Survey: The News Industry’s Biggest Threat Is Its Own Future

Guest post by Andrew Graham of Clear.

This is a guest post by Andrew Graham, founding partner of Clear.

It’s become conventional wisdom that the dwindling number of journalists who still have conventional editorial jobs, along with the corresponding rise of employment in the PR sector, poses an existential threat to the PR agencies that still focus primarily on media relations. It’s harder than ever to get journalists’ attention, especially when one doesn’t have an exclusive to shop around.

That’s why this new survey from BusinessWire, released earlier this week, is worth diving into.

The news release distribution company asked around 400 journalists questions about how they gather news, what resources they use, and how PR pros can become a greater asset. The most surprising finding is a belief that what the survey calls “interactive news-telling”–the disposable, short-form pieces of content, only some of which offer any real news value, that are shared on social channels–represent the perceived future of news. Yes, reporters themselves think that their industry will look more and more like BuzzFeed going forward.

Three findings, taken together, paint a Salvadore Dali-esque image of media as a confusing perversion of convention that’s both alluring and terrifying: less news, more fluff; less focus on sharing insights and more focus on scoring clicks.

Interactive news-telling is the future of news

A third of respondents think BuzzFeed-like “interactive news-telling” is the future of news, winning out over traditional reporting and TV/digital crossover strategies.

One important thing to remember about BuzzFeed in particular is that it actually does produce useful journalism. It’s the only publisher I can think of, for instance, that has a reporter whose sole beat is the death penalty; it has an investigative reporting team lead by a Pulitzer Prize winner; it is hiring outstanding tech reporters to cover Silicon Valley; its editor in chief is Ben Smith, who is very much a traditional political journalist.

The only time I ever see or hear any of the legitimate reporting it does, though, is when its people appear on the nightly news shows to trumpet stories they’ve broken.

Non-news content subsidizes the real reporting because it drives the traffic and draws the advertisers. Think about what would happen if you ate McDonald’s for 29 days out of the month, and then ate well on the last day. You’d still feel terrible, and that’s the BuzzFeed news diet. Separating the vegetables from the empty calories–sequestering useful reporting from bill-paying filler–could be the Holy Grail for media in the future.

I haven’t figured out how separate the vegetables from the calories — how to sequester BuzzFeed’s reporting, which is quite useful, from its other shit, which isn’t.

But clickbait is considered the biggest threat

Respondents also think the prevalence of clickbait is a bigger threat than reduced time available for research and salary changes — put together. Clickbait wins out over increases in advertorials, reduction in staff, publications shutting down, and other generally damaging trends, in the “wow, this sucks” department.

If BuzzFeed is the future of news and clickbait is the biggest threat to the future of news, then it seems that the news industry’s worst enemy is its own future.

And journalists don’t want companies to break news socially

Respondents certainly forecast a future driven by social platforms and interactive reporting — for their industry, not for the PR industry. Virtually no respondents have any appetite for companies breaking news on owned properties — their social channels or their blog. Instead, 66 percent prefer an email with a link to a news release. (The survey didn’t ask reporters how much they prefer exclusives or earlies. I wish it had.)

The media industry’s contraction and general movement towards clickbait is the very reason why companies sometimes need to use their owned media to announce information they perceive as newsworthy. It would be difficult for everyone involved to operate in an environment where the reporting community resists companies’ owned platforms but don’t have the time, resources, or inclination to break news in the conventional ways.

This is already an issue in the technology field, where a half-dozen companies dominate the headlines virtually every single day.