I’ll get the bad joke out of the way first. When discussing the state of the media, it would be easy to simply answer with: “It’s in a right old state!”

Hackneyed as that joke might be, it certainly has some truth to it. While the term “fake news” doesn’t have the quite same impact as it did when Donald Trump first coined it, its effects are still being felt by journalists who publish something which someone doesn’t like. Which, in our polarised world, is every day.

More chillingly, journalists are finding themselves coming under physical attack as well as rhetorical attack. Plus, journalism’s broken funding model hasn’t been effectively solved, meaning that job losses and title closures continue to be an occupational hazard for journalists.

This, then, is the climate as Cision releases its second UK State of the Media report. Based on survey responses from journalists on our media database, the questionnaire covers everything from journalists’ biggest challenges, their main goals when writing articles and what they want from comms professionals.

The 2019 report is made up of responses from journalists in 10 different countries, spread from the UK and US all the way to Brazil and the United Arab Emirates. Globally we got 1,999 respondents, with 469 UK journalists filling in the survey.

What journalism looks like in 2019


Enough of the methodology though, in true inverted pyramid style you want me to get to the “who, what, and why” of the report, rather than the “where and how”.

What is most interesting is that journalists are trying to kill two birds with one stone. Given that journalism has a perceived trust problem and a very real financial problem, reporters are increasingly looking to tell stories which are so informative and reliable that people are willing to pay to read them.

As “fake news” has spread like a virus, consumers are increasingly heading to trusted brands with great heritage to ensure that they are reading “true” stories. Whether or not this reverses the financial pressures on the industry is certainly debatable, but it’s nice to see journalism returning to a “purer” form to try to solve its cash crisis, rather than resorting to tactics like publishing clickbait.

Accuracy a key factor in rebuilding trust


What the report should confirm is that the portrayal of journalism as an industry filled by hacks whose days would be filled by long liquid  lunches, employing ethically questionable methods to get stories and the ever-pervading need to “scoop” rivals, is long finished.

Instead, 51% of journalists said the most important aspect of reportage for their organisation is accuracy, with only 5% believing that being first to publish was their main focus. Getting it right is now far more important than publishing it first.

Perhaps because of this, while most journalists still believe that the public is losing trust in the media, the proportion has fallen from 91% in 2017 to 63% in this year’s report. Baby steps, but certainly an encouraging turnaround.

Data guides story selection


Also, another difference from the archaic journalism stereotype is that rather than formulating story ideas in the pub, or relying solely on their “news sense”, data is playing a greater role in helping journalists decide which stories they cover.

65% of respondents agreed that the availability of audience metrics like views and engagement has changed the way they evaluate stories. Gut instinct is being replaced with tracking which stories really do engage audiences.

As one respondent said: “In 2019, we’re going to be using a lot more proprietary data about audience behaviour – like clicks, view-time, and keywords –  to inform content development so that we know a project will be popular before we even get into development.

This represents a great opportunity for comms professionals. If they can demonstrate that they bring readers/viewers to a journalist’s title, that reporter is going to return to the story or subject to reach as many people as possible.

Pitch targeting leaves a lot to be desired


So, what of journalists’ relationships with PRs?

The good news is that 27% said that their relationships with PRs had become more valuable, three times last year’s figure. Perhaps just as importantly, only 15% said their relationship with PRs had become less valuable.

However, when it comes to pitching, PRs can do a lot better, frankly. 75% of respondents said that less than one quarter of the pitches they receive are relevant. The number one thing journalists wanted comms professionals to do better was to understand their target audience and what was relevant for them.

We hear this time and time again at our media briefings and through our other interviews with journalists. Build a relationship. Understand what a journalist does. Know where a piece will work in a media outlet. Personalise a release to the specific title.

While it is obviously impossible to send out personalised press releases to hundreds journalists and still be able to do all your other tasks, understanding the journalists you’re targeting rather than “spray and pray” is both the best recipe for pitching success and also will be more efficient in the long run.

Journalists need help from comms professionals to write the interesting and accurate stories which people will pay for. Are you doing everything you can to provide that help? If you aren’t or you’re not sure you are, download State of the Media.


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About Alister Houghton

Alister writes about the PR and comms industry as content marketing manager at Cision. Send press releases, interview pitches, Inside the Campaign/PR case study examples and thought leadership pieces to alister.houghton@cision.com