Thursday, September 11, 2008

Media Consumption - It's all about ME

Pew released the findings of its news audience survey last month and it continues to find that more and more Americans are turning to alternative news sources to get their latest news, but not necessarily relying on just medium or vehicle for information.

What's interesting about Pew's latest findings is that they have developed categories to classify the types of individuals that consume news. They are:
  • Integrators: individuals who get the news from both traditional sources and the Internet, are a more engaged, sophisticated and demographically sought-after audience segment than those who mostly rely on traditional news sources.
  • Net-Newsers: a smaller, younger, more Internet savvy audience segment who principally turn to the web for news, and largely eschew traditional sources.
  • Traditionalists: the oldest and largest group of the American public who continue to receive news and information through more mainstream sources.
  • The Disengaged: Those who demonstrate very low levels of interest in the news and news consumption.
When I first read this, I couldn't help but notice how Pew's categories mimic the specialization of the media business model.

Years ago, media scholars buzzed about the "Daily Me" when mass Internet connectivity became readily available to the public. The concern at the time was that individuals would only follow stories they were interested in and not pay attention to larger world and even national affairs. What's happened is that the media business model gave rise to this specialization (allowing the audience to select stories they wanted to read/hear/engage under the premise that the ability to select relevant content will keep them coming back for more) and technology leveled the playing field by allowing Americans to participate in what was once a closed system (rise of citizen journalism, blogs, podcasts, social media networking sites, YouTube, Vimeo, Flikr, etc.) Americans became (and still are) their own gatekeepers choosing not only what to focus their attention on, but how they want to receive this information.

We've come a long way from Mr. White's 1950's study of newspaper editors.

While the Pew classifications of news consumption does touch on the types of information each category is likely to consume on a given day (e.g. Integrators are much more likely to focus on national and world news), the reality of it is we would see more specific coverage of certain topics in the Net-Newsers. Will we see a growing trend in the next few years where Integrators and Net-Newsers overtake Traditionalists? I am positive that will happen. Why?

Specialization. We pay attention to what matters to us. Whether its politics, PR news, celebrities, the weather or the newest gadget or tech startup, we have the ability and the drive to learn about new and interesting subjects that don't always make it into the nightly news, daily newspaper, news aggregators, or news radio. Got something to say? Start a blog. Do a podcast. Hate what was written in the newspaper about your local politician? Leave a comment under the story online (assuming the online newspaper has that function) and then blog a post defending your politician and send it to their campaign people to post in support on their Web site. Then Twitter to everyone about what you've done and update your status on Facebook (with link to post of course), Linked-In and other social networking sites.

Like Steve Rubel mentioned on his blog last month, "self discovery" is becoming increasingly important in how we go about learning about information. As gatekeepers, we want to be aware of what's going on, but only zoom-in on what's interesting to us; as human beings we want to hone in and find what's relevant - not necessarily be "one of the masses" that finds out about it with "everyone" else (anyone who's ever been invited to beta test anything knows what I'm talking about).

From a PR perspective, it's important that we keep Pew's latest findings in mind when talking to clients about different ways to reach their target audiences. This is why content and relevance will always be the key to getting core messages across to a key stakeholders. While the traditionalists may be the bulk of the American public today, they won't be tomorrow. This is why it's crucial to examine all the ways to reach an audience - what may resonate with one person may not resonate with another. Diversification of channels for information delivery is even more crucial now than ever before.

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