My apologies to Shakespeare, but the recent The Year in News 2011 put out by The Pew Research Center for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ) is helping me answer that question. PEJ has been putting out their analysis for five years and it is an excellent tool to help us media relations professions better understand what’s hot and what’s not in news and therefore appropriately tailor our pitches. Despite the herd mentally usually ascribed to media scribes, PEJ does point to differences, albeit subtle.
Here are my takeaways:
If you got a hard news story, pitch it to CBS over NBC or ABC. Conversely, if you have a lifestyle, celebrity to sports angle, first pitch ABC, then NBC before you bug CBS with it. That goes for morning shows or their evening newscasts. ABC was particularly keen on celebrities last year.
With international stories, your best bet is the NewsHour on PBS. On average, 39% of the NewsHour show was devoted to foreign events and U.S. foreign policy, compared with 28% in the media sample generally, according to PEJ’s report.
CNN is another good bet for stories with an international hook. Last year it spent more than a third of its airtime devoted to international events and matters that concerned U.S. involvement abroad (34%). In fact, I’m currently working with CNN on a story with an international component and they’ve been responsive. Not sure I would have gotten the same initial interest from the other networks – cable or broadcast. CNN also does more lifestyle, celebrity and sports than its cable rivals. This makes sense since Fox and MSNBC dedicates its evenings to “ideological talk show hosts.”
There are nuggets of gems throughout the report, so take a look for yourself. One cliché that they seem to validate is that the media has the attention span of a gnat – flittering from one story to another. The report says the public’s interest in a topic is sustained and longer. Using data from the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, they determined that the mainstream media and the U.S. public often agreed on the most important stories. So the media gets that right. But the public interest in a story lasts much longer. According to PEJ, “in several cases, high levels of public interest outlasted media coverage as the press moved on to other events.” The most dramatic “divergence” was the blizzards that blasted the Midwest the week of January 31-February 6. The story only accounted for 8% of all news coverage that week whereas almost half of the public told Pew they were paying very close attention to it.
So what about my initial question: to blog or to Tweet? Well, PEJ also includes valuable information about blogs and Twitter. I was specifically intrigued by their insights on how the “news agendas” of each is so different. Again they are evaluating the kind of content – the hot topics – that these channels of social media cover. Quoting PEJ, “the data… reveal that Twitter users were more consumed by new digital technology and products. The blogosphere more closely followed the traditional press focus on current events and issues.”
In addition to their “insatiable appetite for news… about the latest gadgets,” PEJ says Twitter users are much more into celebrities than blogs were, some 13% compared to 4%.
Bloggers on the other hand “often take their cues from what is happening in the mainstream media.” Many of the top stories on blogs (e.g. the economy and health care) were also among the top stories in traditional news coverage. Comparing it to Twitter, PEJ says that this year, “the blogosphere’s function as a forum to debate public events became more evident.”
So in a nutshell, if you got a celebrity or a nifty high tech gadget, you should design a Twitter strategy to rival Justin Beiber’s or Apple’s launch of a new product. But if you want to drive a discussion about an event or create a debate about a particular policy, create content a blogger can sink his or her teeth into.
So with that, we media relations professionals for 2012 can go, “once more into the breach, dear friends, once more…”