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The state of UK news and how PR can help to improve it

The news is changing, and so are the ways it is accessed. This offers opportunities for PRs, but as with anything, there is always a catch. Here senior leaders discuss how the news is evolving for the better (but mainly for the worse); how consumers’ attitudes towards news are changing; and what PRs can do to help make news more trustworthy whilst supporting their clients’ interests too.

Drag news out from the gutter

Sean Allen-Moy, director and head of media relations at PR agency Hill+Knowlton Strategies (previously producer for Sky and the BBC): “After years of watching American news in horror, the UK is now caught in the same downward spiral. Thanks to Donald Trump we now live in an era of 'alternative facts' where politicians can tell their disciples that the media is conspiring against them (for telling them the truth, not what they believe the truth to be). So, people will go in search of the news as they see it and there will be no shortage of outlets to satisfy their needs. The Overton Window has shifted so quickly that what were once considered fringe ideas only to be found in the dark corners of the internet would now be classed as 'opinions' and aired on the UK's new breed of news outlets.

“As PRs it's always been our job to protect our brands from being dragged into the gutter, but the gutter has got better at disguising itself."

Spread your net wider

Luana Ribeira, founder of agency Dauntless PR: “The very nature of news is that it is constantly changing and evolving and the way people consume and perceive news is changing too. People now have so much choice in where they can get their news from - I think fewer consumers choose to rely on a single outlet to find out what is going on in the world. Instead, they consume their news from a number of different sources, depending on what it is and are more likely to 'dip in' and read a single article on a website if the headline catches their eye and they have seen it shared on social media.

“I think it is over-simplistic to say people are becoming more cynical. There has been an increase in people questioning and distrusting the concept of 'mainstream media', partly because the internet allows anyone to feel they can do their own research or share their thoughts on any given topic. This cynicism towards traditional media outlets is something which is being actively encouraged by alternative media platforms, keen to build their own audiences.

“As with most things in life, people tend to choose brands which reflect their own values and beliefs and confirm their own opinions and biases. However, whilst these echo chambers do still exist, people are actually more likely now to receive their news, information and entertainment from a number of different sources rather than subscribe to one daily newspaper or watch the news on a single channel.

“From a PR point of view, we look at the media landscape as a whole to work out where our clients will best fit in and where their messages can reach their target market. We continue to pitch stories to traditional outlets like newspapers, magazines, radio and TV, but we also look to newer outlets too, including podcasts, YouTube channels and websites with large followings.”

Up your game and dig deep for true purpose

Amy Stone, senior communications consultant at marketing and communications consultancy Hard Numbers:I do believe consumers are changing in how they perceive news and I also believe that it’s a good thing. In a world where fake news is rife and a near constant battle for PRs and journalists alike, it makes sense that consumers have a growing awareness and scepticism of this too. It’s consumer awareness, engagement and behaviour we seek to influence with our work, but they influence us too. After all, the shift towards transparent brand communications has come as a result of consumer demand for authenticity.

“There’s still a long way to go before we combat the problems of the information age, and there will always be those that cherry-pick information to suit their opinions, but if consumers are getting more discerning and cynical about the information they see - then great! It just means PRs need to up their game and dig deep for true purpose in their communications.”

Change is unavoidable

Carl Stroud, head of media at PR agency Smoking Gun: “Trust in news has declined at an astonishing rate over the past decade as avoidance of it has rocketed. The Reuters Institute For The Study Of Journalism found that just 33% of the population ‘believe’ the news, whilst interest in it has collapsed from 70% in 2015 to 43% today.

“The result is an existential crisis for the industry, especially when we factor in that both Google and Facebook have turned their back on the sector.

“As a hack turned flack, I’m endlessly gripped by accounts of what goes on behind the scenes. But let’s be honest - the general public have much better things to concern themselves with than the navel-gazing of media nitwits.

“Clearly this all means the landscape continues to change at a breathless pace - and that means we as a comms industry must do the same. Telling the same stories and expecting the same results is the definition of madness. The news industry is currently reshaping itself out of all recognition. We must do the same ourselves.”

News must offer solutions and hope

Richard Bagnall, co-managing partner and CEO of Europe and Americas at media analysis and intelligence agency CARMA: “There is definitely more cynicism in our relationship with the news. UK news appeal has fallen, with only 51% expressing any interest at all and almost 4 in 10 of us actively avoiding it. The younger demographic continues to want their news feeds to be more reliable, diverse and less anxiety-inducing. They’re not interested in negativity, anger and division. Instead, they’re looking for positivity, explainers and solutions to challenges. Yet, our news algorithms are optimised for the opposite, driving engagement through outrage and polarisation. It’s no surprise that trust in the news continues to decline from 51% in 2015 (pre-Brexit) to just 33% now.

The media can’t keep doing the same things it has been doing to regain relevance as a news source. It should look at what the younger generations want - news that doesn’t just highlight threats and problems but offers solutions and hope.”

Never ignore trade titles

Simon Coughlin, director at agency Babel PR “From a tech B2B perspective, whilst every client loves to see their positive news stories featured in the national media, the strength of the trade titles cannot be ignored. According to our own research, almost two-thirds (64%) of IT decision-makers within enterprise organisations consume their news from tech and vertical trade media. Specific verticals like retail and transport trade, in particular, carry a lot of influence, with three out of four executives getting their news from trade publications. An increasingly important strategy for B2B firms is getting their news in front of influential analysts - 58% of IT decision-makers rely on analyst reports when looking at new products and solutions.

“So, the message is clear if you’re a B2B brand; by securing news coverage in the sexy national titles you aren’t necessarily reaching the right audience. Don’t forget about the trusted trades and industry analysts.”

Another advantage with trade publications, is that unlike the mainstream news, they are more likely to focus on good news stories, which is always much nicer for PR clients. So despite what you may have heard on the radio, seen on the TV or watched on your smartphone this morning (read in a newspaper? Really?), not ALL news is bad news, which is sometimes hard to remember!

To read more about the evolving state of news look out for a blog coming soon here: which discusses the legacy of Rupert Murdoch and in this blog we discuss how to tackle the epidemic of fake news.

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