Research unveiled today by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism reveals how smartphones are starting to ‘play a significant role in the consumption of news.’  The institute’s 2012  Digital News Report (#risjdigital2012) tells how more than one in four of those questioned accessed news stories via a mobile device or tablet.

While traditional journalism providers like the BBC, Sky News and individual print outlets remain central sources amongst consumers of news, the size of the audience getting their news from unverified sources is growing, especially amongst the 16-24 age group.  The report additionally reveals how outlets in the UK have been ‘relatively quick to innovate, with developments such as live blogging, social media, and data journalism – leaving little space for new providers.’

These findings not only put questions on how news organisations deliver content to the public, but how, through public relations, governments, companies and other organisations can better engage and communicate with their respective audiences.  Traditional PR in this 21st Century is no longer an option.  Reaching the audience has to be done by understanding where the public is and when and what they want to receive.

Considering the speed of news dissemination through Facebook and Twitter, especially when content is verified, it is becoming essential to change the approach that brands use to engage with their individual publics.

Newman also reveals in the report how news spreads through social networks, with 78 per cent saying they were more likely to click on a link from friends and other people they knew if they had shared content during the past week.  Newman adds in the report that Facebook is still key to disseminating of news online, with 55 per cent using this platform, against 33 per cent using email and 23 per cent using Twitter.

Further details can be found in the report, which will be unveiled at MSN this evening, 11 July 2012 from 18.00.  Follow the Hashtag #risjdigital2012 then for comment and discussion.

Reuters Institute Digital Report 2012

Laura Oliver, Nic Newman and Julio Romo
Laura Oliver, Nic Newman and Julio Romo

Nic Newman summed up the impact that social media is having on journalism when he said that based on volume and time spent on site, “Facebook was six times bigger than CNN.”  People today spend more time on social networking sites than on news sites, with industry commentators citing this to highlight the reason for the supposed death of news and quality journalism.  For others though social media represents an opportunity – a resource that adds value to journalism, which is why the Chartered Institute of Public Relations Greater London Group (CIPR GLG) wanted to host an event to discuss how social media is re-shaping journalism and the news industry.

For this debate we were delighted to welcome Nic Newman, the BBC’s Future Media and Technology Controller for Journalism and Digital Distribution and Laura Oliver, Editor for Journalism.co.uk.

Nic had just returned to the BBC after three months at the Reuters Institute for The Study of Journalism at Oxford University where he wrote a paper on ‘The rise of social media and its impact on mainstream journalism.’ A document that gave insight into how social media was being adopted and used within the BBC, CNN, The New York Times, The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph.

As has been well publicised, the reach of news organisations has been in decline for many years, ever since publishers implemented a business model that gave away its content for free online so that they could get a slice of the at the time new revenue from online advertising.  Of course as we now know this strategy ended up ‘cannibalising’ revenues from print, broadcast and other news focused incomes as consumers stopped buying newspapers and magazines and moved online where news is free.

The double-whammy came with the rise of social media, as people moved to Facebook, Twitter and the like and stopped visiting news websites.  And it was through these ‘herds’ – their friends and followers – that people started to get the breaking news stories that for so long had been the preserve of news outlets.

While some industry commentators saw social media as the final nail in the coffin for quality journalism and the news industry, others viewed it as an opportunity, as it confirmed the belief that through social media journalists could ‘better reach out to people who know more about a given subject.’

Nic NewmanNewman stated that what we are currently seeing in journalism is a, “quiet revolution.”  Between 2007-2009 there’s been an explosion in participation, ‘driven by user-friendly internet tools, better connectivity and new mobile devices.  Social Networking and UGC have become mainstream activities, accounting for almost 20 per cent of internet time in the UK and involving half of all internet users.  This dramatic change has forced traditional news organisations to take note.’  And news outlets have reacted by abandoning attempts ‘to be first for breaking news, focusing instead on being the best at verifying and curating it.’

Social media expert Clay Shirky says in Newman’s report that ‘you trade speed for accuracy’ by getting updates from Twitter.  And this is what the news industry is now focusing on, accurate and in-depth reporting.

The BBC’s user generated content (UGC) hub on an average week processes over 10,000 email comments, 1,000 still images and 100 video clips.  Staffed by 23 people the hub can access breaking news images and stories, supporting news producers for programmes such as the BBC’s Ten O’Clock News.  They also act as a contact point for people with stories to tell – a case of this was when it was contacted in February 2009 by an HBOS whistleblower.  Social media is a platform that links people with quality news.

