I contemplated writing a long introductory paragraph for this article. On reflection, this seems pretty futile when the title actually covers the premise of what I intend to cover within the upcoming text. Controversially, I’m going to hijack this opportunity to highlight the rarity of this occurrence in the media today, a landscape that some would claim is plagued with fake news, clickbait and misleading headlines. On that note, let’s dive in..
So, where do I start? The fall of organic.
Across the media and marketing landscape, we’re well aware that organic isn’t the be all and end-all anymore. Last month Facebook updated their algorithm once again, deprioritising public content like posts from businesses and the media. This has huge implications on press consumption, especially when we consider over 50% of people use social media as a source of news these days. This means across all channels, it’s becoming harder for news to be heard organically unless you have engaging, catchy content. This increase in sensational, often humorous, but ultimately sharable content has raised questions about the quality of the news landscape.
Apparently just 10% of readers of English speaking countries have paid for online news in the last year. Many publications are trying paywalls but as they consistently face the climate of free online news, advertising seems to be the only sustainable business model. Everyday we’re seeing publications that fail to monetise going under.
In terms of PR then, we’re witnessing two things here. Firstly, online publications are realising the marketing, PR and SEO value that they have in featuring branded, linked content. Both trade and consumer press have therefore started asking for a fee for the inclusion of a backlink, or to feature content on their site. This means anyone can pay for any old guff to be featured, yet smaller businesses with smaller budgets will struggle to feature even when they have genuine news stories.
Additionally, this struggling landscape inevitably means that journalists are being paid less and having to work more. The implications of this are obvious. A recent investigation from The Outline highlighted that contributors to prestigious publications have been taking payments in exchange for positive coverage on these domains.
What does this mean for journalism and PR?
With the increase in fake news, increasingly paid for opportunities, and revelations recently that journalists and bloggers for Inc., Forbes, and Huffington Post have been accepting payment for brand mentions in articles, we have to ask whether free journalism exists anymore? And, in more relevant terms for us marketeers, what does this spell out for industries that hinge on the legitimacy of press, such as PR?
News: legitimacy vs sensational?
It’s important to note here that this kind of hype in the media is not new. In my previous blog, I controversially drew parallels on sensationalist headlines and the basic principles of PR; it’s not ludicrous to claim that both tap into our psychological need to consume something remarkable.
In fact, if we throw it back to the origins of PR, we see the all-round wizard and marketing OG Edward Bernays claiming that PR is all about clever persuasion tactics of the public’s desires. Remembering that everything in the media is ‘mediated’ is important to note here. How can free journalism ever have existed in the first place if we keep in mind that news has never been, and never will be, unbiased.
Despite this, within this changing landscape, sensationalism and link fees are becoming more prominent. How we ensure that quality content is still being heard in this fake news landscape?
There is good news, don’t worry
The good news is that this quality content is still there. I support the ideology that an abundance of content online means that businesses and marketers are having to create unique content that is increasingly targeted and relevant for its audience. Good quality content is more focused, clever and engaging than it ever has been.
There are other positives in the distrust of online content too. From a PR perspective, journalists are crying out for legitimate content to feature amongst the noise. Publications are searching for more creative, quality content. Trade press across niche industries are seeing an increase as readers search for relevant and focused content.
Aside from all that however, on a broader scale, the increase in fake news has seen consumers on mass for the first time questioning things in the media that they would have previously blindly accepted. Arguably then, perhaps in many ways journalism today is more liberated than it’s ever been, in the sense that it’s consumption is more calculated and intelligent than ever.