Is print journalism really dead?

IC’s James Lawson reports back from an industry event considering the role of the print media in the digital age

Is print really dead? Or is it just resting before returning for its big second act? After loving the digital event PRCA North ran back in February, Team IC popped along to the second PRCA World of Media evening for a deep dive into the print media world.

The panel boasted a great mix of print stalwarts, including The Sun’s news editor Richard Moriarty, The Big Issue North’s editor Kevin Gopal and blue-chip freelancers Angela Epstein and Becci Vallis. They were ably moderated by Northern media face John Robb, himself no stranger to print journalism.

The evening mixed amusing and often counterintuitive takes on why print survives –and even thrives – with advice on how to get your story onto the printed page. Here’s what we learned:

  1. First, the bad news. With digital a convenient and usually free option, papers and magazines are still declining rapidly. The Sun has dropped from over 3 million to 1.4 million readers in less than a decade.
  2. Advertisers usually put digital first these days. Along with Google and Facebook, social influencers and their ilk are taking an increasing share of ad spend.
  3. Most publishers still have little idea how they will make digital pay but are marching ahead regardless. It’s often the declining yet still profitable print edition that subsidises a magazine’s free-to-read online presence.
  4. 80% of people want to move away from digital. Print can offer excellent writing, gorgeous layouts on glossy paper, the joy of seeing your favourite magazine drop through the letterbox – and no pop-ups!
  5. Print still captivates niches and local audiences. From Horse and Hound and the London Review of Books to Private Eye, many titles are seeing rising circulations.
  6. Digital breaks stories, print gives depth. Papers can summarise an often confused online conversation.
  7. Does going through the full editorial process make print content more trustworthy? Bloggers used to be seen as more truthful than magazines but scandals like the Fyre Festival have dented their credibility.
  8. Print really works for PR. If a health and beauty PR pitch ends up in the weekend magazine supplements, sales will spike and clients will be happy.
  9. It’s a time thing. At the train station or in the airport lounge, people buy print if they know they will have enough time to read in-depth articles. Readers that pay close attention: another reason to value print for PR.

How to pitch a story

As print and online journalists become increasingly busy, what’s the best way for PRs to pitch to them? A useful tactic, and one we often use at IC, is to pitch via the growing army of freelance writers that service the media – rather than focusing solely on in-house staff.

When it comes to the pitch call or email itself, copy a good journalist’s techniques. Write a strong headline and tell the story in 15 words or less using the classic combo: who, what, when, where and why?

Another top tip was to make your story “oven ready” with pictures, full names, ages and residential location. Just like PRs, journalists are time-poor. If the story is written well enough to cut and paste, in it goes.

A final thought – leave the client name out of the first sentence in your release. Whether it’s print, broadcast or online journalism, it’s always all about the story.