Is there a full moon or is this a brand new media frontier? It is both and regardless of whether you are a student of PR or a veteran PR professional, buckle up because the ride is going to get bumpy. The media landscape that we know today, has been forever and dramatically changed and will never be the same.
The U.S. presidential election is just the beginning.
According to this morning’s New York Times, “All the dazzling technology, the big data and the sophisticated modeling that American newsrooms bring to the fundamentally human endeavor of presidential politics could not save American journalists from yet again being behind the rest of the country.” The story continues, “The shift was profound, as mainstream media organizations scrambled to catch the bus that had just run them over.” Perhaps CNN’s John King illustrated the conundrum most poetically, again in the Times story, “John King of CNN proclaimed to his huge election night audience that during the previous couple of weeks, ‘We were not having a reality-based conversation, given the map he had before him, showing Mr. Trump with a clear opportunity to reach the White House.’ ”
We saw missteps, fake news and to use CNN’ Brian Stelter’s term, “a blizzard of misinformation.” The quantity and velocity of bad information was remarkable along side of the scary trend of false information going out faster than the facts.
Look at Fox News’ story about the supposed indictment of Hillary Clinton, which turned out to be false – an apology rightfully followed, but soon enough?
And even though Twitter can’t seem to find a buyer, it played a critical role in the election both good and bad. The Republican nominee used this outlet as his messenger of choice, but along side of that, were fierce unacceptable Tweets that were often ugly and racist. This perpetuated the reality that to correct messages or wrongful information, the rule of thumb is five seconds, not five minutes.
The public is now playing a very real role in making news – creating a new network for story distribution via live streaming. And in doing so, this new genre of “news producers” may regurgitate falsehoods. The media was slow to catch up and correct those falsehoods pointing to the very real need for more fact checking earlier. The news atmosphere was and remains chaotic.
Cable TV needs to figure out the role of partisans with a paycheck e.g. Donna Bazile and Corey Lewandowsky? This kind of commentating needs a clear review. Cable TV can’t look like it is buying inside information.
The election cycle was brutal on traditional newspaper staffs, though the bright side of that part of the story is that online newspaper subscriptions are up – but will that continue?
The New York Times laments this past Sunday:
“The election news bubble that’s about to pop has blocked from plain view the expanding financial sinkhole at the center of the paper-and-ink branch of the news industry, which has recently seen a print advertising plunge that was “much more precipitous, to be honest with you, than anybody expected a year or so ago,” as The Wall Street Journal editor in chief Gerard Baker told me on Friday.
“Papers including The Journal, The New York Times, The Guardian, the Gannett publications and others have responded with plans to reorganize, shed staff, kill off whole sections, or all of the above. Taken together, it means another rapid depletion in the nation’s ranks of traditionally trained journalists whose main mission is to root out corruption, hold the powerful accountable and sort fact from fiction for voters. It couldn’t be happening at a worse moment in American public life. The internet-borne forces that are eating away at print advertising are enabling a host of faux-journalistic players to pollute the democracy with dangerously fake news items.
‘It’s the biggest crisis facing our democracy, the failing business model of real journalism,’ Senator Claire McCaskill, Democrat of Missouri. Ms. McCaskill said that, ‘Journalism is partly to blame’ for being slow to adjust as the internet turned its business model upside down and social media opened the competitive floodgates. ‘Fake news got way out ahead of them,’ she said.
The cure for fake journalism is an overwhelming dose of good journalism. And how well the news media gets through its postelection hangover will have a lot to do with how the next chapter in the American political story is told.”
This morning, there is a consensus that a degree of normalization will happen after today – but we have definitely reached a new normal and who knows how long that will last.
PR and media text books will need to be-written and today’s pupils for of this profession need to think long and hard about what lies ahead, what it means for the discipline moving forward.
One thing is clear – the train is leaving the station so there is no choice but to hop on and embrace what is about to come.