15-Feb-2013 Spotlight on Saskatchewan is a new regular feature of the IABC/Regina newsletter. It takes a look at the challenges and opportunities of communications professionals in Saskatchewan.

Media Relations in the Queen City

Regina is certainly not the biggest or busiest media market in Canada; nevertheless, we have quite a healthy media landscape offering many opportunities to get messaging out. That being said, these many outlets and the many Saskatchewan journalists also represent an opportunity to get our messages mangled before they reach the public. The province has many seasoned journalists that know the ins and outs of the business, but we have an equally large group of recent graduates that still have to learn the ropes. That is why managing media relations is an integral part of reputation and image management in Saskatchewan communications work.

Regina is a government town and indeed, there are tight links between the public relations units of all provincial ministries and local media. It’s not uncommon to hear surnames thrown about as communicators and politicians regularly fraternize with their favourite journalists. The relationship is generally one of trust that has been built over decades and continues to function healthily on the principles of openness and transparency on both sides. As a result, we will rarely read a scathing critique of government operations, but we will read a great amount of operational coverage on government when compared to other provinces and cities.

Between media and the private sector of Regina, the conversation is less easy, but just as healthy. We may hear of Washington-style “gotcha” journalism or British-style “anything to make the front page” journalism, but in Regina, I call it “laid back” journalism. If media’s role is to convey the facts to the people in a timely manner, then we can say mission accomplished. In fact, media are often an extremely transparent conduit between communicators and the public, going so far as to print news releases verbatim. This is surely a plus for communicators but may eventually be another nail in the coffin of print media.

We can’t blame media too much for this trend away from investigative and analytical journalism. With shrinking readership come shrinking ad revenue and shrinking human resources. The journalists of today have to write more, for more vehicles and to a more discerning public than ever before. As a result, major passages from our beloved news releases make it to print, to websites and to a tweet or two without analysis, while exposés and in-depth features have become few and far between.

Finally, the relationship between media and non-profit organizations suffers most from this trend. Many Regina-area organizations have little or no budgets for media buys and consistent media relations. As a result, we are a city filled with organizations that do important work without much-needed media attention. Sure, we get the odd human interest story of Murray who’s been volunteering at the Humane Society since the 1970s for example, but this does nothing to benefit the organizational objectives of today’s humane society. I have no quick fix for this one, only that non-profits have to see the ROI of communications work and they need to explore and re-establish a relationship with the local media as they exist today.

In the end, Regina is a friendly media market but one that is in flux. Media relations in this city will continue to change, diversify and seek convergence across vehicles. To maintain a healthy (and above-all useful) relationship, organizations will have to adapt.

As a reference, here is a list of Regina-area media that is by no means complete. Consult the Saskatchewan Weekly Papers Association website at www.swna.com for a comprehensive list of provincial papers.

Like our Focus on Saskatchewan feature? Agree or disagree with the issues? Tell us more at jonathan.tremblay1@gmail.com.

Jonathan Tremblay is a Regina-based communications professional and board member of IABC/Regina. Jonathan has been a bilingual communicator and journalist for various companies and media.