Moving public perception used to be all about delivering a simple, potent message on television.
Today? “It’s complicated.” The ongoing proliferation of media has changed the way messages are crafted, delivered and consumed. Potent messages must now be delivered across multiple media platforms to increasingly divergent audiences. This imposes several new demands – first and most importantly identifying where media consumption is taking place.
According to the latest data from the Pew Center – released earlier this year – cable television audiences continued to see declining viewership in 2013. Combined prime time viewership for the top three cable news stations – Fox, CNN and MSNBC – was down 11 percent last year.
MSNBC suffered the steepest fall, losing 24 percent of its audience. CNN was down 13 percent while Fox was down 6 percent.
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Local news – which according to Pew remains “the primary place American adults turn to for news” – saw upticks in every time frame in 2013 after five years of declining viewership. Local morning newscasts climbed 6.3 percent, while evening news climbed 3.3 percent and late night news inched up by 0.1 percent.
Of course these increases did nothing to stop the ongoing consolidation of local stations – and the increasingly top-down generation of local content.
“At this point, fully a quarter of the 952 U.S. television stations that air newscasts do not produce their news programs,” Pew reports. “Additional stations have sharing arrangements where much of their content is produced outside their own newsroom.”
Network news saw a 2.3 percent increase over 2012 – with ABC News up 2.2 percent (to 7.7 million viewers), CBS News up 6.5 percent (to 6.5 million viewers) and market leader NBC News declining 0.7 percent (to 8.4 million viewers).
Newspapers saw modest upticks – gaining 3 percent circulation during the week and 1.6 percent circulation on Sundays – although Pew notes “that result is influenced by liberalized reporting rules … and includes both paying visitors to digital platforms and distribution of Sunday insert packages to non-subscribers.”
Speaking of digital, 82 percent of Americans now get their news on desktops or laptops – with 54 percent receiving news on tablets or smartphones.
How much of that content is really “news,” though? That’s a good question.
“In digital news, the overlap between public relations and news noted in last year’s State of the News Media report became even more pronounced,” Pew reported. “One of the greatest areas of revenue experimentation now involves website content that is paid for by commercial advertisers – but often written by journalists on staff – and placed on a news publishers’ page in a way that sometimes makes it indistinguishable from a news story.”
Separating the wheat from the chaff, then, becomes an indispensable skill for practitioners – whether in placing messages or responding to messages placed against them.