It's not Lack Of investment that will kill off regional media but public relations

The threat to regional media has been well documented.

A lack of investment has seen a reduction in journalist headcount, while digital-first strategies have failed to draw in the revenues that were meant to reinvigorate falling profits.

The fight for web visitors has seen an increase in click bait and an eye off the prize – the quality journalism that gave readers a reason to buy the physical paper.

Trust in regional media to stand up for their communities is at an all-time low.

Just last year the Press Gazette ran an article about claims by a former Kensington News and Chelsea News reporter that Grenfell Tower fire-safety concerns would have been picked up by local media in the pre-internet era.

 Grant Feller asserted that journalists would have been out in the local community listening to residents’ issues and challenging local councillors in terms of their decision-making, resulting in a much smaller chance of cost-savings trumping safety and therefore such a tragedy happening.

Constant change with no end in sight

For journalists themselves, the newsroom for years now has been a challenging workplace with fewer people to do more reporting; ongoing restructures; the need to reskill to produce multi-media content and constant reiterations of the news sites and papers.

In February, the government announced a review into the future of the newspaper industry including its funding models citing concerns over “falling circulations, a hollowing-out of local newsrooms, and fears for the future sustainability of high quality journalism.”

An encroaching threat

As newspaper quality continues to plummet, there comes a greater threat, this time from the world of public relations.

The widespread adoption of the Paid, Earned, Shared and Owned (PESO) model by practitioners has further blurred the lines between disciplines as PR moves with increasing speed into the Paid media space.

Crucially it provides a laser focus on where campaign investment should be made.

Owned media budgets have risen exponentially as public relations professionals maximise organisational assets, while budget allocations for Shared media have also grown as brands experience the benefits of influencer relations.

Conversely, building an argument for Earned regional media relations has become increasingly hard to do.

A tense but necessary relationship

Flat Earth News by Nick Davies in 2008 documented the tense but necessary relationship between journalists and public relations professionals but for media, there seems widespread ignorance about the threat posed by PESO.

PR practitioners, planning with ever greater precision and insight, have recognised the declining influence and quality of regional news and are choosing instead to invest in building direct relationships with target audiences for their employers and brands, circumnavigating the need for the third-party credibility once provided by this media.

It is only a matter of time until this reaches a critical mass.

Forced to rely on business and news stories from public relations practitioners due to resource-constraints, a sudden and ongoing drought of information would place additional pressures on news rooms at a time when they need it least.

The question is whether investment into regional media will come soon enough to reverse the trend or whether public relations and the media are prepared to recognise the issue and work together to find a solution before it’s too late.