These are dark days for daily newspapers. The New York Daily News is cutting half its staff, and the New Orleans Times-Picayune laid everyone off after it was absorbed by the Baton Rouge Advocate. Pittsburgh is now the largest U.S. city without a daily print newspaper, which is better than in Youngstown, Ohio, which is now the largest U.S. city without any daily newspaper at all. Newspapers would be printing their obituaries every day if they could just stay in business.
It’s actually much worse than you realize.
The big-city closures are getting all the attention while so many rural papers have shut down that a 2018 study warned that “news deserts” are becoming commonplace in the United States, especially in areas underserved by broadband access. Over the last two decades, newspaper jobs have shrunk by about 20,000, or 39 percent, and the job losses have accelerated this year to their highest point since the Great Recession – around 3,000 out of work through the end of May.
And though Google is pledging $300 million to support quality local journalism, that will not be enough to save the industry, according to former newspaper delivery boy – and current owner of several local newspapers – Warren Buffet: “They’re going to disappear.”
Meanwhile, machines are increasingly picking up the slack. Artificial intelligence is writing earthquake articles for the Los Angeles Times, recaps of high school football for the Washington Post, and apparently a third of what Bloomberg News publishes is written by automated machines.
But this story is only an unhappy one if you’re focused on the medium and not the messengers, because while everyone is focused on the admittedly regrettable demise of daily newspapers, we’re missing a surge in storytelling that could constitute a communications renaissance.
There are now six PR jobs (6.4 technically) for everyone working in journalism, and the Labor Department projects that employment for public relations specialists will increase 9 percent to 282,600 in 2026 – and relatively few of them are going to be sending press releases to the relatively few remaining journalists.
In fact, it’s increasingly difficult to tell the difference between journalists and those who are creating content for brands. LinkedIn reports that people saying they work in “content/editor” roles at non-media companies are up by nearly a third in a decade, and Axios says the “job of the future is editor in chief,” except for brands seeking to reach their public directly in a fractured media environment.
With fewer reporters to pitch to at fewer newspapers, it’s making more and more sense for brands to take responsibility for telling their own stories, which is leading to interesting innovations that go way beyond publishing news releases on a company website or social media accounts.
Everyone from Blue Apron to Slack has a podcast. Starbucks has its own newsroom. Goldman Sachs posts an original talk show to Hulu, Yahoo Finance, Amazon Prime, and Spotify. Stripe, the payments company, published a book called the “High Growth Handbook” and has three more in the pipeline.
Brands are also leading a resurgence in, of all places, print magazines. REI recently stopped printing a mail order catalogue – and starting publishing a magazine. Bumble, the dating app, is publishing a lifestyle magazine called Bumble Mag that not only profiles celebrities, such as Bumble investor Serena Williams, but sells advertising. Away, a luggage company, noticed that people were calling customer service for travel tips, so now they publish Here Magazine. And anyone checking into an Airbnb is likely to find the latest copy of Airbnb magazine on the coffee table. It’s free to Airbnb hosts, but anyone can subscribe for $18.
Someone is going to have to write and edit all those articles, and the best thing about it – for journalists looking for a future, that is – is that all of these companies are looking at these publications, podcasts, and books as loss leaders. The point for them is to reach the public with engaging content, not to turn a profit publishing a magazine.
For those of us who grew up reading newspapers and magazines, this can all appear cynical, but it doesn’t have to be. Brands are realizing the limits of buying ads in a dying medium or in pushing ads on an increasingly resistant public. To reach us, the buying public, they are resorting to what people will always want: A good story told well.
Bronwyn Wallace is a managing director at Hill+Knowlton Strategies, whose 20-year tenure at the firm has specialized in media, media training and crisis management.