Panel Discussion: "Is The News Release Dead?"

Last Thursday I attended a panel discussion, organized by my department, entitled “Is The News Release Dead?”

We had a great mix of speakers:

The panel members provided an interesting mix of viewpoints, from very pro-social media through to quite sceptical, leading to some interesting exchanges of views.

Rather than sticking purely to looking at the news release, the panel explored the broader topic of the role that web 2.0 can play in government communications. I continued my social media education by live-blogging the event.

I normally shy away from writing about government communications or anything too closely related to my work, but after careful reflection I decided to make an exception here for three reasons:

  1. The panelists gave their own opinions; they didn’t speak on behalf of the government
  2. These issues aren’t confined to the public sector
  3. I think we should be proud of having these conversations.

Some key points raised by the panel included:

On news releases:

  • The news release, in its traditional format, doesn’t work. It’s due for a significant overhaul
  • News releases are often used incorrectly – at a minimum you need to put news in it. If there’s no news, don’t do it
  • Social media news releases can combine multiple media with succinct content, tagging and content sharing to provide a new way to bring our messages to the public
  • The news release isn’t dead. However:
    • Our focus needs to change from getting content to the media to getting it to the public
    • We need to re-examine why we issue news releases. It’s a tool in our toolkit, but shouldn’t be the default

On traditional media:

  • Traditional media outlets are slowly realizing that the world doesn’t end when the newspaper hits the doorstep. Consumers expect continuous new content
  • The Globe and Mail now allows readers to comment on some stories on its website
  • A majority of consumers still don’t trust online sources as much as traditional media
  • Communications professionals need to stop thinking about the media as the end audience. They’re an essential part of our communications but we communicate through them, not to them

On social media:

  • If organizations delve into new media, transparency is critical. If you aren’t transparent, you will get found out
  • Views differed on whether it’s appropriate (or useful) for government to use social media tactics like blogs, podcasts and social networks
  • The time-shifting capability of podcasts has given radio stations a new lease of life. What’s more, they’re still evolving:
    • Imagine re-mixable podcasts where users can pick and choose the content that interests them
  • The conversations organizations have about Facebook now resemble the conversations they had about the web back in 1994
    • Any organization that ignores Facebook (or any other communications tool) is shutting off a way to communicate with its audience

I have a few thoughts on the discussion:

  • We’re playing catch-up: The discussions that we’re having now in the public sector are the ones that the PR industry as a whole have already had over the last couple of years. The leaders are figuring out how to use these tools; we’re talking about whether to use them
  • We need to educate our peers: There’s a lot of fear about new web technologies, especially around transparency. For new tactics to have any credibility, transparency and openness are critical. Failure to have this will mean failure of the tactic
  • We shouldn’t rely on snap-shots: People cited studies that show a minority of the public trusts online rather than traditional sources. However, the studies are just a snap-shot – don’t show the underlying trend, which is that more and more people are looking to online sources. We need to think about what people will want in a couple of years, not what they wanted six months ago, to avoid vainly chasing the end of the rainbow
  • We need to experiment: Wal-Mart set up a Facebook group. Did it go perfectly? No. They got a lot of negative feedback, but they tried. We need to try new tactics if we want to succeed
  • People want choice: In our fragmented media environment, people want to access information through their choice of medium. To ignore new channels is to miss opportunities
  • “Web 2.0” isn’t a panacea: It won’t work for every announcement. However, it does add a significant number of new tools to our toolkits, which we should acknowledge and use appropriately
  • Podcasts, blogs, social networks etc. are just tactics: Some people seem to think that when we talk about social media, we’re talking about using it to the exclusion of other tactics. That’s just not the case. Podcasting, blogging, Twitter and all of these wonderful tools aren’t strategies; they’re tactics.

Overall, the panel discussion was fascinating. It was great to hear the different perspectives of the panelists on how (and whether) we should make the best of the opportunities that web 2.0 gives us.

Thanks to the panelists and to everyone else who worked on making it happen!

  • Nice post – thanks for live blogging this interesting discussion. We live in exciting times, as pr professionals. It’s great that these conversations are happening.

  • Good post, Dave.

    The public sector does face greater challenges – and it is not just catch up. We need to ensure that our releases are optimised for search (ie., discoverable), accessible (semantically marked up) and, most importantly, relevant to and usable by all comers. That is a tough ask.

    We have been experimenting with a govt hRelease and while it fulfills the first two criteria, there is still plenty of work to do.