The Rapidly Changing Media environment – Must You Change to Engage?

There is something about the back-to-school mood of early September that makes us think about reassessing some of our strategies. This year many communications professionals will be focusing on their media policy, against a rapidly shifting background in the sector. So if you need or want to engage with the media to help set the agenda or reach clients and customers, is it time for a rethink, and if so how?  The environment continues to undergo considerable change. For example, a bidding process is currently underway for The Telegraph group, with the Daily and Sunday papers expected to fetch considerably less than might once have been the case. Other UK titles have either disappeared or are operating as shadows of their former selves, with far fewer resources. Meanwhile new research from YouGov says that in the UK a quarter of us now rely mainly on social networks to get our news.

Digital is clearly the future – those traditional print titles that are keeping their heads above water are doing it by boosting their digital subscriptions. Yet to me what is remarkable is that there seems to be much more turmoil at the moment among the new-fangled digital channels and assets than around the so-called ‘mainstream media’. While many of those traditional long-established news brands soldier on or even prosper, Buzzfeed News (once part of a group that was valued at $1.6bn, now a fraction of that) has shut down. Vice News has had to be rescued from bankruptcy, its main New York office now being closed to save money. As for getting your news from social media, Facebook de-emphasised breaking news long ago, while Twitter/X seems to be rapidly declining in influence as Elon Musk’s changes drive away many influential participants. The main platforms appear to be largely giving up on their efforts to police disinformation.

Compare this with the latest profit figures from the New York Times which has added 180,000 digital subscribers in the second quarter, achieving profits of €46m. The Telegraph has just reached a million digital subscriptions and also boosted profits. Meanwhile that YouGov research concludes that globally, TV remains the main source of news for 55% of people. Radio remains influential in the UK, while 31% of us continue to read newspaper print editions, even as their digital counterparts gain traction. The picture is clearly evolving, and much more complex than was once the case. But in the same way that when TV came along it didn’t make radio or cinema obsolete as some had predicted, digital media haven’t (and won’t) make curated newspapers and properly produced TV and radio channels obsolete – even if in a few years they are all distributed digitally. So the smart players who want to influence the agenda will continue to engage with these ‘legacy’ channels and publications, and work to understand their needs. All this means that the traditional media engagement skills – being able to get across a clear message in language people can relate to, and deal with tricky journalist questions – will remain as relevant as ever.

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