There’s an adage in journalism known as Betteridge’s Law that any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no. It was coined by British technology journalist Ian Betteridge in 2009, although the principle is much older.
And I’m about to break it.
When it comes to the technology press, the answer to “has the pandemic killed product news” is, generally, yes. We’ve heard this anecdotally from other agencies, we’ve experienced it ourselves across multiple technology sectors and – most importantly – we’ve heard it directly from journalists.
What does the pandemic have to do with product news? A lot. To understand why, it’s necessary to step back and look at the larger media landscape.
Which, if you’re a journalist, is bleak.
Pew research finds that US newspapers shed half their newsroom employees since 2008. The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects this to continue declining another 11% by 2029. The technology media is not immune, as those of us that have been in this industry since, well, forever can attest. Not only are there fewer journalists, there are also fewer media outlets overall. That means that where multiple publications might have covered different segments of a particular market a decade ago, now all the companies that target that market are fighting to get covered in the one or two outlets that remain.
This was the trend headed into 2020. Then came the pandemic, which not only poured fuel on the fire, it also forced companies to shift from tried and true marketing initiatives such as trade shows to other alternatives to drive brand awareness. Such as media coverage.
Journalistic integrity also means that the one type of coverage that has most thrived in the pandemic – bylined articles, or what we in the biz call “thought leadership” – cannot make up for this lack of product coverage. Vendor-contributed bylines must, above all, remain vendor neutral. At a fundamental level this means it’s impossible for you to write directly about your own product in a reputable media outlet. If the product is going to get covered, a journalist has to do it.
These twin pressures – fewer journalists chasing more stories – collided in the post-pandemic newsroom, and something had to give. What ended up paying the price was product coverage.
That’s not to say that there is no product news anymore. Look around and you’ll certainly find a fair share. But if you look a little closer you’ll see something else: this coverage is dominated by products from large, well-known brands.
The reason for that is eyeballs, as we’ve heard from reporters themselves. According to one industry vet: “I don’t have time to cover all the product news that comes my way, so I just concentrate on the big stories my readers will recognize and ignore the rest.”
Similarly, product reviews have taken a hit. What used to be a staple of product coverage has shifted to more crowd-sourced outlets like Capterra or G2 – which means it can take a while for a new product to “break through” with enough reviews to matter. These outlets also solicit paid promotion to boost visibility, but this increases costs.
However, there’s a bright side. The types of coverage that journalists are still chasing tend to be around larger trend- and data-driven stories. For the clever PR team going into a product launch, that creates an opportunity to tell a larger story about the problem your new product solves, and back up that story with facts and figures, or customer and analyst quotes. Launching a product in three months that addresses X? How about conducting a survey in the meantime that identifies the top issues companies are struggling with in regard to X, and packaging that up into a digestible format for journalists that focuses primarily on the user struggle and need for solutions.
With a little luck and a lot of careful planning, maybe the newest solution that will get covered is yours.