The Incredible Shrinking Media

Posted by Scarlett Swerdlow, Feb 09, 2009 4 comments

When it comes to press outreach and relations, doesn't it feel like the more you do, the less you get?  The more advisories and releases you send, the fewer reporters and critics there are and the less space there is to cover the arts.

I had the opportunity in January to participate in a panel convened by the League of Chicago Theatres and the Chicago-based Community Media Workshop titled "The Incredible Shrinking Media and What It Means for Your Arts Organization."  We reflected on the obstacles and opportunities facing artists and arts organizations when it comes to both traditional and new media.

Gordon Mayer of the Workshop moderated, and broadcast superstar Sylvia Ewing, Catey Sullivan of, and Kris Vire of Time Out Chicago were our other panelists.

The Incredible Shrinking Media Event

Chicago Public Radio recorded the event:

A sampling of insights and stories shared:

What's the real reason the traditional media landscape (i.e.-- broadcast and print outlets) is shifting?  Changes in the way we choose to consume the news. The writing was on the wall before the downturn in the economy.

According to the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press:

The internet, which emerged this year as a leading source for campaign news, has now surpassed all other media except television as an outlet for national and international news.

In a report titled "Internet Overtakes Newspapers as News Outlet," Pew published this:

Where Do You Get Your News?

Granted this is about national news coverage - not where we find arts and cultural coverage most of the time anyway - but I believe this reflects a larger, universal trend: as traditional media goes down, new media goes up.

Note that television is still the outlet of choice for the news.  This points to another truth about the media landscape: the traditional tools of media outreach are still worthwhile, as long as you use them smarter and more efficiently.

When it comes to press advisories, releases, and pitches, spray and pray won't cut it anymore.  Artists and arts organizations need to foster reciprocal relationships with the reporters and critics that cover our issues.  Ditch the fax machine and use email to pitch to and communicate with journalists.

From Flickr user anomalous4

(Original image from Flickr user anomalous4.)

(I'm in a LOLcat mood, so please bear with me!)

For folks in the Midwest interested in honing their media outreach and relations skills, check out Community Media Workshop.  Another resource is the Spin Project, a national organization dedicated to supporting the media efforts of the nonprofit sector.

At the same time that artists and arts organizations need to target their media efforts, we also need to think outside the box when it comes to media opportunities.

As noted above, television is still the outlet of choice for the news.  Have you reached out to the ABC, CBS, FOX, and NBC affiliates in your area? Do you have relationships with the reporters and critics who cover cultural issues?  If there's time for killer bees from Africa, there's time for the arts.

From Flickr user Paulpod

(Image from Flickr user Paulpod.)

If coverage in the local or regional paper is a challenge, turn to the editorial pages, the most popular pages in newspapers.  Have a patron or supporter submit a letter to the editor about your latest exhibit, performance, or event.  With letters to the editor and op-eds, you have complete control over messaging.

Whatever the platform, think creatively and expansively about the frame and messaging you use to tell your story.  Don't just turn to the arts reporters and critics; think about the impact of your work beyond the cultural community.  How artists and arts organizations are coping with the recession is a popular story today.  How can you tap into that trend through your media efforts?  As Sylvia Ewing stressed, don't just think of print, think of broadcast and the Internet too.

Most of our conversation focused on the Internet and the new media tools available to artists and arts organizations.  I'll share those insights and stories next week in Part II of the Incredible Shrinking Media, so stay tuned.

funny pictures of cats with captions

In the meantime, what have you noticed about media coverage of the arts in your community?  How are you coping with the shifting media landscape?  What media success stories can you share with the rest of us?

4 responses for The Incredible Shrinking Media


February 10, 2009 at 5:40 pm

A similar panel is being offered in Raleigh on Feb. 17:

As I wrote to the organizer in response to his pre-panel questionnaire: "With the “information overload” many news organizations seem to be experiencing, along with the rest of us, and the changing media landscape, where traditional advertising methods have become less reliable, I am hoping to learn the best ways to stand out to and communicate with local and regional news media...I recognize that there is more happening each day than can possibly be covered comprehensively given limited resources, but we should be able to work together in mutually beneficial ways, and I hope this conference is only the beginning of that process. So additional conversations would be welcome to build those relationships, or maybe arranging times where members of the media who cover specific nonprofit industries could actually meet with reps from those nonprofits just to hear about any major campaigns/events/issues that could merit coverage…thinking of new ways to bring nonprofits and the media together over time would be wonderful!"

Glad to hear that the conversation is happening elsewhere, and looking forward to hearing the results of those discussions.

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February 10, 2009 at 10:42 pm

Thanks for your comment, Jamie.

Your suggestion about facilitating conversations between members of the media and the nonprofit sector reminds me of the work of Community Media Workshop, one of the co-sponsors of our panel.

CMW has gone into communities in the Midwest and first led trainings on media relations and outreach for nonprofits and then followed up by moderating a panel of journalists to connect them with the community and demystify media somewhat.

CMW is a regional organization, but it might be worthwhile to contact them about similar opportunities in your area.

Unfortunately, as all the journalists on our panel said, there's no silver bullet or magic answer, but there are smart strategies and tactics that improve your odds. I think being efficient with media outreach and coupling that with expanded storytelling through Web 2.0 is the responsible route for any nonprofit.

Also, in this day and age, people are more open to that type of direct, personal storytelling. There's also the democratization of opinion-leading that Web 2.0 has brought. You don't have to be a critic or a think tanker. You can be someone really passionate about an issue who's built up online cred, and people will listen to you. Just think about

But I digress. Thanks again for your excellent feedback! I'd love to hear the results of the Raleigh conversation, so please come back and share.

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February 12, 2009 at 7:56 pm

The Communications Leadership Institute and its key program, The SPIN Project, are developing customized trainings for arts clients, to be delivered this spring. The first is scheduled for May 2 in San Jose, CA.

After the presentations, we will post abstracts or synopses of the trainings, including the Q&As with participants. The information may help lend insight for others.

For more information on these and other trainings, contact me at

Michael A. Chihak
Executive Director
Communications Leadership Institute
San Francisco, CA

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February 13, 2009 at 12:15 pm

Thanks, Michael, for the heads up. Sounds like a great resource for the arts community.

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