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Journalism in a Digital Age

The Skimm
Photo courtesy of: The Skimm

My mind has been spinning ever since I attended a Society of Professional Journalists event on journalism in a digital age. The event moderator, Matthew Hall from The San Diego Union-Tribune, asked of the panelists: “Where do you go for news?” The first to respond immediately reframed the question. His thought provoking response was: “I don’t really go anywhere for news anymore – the news comes to me wherever I want it.”

He’s right. From carefully curated social media feeds to e-newsletters, podcasts and even standard subscriptions – we expect news to reach us without much effort on our part. As wearable devices become increasingly popular, many individuals even expect news to show up on their body.

In a world of distractions and shrinking attention spans, people expect news consumption to be easy. We want it to fit into our lives without needing to adjust our behaviors throughout the day.

A 2016 Pew Research Center study found 62 percent of Americans get news from social media. Two-thirds of Facebook users say they get their news on the platform, and with Facebook’s user base encompassing 67 percent of the U.S. adult population, that translates to 44 percent of U.S. adults receiving news on the site.

The same study revealed differences in how active or passive each group of news users is in their online habits. Those who use YouTube, Facebook and Instagram are more likely to get their news online, mostly by chance. Demographic differences also appear across the varying platforms. LinkedIn news consumers are more likely to have a college degree, and Instagram news consumers are more likely to be non-white, young and female.

Growth in use of social media for news

Long-form journalism – especially of an investigative nature – is critically important and should be purposefully sought out. But current events, the latest drama from Washington or updates on local issues can, for the most part, be digested in a matter of seconds. Consumers increasingly expect to get only the most essential details easily and to have deeper coverage available at a click.

No one has embraced this model of delivering snippets of news right to readers’ inboxes better than The Skimm. Launched in 2012 as a daily newsletter summarizing top news stories, The Skimm embraced a conversational, quippy tone that immediately found a home in the inboxes of millennial women. The company now has an audience of 5 million across the newsletter, website and smartphone app. The daily email contains just enough information that a person would feel updated on current events, and is sprinkled with references and links that offer a deeper dive – if you have the time for it.

The Wall Street Journal offers a host of podcast programs providing short, focused audio briefings as an alternative to print or online news. At roughly 8 minutes in length, episodes of the Journal Report mostly cover market trends or corporate topics, and occasionally sprinkle in lifestyle, science or other content relevant for the Wall Street Journal’s audience: mostly males with high household income, a college education and business acumen.

Political newspaper The Hill – which serves a niche audience of politicos – has embraced social media’s current darling, SnapChat, to engage readers throughout the day. Gone are the days of waiting for Congress to pass a bill before lengthy coverage of its implications begin. Now, reporters at The Hill are running through the halls of Congress with smartphones in hand snapping the latest updates on modifications, sentiments and potential votes for pieces of legislation. These eyewitness accounts build The Hill’s brand while putting relevant news on a platform where young voters dwell throughout the day.

Traditional media institutions are creatively adapting their news delivery model to meet the needs of an online, mobile audience. Social media and journalism have officially converged. The most tech-savvy reporters will find ways to stay relevant and drive conversations in these new spaces. Public relations professionals should understand the changing media environment and make it easy for journalists to adapt our clients’ stories to a variety of mediums.

As news consumers, it is our responsibility to continue investing in truthful, reputable news outlets with our time, attention and subscription dollars. Share good content when you see it, and flag the fake stuff when it appears. Everyone plays a role in ensuring a prosperous future for journalism in a digital age.

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