Nine Curious Thoughts On Mainstream Media and Reporting the Truth
My PR agency recently celebrated its 20th anniversary, a reflective milestone. I took a moment to reconnect with colleagues and former employees, and we strolled down memory lane admiring progress in the ever-changing worlds of PR and journalism.
Here are nine curious observations on today's "mainstream media" (network broadcast and daily newspapers, mostly) as we all ride out this seismic shift in the media landscape, both in structure and in integrity:
1. There is still excellence in journalism, but media consumers have to seek it out and make good media choices for their news sources. Once we vilified reporters who chose sides, now we boost their ratings by retweeting and reposting any opinion that validates our own instead of the unexpected. (See: confirmation bias.)
2. Content is STILL king, but that king still collects taxes. Media is a business, and cannot survive without funding sources... even public broadcasting and nonprofit media need donors, grants, funders and patrons.
3. Leaking and peeking: although "leakers" are vilified recently, journalism relies on revealing the truth, and the truth relies on people willing to expose the facts. The Society of Professional Journalists tweeted yesterday, "Some of society's greatest contributions are built on leaked documents and information." Most reputable news sources have created ways to send them information anonymously through online Dropboxes and secure emails.
4. Journalists are master storytellers - with less time to engage and fact-check. New reality: smaller staff and shrinking news organizations mean less time/resources for the media (and for PR people) to connect and flush out a story, and its sources. In recent world events concerning Russia and North Korea, it is all mainstream media can do to react to presidential tweets and headlines from daily briefing, with precious little time or staff resources for in-depth coverage and analysis.
5. Networking and relationships [between media and PR people] still matter - maybe even more so. People still buy from people they like - and that holds true for news stories delivered by reputable columnists, news anchors, talk show hosts or publishers, served up by reputable sources like communications professionals and expert spokespeople.
6. Shiny technology should never overshadow the content. Multimedia and augmented reality are only as powerful as the story's premise.
7. Mainstream media will continue to rely on SoLoMo (Social, Local and Mobile Media). Shareable, relatable news served up on whatever device I choose is the news I will use.
8. Current events and breaking news win the ratings game - every time. News that impacts the most viewers/readers also wins every time. But outlets that still rely on "if it bleeds, it leads" local coverage are seeing viewer fatigue amidst more positive news platforms and authentic storytellers, like public radio, news magazines, and online media outlets doing fact checking and myth de-bunking. So long, O'Reilly, Milo, Alex Jones and hopefully soon, Steve Bannon and his Breitbart News connection. You had your moment.
9. Hyperlocal reporting and "citizen journalism" matter more than ever. Blogs, vlogs, Twitter influencers, online news sites, and hyperlocal news sites that use multimedia well are gaining loyal readers/viewers because the content directly impacts people where they live, work and play.
In a clickbait-fueled news ecosystem, the mainstream media needs to stand its ground and continue to balance the bottom line with society's need for ethical journalism and to survive by delivering truth that is as accurate, reliable and professional as resources will allow. Let's give "MSM" a chance, and instead of condemning the institution, let's stand behind (subscribe!) to those individuals and outlets willing to make a career out of seeking truth and reporting it.