PR Interview with Robin Grainger, director, international of Brands2Life
What did the digital journalism survey investigate?
The Brands2Life Oriella Digital Journalism Study tracks how digital media is impacting how news is gathered and published around the world. Together with our partners in the Oriella PR Network we polled almost 550 journalists in 15 countries, spanning Western Europe, Russia, China, India, Australasia, North America, and Brazil. We’ve been running the survey since 2008 and we reckon it’s the largest study of its kind in the world.
What were the key findings?
This year’s report has uncovered a number of trends which together we think mark a big shift in how news is gathered and reported. We’ve called this shift the ‘New Normal for News’. For a start, almost 40 percent of the journalists surveyed said their title is now ‘digital first’. In other words, they break stories online, and follow them up in print. In this sense, traditionally text-based media are starting to think like broadcasters.
‘Digital first’ is impacting news operations in other ways. Half the journalists we polled said they now produce their own video in-house – just two years ago barely a third held the same view. A fifth of reporters agreed that citizen journalism is treated the same as conventional reporting at their publication. It’s not a majority, but it is a significant figure nonetheless.
We also looked at the kinds of people journalists regard as ‘trusted sources’. Top of the list came academics and other experts – no major surprise there. In second place, though, came subject matter experts within companies. This was very interesting and suggests in-house comms people need to field a much broader bench of experts – not just to speak to media, but to engage and build influence on social media, too.
How has the way journalists work changed now that they are increasingly finding their readership is online?
The big change is many journalists have to produce more content. This means they have less time to develop stories in detail, and often have to file copy multiple times a day. About one in six said they often have to shoot pieces to camera. Yet these changes weren’t seen as wholly negative – only 17 percent thought the quality of their work had suffered as a result – while 35 percent thought their work had got better.
Are journalists now more trusting of blogs and social media as sources of information now digital media has come to the fore?
Yes, though it depends whose social media profile you’re talking about! As with last year, roughly half of the journalists surveyed source stories via microblogs like Twitter, and fractionally fewer use blogs – provided they recognised and trusted who was behind them. When the source behind the blog or Twitter feed was unfamiliar, this reliance roughly halved.
Indeed, conversations with industry insiders were even more popular means of news-gathering than social media. So, the job of ‘influence building’ is as crucial as ever. Brands can’t expect to become a part of the conversation just by having a presence in the right places. They need to build influence with the right people, both offline and on.
How much of the traditional sources of news, i.e. the press release, still remain? Which traditional methods are scarcely being used?
Press releases are still widely used, and a lot of the time they serve a useful purpose. But we did see big increases in the use of forms like video and infographics. Half the journalists polled for the study say they produce in-house video, while a third produce in-house infographics. These are massive trends.
Regardless of the form the finished story may take, our study shows that good information, from trusted sources, is what journalists value most. In this sense the values driving the news media are the same they’ve always been.
Are digital metrics considered a reliable measurement for online media?
The big advantage digital metrics have over other measures is they are far more transparent. Given so many titles rely on banners and other forms of advertising for revenues; this level of insight is incredibly important.
How do publishers hope to charge for digital content? What digital business models are gaining popularity?
The area to watch is mobile content. Forty percent of the journalists we surveyed this year said their title had a mobile app, a figure that has doubled in the past two years. The proportion of titles using premium mobile apps to generate revenues has increased by a third, as well. If mobile apps continue to grow at this rate we could see some big changes in how stories are reported.
What are your predictions for media in 2013 and beyond?
I think there are four trends that are well worth watching. The first is ‘digital first’ reporting – which will lead to some big changes in how the news is covered.
The second trend relates to interactivity and data-driven journalism. The Guardian and The FT are two titles which are putting ever more resources into interactive ‘digi-graphics’. These combine high design with big data, and enable readers to find their own way through stories. The Guardian’s interactive guide to the 2013 Spending Review is a good recent example of this.
The third trend I’d flag relates to how publications make their money. If mobile content continues on its current trajectory the news could become far more location-specific and interactive – and a far cry from how we read the papers today.
Citizen journalism could also become increasingly important. One in five journalists we polled for the survey agreed that citizen journalism carried the same weight as conventional reporting at their publications. Citizen journalism, enabled by social media, gives reporters eyes and ears in places they couldn’t hope to reach by conventional means.
But one thing that won’t change is this need for good, trusted sources of information. How these relationships are be built is already very different to just a few years ago.
What challenges and opportunities arise from the survey for PRs and journalists alike?
The big challenge for PRs is how to ensure brand messaging is communicated clearly in the ‘New Normal for News’. The most trusted sources of information according to our study were academics, followed by in-house subject matter experts. They ranked higher than CEOs, marketing and PR professionals.
In order to win in the ‘New Normal for News’, PRs need to provide training and support to equip a far broader range of experts, at all levels, to be brand ambassadors. And the key to that is ensuring a complete alignment of internal, external and digital communications. This is a big challenge for communications leads more used to working with a very select cadre of corporate spokespeople.
How is Brand2Life responding to the survey results?
We exist to deliver business impact for our clients, so integrating print, social media, digital marketing, influencer relations and other elements of the communications mix has been part of our strategy for years.
What we are doing is making some big investments in our teams to enable us to offer a wider range of content assets, both in the UK and internationally. We are being asked to create more and more videos and infographics that work across borders.
We’re also handling more and more training assignments for our clients, training them to act as brand ambassadors, particularly via social media. In the past six months we’ve trained 200+ sales and marketing personnel across Europe on blogging, social media engagement, and social selling.
Finally, we are placing an increasing emphasis on our relationships with the media. We network with over 200 journalists and bloggers every year – outside of our client engagements – so our insight into how they think, and what content they need, is bang up to date. We think this is vital – and the survey findings back us up!