How three big media trends affect the PR industry

Findings from Pew Research Center’s State of the Media 2012 report will have an impact on PR professionals. Better pay attention.


News consumption is growing, thanks in large part to the explosion of mobile technology, according to Pew Research Center’s State of the Media Report 2012.

And that’s a good thing—for the most part.

“Our analysis suggests that news is becoming a more important and pervasive part of people’s lives,” Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, said in a press release. “But it remains unclear who will benefit economically from this growing appetite for news.”

Problem is the tech companies that make these platforms are profiting from the ad sales. For instance, five technology companies accounted for 68 percent of all online ad revenue in 2011, the report said. Pew questioned whether these big tech companies will give a boost to legacy media brands, even tossing out the idea that Facebook could one day buy The Washington Post.

[Check out the entire report.]

Pew identified several more major trends affecting the media world, nearly all of which will have an impact on the public relations industry. Here are three examples:

Social media is driving news readership, to an extent

The part of the report that grabbed headlines on Monday dealt with the ways people get their news online. Do they go directly to the source (NYTimes.com, for example), through an app or website that aggregates news (such as TechMeme), via search engine, or through links shared on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook?

Most of them do not get their news primarily from social media, the report noted.

“No more than 10 percent of digital news consumers follow news recommendations from Facebook or Twitter ‘very often’ … And almost all of those who do are still using other ways like going directly to the news website or app as well.”

The primary ways digital readers get their news is by visiting a news site directly (38 percent), through a Web or app news aggregator (27 percent) or through a search engine (29 percent), the study found.

Still, the percentage of people accessing news sites from social media is up from the 2010 State of the Media report. When people do follow links to news outlets, they are most often shared by people they trust—friends, family, and colleagues.

For instance, 70 percent of Facebook users access news sites via links shared by friends and family. Just 13 percent come from journalist and media organizations. The influence of friends and family still outweighs that of journalists on Twitter, but by a far smaller margin, according to the report.

Adam Sherk, a vice president at Define Media Group, says this makes sense.

“Your mom is always going to care a heck of a lot more about what you are sharing (whether it is a family photo or a news link) than what a newspaper or local TV station shares,” he wrote on his blog.

Similar to brands, news organizations are using Facebook pages, Subscribe buttons for journalists, and other tools to form relationships with readers, according to Sherk, who consults and trains news and content sites on social media and search engine optimization.

Still, a link shared by a friend or family member will garner more attention and is more likely to inspire action, Sherk explained in an email to PR Daily.

“That’s where PR and marketing plays a vital role, through things like audience development strategies, influencer relations and community engagement,” he said.

Whether it’s a media outlet or a business-to-business brand, companies want mothers and friends to trust them, so they’ll share and recommend their content.

“The more a brand can do to earn itself a place among a person’s trusted relationships, the more likely they are to see action and engagement from their social activity,” Sherk said.

News viewership is on the rise, unexpectedly

Although local and network TV news didn’t fair well in the profits category—they lost money in 2011—the medium saw a boost in viewership, the report found.

The 4.5 percent increase in news viewership at three traditional broadcast networks marked the first uptick in a decade, according to Pew.

CNN and MSNBC also saw an increase in viewers; Fox News experienced its second-straight year of decline, although it remains the top cable news network in ratings.

Despite the gains, many TV newsrooms continue to trim their budgets, asking reporters and producers to do more with less. This situation provides an opportunity for PR professionals, according to Julie Holley, the manager editor of TV and blog content at Vocus.

Journalists are under a lot of pressure, she explained. If a PR professional can do the homework for them, give them quick facts and find real people they can call and interview, then a PR pro becomes an important resource for TV journalists.

Holley offered two important tips for people pitching TV journalists:

1. Start with a simple pitch and explain that you can provide more. Don’t bury the journalist with information. Wait until he or she asks for more info.
2. Be ready when the journalist calls. TV deadlines are unbendable. If you pitch a reporter, and he or she calls back looking for the story, don’t make them wait. You’ll only lose credibility in the person’s eyes.

The trend in digital subscriptions will continue.

Roughly 100 papers are expected to erect pay walls this year, joining the approximately 150 or so that already charge for content, the report said.

The strategy that’s proved successful for some papers—notably that of The New York Times—is a metered pay wall, in which readers have a set amount of free articles each month. The paper asks them to buy a subscription once they reach the limit. On Tuesday, the Times Company announced that one year after launching its pay wall, it has 454,000 paid digital subscribers. It also unveiled plans to cut the number of free articles to 10 per month month from 20. The change begins in April.

The report said the reason for the uptick in pay walls is a reflection of the stark reality of the newspaper industry (which is the nation’s fastest-shrinking).

“Many newspapers have lost so much of their ad revenue—more than half since 2006 industry-wide—that without an infusion of digital subscription revenue, some may not survive,” according to the report.

What does that mean for PR professionals?

PR Daily explored the topic in a story earlier this month, shortly before The Los Angeles Times unveiled its metered pay wall. Observers speculated that the pay walls would have little effect on media relations; however, communications consultant Shel Holtz said they would put greater emphasis on the importance of content marketing (or brand journalism).

Digital readers who aren’t subscribing to a newspaper’s content may turn to alternative sources to find information. Those sources might be blogs, online news sites, or a brand’s page, Holtz said.

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