The state of the media in 2015 was social, mobile and multiplatform. But as the way journalists engage with their audiences continues to evolve in the face of technological disruption, the most productive relationships between the media and communication professionals remain founded on the fundamentals which have always underpinned public relations best practices.
Informed by a survey of 346 journalists, bloggers and influencers and supplemented with insights from Cision’s Media Research Team, Cision’s State of the Media 2016 Report takes a look back at the trends that shaped 2015 and anticipates the next public relations challenges.
The Changing Media Landscape: 2014-2015
Though mobile compatibility and the concept of the multimedia journalist continue to dominate the world of journalism, other popular trends from 2014 have lost momentum, according to findings from our 2016 survey.
When identifying the most important media trends, both Canadian and U.S. journalists awarded the top two spots to multimedia journalists and mobile compatibility but have different takes on which is most important.
Nearly 29 percent of U.S. respondents view multimedia journalists as the most important trend, receiving only slightly more votes than mobile compatibility (25.9 percent). Rounding out the top four are video- and image-based content (11.9 percent) and social media as a journalistic resource (11.1 percent).
Of Canadian respondents, 31.2 percent rank mobile compatibility as most important, which puts it about 9 percentage points ahead of multimedia journalists (22.6 percent). As in the U.S., video- and image-based content ranks third with 11.8 percent of journalists calling it the most important media trend. Influencer marketing rounds out the top four at 7.5 percent.
Mobile compatibility…there’s still work
Nearly 92 percent of respondents indicate their media organization has already adopted a mobile-compatible Web design or is currently working on one.
The move of outlets to a mobile-friendly experience follows a rapid adoption of mobile technology. A study released by Pew Research Center reveals that between 2011 and 2015, the number of American adults who owned a smartphone increased from 35 percent to 64 percent.
Though mobile adopters make up a strong majority of the population, outlets need to do a better job of creating mobile experiences, says freelance writer and AdWeek contributor Kimberlee Morrison:
“Mobile compatibility is crucial for the evolution of digital media and for organizations looking to connect with young digital natives,” Morrison says. “(Though) more people use mobile devices to connect to the Internet, the mobile Web experience is still pretty mediocre.”
The increasing importance of multimedia
Multimedia, a trend related to the mobile experience, holds strong since last year’s survey. Two years running, video- and image-based content (11.48 percent) have had the third-most respondents say it was the most important trend for journalists, slotting behind “Multimedia journalists” (25.8 percent) this year.
Nearly half of journalists regularly use video- and image-based content in their work, with 13.5 percent saying they always do and 35.4 percent saying they often do. Just 10.9 percent say they never leverage video- and image-based content.
The multimedia content the journalists use most often comes from an internal resource. Of respondents, 42.7 percent say their organization’s staff photographer or videographer provides it, and 26.3 percent say the journalists do.
Carol Ladwig of the Seattle area Snoqualmie Valley Record draws a logical connection between the second- and third-ranked trends by pointing out that “video- and image-based and multimedia (content) all provide more access points into a story, for more diverse readership.”
Native advertising falling out of favor?
Last year, 43 percent of respondents identified their stance toward native advertising as being either somewhat or very positive. This year’s results, however, show a shift in that sentiment with only 24.6 percent identifying as being either somewhat or very positive about native advertising.
Of the remainder of 2016 respondents, 47.1 percent are neutral and 28.3 percent are somewhat or very negative. Of 2015 respondents, 34 percent were neutral and 23 percent were somewhat or very negative.
This may be a demonstration of matter over mind given that last year the majority of respondents predicted that native advertising and sponsored content would provide the most revenue in 2015.
However, more than half of respondents (56.3 percent) say traditionally advertising actually generated the most revenue in 2015. Only 22.7 percent of respondents say native advertising and sponsored content. The remainder of the sample says the most revenue came from “Other” means (18.3 percent) and paywalls and subscriptions (2.6 percent).
Despite the lack of positivity in native advertising’s 2016 numbers, respondents from the digital side strongly favor native advertising and its revenue-generating power.
“Native advertising is an important revenue source for online media,” says Erin McGann of the Canada-based Erin at Large blog.
Cision’s complementary survey of communication professionals finds that one of the major struggles for communication professionals in 2015 was having to pay for media coverage.
For example, Winston Ma, PR and digital media specialist for The Travel Corporation, indicates that media “requesting payment for placement and/or [giving] current advertisers preference for editorial coverage” has often left him “being ‘shut out’ as there was already a competitor paying for the spot.”
Social Steady as a Reporting Tool
For one, Brian Staker, a freelance writer who often contributes to Salt Lake City Weekly, calls social media “essential as a journalistic resource.”
Just shy of three in four respondents used social platforms to build relationships (73.3 percent) and for marketing and promotion (72.5 percent). Nearly two-thirds (64.3 percent) use social media to monitor public opinion (64.3 percent).
