Around six months ago, I noticed that there was a definite change in the way media releases were being picked up by local publications.
Internationally that has not been the case this year but I suspect this will change sooner rather than later.
I think there is indeed an element of declining interest in global warming as the controversy surrounding the science is in free-fall as more people have come to accept the science. I suspect the brutal arguments ahead in this field will be more around policy and economics.
My first instinct was to review my media releases to see how they may have changed. There was nothing obvious that seemed to have occurred. I still used the inverted pyramid style (it's automatic after all these years) and I still had active headlines.
Next, I did what my journalistic training had beaten into me all those years ago, and went to the source - reporters and editors. The response here was fascinating.
As we have all been aware, there have been substantial cuts in every form of media. As a result my contacts in the national dailies and broadcasters have come to rely less and less on email. With so many emails every day, they only stop and look at emails from people they recognise and trust. Everything else comes from social media, phone calls and, in science, outlets like SciMex from the Australian Science Media Centre that already sorts the most interesting stories on a daily basis and sends them out as a morning newsletter to reporters.
In addition, when a media release goes out, some reporters cross that story off their media list automatically. If they think someone else has got the story, they are not going to waste their time reporting on it. Exclusives are king.
As a result of this input, I have now changed the way I do business. Media releases are far less important than they were. It now comes back to that absolute fundamental of our craft, personal relationships.
The very first thing I did was to change my email name from my institution to my personal name. There was instantly a better response.
Next, I went straight to my centre manager and said I would be spending a larger part of any budget on catching up for coffee with established connections and making new connections. It actually felt quite good to be making more time for practising journos.
The third change was to become more targeted. Knowing that exclusives were the way to move, I now select journalists and outlets for my story, with the full expectation that my stories are unlikely to get into competing media. The only exception to this are the huge stories that I know everyone will be interested in.
I have also started focusing more on targeting specific communities of interest on social media. A recent example of this was with this video of Antarctic Ocean Bottom Water that was produced by NCI using data from our climate models.
This was only going to get interest from a few science nerds and those working in the communities. I put out a media release but the real action occurred on Twitter and Facebook within those very narrow communities working in this field. At 20,000 plus hits after two weeks it is already the third most watched video that NCI has produced.
To top it off, I was recently in Western Australia, catching up with other comms colleagues from various Centres of Excellence in that state. It appeared my experience in 2015 with media releases was not unique.
Without any prompting or prior comment, one of the comms people asked about whether anyone else was having more difficulty getting their media releases out than usual. There was general nodding around the table.
They had noted the same change and all breathed a sigh of relief that it wasn't something they were doing wrong.
As I look to 2016, my comms plans have already shifted. For me it will be the year of developing more focused communities of interest and closer relationships with media professionals.
Let's be clear, the days of media releases are not over they have just shifted in importance.
Some people may try to persist with media releases and will get initial success by putting out inflammatory statements but over time that is likely to lead to a loss of trust, especially if there is nothing substantial to back it up.
And trust is (and always has been) the foundation of our profession. More than ever our job in the future is about fundamental, personal, engaged communication. Trust will be at the core of all these relationships and it will most certainly trump impersonal broadcast media releases for reporters starved of time and resources.
Media releases really took off with technology but sometimes we have to go back to move forward. Before computers and the internet, relationships and phone calls were our most powerful tools. Today, it's back to the future as those tools dominate again and are combined with the technologies surrounding online social communities.
In 2016 and beyond, relationships will rule.