Monday, February 28, 2022

Media in a Time of War

 First, our hearts are with the people of Ukraine. We pray for their safety and for a quick resolution.

While we're seeing harrowing footage of Ukraine, we think it important to acknowledge the bravery not only of Ukrainian people -- which is significant -- but also of the journalists who are reporting on the war from inside war zones.

We think it shows the importance of accurate information -- even with the "fog of war" -- about what's happening.  It shows why it is important -- vital -- to have functioning, independent news media operating in Ukraine and the U.S. and elsewhere. 

When the only media available is state-owned, you have what appears to exist in Russia: only propaganda.  You don't have a necessary check on power that media can provide, whether local towns and communities, cities and states or countries.

Some social media has been helpful but there are lots out there that may be bots and others intentionally or not, posted misinformation.

We generally stay away from politics but we wanted to make a point about the need for credible, researched and edited journalism. 

Again, the news about Ukraine is upsetting, and we have as an agency made a donation to a respected NGO to provide humanitarian support for people in Ukraine. We hope talks currently underway are successful and that peace returns to Ukraine and the Russian military returns to Russia.

Monday, February 21, 2022

New Yorker Magazine Publishes First-Ever Digital Issue -- Meaning It Validates Our Trend of Fewer Printed Issues

In our predictions for 2022, we said that traditional print publications will be cutting back on the number of print issues due to the costs involved.

We pointed to  Forbes (used to publish 26 issues, now six), Fortune (24, now 14), Fast Company and Inc. (12, now six each) or Bloomberg Businessweek (50, now 45). 

Then we found out that Gannett is stopping Saturday print editions at 136 of its newspapers nationwide.

Then we found out that Entertainment Weekly, InStyle, EatingWell, Health, Parents and People en Espanol will stop publishing print publications in April.

Now we found out that the New Yorker is touting its first digital-only issue, saying:

This week, in our first-ever digital issue, we bring you a collection of fresh interviews with leading figures in politics, literature, and the arts, conducted by an array of staff writers and contributors. We’ll publish new pieces each day, so we hope you return to us throughout the week.

They sent this in an email to subscribers who signed up for the newsletter. But not everyone who subscribes to the magazine also signed for the newsletter, so there could be a significant portion who don't know what happened to their print edition. 

One quick point about the number of issues the New Yorker is publishing this year, and that there's some doubt to how many print editions there will be. The New Yorker used to be a weekly, meaning 52 issues per year. If you look online, an annual subscription covers 48 issues but elsewhere, we saw that the New Yorker says it is published "weekly except for four planned combined issues, as indicated on the issue's cover, and other combined or extra issues." But other places report that the New York actually publishes 47 print issues. So that's a cutback, even if not to the degree of Forbes or Fast Company.

Since the average reader of the New Yorker is aging -- its average age in 1980 was 43 and 46 in 1990 but is now 47 in 2009, it's a safe assumption that its readers are aging and probably are not expecting to have to go online to read this week's double issue. We think that some readers will be relived that there's an issue they don't have to put on a stack somewhere, unread. But others may not know that they must go online.

But the real significance of the shrinking number of print issues is that some readers -- mostly the older readers -- will be left behind without their print editions. I'm not talking about people in waiting rooms having nothing to read that week. We know that avid readers of any of the publications we've mentioned allocate time to read those magazines. They will now have to adjust how they interact with their publications. Some like to display issues on their coffee tables because having an issue of one or another of these publications may define you. (For example, although there's a significant overlap in terms of celebrity coverage, displaying a copy of Vanity Fair says something different from a copy of People  or Us.). 

Our point is that this represents a change in the way subscribers interact with these publications, and readers now have to remember to go online to access content from them. Some of the younger subscribers no doubt may always be online-only subscribers, having ditched their print editions a while back. 