As Sarah Arney of the Stanwood Comano News in Washington notes, “You can’t deny social media as a way to find out what people are thinking.”
Social media also acts as a common means of finding and building stories, with 51.8 percent and 20 percent using the medium to source stories and receive pitches, respectively.
Twitter and Facebook meet journalist needs
Twitter actively courted publishers in 2015 with the introduction of new tools within the platform like Curator and Moments that allow content creators to easily filter, curate and embed tweets on websites, mobile apps and television.
Given these enhancements, it is unsurprising that 21.6 percent of respondents view Twitter as the social platform most likely to grow in value to journalists over the next year, edging out Instagram (19 percent), Facebook (18.7 percent), Periscope (10.6 percent) and LinkedIn (10.3 percent).
Not to be outdone, Facebook launched several tools of its own to encourage and maximize journalistic endeavors within the platform. In May, the company rolled out Instant Articles, a native hosting platform that gives publishers the option to post articles directly within the Facebook app, leveraging the network’s audience and ad space.
Facebook then released Signal in September, which provides journalists with curation tools to help them sift through the noise on Facebook and Instagram for compelling content and story ideas.
Clearly, both Facebook and Twitter are capitalizing on the growing need for these types of apps from within the media industry. Our survey data backs up this trend; 56.1 percent of respondents say they have leveraged user-generated content in their stories more in the last two to three years.
New social channels to watch
Newly-launched live-streaming apps like Periscope and Meerkat made a splash in 2015, with the latter generating significant buzz at SXSW Interactive. However, only one respondent (less than 1 percent) of our survey found either platform useful in 2015, but the future is a different story.
Just over one in 10 respondents (10.6 percent) say Periscope’s value will grow in 2016, slightly outpacing more traditional social titans like LinkedIn (10.3 percent) and YouTube (7.7 percent). One percent of respondents believed Meerkat will grow in value.
According to one broadcast journalist:
“Periscope is gaining traction. It gives a unique behind-the-scenes feel at times and it also allows you to reach viewers worldwide, not just in your market. It also provides an opportunity to go LIVE when there is no newscast. That’s big in a world that doesn’t wait for information to be released on the 5 or 6 p.m. news.”
The value and costs of social media
Perhaps the biggest boon social media provides has less to do with technological innovation and more to do with audience, specifically the coveted millennial demographic.
An anonymous print journalist notes:
“Current subscribers to our once weekly community newspaper are older. Driving interest via social media can effectively engage a younger audience and garner more subscriptions.”
“Social media is replacing newspapers as (the) preferred source of news and information for the 18-34 demographic.”
However, for all its benefits, growing reliance on social media was not without costs. Several respondents, including Deborah Stever of The Deposit Courier in New York, cited “incorrect information posted on social media” as the biggest obstacle journalists faced in 2015.
Others feel social media places an additional burden on an already demanding workload. One PBS producer says social media “forced (journalists) to do more for each story while staffing was cut.” Additionally, some find the “Buzzfeedization” of news frustrating and feel they have to compete with social media for reader engagement and page views.
Regardless, social media is firmly embedded into the newsroom and here to stay. Yet, an important question still looms: are social platforms a reliable resource for information? Our respondents are split on the issue, virtually down the middle, with only a slight majority (50.9 percent) saying it is reliable.
An anonymous social proponent from a community newspaper states, “During breaking news events, knowing whom to follow can help you find accurate and reliable sources and data faster than any other media source.” This places the onus on journalists to sift through the noise and find factual information.
Those with greater reservations fear that social media pressures journalists to post first and fact-check later, despite 88.1 percent of our respondents citing being right as paramount to being first.
A reporter from an alternative newspaper in North Carolina laments “everyone wants to be the first to publish a story. Fact-checking and impartiality have taken a back seat to urgency, unfortunately.”
A communication officer in Canada says “accuracy of content” is a major concern for her.
“Media often contact mayors from nearby municipalities to comment on issues in our jurisdiction, leading to requests for clarification or retraction,” Carter says.
The PR-Journalist Relationship
In short, their working relationships remain business as usual in the face of this evolving landscape.
Two-thirds of respondents report that their reliance on communication professionals has remained unchanged over the past two or three years. While 10.3 percent say they rely on communication professionals more now than before, 17.4 percent say they rely on communication professionals less. The remainder does not work with communication professionals.
What journalists find valuable
When it comes to the resources communication professionals provide, our survey found that journalists preferred press releases and story leads (42.3 percent), expert interviews (19.6 percent) and products to review (17.1 percent).
On this question, the U.S. and Canadian respondents have differing opinions. While press releases comfortably lead as the resource most journalists prefer, the second and third preferences have significant disparity.
Slightly more than one in five U.S journalists (23.2 percent) say expert interviews are the most valuable resource, compared to 16.1 percent of Canadian journalists.
