The New Media Dynamic: Instead of Tuning in to the News, the News is Finding You

by Bill Zucker, Partner and Director, Ketchum Midwest, Ketchum Public Relations, a sub-contractor to the Beef Checkoff 

Summary
With the rapid spread of social media and the ability for every brand to “own” content, one might think that true journalism has lost its cache in the modern information world. But in fact news has not lost its importance at all – it’s just getting to us in a much different way. For those of us above age 40, news was always something we had to seek out. Today, the news seeks us out.

Background
First, a word about traditional journalism. It is far from dead and while circulation (newspaper) and viewership (TV) are down, Americans are still getting a lot of their news the way they have for decades. For example, in a given day about 22 million of us still tune in to one of the big three network evening newscasts (CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News and ABC World News Tonight). And at any one time, 13 million Americans are watching one of the big three morning shows (Today, Good Morning America or CBS This Morning). 

Those numbers are declining – especially among younger audiences. A recent Pew Research Media and News study found that on a typical day, only a third of people 18-29 years old watched any TV news compared to 65 percent of people 50-65 years old. Perhaps more telling is that while the viewership numbers have remained somewhat consistent for people in their 50s, younger viewers have dropped dramatically. But that doesn’t mean young people aren’t getting news – they’re just getting it differently. 

Discussion
While people are going to social media sites for all sorts of interesting conversations, entertainment, photo-sharing and socializing, they are coming away with news. On two of the biggest social media sites, Facebook and Twitter, about half of those surveyed by Pew say they use the sites for news. Given current user information, it means that about 30 percent of all Americans are getting some news from Facebook and 8 percent from Twitter. Age and social media trends suggest those numbers will rise.
The shift in dynamic means instead of tuning in to the news, more and more people are allowing the news to find them. And it happens in several different ways.

My friends’ news is my news: I may “friend” someone on Facebook because we went to high school together or cheer on the same sports team. But with that friendship I have now exposed myself to the news that they find important. Fully 50 percent of social media users tell Pew that they share or repost news stories, images or videos, and 46 percent discuss news stories or events on the social network sites. In the old media dynamic, you may never have sought out a story from the Washington Post on diet and cancer, but in the world of social media, the story might find you through a friend. 

My feed, my news: Many people set up their feeds to expose them to the news that they care about. This could mean following reporters whose topics interest you (I follow the beat writer for the Milwaukee Brewers), following one of the many breaking news feeds to keep on top of urgent stories (such as @cnnbrk), or simply following people you respect or don’t respect because you want to know what kinds of news they are sharing. I have found personally that, somewhat by accident, my Twitter feed is a perfect blend of stories that interest me. In the old media dynamic, I might sort through dozens of news sources to find a handful of stories I need. Today, the stories are finding me.

It’s hard to ignore a trend: Most social media sites now carry a feature that lets you know what topics are “trending” among the entire subset of users. So even if your friends aren’t talking about the Ebola virus, if the nation is discussing the story, it will reach your screen as a trend. Those trends are often tied directly or indirectly to a news story. In the pre-social media world, it was the job of journalists to figure out what topics were important to people, and therefore what news you might be exposed to. Now social media users are given some of that power, too. 

No matter how the news finds us, it is often from the same news sources we are used to. The blog newswhip used a content tracker to determine the source of the most shared or tweeted news stories. The top three are Huffington Post, Buzzfeed and Upworthy, all sites designed with social media “buzz” in mind. But the fourth through twentieth most reposted stories are from more traditional media, such as Fox News, New York Times, USA Today and ESPN. For example, in one month, social media users shared about 6,000 different stories from CNN.com – and those stories were shared or “liked” by 8.5 million people. Many millions more were exposed to and possibly read the stories but didn’t take a specific action such as retweeting it. 

While we are exposed to more content than ever before, traditional news sources remain a highly trusted source. When consumers are asked what sources of information they most trust, in order they include: 

  • Recommendations from “people I know” 
  • Branded websites (such as beefitswhatsfordinner.com)
  • Consumer opinions posted online (such as Yelp)
  • Editorial content such as newspaper articles.1 

Conclusions
While so much has changed in our communications world, the importance of the beef community working closely with traditional media has not. Beef Checkoff programs share and amplify relevant stories through social media and influencers. The checkoff Integrated Communications team continually pitches story ideas to news outlets with high online reach. The checkoff Issues and Reputation Management team deploys tactics to ensure that as media cover issues around beef production, the Facts About Beef website is part of the conversation taking place in real time. All of this takes place with one simple goal: Making sure that important information about beef is finding its way onto the screens of beef’s consumer target audiences.

Additional Resources

  1. Nielsen Media Research 2013 Survey

 

Tags: Beef Issues Quarterly, Fall 2014, Trends Analyses

October 9, 2014