How will the sale of the LA Times impact local PR and marketing opportunities?
As is well known, last week, the Los Angeles Times announced it has a new owner. Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, a surgeon, part LA Lakers owner and pharmaceutical billionaire purchased the paper for a reported $500 million. Along with the purchase, he moved the paper from its historic and iconic building downtown to El Segundo. El Segundo is a quiet city adjacent to LA airport. He made the move for two good reasons. First, the prior LA Times owners sold the historic building that is right across from City Hall. It has been there well over a hundred years and a landmark. When they sold the building, they made the paper renters, so not a good financial move. Second, Soon-Shiong owns a significant amount of property in El Segundo including a major office tower that is now The Times’ home. It is rather strange that the LA Times is headquartered in a sleepy suburb and not where the action is downtown.
How does this affect PR people? There is no impact for pitching stories. The paper still covers the same geography. However, when the purchase was made, the new owner noted that the paper in recent years shrunk from an editorial staff of 1200 to 400. That is an issue.
As someone who has worked with The Times for decades, there always was stability. Times reporters and editors worked there for decades, covering the same beats. We knew them by name, who to pitch and what stories would interest them. Now, so many writers have left and those who are left have switched beats, cover multiple beats and some have been dropped altogether.
We all know that news and media is moving online. There is more advertising revenue to be made online than in print. That is a simple fact. But advertising online is not the same as print. There is something about holding a newspaper or magazine in hand that makes it different. Online, stories change repeatedly throughout the day. As news changes, so do news sites. What is the top news story in the morning will likely be moved to the bottom of the past by the end of the day.
The challenge for us in the PR and marketing business is we have to be fast, know what’s happening every minute and be prepared to pitch on moment’s notice. When a story breaks, we jump in and offer a client for their perspective. The media look for that and want that. They want experts who can shed light on breaking news. That’s why our staff are online all day, if not writing text for a client, we require that everybody have a screen open to keep an eye on breaking news. Often we switch gears on a moment’s notice.
The fast pace of publicity, PR and marketing makes the PR business more and more challenging. It also keeps us on our toes. We need to know who the media are, their political bents, what reporters/editors will be civil to our clients and who will be hostile. We need to know what to pitch and to whom. We will never put a client in front of a hostile reporter just to get them PR. We don’t subscribe to the notion that there is no such thing as bad PR. In today’s Twitter world, there is such a thing as bad PR. Just as Roseanne Barr.
The big question is how long will the LA Times continue to print a paper before it goes entirely online? The new owner vowed to be committed to a print version, but let’s be realistic. He is a businessperson and a good one. Tragically there may come a time when all media will conclude that it no longer makes sense to run the presses. By the time a newspaper or magazine rolls off the press, it is reporting old news.
In the meantime, we continue to work hard to get exposure for our clients, whether in print or online. Online is great in that we can easily send links and keep our clients’ story alive. Print is always good because people like to see their stories in print. There is something about being in print that an online link can’t match.