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 State of the media: Reflections from journalists during COVID-19


The media industry has undergone significant change in the last few years but in 2020, with the all-encompassing global impact of COVID-19, the pace of change is being accelerated by fundamental shifts in how we live, work and understand the world.

In Marketing Week’s ‘State of the Media’ webinar this week, three key factors shaping the current media landscape emerged – which will dictate how we, as communications practitioners, deal with our media contacts day-to-day and approach our PR and marketing strategies in a world affected by pandemic.

1.   (dis)Trust

Following a proliferation distrust in the media aligned with anti-establishment sentiment and the rise of ‘fake news’ outlets, according to a global survey of journalists, trust in traditional media is making a steady return. The plurality of voices in the UK media means people are generally thinking more carefully about media bias, and understand it better. Rosie Hopewood, Former Deputy Features Editor at Reach PLC Magazines, argues that coronavirus will boost readers’ trust in new outlets as people seek out clarity, advice and guidance to navigate the current situation. Now more than ever it’s important to have confidence in the information published by news staples such as the BBC, which is likely to accelerate the movement away from ‘fake news’ spread by social channels back towards more traditional mediums. In the longstanding battle of news exclusivity vs. accuracy, journalists now see the latter as priority number one, which for PRs means thorough research and analysis anchored by solid data will be well-received.

2.   Tone

Context is changing rapidly as the COVID-19 outbreak unrelentingly evolves. New regulations and measures are being announced by governments and businesses daily, while fluctuating statistics have the potential to swiftly alter our general outlook. Tone has therefore become more fragile; a story penned and submitted with a 10-day lead time could be severely off-tone by the time of publication. There’s an intensified need for agility according to Cheryl Douglas, Global Director, Media research & jobs at Cision – to think ‘what do journalists need now?’ With this comes an accentuated responsibility among PR practitioners to read and understand what topics are being talked about daily, and to find an appropriate angle that works in the moment.

3.   Technology

Enduring life in lockdown will no doubt accelerate the shift from print to digital media consumption. Yet, while 41% of journalists agree social media algorithms will change the way they work, the relevance of artificial intelligence and machine learning appears to be impacting journalists significantly less. Tech is helping journalists to shape their readers– to understand who’s reading stories, what types of content their interested in, what times of day particular stories are gaining traction etc. – but the reinstated importance of accuracy over speed is bringing the human element of modern journalism back into focus. As most industries will agree, the role of tech is to enhance human labour, rather than replace it. It’s about adopting new practices and, in the world of media, new platforms to reach your target audience. Interestingly, modern journalists note that the most valuable stories are those which resonate in print, digital and social formats – and PRs should therefore consider how stories can be adapted for different platforms.

The ascendancy of social influencers also cannot be overlooked, as increasingly journalists see influencers as a key tool for growing their readership and, at a commercial level, generating new subscribers and revenue. Expert commentators with a large following on Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram or elsewhere, are now a much higher priority for journalists, reinforcing the need for PR activities to be integrated into a wider marketing strategy, where social media is a key component.

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While these changes are happening right now, the fluidity of our perceptions about communications will no doubt persist as we begin to recover from the coronavirus outbreak, and restart our lives in the social and cultural milieu we refer to as the ‘new normal’. As ever, we at Innesco are keeping our fingers firmly on the pulse of the media to establish what this mean for our client’s PR and marketing strategies – so we can continue to inform, advise and engage with stakeholders throughout what is surely the most important time for communications in our life time.

– Andrew Smith, Senior Account Executive, Innesco

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