Why News Audiences Are Fragmented

Media Segmentation
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If you're not on local television, you don't exist. Not to a big chunk of people.

And if you're not on radio news, you're invisible to a different audience that turns on news radio when their turn on the ignition and drive to work.

In public relations, there's always been a bias toward newspapers.

It's easy to see why. Most professionals started out as print reporters. Newspapers are also tangible. You can hold a story in your hands. You can clip it out with scissors and make photocopies, or hit cut-and-paste and forward a story to your boss and coworkers.

It's much harder to capture an audio clip from a radio story or a video clip of a TV piece. Stations — especially radio stations — broadcast all day. They don't have the server space or the free labor to save and archive every second of audio and video.

I say this as a former journalist with newsprint flowing through my veins. And it is true that newspapers typically break stories that TV and radio stations then cover. It's not a secret that radio and TV producers read the morning paper when they're looking for things to fill the daily broadcasts.

Audience Fragmentation

The problem is the mass media audience is split. Fragmented. In the old days, if you got a story into a big newspaper — say The New York Times or The Washington Post — and Walter Cronkite talked about it for 30 seconds on the CBS Nightly News, well, you were golden. Everybody would know about it.

Today, people can get their news a thousand different ways. There are hundreds of channels on cable and internet radio. You can access just about any newspaper you want online. The day when the entire nation got home from work, read the newspaper and turned on the television at 6 p.m. to watch Walter Cronkite, well, those days are over.

If you want to reach more than a slice of the population, you have to get into not only newspapers but radio, television, and the internet.

Where People Get Their News

The new Pew Research Center study on where people turn to for news shows an increasing reliance on the Internet, with a big spike in people reporting that they turn on their smartphone to look up news, weather, and sports.

People also reported that they checked multiple sources, with 99 % of Americans saying that on a typical day, they checked the news from at least one of the following: on television, radio, in print or on the web.

TV is dominant, with 78 % of Americans saying they watch local TV news and 73 % getting their news from networks or cable news channels.

The internet is growing; 61 % said they checked the news online. Radio (54 %) barely beat local newspapers (50 %), and national newspapers came in at 17 %.

There's also a big switch toward social media. People are tweeting and Facebooking about stories, and the Pew survey showed that when friends and family post a story, you're more likely to read it, comment on it or forward it yourself.

What This Means

The whole point of mass communication is reaching the masses. You could dominate the radio airwaves but miss almost half the population. The same with newspapers.

Local TV looks like a great option, reaching almost eight in ten people. But it's ten times harder to get coverage on the TV news as it is to get into newspapers, radio or the internet.

Today's audience is so fragmented means any plan to get press coverage has to cover all of those bases. You can't send the same press releases to every media outlet and call it good. A release that's the right size for a newspaper is far too long to read on the radio.

TV can't run with plain words. They want images. Eye candy. This need for strong images is so great that instead of having their anchor simply say, "It's snowing in the mountains," or "There's a windstorm on the coast," local TV news stations will send reporters up mountain passes at five in the morning to do live shots in the dark, talking about how snowy it is.

Often that poor reporter will stay there, in the snow or the rain or whatever it may be, for live updates throughout the morning and the noon news. That's dedication. It's because images matter so much more than words for TV that reporters in the field don't wear suits. They wear rain slickers with the station logo, to keep them from getting wet and cold.

To reach all of these different audiences and forms of media, focus on their different needs.

Newspapers need words and photos. Radio requires live people in the studio or on the phone, talking about an issue. Television stations need strong images, not talking heads.

A good first step to any media plan is to make a list. What are your strongest words? Who is your best voice on this issue? And what images would explain the story best on TV?