The problem with today’s maritime press is not fake news. It is the deluge of press releases churned out almost daily by PR firms. The wave is massive like the tidal surge in Hokusai’s iconic woodblock print (pictured above) entitled Under the Wave off Kanagawa, also known as The Great Wave.
However, maritime publications are just too happy to welcome the tsunami. They seem to have little choice. How many publishers can still afford to maintain a pool of salaried writers? Some are unable to even pay correspondents a paltry rate to cover news developments on the ground.
Advertisements used to be the lifeblood of maritime news outlets, enabling some of them to actually thrive. Those days are fast fading away. Maritime companies are scrimping on their advertising budgets. It makes more economic sense to hire a PR agency than to advertise in a limited number of publications. PR firms can do a series of email blitzes for a client at the fraction of the cost of one advert.
For the editors, press releases are as convenient as McDonald’s burgers and fries, and they’re free. But like most fast foods, they can be bad for the health of those consuming them. This is particularly true in the case of editors who are too lazy or do not have the time to review and process the material. Many publications, in fact, just gobble up what is fed to them by the PR service crews.
Press releases are as convenient as McDonald’s burgers and fries, and they’re free. But like most fast foods, they can be bad for the health of those consuming them.
The result is there for everyone to see. The overuse of press releases — coupled with over-concern with search engine optimisation or SEO — has created a certain homogeneity in the maritime press. The stories are the same. Even the article titles read alike. Don’t believe this? Just google a current maritime topic — wellness training for seafarers, for example — and you can judge for yourself.
A few maritime publications try to avoid using press releases. John Konrad, founder and CEO of gCaptain, says they won’t publish them “unless they are paid and clearly marked as ‘Sponsored’ or are truly newsworthy.” This sounds like a good policy. The question is, how many maritime news outlets would do the same and how long can they stay afloat without the support of advertisers?
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