The news is broken - but let's not try and fix it

Our challenge is to see the changes, particularly via social media, and adapt; because a great story always cuts through, wherever you want your client to be.

The news is broken, but let’s not try and fix it, writes Howard Bowden
The news is broken, but let’s not try and fix it, writes Howard Bowden

Never use exclamation marks! That's what I've always taught colleagues when writing for the media, because a) the nationals never use them (99.9% of the time), and b) our job is always to mimic the media.

Which is why it was quite a thing when The Sun tweeted a story last month with a headline ending with a question mark AND THEN AN EXCLAMATION MARK (see your Facebook timeline for more info?!).

And this after they and other national newspapers this year started tweeting GIFs, emojis and BuzzFeed-style content, which would never have made even 12 months ago.

Welcome to the news landscape in 2017.

Did you know that ‘did you know?’ stories (‘The surprising life hacks EVERY woman should know’), clickbait headlines (‘Bookies' new favourite to be next James Bond will shock you’) and Stuff Which Appeared First On Social Media (’This dress is actually a wedding cake and we want it’) are now everyday national news agenda staples?

And if it appeared on Reddit first, even better.

Meanwhile, Press Gazette is running a campaign ‘to stop Google and Facebook destroying journalism’, describing the decline in traditional news publishers’ ad revenue and subsequent reduction in journalists employed as ‘devastating for the news industry and society in general’.

Add the increasingly meaningless, catch-all phrase ‘fake news’ and you see can why Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales has announced plans for a news service combining the work of professional journalists and volunteers - which apparently declares: ‘the news is broken and we can fix it’.

Well, quite. Broken, battered and badly bruised.

As he points out, the advertising-based model increasingly used by so much online media had led it to chase clicks, hugely affecting editorial standards.

So, if we can agree that the news IS broken, what are we PRs supposed to do?

Raid the stationery cupboard for those piles of unused gaffer tape and stick it back together?

Of course, there are lots of clients who don’t care any more for traditional media coverage (btw none of that acronymically challenged ‘MSM’, purleese), who would be delighted if a campaign resulted solely in a gazillion Facebook likes.

And yes, not much long-term client gain to be necessarily had from a jazz-hands stunt if there's no campaign strategy to back it up (personally I think a float-it-down-the-Thames stunt for Thames Water would result in the PR industry collapsing in on itself).

But, if your client does still want to be in The Telegraph, or MailOnline, or Sky News, don’t get distracted by the changing media landscape. Frankly, ‘twas ever thus.

Media platforms, broadcast schedules, news pages - they’ve always altered and developed over time. Technology and marketing always ensures it.

Our challenge is to see the changes, particularly now via social media, and adapt; because a great story always cuts through, wherever you want your client to be.

And yes, the news is broken, but let’s not try and fix it. Like I say, our job is always to mimic the media.

Howard Bowden is a media trainer and founder of Generation

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