Is the news business dying or booming? If you still read newspapers, you may subscribe to the notion that important news has been overtaken by social media clickbait and “Breaking News” banners perma-seared onto cable TV.
We’re not going to deny it: it’s ugly for the old guard of the news business. Yet beneath the gloomy headlines (also written by the old guard) there is an awakening to the reality that news is actually being redefined and branching out in unexpected and exciting ways. Here, we pinpoint three tectonic shifts that will soon challenge the conventional wisdom about the vibrancy of the news industry and what it means for brands with a story to tell.
Shift One: The Redefinition of News
The disappearance of quality local news is now a well-known tragic tale. In an era dominated by shared nationwide consumption of homogenous headlines streaming from urban centers like Washington, D.C., and New York to Americans across the continent, it’s no wonder we feel something important has been lost within our communities.
Yet, in the wake of that loss, a radically different source of local news is emerging. Take NextDoor, the popular social network for neighborhoods, teeming with crowdsourced content. On any given day, a subscriber can be alerted to an encroaching crime wave, a city proposal to build a homeless shelter, a debate over free speech in the local high school and a neighborhood garage sale this coming weekend.
It has a long way to go to replace what’s been lost locally in traditional journalism or to meet its standards of objectivity and civility, but there’s no denying its emerging power to inform, enlighten and hold to account. This form of local “news” speaks to a trend within the news industry at large, which now encompasses more diverse voices, ideas and platforms than ever before.
Shift Two: The New Rules of Distribution
When Apple News+ launched in March, it sought to solve a problem traditional news has grappled with since the dawn of the Internet – how to charge for content. Today, consumers want substantial variety in their news sources, yet traditional news still competes for subscribers as though they should choose just one or two favorites and pay them each $30 per month.
Apple News+ takes a Netflix-like approach to news. For just $10 per month, readers gain access to a few hundred news sources. Apple News+ garnered more than 200,000 subscribers within 48 hours of going live.
Other means of distribution – dedicated apps, social media feeds, podcasts – are on the rise. A 2019 report from Edison Research Infinite Dial listed “news” as one of the top three podcasting genres, alongside comedy and education.
Shift Three: Journalists as Coders
Journalism schools teach students to write and produce news stories with professional rigor. Computer science schools teach students to write code and algorithms to attract eyeballs and clicks. Guess who is writing the algorithms that power Google News, Facebook News Feed and Twitter’s Trending Stories? It’s not trained journalists.
This has produced a backlash from consumers who expect better. In legacy newsrooms like The New York Times and The Washington Post, the R&D in this area is producing a better outcome. Developers and journalists work side-by-side to code algorithms and analyze readership data, and their professions are increasingly indistinguishable.
Eventually, “journalists” may be better known for writing algorithms that prepare and distribute stories rather than writing the stories themselves. (We wrote about this phenomenon on the RH blog last year.)
Preparing for the future
When assessing the many ways news creation and distribution are rapidly evolving, it becomes clear that those of us in adjacent industries – public relations, marketing, advertising – must shift our mindsets. The future of news will be driven by a multitude of platforms, tools and technologies that demand different skills and approaches.
At RH Strategic, we’re fortunate to work with innovators who are navigating and even leading similar tectonic shifts in their own industries. We’re equipping our agency and our clients for the future of news by constantly studying the landscape, diversifying our talent, investing in new tools, and contributing to industry-leading dialogue, such as through our active partnership in the Worldcom Public Relations Group.
RH Strategic is a Seattle and D.C.-based communications firm providing strategic public relations for innovators in the technology, public sector and healthcare markets.