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The Future of the News is here – Media Relations after the Article

How do you read the New York Times? The chances are the answer to that question is “lots of ways.”

The help section of The Times’ website lists 14 different mobile apps, not to mention the website, print edition, and something called The Times Insider (your guess is as good as mine). But everywhere you read the New York Times, you are reading something that looks pretty similar: a headline, a sub head, text, and maybe a picture or video. Something that generally resembles our traditional understanding of an “article.”

Within The Times, the Research & Development group works to identify emerging trends and build products to match them. They look at new ways to visualize information, make things products (like a table that listens to your meetings – it’s actually pretty awesome), and are prodding “The Gray Lady” to rethink her ways. Last week, Alexis Lloyd of the R&D team wrote a blog post called “The Future of News is not an Article.” Lloyd argues that despite many significant innovations in the way that news is delivered to us (in particular recent examples such as Apple News and Facebook Instant Articles), the format of delivery has remained curiously constant.

“Both Facebook and Apple, who arguably have a huge amount of power to shape what the future of news looks like, have chosen to focus on a future that takes the shape of an article.”

This is interesting observation, to be sure, but not entirely reflective of the current state of news. We are already used to journalists reporting the news 140 characters at a time from the scene of the action. Self-publishing websites like Medium have redefined the press release and breathed new life into corporate blog posts. When Amazon wanted to respond to a damning New York Times piece on its company culture, rather than a “traditional” media relations approach they took to Medium, eventually engaging in a full blown back and forth with the paper.

Outside of these written forms, some of the most exciting new developments in digital journalism refuse to fall neatly into any category at all. A Fast Company article on Snapchat this week revealed that most Live Stories, short snippets of current events, “now garner between 10 million and 20 million viewers each day.” Snapchat straddles a unique position in simultaneously disrupting “breaking news” in print and in traditional television, news in article-like packages conveyed through video. And if you’re wondering if Snapchat counts as news delivery then consider that their current Head of News, Peter Hamby, comes with accolades from a previous post as the national political correspondent at CNN.

Even deeper in this strange new world, The Shade Room is a publication that exists purely on Instagram, reporting up to the minute snippets of celebrity news (predominantly screengrabbed interactions on social media). The Shade Room is certainly a news publication, employing a staff of writers and selling paid advertising on its feed, and with 1.9 million followers it is almost as popular as the print edition of US Weekly. However the content produced by The Shade Room looks nothing like an article as we currently understand it.

Why is this important? While effort has long been spent developing strategies to promote and spread positive stories on social media, the media relations industry still considers the article to be the base unit of news, to be produced, dispersed, and measured. With this narrow-minded focus has come despair at the declining numbers of beat journalists and dwindling newspaper subscriptions, all at a time when the people we care about reaching are reading more news than ever before.

The time has come to move past simply measuring how many times a specific piece was tweeted and liked. Your “social strategy” in PR can no longer be restricted to “amplification.” Instead consider social platforms for what they are – a place where journalist, publisher, and distributor can all exist simultaneously, and an opportunity to reach a brand new audience in exciting ways.

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