How to Win with Journalists in Today’s Volatile Media Environment

By Bethany Hardy, Senior Vice President, Media Relations

Talk to any media relations professional these days and you’ll surely get an earful about the grim media environment. The new year began with yet more depressing news for journalism as an industry, with the Los Angeles Times, Sports Illustrated, and National Geographic just the latest in the long line of outlets doing layoffs, and unionized staff at Forbes and several Conde Nast brands staging walkouts to protest cost-cutting and slow-going contract negotiations.

It’s unsettling, for sure. So, what are the key considerations for breaking through with the news media in 2024?  Here are five things to remember:

1. Reporters are Warier than Ever About Misinformation – It’s a national election year, not just here in the United States, but in more than 60 countries around the world. And accordingly, responsible media outlets are cracking down even harder on misinformation. For example, the International Center for Journalism’s Disarming Disinformation Initiative will spend this year on initiatives that directly address election misinformation. What does this mean for pitching stories? Credibility will be key. Especially if you’re a pharma or healthcare company, you’ll have to work even harder to establish the burden of proof to validate your product claims with journalists. If you haven’t yet built up a roster of third party scientific and medical experts who can attest to your value, now’s the time.

2. It’s Time to Get Creative about Outlets and Beats – Even though news outlets are shrinking, news consumers are diversifying their sources. Consider pitching your stories in those less traditional channels that your audiences are frequenting. For example, subscriber exclusive e-newsletters like Bloomberg’s The Brink and The Everything Risk, and Axios’ Pro Rata, are increasingly popular. And start thinking more broadly about your pitch topics: make sure the story you’re pitching fits into an election narrative. Despite layoffs, many media outlets are readying for November by re-assigning beats to accommodate their election coverage. Therefore, if you’re pitching a health care story, be sure to think about your “so what” for audiences concerned about access to quality healthcare or the costs of prescription drugs.

3. The Bloom is Off the Podcast Rose – The last few years have certainly been a rollercoaster for podcasts as a viable media channel. As documented in this cheeky Vanity Fair article, the podcast industry has seen a downturn as of late, in light of multiple layoffs and some high-profile celebrity failures (read: Harry and Meghan). That said, there’s still strategic value in pitching podcasts – as long as you’re focused on connecting with those deeply popular, somewhat niche podcasts that still enjoy a high percentage of audience share. As podcasting expert Joni Deutsch recently shared in this Neiman Lab post, “We can make podcasting better by recognizing its power and audience, rather than focusing on its bottom line.” As Deutch aptly explains, podcasts in today’s environment should be leveraged for their audience “connection” rather than “commodity.”

4. Get to Know Gen Z, the Finicky News Consumers of the FutureWashington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin recently sparked some buzz with her attention-grabbing feature, “Gen Z might be the MAGA movement’s undoing,” based on a new Public Religion Research Institute survey of the cultural, media and political inclinations of the Gen Z cohort.  A deeper look at the survey results sheds light on this cohort of news consumers.  Namely, they’re quite mistrustful of mainstream media: the survey found that just four in ten of both Gen Z teens (40%) and adults (37%) say they trust news organizations. Many of those surveyed noted they prefer to “validate” news they read through their own research and independent journalists – yet another reminder that any media relations campaigns reaching this generation, especially with messages about health and wellbeing, need to be targeted accordingly.

5. Brevity, Brevity, Brevity! – It has always been important to keep email pitches short—but never more so than now, with staffing cuts and reporters taking on more responsibilities and tasks than ever before. According to Muck Rack, the average length of a successful pitch is 175 words. (Considering that this paragraph is about 100 words long, your whole email to a reporter really shouldn’t be much longer!) And even more important for brevity? Your email subject line. As the first thing a reporter sees when scrolling their in-box, it’s incredibly important to be eye-catching in the right way. If your subject line is too long, you’ve lost your chance. For example, a reporter will never see a subject line like “ACME Pharmaceuticals Chief Medical Officer Available to Share Tips on Biomarker Testing.” A far better option is: “Oncology Expert on Biomarker Testing.”

Despite the volatile outlook for journalism these days, there’s room for optimism.  Reporters still have a job to do: report the news. The key is ensuring your media relations campaigns focus on clearly articulating what’s “new” (through data, human interest, and urgency) and targeting precisely the right journalists for your customized pitches. Investing this kind of time and forethought into your earned media relations activities will be well worth the effort, no matter how gloomy the media picture is in 2024.

For more tips from the JPA Health team, visit https://jpa.com/insights

Key Takeaway

– Despite the volatile outlook for journalism these days, there’s room for optimism.
– Here are 5 considerations for breaking through via earned media in today’s tumultuous environment.

Related Insights

Connect

Got questions? We can help!