WEDNESDAY 8 MAR 2017 4:17 PM


Part of the modern relationship between corporate public relations and the press concerns the distribution and dissemination of content. Hassan Butt analyses the value of the online newsroom as part of a communications content strategy

Two decades ago getting online involved the primitive meanderings of dial-up while the run-of-the-mill digital toolkit still included Amstrad PCW’s, floppy disks and bulky CRT monitors. The press kits that dominated PR communications were glossy plastic folders sent in bulk. The fax machine, in its death throes, pushed for its most innovate iteration yet, arming itself for the Internet Age with hi-tech lasers and digital monitors. Newsrooms still echoed the ancestral clicks of teletype machines as media consolidations and corporate takeovers relentlessly belied the emergence of smaller, more innovative means of communication. Yet digital change has forced modern communicators to find a balance between press content and social media strategies.

“It was a data warehouse for digital press kits, this was before YouTube, before social media, it was about getting assets onto a website so that journalists could download them,” says Steve Momorella, founder of US-based online newsroom specialist, Tekgroup International. In 1998, Tekgroup designed one of the first online newsrooms for automotive powerhouse, Ford Motors. Fossilised in the forgotten pages of internet archives, Tekgroup’s newsroom offered a central webpage equipped with six navigation tabs, a search box, a ‘briefcase’ option to export stories, a headlines section and customer login link. And in all its simplicity, the possibilities of a new domain were clear cut. It was to be an all-encompassing, one-stop shop for inquisitive avant-couriers, a small step for the internet, a giant leap for PR, and the birth of online newsrooms.

Today, online newsrooms are plentiful in their growth, and with digital taking centre stage, centralising company information is a modern necessity. Organisations of all sizes are now taking charge of their press-related content, meaning online newsrooms reflect an awareness of PR strategy and open the doors for further forms of communication. From direct press contact information to hi-res images, briefcases have morphed into shopping carts, press releases now boast social media compatibility and versatility shines through as a crucial component in creating a successful online newsroom platform.

However, as the digital landscape changes with every click, the fast-paced enhancement of online newsrooms is for some a consequence of wider digitalisation. But modern newsrooms, from Uber to Asda, manifest an organisational effort to centralise PR. Increasing implementation of wider elements of company information has made many online newsrooms the go-to place to gain insights into news, products, positions and wider company developments. Whether it’s a pressroom or media centre accessible via onsite tab or external domain, the online newsroom is quickly becoming a central aspect to an organisation’s communications strategy.

For global content specialist, TheNewsMarket, aggregating digital content in the form of online newsrooms requires an organisation’s every effort to tell its story in various contexts, from curation to distribution. Recent research reports from both TheNewsMarket and Tekgroup point to the growing success of online newsrooms with an email-based approach. According to TheNewsMarket’s 2016 report, ‘The Digital Revolution,’ says 93% of participants found a lack of downloadable high-resolution content frustrating, with Tekgroup’s online newsroom survey pointing to 97% of its participants valuing multimedia content as imperative.

Matt Thomson, managing director at TheNewsMarket, says, “We understand the value of online newsrooms for brands that are talking directly to consumers, but for bloggers and journalists, the currency that they value when looking for engagement with the media is what the newsrooms offer in particular. We look at lots of things, and for every single client and every newsroom that we host, the download of content versus the sharing and embedding of content is number one every time.”

“Coming up with stories meant knocking on doors, there was much more interaction, and I still believe that nothing beats that in journalism”

In TheNewsMarket’s case, the challenge of balancing a global presence, one that encompasses diverse clients worldwide, with the specific requirements of an online demographic is essential to cultivating an award-winning platform. Achieving both gold and silver in 2016’s Digital Impact Awards for auto industry clients Euro NCAP and Kia Motors, TheNewsMarket demonstrated that successful online newsrooms today allow organisations to become frontrunners in content creation. And as a wider component of digital PR, today’s spurning of mainstream media’s monopoly on content creation is typified in the growing capacity of online newsrooms.

