It’s not lazy journalism, but it is ROI journalism – and that’s got PR implications

I hate the phrase lazy journalism.

It suggests that an undercooked story is because the journalist doesn’t work hard. Many times that’s not true.

Mind you the reality isn’t much more attractive to lovers of the old school journalism of contacts, beats and knocking on doors. But it does have big implications for PRs.  

A more accurate description of what we’re seeing today is ROI journalism – where efficiency with scarce journalistic resource means that journos are spread thinner and have more ground to cover than ever before.

So how does ROI journalism work? The biggest difference is that you only start chasing a story if you’re sure it’s going to end up in print. You need to be certain of a return on your investment of time.

Let me give you a couple of examples.

On Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings, I’m frantic. I aim to send out our newsletter email by lunchtime (by the way, if you don’t already subscribe, stick your email address in the box towards the top right hand side of this page – it’s as easy as that).

Now at other times of the week I can afford to be more leisurely in building stuff up, but in those last couple of hours, I may need to write another four or five pieces. The only stuff I’m going to work on is the stuff that’s going to make it. If your press release drops in my inbox and everything I need isn’t right there, I’m putting it to one side. It’s not going on the site in time to catch the newsletter. I might look at it more fully later on, if it’s not already out of date. But the chances are, things will have moved on.

The thing that got me thinking about this was a conversation with the boss of an industry organisation. Shortly before I pressed send on the newsletter, a press release dropped in my inbox. They were launching an initiative of some description. The release was a bit bland. One potential way of making it relevant enough for our audience was to get hold of him and to explain what issue they were responding to.

Sadly I had other stuff to write, and had no idea whether I’d be able to get him straight away, so I sent the newsletter without it.

He later had a moan, having gone to the trouble of getting the release to me in time for my deadline. A former journalist himself, h e even mentioned why it was a potentially bigger story – exactly the sort of thing that if it had been in the release would have made it in.

He saw it as lazy journalism, or tourism, as he put it. I saw it as pragmatism.

I’m looking at a current example. A PR sent me a two paragraph press release last night. The single fact is interesting, but it contained no quotes from the two parties involved, explaining the background. So if it’s going to make it, I’m going to need to talk to them myself. Yes, that’s good old fashioned journalism. And the story would be better for it.

But it’s not going to make it into today’s newsletter, because I haven’t got the time to be tracking down both parties, who may or may not be available. I could spend an hour on it, and never get to talk to them.

So his client has missed out. With luck I’ll have more time tomorrow.

Now ROI journalism hasn’t compeltely taken over. The large dailies and the TV companies clearly still have enough resource to chase hunches. But for smaller titles and B2B, I reckon this is becoming a reality.

For PRs, it means they have to know the publications they are targeting better than ever before, as they may get only one shot at delivering what the journalist needs. Otherwise, they’ll move on to an easier win.

For today, for me, it was more efficient to write this.

That’s ROI journalism.


Tim Burrowes


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