by Michael O'Neill
April 18th, 2013

As part of a workshop on dealing with the international media last week, I dug up a favourite article of mine called ‘The Hamster Wheel’ which was published in the Columbia Review of Journalism in 2008.

It cites a report called ‘The Changing Newsroom’ by the Project for Excellence in Journalism, which illustrates succinctly how newsrooms are shrinking. Stories, it said, were “gathered faster by a smaller, less experienced staff of reporters, then passed more quickly through fewer, less experienced editing hands on their way to publication”.

A staff of some 323 journalists produced 26,000 stories for the Wall Street Journal in 2000 (not including blogs and other online reporting); by 2008 that figure ballooned to 38,000, even as staff numbers decreased.

It’s a common theme in the industry: fewer journalists are writing more to service an insatiable appetite for online news and commentary.

Earlier this month, the Washington Post advertised for a blogger to join its Style Section; the job spec said that the candidate must be able to identify trends and “cut through the noise of the internet”. A moderate Twitterstorm followed the revelation that the successful recruit would be expected to write “at least a dozen pieces of content per day”.

Such is the new normal in journalism. But are we as PR practitioners understanding the impact this is having and the quick turnaround of news stories today? Do our clients fully understand the demands of real-time news?

We could start by communicating these changes better – speeding up the turnaround of correspondence, interviews and commentary, and making spokespersons more available. Processes also need to be revised to cut out unnecessary lags in delivery and, above all, we need to promote a ‘real time’ culture. That’s not going to happen overnight, but we’ve had ample time to prepare for this.

It’s not all bad news, though. The perplexing thing is that while a global debate about the mortality of newspapers continues, based on the trends discussed above, very few people have given a courtesy nod towards Asia’s growing media muscle, which has offset circulation losses around the world.

Global circulation grew by 1.1 per cent globally last year, to 512 million copies, and 4.2 per cent between 2007 and 2011 off the back of Asia’s growing newspaper circulations, according to the World Association of Newspapers’ (WAN-IFRA) World Press Trends 2012.

Last year saw a push by publishers into Asia’s emerging markets: the Wall Street Journal, for instance, launched a Bahasa edition in Indonesia last year, which now sits alongside four other Asian language editions in Japan, Korea, China and India.

Journalists say there is now more demand for stories from Asia about Asia’s growth and, in particular, the ‘virgin’ markets that investors know little about. “There is a big push from our editors for more understanding on the Southeast Asia region and its dynamics and place in global business,” one journalist told us.

So, while the story might be about survival amid increasing output by a smaller crew of journalists, there’s another story developing… about Asia’s continuing rise as a media player. Although sadly, it’s getting lost in the noise.

Rob O’Brien is media specialist, Singapore, at Weber Shandwick

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