Michael Choo, general manager of Kia Motor’s overseas PR team, says, “After switching to a completely revamped media newsroom platform developed by TheNewsMarket in September 2015, we have seen a dramatic uptick in nearly all website performance metrics. In terms of total media asset downloads, we enjoyed more than a four-fold increase after launching the new media center – from 13,633 downloads (period of August 2014 to September 2015) to 56,872 downloads (period from 14 September 2015 to November 2016). And according to Google Analytics, we have experienced a 13% rise in visits – from 55,629 to 62,842 – and a 50% jump in page views – from 120,112 to 180,642 – when comparing these aforementioned pre- and post-launch periods.”

As rapid changes overhaul the landscape, developing successful online newsrooms today requires open- ended, multipurpose hubs capable of holding large amounts of data. Differing audiences signify huge gaps in global news consumption trends while content may flourish in one geographical demographic and crash and burn in another. To balance this, Swedish company Mynewsdesk offers a service that marries the growing importance of unrestricted user navigation with the fundamental element of news distribution. Mynewsdesk allows users to curate sources with user profiles and dashboard-based wayfinding, providing an all-in-one approach that aims to bridge the gap between content creation and exposure.

For James Bull, UK director at Mynewsdesk, the upsurge of online newsroom platforms is a result of brands taking the helm and creating their own content, Bull says, “The concept is now about brands becoming communicators and promoting good content. For Mynewsdesk, the newsroom is only a small element of the platform – I think of it like a spider’s web – the back-end of the platform is about a workflow, you can create your content easily and through the system you can distribute it wherever you want it to go. That may be the newsroom, but it can also be sent to a traditional distribution list, social media and become visible on searches, ultimately with the purpose of being fed back into your site so that the users can come here, easily navigate content and build up an image of the brand.”

Yet as the swell of online newsrooms result in organisations bolstering press sections, the growth of the platform has been second to social media in many ways. Today’s media framework values the ubiquity of the 24-hour news cycle. Volatility and in-built temporality – a consequence of wide-ranging access points at the touch of a button – means content creation, consumption and distribution have become more portable than ever. And with social networking omitting many elements of the traditional content creation process, the advent of online migration and the steady abandonment of print has led to the parameters of news consumption rapidly changing.

Johnny McDevitt is a freelance newspaper reporter and television producer, contributing regular content for the Guardian, the Times, Channel 4 News and Dispatches. Over McDevitt’s career, spanning the last 10 years, groundwork in sourcing stories has taken several twists and turns. He says, “With the explosion of social media and, let’s say the arrival of citizen journalism, there’s more stories out there. In and of itself, that might be a good thing. But, for example, when I first started out as a local newspaper reporter, social media was in its infancy, Facebook was still very much a preserve of young people, so in that sense, even eight years ago, coming up with stories meant knocking on doors, there was much more interaction, and I still believe that nothing beats that in journalism. But today, in terms of accessing information in any medium [online] is absolutely unavoidable.”

“For bloggers and journalists, the currency that they value when looking for engagement with the media is what the newsrooms offer in particular”

For online newsrooms, the question of whether the beaten track of compatibility will eventually hinder the platform is one that relies firmly on the outlook of future communications within organisations. As press teams widen the scope of internal communications and focus, as Bull suggests, on the promotion of good content, the limitations of online newsrooms are seemingly inconsequential.

Online newsrooms have continuously drawn upon the locus of communication as central to growth. But as job roles change, social media expands and new models of news increasingly thwart the potential of fully-fledged centrality for online newsrooms, the challenge of achieving cut-through grows in tandem with the need for innovation. As brands take steps to tell stories through varying methods, the limitations of the domain as a rigid, faceless and an outdated aspect to a company’s digital footprint is, in some cases, a growing concern. However, as TheNewsMarket’s report shows, over 95% of journalists have used online newsrooms, outlining the comfortable footing that the platform holds within certain professions.

Access to information is crucial to developing a successful presence as a communicator, yet in many cases, the more organisations offer to online newsrooms, the more they find themselves diluting press sections with similar components to social media offerings. Finding a balance then, is grounded in possessing the right outlook, expectations and awareness of audiences to establish where the newsroom succeeds and where certain elements must, as history has proven, be left behind.