By Jennifer R. Farmer
This is feeling like a yearly column. At the end of 2019, I wrote an article titled, “The Media is Contracting: Now What?” In 2020, I updated the article because, you guessed it, the media was still contracting. That year, I wrote that there were more jobs lost in the media industry in 2020 than there had been since 2008. According to The Hill, “An estimated 28,637 cuts were reported in the industry by late October, …nearly as many as the record 28,803 reported in the media sector in 2008. By comparison, the sector saw just over 10,000 job losses in 2019 and 15,474 in 2018.”
In 2022, I am once again writing about contractions in the media. Over the past few days, I learned that the Black News Channel (BNC) has ceased operations. They had faced a gender discrimination and sexual harassment lawsuit. They also allegedly failed to meet payroll after losing support from at least one major investor. Their closing shop is not entirely surprising given the very serious accusations on workplace culture at the company.
But I also learned that BuzzFeed News ceased operations as well. The complete cessation of work there is not entirely surprising. They allegedly lost revenue year after year; and let’s face it, continued loses are not sustainable. This is a major loss because BuzzFeed had a strong investigative arm, playing a leading role in exposing information during the #MeToo era, appeared to offer employment opportunities for journalists of color, and was a place where social and racial justice advocates could find fair coverage for their work.
These losses are significant. BNC was Black-owned and Black-targeted. They provided a place for Black opinion by Black commentators and guests. They were a home for scores of producers and other behind the camera talent, employing over 230 people. They covered the issues impacting the Black community at a time when Black people continue to need substantive news rather than just entertainment. Their coverage of the confirmation hearings of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson brought in some of their highest views. Today, Black people have fewer platforms to share and received news about our community.
Who Will Bring the Hard News?
What I’ve learned is that just because we do not know about it, doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. As someone who has worked in social and racial justice communications, I know firsthand the myriad issues that impact our community and deserve our advocacy. It is harder to mobilize Black, Native, Indigenous and Latino communities without platforms owned by us, or dedicated to our advancement.
As I shared in my 2019 piece, if you are relying on media coverage to spur advocacy you will need to develop a different media blueprint in 2022 than what you may have used in the past. Due to contractions in the media spurred by layoffs and media consolidations and closures, earned media – or media that you do not pay for – is becoming harder to come by. Having a good story is no longer enough to secure media coverage.
What You Do Now Matters
To garner media attention in a contracting and increasingly competitive media market, I recommend nonprofits and entities committed to social good:
Invest in Paid Media. Now. Relying on earned media alone is risky. I am increasingly learning that television hosts and many high-profile radio programs want people with celebrity. They want people who come with their own significant fan base and followers. That increases the likelihood that the media outlet’s content will be viewed by a larger swath of people. That is important because producers, hosts, writers, and reporters live in a competitive market, just like the rest of us. They need to produce page views, likes, retweets and shares. The bigger the name and profile of the guest they book, the more likely they are to have their content shared by more and more people. Further, because of reductions in advertising revenue, many outlets are financially strapped. They need and appreciate the revenue that comes with advertising. For those two reasons, brands with resources will need to invest in paid media. The investment can be as low as $2,500 for some outlets, and it can go up from there. Of course, when it comes to social media, one can make minimal investment and gain maximum results. With social media advertising, paid media is more affordable than ever. In an environment where there are more and more job cuts and less representation in terms of who is in front of and behind the camera, paid media enables nonprofits and advocacy leaders to bring their content to the world. It is still imperative to get very specific in terms of investing in outlets that your audience reads and consumes, but paid media is an increasingly attractive tool.
Create Your Own Content Channels. Nonprofits and advocacy organizations that want coverage will need to rely more on self-publishing platforms, such as Medium, Blavity, YouTube, etc. Creating one’s own content channels enables an entity to immediately get their message out. It also ensures their control over the message and the probability of it being seen by their intended audience. Further, creating one’s own content channels makes reporting as easy as possible for journalists once they find you. Whether it is the company website; podcasts; or videos on Facebook, Vimeo, TikTok, etc., take control of your message and the speed at which it is disseminated by creating your own content channels.
Become investor consumers. Most smaller media outlets are not awash in cash; not all have angel investors and corporate sponsors. This leaves them scrambling for revenue year after year. Additionally, since smaller outlets don’t always offer digital subscriptions, media outlets that serve communities of color can’t rely on that revenue stream. And to be clear, these outlets face the conundrum of wanting to provide good information and also wanting to meet the needs of their audiences which may have less disposable income. It’s truly a catch 22. But what is clear is that nonprofits and consumers of means should donate regularly and consistently to people of color-owned and/or smaller media outlets.
Consume the News Conscientiously. In the case of the Black News Channel and other broadcast outlets, viewership matters. Communities of color and persons who favor an inclusive democracy should watch these shows to demonstrate that there is demand from them. Viewership is directly tied to advertising dollars and when outlets can prove they have the viewers, they are able to secure more revenue from advertising. It is incumbent upon people who want to advance racial, climate, gender and social justice to be conscientious news consumers. This is the only way to ensure that the media outlets that deliver unvarnished truth remain in existence as long as possible.
Be Ready to Pounce. As much as we like to plan, there are some things we can never anticipate. That is why rapid-response communications is important. Rapid response is quick mobilization of communications resources to respond to a crisis or unforeseen issue. When the unexpected happens and you have deep knowledge or insights on the issue, be ready to pounce. Immediately craft or have someone in your team craft a story or pitch speaking to the issue at hand. Sometimes the prospects of media coverage can fall in one’s lap. Should that happen, do not drop the ball. Monitor media trends and the news cycle carefully. And when you see an opportunity, pounce.
Trust me, I know how hard garnering media attention has become. But the ideas I shared in this column will position you to receive coverage, even in challenging times such as these.
Jennifer R. Farmer is a writer, trainer and activist communicator. She is the author of “Extraordinary PR, Ordinary Budget: A Strategy Guide” and “First and Only: What Black Women Say About Thriving at Work and in Life.” Follow her on IG/Twitter using @pr_whisperer.