We were told by Newman and Oliver that social networks allows journalists to find and tell better stories and engage with new audiences.  I asked if this meant a reduced role for PRs as journalists could go ‘straight to source’ through social networking channels.  “No,” we were told.  Just as journalists could use social networks to gain facts, insight and case studies, PRs could and were bypassing the media and taking their messages direct to their audiences.  Oliver added that, “PRs would always be involved in the conversation.”  The right to reply we should remember is to a certain extent enshrined in journalism and the editorial guidelines of many news outlets.

Newman pointed out that “as if to add insult to injury, these new networks and individuals are also acting as a check on traditional media, questioning our accuracy and standards, and forcing transparency.”

Laura Oliver tells us about journalists use of social media

Oliver confirmed that outlets are having to be more transparent.  I asked if social media is opening journalists’ notebooks.  “Yes,” was her answer.  In Oliver’s case, and from what she knows from journalists in nationals and business-to-business titles, there is a lot of sharing of links through social bookmarking sites and the like.  Links that allow people to build a better picture of a journalist and their ‘beat.’  It also allows readers and PRs to build better relationships with them, which can only be a good thing.

But how is social media being used in journalism?  Laura Oliver confirmed that journalists now use sites to gain opinion and case studies on stories that they might be working on.  People can be found on networking sites discussing most subjects and this is invaluable to journalists.  These people are consumers, potential customers and stakeholders.  They share thoughts and knowledge with other people.  If they complain about a bad experience with a brand, they’ll share it, and journalists will hear it and if it’s newsworthy enough report it

Journalists and media outlets know that people carry mobile devices with which they can stay in contact with their networks.  They know that people can now compliment a story that they are working on as these devices can capture images and audio.

The new tools of the trade for journalists include Tweetdeck, Facebook, Audioboo – an application that allows users to post and share audio files.  Newsrooms I am sure also have the ability to monitor conversations through Viralheat, a social measurement platform that covers hundreds of viral video destination sites, Twitter, and millions blogs & websites.

News outlets like the BBC for example use Twitter to get case studies for news packages about any story.  Newman gave the example of how the BBC Ten O’Clock News wanted case study that related to an engineering story that they were putting together.  News producers asked Technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones if he could help.  Rory obliged by putting a call for help on his Twitter feed.  Within minutes his request was met by numerous offers of help, one that was local to London was used.  It was that easy and by the look of it not a PR in sight!

As PRs we have to remember that thanks to social media journalists have better access to the opinions and comments from consumers and stakeholders.  Social media is not just a platform for technology story, but a platform through which people can have conversations about any given subject.

The one thing that is certain is that social media is here to stay. It is even influencing journalism training and editorial control as the industry evaluates how to meet the changing dynamics of how and from where people get their news.  Griffith University in Australia has even made Twitter part of the mandatory course load for journalism students.

And it is affecting how we PRs do our job.  It isn’t just an add-on for monologue campaigns that we have been so used to developing.  It is a platform through which our clients can better engage with current and potential consumers.

Social media is open, it is transparent.  The conversations that our customers have can be seen not just by us, but by journalists that judge and hold us to account, and that does not have to be an issue.

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The Government recently unveiled an advertising and communications campaign to promote the export opportunities that exist to British industry.  Some might consider the timing to be odd given that the nation is in the middle of the worst recession in living memory.  But a recent UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) conference in London at the beginning of the month proved otherwise.

At UKTI’s ‘Digital Business: India and China’ two day conference which I worked on (Reuters TV news above) small and medium sized technology and communications companies came together to share knowledge on the opportunities that lay in two countries that are bucking the downward global economic trend.

Companies from Britain’s digital, technology, mobile and gaming sectors agreed that while growth in the UK was hard, business opportunities in these two countries gave them hope for the future.

During the second day, which was devoted to China, representatives from China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology gave an insight into the help that was available to UK companies thinking of investing in China, a country that is looking to move its economy towards value-adding products and services.

Welcoming The World To Britain
Welcoming The World To Britain

We’ve seen UKTI’s ‘Take It To The World’ campaign message on billboards at stations up and down the country.  And companies like Playfish.com are an example of how Britain can take gaming to the world.

But what has this got to do with PR and communications?  Well, it was wisely pointed out at the conference that China was not just looking to bring expertise to its home country.  Businesses in China are looking to enter the British and European marketplace, thus increasing the need for services such as PR, advertising and the like for them.

And let’s be honest, Britain has usually been concerned about China and it’s new financial muscle.  But with the UK PR industry suffering in the current recession the opportunities that might exist from Chinese companies wishing to expand into Europe might help.

Some of the big agencies, such as Burson-Marsteller already serve and support Chinese companies, such as  online business-to-business trading company Alibaba.com, which last week announced a 39 per cent increase in revenue to over £300 million.

Agencies are getting ready for business from merging markets.  Maybe Brazil will be next.  Not a bad place for a business trip me thinks!