2021 Media Trends

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To say that 2020 has been a year of challenge and change would be an understatement. From the way we work, to the life events we have missed, to the controversy and protests that have inspired debates and transformation – as we enter a new year, we do so with a new perspective in a new reality.

The way we interact with media and what and how news is covered has also changed. I’ve spent some time engaging with both TV and print reporters recently to identify what trends we see continuing and emerging as we enter 2021.

It’s All About Digital

The number of online visitors to news websites and social media platforms grew significantly this year, and the drive for digital information is more prevalent now than ever before. One Columbus Dispatch reporter I spoke with recently compared print newspapers to a disregarded stepchild. While stuck at home, screen time has dramatically increased – especially as people have been consumed by pandemic news, the tumultuous presidential election and issues concerning civil rights and equity and political unrest.

However, there is a silver lining for PR pros, it is now easier than ever to schedule interviews for clients as they no longer have to be in person. Zoom and Skype are now completely acceptable for news gathering and deskside meetings, which we expect to continue.

Also, while a story may not get picked up to run in print or on air, it could still appear online, meaning more opportunities for placements. It also can then easily be shared on social media, resulting in further impressions.

More User-Generated Visual Content

The need for visuals is nothing new, but as reporters continue working from home to limit the spread of the COVID-19, the opportunities to gather visuals has become limited. According to the Dispatch reporter, they are simply not allowed to post a digital story without an image or video associated with it. Before the pandemic, reporters were discouraged from using supplied artwork, but the tide has turned, and journalist expect this trend to continue in 2021.

Likewise, broadcast is now more reliant than ever on user-generated content. However, there is a line depending on the story topic according to a reporter from a local CBS affiliate, “It still has to be my journalism.”

With this in mind, PR professionals should grab their iPhones more often to capture pictures, soundbites and b-roll to share with reporters. One important reminder for video - it should be shot horizontally.

Pitching the Pandemic and Beyond

COVID-19 continues to dominate media resources and that will continue in 2021. “Stories we would have been all over a year ago, we have to pass on right now,” the Dispatch reporter told me.

As vaccines roll out and the light at the end of the tunnel slowly becomes brighter, there is a desire for something different among readers and viewers – perhaps even on the lighter side after what has been a daunting 2020.

Reporters are not out in the community as often so it’s harder for them to mine for story ideas and do their due diligence. Stories that are “served up on a platter” are desirable in this environment with all the elements already available (background details, interviews, visuals).

Less Resources

While there is an appetite for news beyond the pandemic, outlets may not have the available resources to deliver it. Like every industry, news has taken a hit with staffing. This means there are fewer beat reporters and more general assignment reporters – steepening the learning curve for industry-specific stories. Add to that a reduction in editors, and some stories may only get one proofread – if that. 

In 2021, make sure to always read stories carefully and be willing to work with reporters to make tweaks along the way, even after a story has been published. Also, be sure to provide enough detail to reporters on the front end to cover the “who, what, when, where and why” to ensure the best outcome.

Repairing and Rebuilding Trust

Finally, 2021 will be a year focused on facts. In a society that often views facts and truth as subjective, reporters are more focused than ever on backing up their stories with the documents, resources and attributions.

“I have been doing this for 35 years and I have never seen it (hostility) like this,” the Dispatch reporter told me.

To combat the attacks from keyboard warriors, reporters are doubling down on their work and backing it up. “We know everything we do is going to be challenged,” the CBS reporter said.

Anything PR pros can provide to help reporters in this effort to regain public trust will be paramount.