Conversely, a quarter of Canadian journalists say products to review are the most valuable PR resource, compared to just 10 percent of U.S. journalists.
The least valuable PR resource, according to both groups, is assistance in story writing, grabbing 55 percent of responses.
Media outreach best practices
Ninety-three percent of journalists cite email as the best pitching medium. When asked what medium they consider off limits in terms of pitching, phone (37 percent) and public social media pitches (30.2 percent) lead the way.
None of the surveyed journalists find email an unacceptable pitching method, and just over a quarter (27.4 percent) say no platform is off limits for pitching.
However, despite agreeing that she finds email to be most effective when pitching a story, Lisa Kovitz, executive vice president and media strategist at global communications firm Edelman, cites “getting attention during cluttered news environments” as one of her biggest struggles.
Once they receive a pitch, what makes journalists follow up? In the U.S., 54.1 percent say they will pursue a pitch that is thorough and has all the details a journalist may need.
Think about the who, what, where, when and why questions each journalist likes to address in their stories, and include those dates, times, prices, availability and data in a pitch.
The response to the same question is similar in Canada, where 50.5 percent emphasize the importance of detailed pitches. A quarter of all respondents say they will pursue a pitch when the communication professional has researched their work, interests and strengths.
Thirteen percent of journalists will follow through with a pitch if there is an established relationship between the journalist and the communication professional. Interestingly enough, the promise of exclusivity ranks last, with only 7.5 percent of all respondents citing it as important.
Room for improvement
Though the relationship between journalists and communication professionals has largely remained the same over the past few years, journalists say communication professionals can improve in four main areas.
In a virtual tie after each respondent chose three areas for improvement are “Tailoring the pitch to suit my beat/coverage” (78.5 percent) and “Researching/understanding my media outlet” (77.3 percent). “Providing me with information and expert sources” finishes third at 42.3 percent and “Respecting my pitching preferences” places fourth at 35 percent.
The common theme of the top four areas for improvement is research, especially in terms of the journalist and outlet that communication professionals attempt to engage. A comprehensive media database like Cision’s provides accurate outlet and reporter information as well as real-time looks at the topics journalists cover.
Rounding out the list of areas for improvement are “Sharing my stories on social media” (26.5 percent), “Being available on request” (24.2 percent) and “Other” (16.2 percent).
This insight from journalists shows that, despite technological changes, there hasn’t been a huge shift in the way journalists view and work with communication professionals. But, if communication professionals take away one thing from the survey, it should be the notion of going back to PR basics.
A Look Ahead
In summary, 2015 marked the continued growth of multimedia journalism as well as the extent to which that journalism is conducted on mobile platforms. As a result, image- and video-based content has become increasingly central to the way the media industry tells stories.
We fully expect this trend to continue in 2016. One Canadian multimedia journalist foresees “multimedia integration – tying articles, photo galleries, videos, podcasts and social media together to create multimedia rich, comprehensive editorial packages.”
John Dahlia of The Preston County News & Journal expects that even “print will find success promoting more video- and image-based content onto social media platforms.”
We noted that the increasing importance of social media coincided in 2015 with the launch of several new publisher-friendly tools and applications by some of the world’s most important social platforms.
Twitter and Facebook both introduced ways to publish and share content directly, and looking forward to 2016, we expect applications like Periscope, Meerkat and Snapchat to be appealing tools available to multimedia journalists and influencers. Pam Frampton of St. John’s, Newfoundland-based The Telegram agrees and sees a year where “bloggers and twitterjournalism (are) competing with mainstream media.”
But even as social media is increasingly important for content creation, distribution and audience building, we have yet to see a similar social shift in communication between journalists and communication professionals.
We’ve noted that an overwhelming majority of journalists still prefer to be pitched by email and they want comprehensive pitches with necessary details included tailored to their specific needs. In 2016, content will continue to be more important than style when it comes to building productive relationships with media influencers.
Finally, on the topic of advertising, we noted that the predicted dominance of native advertising and sponsored content failed to materialize in 2015 for our group of respondents, at least in terms of perceived revenue. We also saw a definite souring of media professionals’ take on the model.
Despite this, most media professionals still have little doubt that the boom is coming eventually. As Joseph Caouette of the JuneWarren-Nickle’s Energy Group (publishers of Alberta Construction Magazine) puts it, 2016 will see “the continued decline of traditional print revenues” accompanied by the “need to develop more effective forms of online advertising.”
And of course most journalists, including freelance writer and reviewer Logan Harbaugh, expect those new models to take the form of “more paid editorial [and] more native advertising.”
Overall, the media will continue to grapple with new technological platforms as well as the challenges of creating and growing sustainable revenue streams. Lines will continue to blur and the distinctions between traditional media and social media, content and advertising, journalist and brand will all be less noticeable and arguably less important.
Check out our State of the Media Report infographic below!