It should come as no surprise that the way we get news today is quite different than in the last decade. Daily Newspaper circulation, which stood at 62 million in 1990, fell to 43 million in 2010, a decline of 30% (source: The State of the News Media 2011). There are many reasons behind this decline. One is a drop in advertising revenue, which has resulted in staff reductions, less content and reduced deliveries.
Another reason is a change in behavior. According to the Pew Research Center in Washington DC, news has a place in social media, on some sites more than others (source). See the chart at right.
We are still in transition as new online venues are experimented with. Today, it seems like everyone gets their news in a different way – from a Facebook post to an AP news alert (on a smart phone) to browsing an online news site such as Google News. Of course, some still watch TV, listen to the radio, and, some still read a newspaper.
Don’t confuse this transition with diminishing importance. This change is quite different from the fate of the buggy whip manufacturer … news is still actively sought. It is the delivery mechanism that is changing.
The Impact on Public Relations
Public Relations professionals are experiencing this transformation first hand, which has significantly impacted how they do their job. Targeting a single media channel is not a viable strategy anymore to effectively get the word out. Of course, budget dictates how far and wide your “net” can swing. Not everyone can afford to run TV ads. Regardless, communications strategies must now be multi-channel.
Not only has the medium changed, so too has the timeframe. News stories now can occur at nearly any time of the day or night, and seem to break instantly on a global scale. While this speed of access may be great for the general public, it can be a challenge for reporters, editors and PR professionals.
Given this new timeframe expectation, there often isn’t enough time for reporters to adequately research a breaking story – especially when the world is watching and wanting more info. We saw this occur in 2013 surrounding the breaking story of a bombing at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. As a story from the Hollywood Reporter explained, “Questionable information from sources and a rush to be first contributed to a flurry of erroneous media reports.”
Since that event, the news industry has learned. Initial announcements, be it from a Twitter feed, blog post or other “real-time” source must first be researched before assuming true. Or, any conclusions based on these real-time media sources should be identified as such. In this way, every source can occupy a place in the hierarchy of how news distribution. As a PR professional, we need to be aware of each of these “roles” that social media plays as news breaks.
The Social Media Role of News – First Responder
Given the widespread adoption of smart phones, it is highly likely access to a live smart phone “feed” will occur as news stories break. It makes sense that the role of social media has become one of “first responder,” giving us the fastest access to a breaking news story. But, accuracy may not be 100%, given its speed. But, as long as PR professionals, news agencies and the public understand what role each communications venue plays, the system works quite well.
As a PR professional, it is important your organization has representation across each of these media, so you can contribute to the “conversation” as news develops and is reported on. In this way, social media plays a role as a communication venue – not one for lead generation. Most organizations now understand this, having invested in building a social presence online as well as continuing to maintain traditional PR network of reporters and editors. The consequence of not maintaining these connections is that over time you will lose credibility by not being part of the commentary as major news stories break, or new thought-leadership stories go mainstream.