Trends in American Media

Today we continue with an excerpt from my recent position paper, “The Global Communicator’s Welcome to Washington Guide.”

American media differ significantly from that in many other countries. For instance, there are fewer newspapers in the U.S. than in many other locations. This trend has accelerated in recent years with, regrettably, the closure of many daily papers across the country.

Radio and television stations have been facing a parallel trend for years. While few have shuttered their doors, ownership now largely rests in the hands of corporate conglomerates with no ties to the community. The voice you hear delivering traffic reports or announcing music is as likely to be located in a distant city as in Washington.

American news is becoming more and more “sound bite” oriented. While some of the larger newspapers still go into great depth, television “packages”—or stories—are shorter than ever. One measure of this trend: In the 1968 U.S. presidential campaign, the average television sound bite was 43 seconds. It has dwindled to a mere seven seconds in recent elections. Listen to news radio stations and you will find some clips trimmed to as little as three seconds.

It is important to emphasize some general trends in American media over the past decade or so. Recent times have not been kind. With circulation and advertising revenues down, media executives have laid off reporters and slashed budgets.

Why does this matter to the communicator newly posted to Washington? Beyond the fact there are fewer reporters to target, there is an ongoing level of anxiety among members of the media who wonder whether they will have a job next week or, indeed, if their publication will continue to exist. Seemingly every week, news of layoffs at one news bureau or another waft through the halls of journalism.Chart: Annual spending for internet access compared to magazines and newspapers, 1999-2008

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

On a human level, therefore, newly posted communicators who are attuned to this atmosphere may be better able to forge connections with reporters. On a professional level, one of your prime media contacts today may be out of a job tomorrow, meaning you need to keep your rolodex updated religiously. And you will raise your reputation if you can position yourself as one willing and able to help these individuals when they find themselves in need.

The changing media landscape also means an increasing number of freelance reporters, who may represent one publication today and another tomorrow. Yet these freelancers also provide an opportunity, for the savvy ones are constantly in search of new story ideas to pitch to editors. After all, these freelancers need to make a living. Helping them secure a good story boosts their business, and helps forge a stronger reporter/source connection for future pursuits, too.

What trends have you noticed in the U.S. media that affect your organization and its communications goals?


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