I’ve been a news junkie for as long as I can remember. While some parents practically had to force their kids to pick up a newspaper or book, mine actually had to force me to take my nose out of them every so often. I guess that’s why PR is my kismet career. Being attuned to what is taking place in the world and building upon it to achieve business goals is my passion.
What’s changed over the years, isn’t my interest or passion, but the way I consume news and learn about what’s going on in the world. As we kicked off the new year, I began reflecting on the habits I’ve formed and the changes I’d like to make. One of my 2016 resolutions involves a commitment to consume news in a more well-balanced way. Perhaps you’ll join me!
A media landscape with well-defined borders
When I started in PR, we were still in the world of news release fax blasts and counting agat lines to calculate the “ad equivalency” of our “hits” in newspapers and magazines. As a diligent PR professional, I would begin my day by reading three major Canadian dailies, and as technology evolved, scanning the internet for other global, breaking news. I’d end my day by watching the late news on one or two different channels, just to see the angle from which each outlet covered a given story. As a business leader in that environment, you only had a few hours—maybe even 24—to plan your reaction and manage your brand’s reputation if a crisis broke. Those were the days!
Around the time I left agency and was working corporate-side, social media happened. Back then, it was possible to say things like: “I have so many messages coming at me; between email, phone/voicemail and meetings, how can I add social media to the mix?” I couldn’t imagine adding another stream vying for my attention. As long as I understood how social media worked, I could still work with our agencies to execute it, without being involved in it myself. But I couldn’t stand on the sidelines for long.
It got to a point where, as a professional communicator and business leader, first-hand relationships with media alone wouldn’t cut it anymore. In order to provide the best counsel to my clients and frankly, to keep personal pace with the world around me, I had to have first-hand experience with social media. I had to practice what I preached.
So, I dove in. I had long been on LinkedIn, but thanks to a friend who showed me the ropes, I joined Facebook and Twitter. I found it fascinating, not to mention fun. I was hooked. The ripple effect of how news and information spreads via social media was awe-inspiring. In business school, we had waxed poetic about a “future” in which e-commerce sites could have the ability to personalize our homepages based on our preferred clothing size and style. Suddenly, this customization was becoming a reality, not only for online shopping, but for the entire online information-sharing ecosystem.
A rose-coloured world
In the years since, I’ve kept abreast of the world around me, but in a different way, through a different lens. While the amount of time I spend consuming media overall has likely increased by at least 20%, my time spent consuming “traditional” media has declined, markedly. The numbers indicate I’m not the only one. The average time Canadians spend reading physical newspapers has fallen 25.6% between 2010 and 2014, with an annual shrinkage of 4.7% expected through 2017. But online media consumption is on the rise. People spent an average of 429 minutes a day consuming media in 2015, a 1.4% increase from 485 minutes in 2014.
Because I’d started to consume so much of my news via my social feeds, I realized that the lens through which I was seeing the world is tainted by my “friends” and my preferences. I was missing out on many points-of-view as a result.
As 2015 drew to a close, I felt the need to know more of what’s “really” going on out there, not just what an algorithm and the people in my network have decided I ought to know. As we talked about back in business school, just because I may be accustomed to a certain style of jeans, doesn’t mean that is the only style to which I should be exposed. And when it comes to news, this customized exposure may actually be dangerous.
While some of the news I’ve been consuming come directly from traditional sources or shared with me through my social channels, other stories are told by those writers and bloggers deemed “social influencers.” Often highly talented and with a nose to what’s happening in their areas of focus, these writers share their opinions on issues, brands, and products based on personal preference/inclination and/or some sort of compensation model. Influencers have earned loyal followings based on their unique points-of-view and the compelling ways in which they express them. And they have absolutely thus “earned” the right to be paid for the content they create. But both sides of the proverbial coin benefit from a policy of full disclosure to the reader or viewer of this payment. In the US it is mandated, but in Canada, it’s not. For consumers, now more than ever, it’s caveat emptor, buyer beware.
As a PR professional throughout this evolution of the media landscape, I see an incredible opportunity for brands to harness the power of their most important stakeholders and influencers in developing their best brand narrative. We’ve got some exciting developments underway on this front at Felicity, and we look forward to sharing these with you very shortly.
But as a consumer of the news, I want my reading to encompass enough socially-influenced news and traditionally crafted stories to ensure I’m getting a 365 degree look at the world. While a story may break and spread like wildfire on Twitter, and you can follow along in real time as people at the epicentre chronicle the events, there is something to be said for the journalistic integrity and editing process in place at a news outlet. Sure, bias is everywhere, but it is only by being informed from several points of view that we may identify it.
A news source a day keeps the ignorance away
As we look forward to working with brands to blaze new trails in the year ahead, I am personally resolving to return to a more “old-school” way of reading the news. That’s right, every day I’m going to read at least one newspaper. And, while there is something wonderful about picking up an actual paper, I’ll likely do most of my reading in the digital format. I’m publicly committing to this by sharing my resolution with all of you.
I think I’ll be a more informed person for it. After all, you never know what kind of news (or jeans for that matter) you’ll come across when you’re exposed to all of it—not just the “style” to which you typically gravitate.
What do you think? Care to join me on my journey? If not, what is it you’re resolving to do in 2016? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
From all of us at Felicity PR, we wish you a year filled with health, success, happiness, and integrity!