But print subscribers are going to increasingly find out that their print subscriptions do not provide them with all access to the publication -- which used to be the case as of just a few years ago. Now, print and online access require an all-access subscription so some may feel they already subscribe, and not go online. Some may decide to ditch the printed issues and just go online.

But it does mean a change in habit. And it does mean that some readers may not jump to the online editions and may decide to dump the print version because clearly there's no breaking news being reported in a print only six times a year. 

We're not complaining about this, just observing this. And pointing out that this is a nation where, not too long ago that many of us could not adjust the blinking lights on our VCRs (ask your parents). We're just saying the shrinking frequency of print magazines means that subscribers are going to have to learn new reading habits to access their favorite magazines. And that publishers are going to need to figure out how to provide some way to make their remaining print editions matter and to provide readers with a reason to search for content on the publications' sites. 

We're living in an attention economy, and readers may decide to focus their attention elsewhere. As we've said before, that's why the New York Times purchased Wordle and why its Spelling Bee game is one of the top touted aspects of the app.

And since this blog is part of the attention economy, thank you for reading. 

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

The Revolving Door at Top-Tier Media

For a publicly held telco client last March, we developed a focused media list of reporters at top-tier newspapers and magazines that we thought would be interested in a specific story based on their recent news coverage.

We pitched these reporters in the spring and continued to develop and pitch different reporters for the client. By October, we had another story that we thought might appeal to the initial set of reporters, all at name-brand traditional media like the New York Times, Fortune, and others at that level.

What we found interesting was that of a list of fewer than 20 reporters, about 40% had left their perches to move to writing newsletters or for online sites that are not as well known and don't have the same clout or prestege.

Since we were tasked with working only with top-tier media, that raised several issues:

  1. We needed to educate the client that some reporters who write online newsletters -- whether for themselves via Substack or for newspapers (like former longtime Businessweek reporter Peter Coy, who writes a newsletter for the New York Times) -- are still very influential and must be considered. This is important because as the media shifts, we need to re-evaluate the media we follow.
  2. We had to evaluate reporters' new outlets to determine if those outlets met the client's criteria. Honestly, we were hoping they might land at cool new publications we should be considering as top-tier. Yet, although we expected reporters to move from one top-tier media to another -- for example, leave MarketWatch or AP for WSJ (a sister publication) or Bloomberg -- many did not. They didn't even join top-tier online publications like TechCrunch, which would still have worked for our purposes.  One reporter left Fortune for a gaming publication so that involved a change in what she wrote about. Was that move predicated by a love of gaming? By budget cutbacks? We always look for trends or for an understanding of what's driving change but we couldn't find a consistent or reasonable explanation. 
  3.  We had to look for replacements at those publications that might be interested in the client and its story. Interestingly, many of those positions remained unstaffed. And we're not talking about an obscure industry beat. We were looking for reporters who cover internet (but not social media) and telecommunications, which are mainstays of business sections. In some cases, other reporters picked up some of the coverage but in other cases. But we were shocked that beats did not appear to be fully covered. That would have once been unthinkable.
So we're seeing a lot of reporters leaving top-tier media -- something, again, that would have once been unthinkable. And we're seeing beats not necessarily getting the same kind of coverage. We know that the Times has been devoting more coverage to the media world itself, including social media (an area that is not appropriate or relevant for the client). 

One conclusion is that the focus of top-tier media is on FAANG companies (do we really need to identify Facebook -- now Meta -- Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google -- now Alphabet?) and on social media as one of the more controversial and important business topics. This certainly has implications for clients that don't touch on social media. In other words, you may have an interesting client with a good story to tell, and it might be ever more difficult to find reporters who might be interested in the client.

A second conclusion is that reporters are not immune to the Great Resignation, and have left to find new opportunities in journalism. And that means we have to identify new reporters and understand what they write about and what elements they look for when they write about an industry or a topic. This is something we've always done so that's not an issue. What does make it challenging is that it hasn't always involved as many as 40% of reporters on a relatively focused list.

