Who cares about the future of media? We should

posted by Brendan Hodgson

There is a real and serious debate taking place among media-types about the future of “professional” journalism in this 2.0 world. Declining readerships, the 24-second (vs 24-hour) news cycle, the rise of Twitter are – among others - challenging media to re-define their role in an increasingly inter-networked world. And this is only being further exacerbated by the current economic brouhaha. The debate is often visceral and it is not all about trying to save what once was. As Mathew argues in his recent (and certainly daring) post for the Nieman Journalism Lab, the bloodletting overwhelming many in the mainstream media may even, in fact, be a good thing.

As a PR practitioner, it’s an issue that we need to pay very close attention to, and yet I fear we’re not (too often our strategies remain fixated on traditional media at the expense of all else). From a brutally simplistic standpoint, and if the current maelstrom continues, it will certainly diminish the impact of our “media relations” efforts. Fewer publications or news broadcasts. Fewer journalists. Fewer stories. Lower quality stories. Fewer eyeballs. Minimal impact on public perception or behaviour. Simple. Or is it?

At the same time, and in addition to considering how a calorie-reduced mainstream media will impact what we do from a pure “media relations” perspective, it forces us to pay attention to what will emerge in place of these media, regardless of whether we define it as ‘mainstream journalism’, ‘citizen journalism’ or ‘personal media’.

It begs some interesting questions: Once released, where will these journalists end up, and in what capacity? Will they join the ranks of the millions of ‘amateur’ bloggers and simply blend into the noise?  Will there be concerted efforts to create a totally different model of reporting?  Or will this re-structuring simply result in an engorged army of ‘professional’ freelancers feeding into massively scaled-down versions of what were once mighty media behemoths? Will the concept of a hyper-local media finally get off the ground in a meaningful capacity?

The answers matter. Because they could easily change (as social media already has in many respects) how we shape our strategies for reaching and influencing the people our clients care about. How does a business, government department, or not-for-profit communicate its message in a world where all media is becoming inherently personal, and where traditional filters are virtually nonexistant?

Terry Heaton speaks of the ‘personal media revolution’ in his recent post on Malia Obama filming the inauguration, and how our individual perspectives of the world are being re-shaped by the collision of personal and traditional media content.

“…it’s important to acknowledge that our view of such things is shaped by what we’re saying to each other in addition to what the people on TV are saying. This is the leading edge of the personal media revolution, and we’re increasingly seeing the mainstream press working with the people formerly known as the audience to help form the “official” record of the day. This is a good thing, and I think everybody agrees.”

It is a good thing. Now what the public relations industry needs to do is figure out what it means. Our business depends on it.

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