By Jon Pushkin, APR and Gina Seamans, APR
The news about the News hit Denver’s PR community like a bombshell. Partly that’s because we spend a good deal of our time building relationships with members of the media. We get to know them as people and in many case we build friendships that go well beyond the newsroom.
So when the finality of the announcement that the News was on life support was delivered to employees matter-of-factly by the corporate decision makers in the Scripps company, we felt their pain as though it was our own.
We also had another eye-opening realization that was even more sobering. That is that newspapers and the journalists who work for them are disposable. It is one thing to make a business decision to sell or close a company that is not profitable. But in this case, the surprising thing is what the people making this decision failed to see: the value in the brand is worth more than the money they will save by closing the Rocky.
The equity in a 150-year-old brand like the Rocky Mountain News is priceless. Maybe you tweak the business model or make some significant changes, but you don’t just discard it. The intellectual capital represented by the talented journalists who work at the News is another valuable asset that the owners fail to appreciate. Rather than asking for options or even concessions, the owners are content to dispose of that asset as well.
A free and vibrant press is a core pillar of public relations. The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) Code of Ethics states that “protecting and advancing the free flow of accurate and truthful information is essential to serving the public interest and contributing to informed decision making in a democratic society.” Healthy communities and democratic societies depend on the free flow of information to help the public make informed decisions about important issues. The troubling trend toward eliminating newspapers and treating journalists as expendable will have a serious long-term impact on the health of our communities.
Blogs and social media and word of mouth are important sources of information but they are no substitute for professional news organizations. They usually have a particular perspective and they generally do not cover stories in the same in-depth way that a reporter would. In many cases, the people who provide the news through those channels are not professional journalists. They are not Clark Kent or Lois Lane or Damon Runyon or Jimmy Breslin or Thomas Friedman. They are just people with opinions who like to express them in public forums with other people who share those same interests. There is nothing wrong with that, but it is not news. Too often it is just noise.
PRSA Colorado believes that the loss of the News would be devastating to our city’s culture and reputation. We call on the decision makers at Scripps to exhaust every potential buyer and to consider other creative options before they close the paper. We offer our assistance to help them explore these options and research reasonable alternatives. We stand in solidarity with our colleagues at the News and encourage them to keep the faith.
Disposing of a priceless brand and a valuable asset is not good business. It is just bad PR.
Jon Pushkin is president of Pushkin Public Relations and a past president of the Colorado chapter of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA). Gina Seamans is a senior counselor at JohnstonWells and president of the Colorado chapter of PRSA.