Clearly we don't have all the answers but we do think it's important to ask the right questions, which include:
  1. How should we define top-tier media in 2022? Who should be included now? Are there outlets that may no longer be as important?
  2. Why are reporters leaving? Is it part of the Great Resignation? Is it due to budget cutbacks? What can we learn from this?
  3. Are top-tier media changing the focus of what they're covering? If so, what are the implications for clients that do not fit into new coverage areas? 
As always, we will continue to look at the changing media world and raise questions to help get to answers that help our clients succeed with media relations. 

Friday, February 11, 2022

One Trend We Missed -- Wordle -- and One Trend That We Got Right

It's a little early for us to admit we missed a trend -- we usually wait until the end of the year to evaluate how we did. But we missed a big Q1 trend: Wordle, a daily online game that has caught fire since it was launched late last year. It is so popular that we're not going to describe how the game is played. Just a week or so ago, the New York Times announced it has acquired Wordle to add to its growing portfolio of games like Spelling Bee.

What makes Wordle a trend? We play it ourselves and find the once-a-day aspect to be part of its charm. There's a site that offers access to the Wordle archive, and binging through several at a time loses the appeal. We do see articles online every day about "the best words to use" to start figuring out the word of the day. Another way to know it's a real trend: there's a minor backlash to Wordle, such as The Verge's "The New York Times has changed Wordle’s solutions" and the New York Post's "And the Wordle backlash begins: 'Blaming this on the Americans.'

According to the Post, which generally has an "America First" mindset unless it can attack the New York Times, there's a backlash outside the U.S. because Wordle uses U.S. spelling. We know it doesn't fit Wordle's five-letter words but we don't want to spoil an solutions so we'll point out that apologise -- which is how the word is spelled outside the U.S. -- would not be accepted because Wordle would be looking for apologize.  

According to some of us in the trend-predicting world, it's not a trend until there's a backlash so Wordle can be classified as a trend.

One we totally missed. 

We don't know if Wordle has legs as a trend but it's certainly hot right now. And what we think is clear is that we're living in an attention economy. The reason the Times spent six figures to acquire Wordle shows there's money to made for them to host Wordle. 

Twenty years ago, in the dot-com era, the goal for many was to get eyeballs -- people spending time on their site. That's really what social media is all about, and why the algorithms of TikTok, Facebook, Twitter, etc. are so important and influential -- and often not in a positive or productive way.

But that's not the trend we got right. But it's related to it.

One of our trends is that publishers will move away from print editions. We love print editions, and still see the value in them. But according to the Reliable Sources Newsletter by CNN that cited a Wall St. Journal article, six magazines that Barry Diller acquired from Meredith Corp. last year -- Entertainment Weekly, InStyle, EatingWell, Health, Parents and People en Espanol will stop publishing print publications. Their last issues will be in April.

How did Diller's company, Dotdash Meredith frame its decision?

"We have said from the beginning, buying Meredith was about buying brands, not magazines or websites,” according to the CEO. 

We get it. After all, in 2022, is weekly even enough updates about entertainment? Of course not.

And Dotdash has "19 remaining print magazines," according to the Journal, including People, Better Homes & Gardens and Southern Living -- all of them major publications.

But here's the thing -- and we'll talk more about this throughout this year.

Some subscribers prefer the print editions. Certainly doctors' waiting rooms do. So what happens to those subscribers who prefer print? One of us used to go to a dental office with horrible Internet access -- everyone complained about it -- but for people waiting in those sorts of locations, they can't rely on their phones for distraction.

And we think people who used to allocate time to turn the pages of Entertainment Weekly, People en Esponol and the other magazines ending their print run. The question for them and for Dotdash and other publishers considering ending their print publications is this: How will readers spend their time? Will they go online to the app or website of the publication? Will they remember to do so or just get their entertainment news elsewhere, whether print or online? Or will they shift to playing games like Wordle?