The ever-changing media cycle

One of the great things about the PRSSA National Conference was that it was held at the same time as the PRSA International Conference. This meant the students got to sit in on a few of their sessions to see what the professionals were up to.

One of the PRSA sessions I attended was the first general session, with keynote addresses given by Bettina Luescher and Jim VandeHei. Stacy already talked about how inspiring Luescher was, so I’ll focus on VandeHei’s thoughts on media.

For those of you who don’t know, VandeHei is the Executive Editor and Co-Founder of POLITICO, a publication that distributes news on Washington politics through the internet, television and newspapers. According to VandeHei, POLTICO is accelerating the news cycle within the Beltway from days to minutes.

VandeHei focused on three areas where media has changed in recent years: diffuse, niche and fickle people.

1. Diffuse: The days of only big networks distributing news are over. People often go online for the latest news before they turn to the major traditional newspapers. Technology has enabled both journalists and regular people to drive conversation with blogs and there are a ton of new ways to get messages out. There is significantly more competition in media outlets than there has been in the past.

2. Niche: The media also focused on much more specialized information. Readers know what information they want, and they know where they’re going to get it. POLITICO knows who their readers are – if they’re not interested in politics, they’re going to go somewhere else for their news. This is changing the way we advertise as well. Niche media outlets allow for more precision in targeting messages to affect target audiences.

3. Fickle: People change what they read constantly. They also use multiple devices (like laptops, iPads, cell phones, iPods, newspaper, radio, TV) to get their information. VandeHei advises that you constantly have to anticipate what is going to happen – which allows smaller companies to thrive, as they can adapt quickly. This is giving users better ways to get quality information quicker, but it makes the job of media outlets tougher.

VandeHei went on to answer questions about POLITICO. He would like to see this publication as the dominant Washington news organization, but knows that they have to do more investigative reporting to get there. He also thinks that people will be willing to pay for quality content, you just have to find out what types of content they will pay for. Technology is changing, and VandeHei said that media outlets have to understand that in order to be successful. They have to utilize a combination of social media, TV, print, radio, etc. to create premium content.

The upcoming election was also brought up, and VandeHei described the situation as unique. First, there is a resurge in Republican corporate money. Next, the Tea Party movement is resonating with the electorate. Third, the independents are key in any election, and this year they seem to have left the Democrats. These factors will all influence the election, and President Obama will have to recalibrate how he governs, which will most likely mean that he gets pulled back to the center.

Finally, VandeHei gave some advice for online media. You have to be “exceptionally clever” on websites in order to draw reader interest. Websites should also be simple, not full of clutter. It is important to play to your strengths, and highlight them on your website.

Amy Dobrzynski, Vice President


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