It’s no secret that digital technology has reshaped media industries over the last few decades. The internet is altering how news is reported and how we consume it. In turn, this means we are also witnessing the changing landscape of industries that primarily deal with press in this increasingly digital world, PR being no exception.
Whilst this evolution of the press evokes various opinions, it’s important to bear in mind that these changes are providing more opportunities than ever for businesses to be creative in the way they market themselves through the news. Let’s take a look how.
The future is in digital
Coming from a traditional PR background, I’ve watched the evolution of the press and PR industry change into something entirely different, even within the last five years. Print was the first victim of the digital revolution. It was always going to be, with the financial pressure brought about by free and readily available information online. Whilst print is still favoured amongst older age groups, the majority of content is also now consumed through mobile devices – at further detriment to the newspaper generation.
We’re now witnessing a trend whereby publications that fail to monetise are in trouble. A study showed under 10% of readers of English speaking countries have paid for online news in the last year, which generally means advertising is the only sustainable business model. In turn this affects PR, as struggling publications begin charging for coverage in a desperate attempt to keep afloat.
Many notable traditional print publications are now admitting defeat. In February last year, The Independent ceased publication after running for over 30 years. Recently, the Wall Street Journal declared it would stop publishing all print Asian and European editions after consistent fall in revenue. The future is in digital.
Digital technology has reshaped the news
This is reshaping the news and media industries like we’ve never known it before. Once upon a time, a small selection of large authority publications had complete autonomy over the news. They could chose to publish the content they liked to suit the agenda they liked, and (arguably most importantly) they could chose what not to publish.
Digital has created a power shift away from this. Information and news is now decentralised. This is not to say that there is less bias today in what we consume; we must not forget that the concept of media within itself is that it is ’mediated’. However, anyone today with access to the internet and an opinion can create shareable content from anywhere in the world, at any time they like, with simply a device from their pocket.
How are news outlets adapting?
Now that digital gives consumers convenient and free access to news, the established news authorities that once relied on reaching large audiences and securing advertising revenues have had to adapt techniques to suit the changing landscape. This means that not only the way we consume news is changing – the concept itself of what constitutes as news is changing.
It’s fair to say that social media has played a large part in this. A report last year showed that for young people, social media has now taken over traditional forms of media such as television as their main source of news. It’s important to note that the content on social media principally is created by the people who are consuming it. As everyone is reporting all the time, this increases the chances of fake news, sensationalism and confirmation biases.
A new format of news
We’re witnessing a new generation of content sites such as Buzzfeed and Huff Post which have emerged to suit a format that directly reflects their growth alongside social media. If we line this up alongside the expanding reach of smartphones, with an estimated 4.78 billion smartphone users globally by 2020, we can see why news organisations are having to succumb to this format. The i100, a young ‘clickbait’ version of The Independent is a worthy example of a traditional paper resorting to this kind of digital alternative.
Many people claim this is lowering the quality of the news we consume. I can understand this. A reputable news outlet with an established history and notable journalists retains an illusion of modesty that an overly-sensationalised clickbait site simply does not. For many, this approach may come across as tacky. It isn’t necessarily progressive to reject traditional print media, but perhaps we shouldn’t be so quick to scorn if we consider that these modern format news outlets encapsulate a lot of principles of marketing within them. Clickbait sites are playing directly to our fragile psychological needs for something remarkable, which in many ways, is exactly what PR has always done. What we’re witnessing here is a clever amalgamation of principles taken from both news and marketing.
Traditional news outlets are still important
At this point, I would argue that traditional news authorities still have a large role to play. The responsibility that credible news outlets have in providing reputable information is more important than ever before, at a time where consumers are overloaded by an ocean of misinformed, heavily biased, or in some cases, entirely false information. In turn, from a PR perspective, the competition to be featured in these publications increases.
This leads me onto challenging the popular belief that news quality decreases with an abundance on content available online. From a marketing perspective, we’re having to become more clever with our stories in order to be featured.
Is the quality decreasing?
Whereas previously in PR, relationships with journalists was sufficient enough to be able to ensure coverage, there’s now a marketing challenge for brands to connect with their customers through all digital devices and create campaigns that will work across multiple formats including social media. Of course, I am not rendering all traditional PR tactics useless, we can utilise and retain these practises in the digital landscape to still see great marketing results.
However, businesses with ‘news’ no longer can rely on simply publishing this as they once did, as it’s largely irrelevant and uninteresting to the general reader. Instead, in PR we are having to come up with creative narratives which adeptly tap into consumer needs and desires. In this way, we’re seeing a more intelligent, integrated take on news and marketing, and the boundaries between the two are now more blurred than ever.
What does 2018 hold?
The digital landscape is evolving every day, and as we stumble head first into the new year, I have no doubts that both the press and PR as we know it will continue to evolve. As we continue to market increasingly applicable content to the individual throughout 2018, my question will remain as pertinent as ever; if a story is as relevant as it possibly can be to the reader, at which point does this decrease the quality?