, and L.A.-based communications specialist.

However, Dixon also sees public relations taking up the flag if newspapers go away.

“P.R. will be more important than ever without newspapers,” he said. “The increased fragmentation within media, especially online, has made it even more important for businesses and organizations to understand how to identify, target, and deliver their message in appropriate ways through an ever-increasing variety of news channels.”

So it seems P.R. professionals still hold true to their relationship with newspapers. But they are also seeing the light and are adapting their strategies to get their message along other avenues of information distribution. In other words, the industry has a Plan B, and many are already using it.

The flaks will survive without the hacks. Can the reverse be said?

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