PRINT TALE: What journalism can teach you about where communications should be headed

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I remember where I was when the old news media died for me. It happened in a phone call from a journalist.

“Look,” he started off. “When you write something on Twitter could you do me a favour and give me a call, please?”

I said I couldn’t. Not because I was being awkward but because it wouldn’t work.  I suggested he join Twitter himself. This was when Twitter was in its infancy.

Time has passed and the news media is being re-born. Many of the old ways have gone. Digital first has come into play. In other words, not sitting on news until the next edition but publishing it as soon as it breaks and driving traffic to the website.

Time was when all the innovation was happening in local government. There are still bright people doing bright things but as the sector has suffered austerity many have moved on. Newspapers are now working out what the future looks like. They have swapped print dollars for digital dimes. It’s not always pretty to look at for time served journalists. But their need to find an audience to survive teaches lessons for communications people.

One of the best places to see where the cutting edge is is through the Reuters Institute of Journalism.  Based at the University of Oxford the body brings academic rigour and research to the sector. There are lessons for communications people too in their Digital News Report 2017.

Resistance to change will be punished

Newspapers have had 20 years to make sense of the internet and have largely failed, the report says. Who creates the news is less important to people in 2017 than the places where they can get it. Audiences and advertisers have embraced new technology. The brighter news organisations have too. But whether the public sector has or not, I’m really not sure. If the expectation of the public sector is that people will come to them for information because they are the public sector history shows a shock is in store. The audience has moved away from newspapers who thought just that.

News in the UK is consumed mostly online

The art of writing a press release is still part of the mix. But as people move away from print media they are consuming news online. But the content of news online is often sharable content from video, images to infographics. Is your content mirroring this trend?

reuters source of news

People consume the news online but can’t remember where they read it

‘I read that on Facebook,’ is the response. ‘But I don’t remember who told me.’ This is really significant. It means that people are consuming information without looking too closely at the masthead of what delivered it. Reuters Institute research showed that 47 per cent couldn’t remember the people that served the news they’d read. The important thing for me is to have content on Facebook. It is less important where that presence can be found. So, sure, a Facebook page. But it is most important just to get your content out and circulating.

Whats App as a channel for news is important

We can’t see it so we can’t measure it. But 40 per cent in the UK use Whats App for news and 36 per cent use Facebook messenger. The Guardian, for example, deliver a daily message through Facebook Messenger. If that can be done for news, why not for public sector news?

People prefer an algorithm to serve their news more than an editor

More than half prefer an algorithm setting their news agenda as opposed to 44 preferring an editor, the Digital News Report says. For under 35s the algorithm figure rises to 64 per cent.

So, if people are happy to have their news served to them doesn’t it make sense for your news and messages to be in the places that are going to be hoovered up? This points to Google News and Facebook. There is no direct footprint a public sector organisation can have in Google News but there is in Facebook.

In summary

If you work in communications and PR look outside the sector too for clues on how to communicate better. Newspapers, or rather media companies, are evolving as well as dying. Their business model is based around reaching an audience. There are things they are doing which can teach us all. Often I’ll talk about public sector communications. There can be an inherent laziness sometimes about reaching an audience because there is no bottom line or sales target. But that’s not good enough.