The Web Changes News – and PR – Forever

Since the development and growth of the Internet, the way in which news is reported and distributed has changed dramatically. Taking this into consideration, there are ever increasing changes PR practitioners must deal with. When looking at how the web changes news and PR, there are a number of factors to consider. It is important to look at how ‘new’ media differs from ‘old’ media. The distinction between “old”, or “traditional” media and the “new” forms such as blogs, podcasts, Internet radio, and video sharing with YouTube being the most popular hosting site. With the Internet now being the primary source for news and entertainment for most people, traditional media is on the back burner, with Print, Television and Radio becoming, some would argue, obsolete.

One of the main differences between old and new media is geography. Television, print and radio are all geographically limited in their audience reach. New media, on the other hand, can tap into any publics that have internet access. The production of old media is closely edited, so that the content (what the consumer reads/sees/hears) is controlled. On the internet, there is no control. To quote Eric Schmidt, “The Internet is the first thing that humanity has built that humanity doesn’t understand, the largest experiment in anarchy that we have ever had.” New media is boundless. Though there is debate whether this ‘free speech’ is for the best, the freedom of uncensored news is a positive for society.

This goes hand in hand with distribution. The distribution of newspapers is a resource intensive process. Similarly, with radio, transmission towers send out content at one particular time with the potential that many people or perhaps no-one listening at any given time. New media has an altered distribution process. With all forms of new media being digital,communication is broken up into digital bits and bytes and distributed through the internet, mobile phones, etc. This has dramatically lowered costs for communication as well as the potential for personalization and the time frame for receiving the communication. Indeed, this has created significant problems for old media in terms of its audience and revenue. All of these traditional forms are often desperately trying to catch up with and make use of new media. 

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Perhaps the most important difference between old and new forms of media is communication. In traditional media, communications are strictly one way. The content provider sends information to the consumer and the consumer sends money to the provider. There is no mechanism for a flow of either information or money in the opposite direction. The consumer is strictly passive. In new media practices, there is a dialogue between the provider and the audience.

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Many, including Andrew Rashbash, chief executive of The Economist Group, have found this development in consumer engagement has made consumers “lean back” from the traditional media forms, mainly television. This highlights a change in how we consume news. Though news cycles are much quicker than they were in the past, the quantity of news consumption has risen dramatically as a result of the web. Oliver & Ohlbaum Associates Ltd  prepared a report for Google in 2013 which outlined how the change in media and roles within the media are creating new expectations with regards to digital consumption.  Although the web has been blamed for many of the travails of traditional news media – and contributing to a reduction in choice in the event of closures or coverage reduction – the choice both offered and used by consumers has increased hugely.

PR practitioners now need to adapt their skill sets in order to grow with the newer digital trends. In 2005, Rupert Murdoch gave a speech to the American Society of Newspaper Editors, Washington DC regarding digital trends and the shift old media needs to take in order to stay relevant.

“We need to realize that the next generation of people accessing news and information, whether from newspapers or any other source, have a different set of expectations about the kind of news they will get, including when and how they will get it, where they will get it from, and who they will get it from. Anyone who doubts this should read a recent report by the Carnegie Corporation about young people’s changing habits of news consumption and what they mean for the future of the news industry.” – Rupert Murdoch 

Murdoch spoke of how digital natives didn’t want to rely on a “God-like” figure to give them their news. He realized that digital natives wanted a multitude of information from a multitude of different sources. Ten years on from Murdoch’s speech, the internet has indeed overcome the traditional forms of media. It is therefore vital that PR Practitioners learn and adapt to the changing media climate. This change has resulted in a shift in revenue, with newspaper sales down 7% in the second half of 2014 in Ireland.

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