Do Traditional Media and News Media Matter?


Dr. Kathy Richardson, professor of communication and provost at
Berry College
, is the author of the upcoming 3
edition of Applied Public Relations: Cases in Stakeholder Management.  She solicited text commentaries to accompany her work, and requested one from Jackson Spalding’s Brian Brodrick, who was advised by Richardson during his time at Berry.  His commentary has been modified as a blog post for JS Thinkstand.

Sometimes a question that seems rather simple is not. Do traditional news and news media matter? The obvious answer is this: not as much as they used to. But the fact that we ask implies a need to examine the matter more deeply.

First of all, does news matter?

Absolutely. News, I would argue, matters more than ever. In an increasingly connected and global society, news – critical, unbiased information of vital importance to a given audience – is a currency du jour for civic, thought and business leaders, and those who aspire to positions of leadership. Whether it is news about an event in a small community, a critical detail in a corporate earnings announcement or news about international politics, information – and who acts on it first – is a valuable unit of exchange in the marketplace of ideas.

Does speed increase news value?

One reason for the increased value of news is the speed with which it moves. The connection between information and action has been compressed.  In fact, a mathematical argument could be made that (quality of news) + (speed of delivery of news) = (potential impact of news). Old news is just that, and the most well-crafted piece of journalism, delivered after the facts have been shared by others, is devalued by half or more.

This discussion of quality and speed leads us naturally to the second part of our seven word query: Do news media matter?

Only the most ardent newsman or press operator will argue that the model that sustained the “news business” from the 1960s through the late 1990s is not dead. This era, which saw the rise of television and reasonably stable revenues across the industry, began a steady decline in the late 1990s. Unless you have been living under a rock (or a printing press), you will not be surprised that this decline is offset by the rise of online communications.

Why the drastic decline?

Since the mid-2000s, the speed with which news and information move has accelerated rapidly with the widespread acceptance of social media. News is no longer held and controlled by a select few. For many, it is distilled and distributed on a one-to-one basis, often in 140-word or even 140-character bits. Even those who have not adapted to social media still rely on screens more than paper for their information. Vital news breaks on Twitter, is emotionally wrought on Facebook, is analyzed by bloggers, and the media are just one of the above.

Today, news media often still win on the quality side of the equation, but many sacrifice the speed necessary to compete. Even when they try to adjust, they resemble aging athletes, slowed by weighty staffs, reactions dulled by legacy systems and processes, their nose for the scoop obscured by internal politics, and the advantage of objectivity is destroyed by reporters trying to compete with bloggers.

Many reporters and a few outlets have found the right balance and stand ready to compete in tomorrow’s world where the best information, delivered with speed, clarity and creativity wins.

So, what is the modern media challenge?

The greater challenge for tomorrow’s PR professional is to scan the field and understand that this business no longer depends on the media. But it does depend on news and information. At its most fundamental level, public relations is back to its original definition: relating to the public and sharing information effectively with key publics.

You must find and generate content to share, and you must find a way to package and deliver it to the largest possible relevant audience. The channels are vastly different and more numerous than they were just five years ago. Media are just one of many channels. Audiences are highly fragmented. Attention spans are limited. But the opportunities are infinite.

For professionals seeking compelling ways to help their organizations, clients and customers communicate effectively, inside or outside their organizations, there is not a better time to enter this industry. If the ongoing progression of this industry compels you, Applied Public Relations: Cases in Stakeholder Management by Dr. Kathy Richardson will help further explain how to best identify, inform and impact the publics that are vital to the success of any practitioner of “public relations.”