Are you feeling like the term “service journalism” is popping up in many of your PR/communications conversations and readings recently? You’re not alone. Service journalism is experiencing a revival (at least in name). Here’s a bit about what it is and how companies can leverage its momentum.

What is service journalism?

While there is some spirited debate (and even more variations) on the definition of service journalism, at its heart it is just that: heart. Service journalism is a commitment to helping those who engage it.

This is not necessarily a new concept in journalism – finding and reporting on answers that inform and benefit the public. But there is a differentiator in its specific consumer and problem-solving focus.

Service journalism is consumer-focused reporting that not only asks the questions but goes on to translate how those answers can solve a problem or meet a need.

This approach also happens to lend itself naturally to our current news cycle and the information and guidance many audiences are seeking from it. For example, the New York Times recently announced a cohort of reporters solely focused on service journalism around the COVID-19 pandemic. They are seeking out and answering questions to better help their audience address their COVID-related needs.

Even before the pandemic, the Reynolds Journalism Institute at the Missouri School of Journalism talks about service journalism “having a moment.” Audiences have questions and are increasingly looking towards the media to help them find answers.

What can companies leverage from it?

All companies, agencies, and organizations can learn from and leverage a few tips from service journalism. Taking this approach can help you (re)focus your communications through the lens of your audience:

  • What is your direct (simple and clear) benefit to your consumer?
  • How can they take advantage of it with you?
  • What questions might they have upfront, and how can you proactively address them?
  • How can you make it easy and helpful for your customers to reach out to you further?

For large corporations or multifaceted government agencies, service journalism helps to strip away internal jargon and processes. It steps into your customer’s shoes and follows their journey to engaging with you, ideally identifying and dismantling barriers along the way.

Earned media

Taking this approach to journalism in your earned media pitching may be a good way to expand audience awareness and offer educational or action-oriented next steps for them. Look to pitch outlets in particular who embody elements of service journalism, such as having consumer advocate segments or recurring columns that give audiences tips and how-tos. Some may even be prompted by audience questions and requests for help.

Owned media

The concept and foundational elements of this approach to journalism are not limited to earned media only. Companies can easily adapt it into their owned communications efforts as well, such as a website, blog, newsletter, informational collateral, and/or social media properties.

While only time will tell if the “revival” of service journalism is a trend that will pass on or stay, the work it aims to accomplish is longer-lasting: a focus on serving your customers and giving them the information and tools they need in order to benefit from what you have to offer.

Looking for some more inspiration? Check out these two good reads:

And give us a shout anytime – we’d love to chat!