It’s no secret that the mainstream media industry has changed in a previously unimaginable way over the past decade. Beyond the Internet allowing news to travel almost instantaneously across all areas of the planet, the arrival of smartphones, tablets and wearable tech is also letting people stay more up to date and connected than ever before.
The ability to have a world of information in one’s pocket has arguably been felt most harshly by publishing houses. From mass scale redundancies in journalism to major print titles (such as The Independent in the UK) ceasing production, the shift in how people consume information has turned traditional news upside down. After all, why should one purchase a physical newspaper when a single glance at Google News or Twitter’s trending feature delivers international headlines in a matter of seconds – and costs absolutely nothing.
The likes of The Huffington Post are able to produce content quickly without any of fixed costs of traditional publications. Meanwhile, News UK is hampered by the costs of print and distribution for physical copies of The Sun and The Times, requiring extra funds to continue printing and, in turn, raise advertising revenue.
In days gone by, British papers (likewise with those across Europe and into other continents) could comfortably rely on big advertisers to be racing to promote, endorse and generally show off their brands in full-page print. The shift in media consumption however has equally led to a shift in advertising, presenting additional considerations for traditional media: how do we sustain ad volume beyond print – and be heard above all the noise?
From full webpage backgrounds to videos and online advertorials, some media houses now generate huge advertising revenues through their online titles. However, to justify the placement fees demanded of brands, they need to, in turn, have huge numbers of daily browsers. This is one more issue made challenging through, again, extreme media proliferation on the online landscape.
As a response to this many titles, both national and local; tabloid and broadsheet, are increasingly producing articles with “clickbait” headlines. The titles of these articles are deliberately sensationalised. This exaggeration encourages people to click on the story, increasing the time length people spend on a site and also drives up volumes of external traffic through social networks. As a result, this helps to build on unique visitors, increased views and providing bargaining clout for media buyers.
Though many see this as fairly innocuous – if not annoying – many regional titles are increasingly under fire for using these articles to form the bulk of their content and therefore reducing authentic content, leading to a fall in credibility among British regional papers.
Indeed, it is not just regionals falling foul here. In attempts to drive up browser volumes, many tabloids are using the volatile political mood to entice readers onto their sites. Notably in the UK, right-wing tabloids such as the Daily Mail, Daily Express and The Sun have used political unrest to create a range of provocative stories which can be seen to be capitalising on increased racial abuse and tension since the Brexit vote.
The above papers’ responses to Brexit have included demoralising judges and political officials to offering regular columns to controversial public figures such as Katie Hopkins, whose recent appearance on Irelands Late Late Show generated over 1,000 complaints due to her negative views on migration, feminism and Islam.
Stop Funding Hate
As a response to this, the Stop Funding Hate campaign was formed in the UK in August 2016 by NGO worker Richard Wilson. The campaign’s purpose is to persuade brands to pull advertising from newspapers which use “fear and division to sell more papers.”
To date, Specsavers has ended its advertising relationship with the Daily Express while Lego has ended placement within the Daily Mail with no further plans to continue. The campaign is currently capitalising on the wave of Christmas advertisements and already has extensive celebrity backing with public figures such as Gary Lineker and Russell Brand voicing their support for the cause.
Across the Atlantic, the US mainstream media is facing similar challenges as people question and thoroughly scrutinise its ability to ensure citizens are reliably informed, an issue which has gained significant momentum following the unexpected win of Donald Trump in the 2016 election.
A figure of controversy, Trump’s comments regarding immigration, race and women have dominated the news. These comments are being interpreted by many to have swayed to focus away from serious key issues about policy and more towards sensationalised headlines about president-elect Trump’s character, therefore using topical stories to encourage further clicks.
Similarly, dominant media sources contributed to the spread of ‘fake news’ through social media sites such as Facebook – a feat which has been formally acknowledged by the network’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Regardless of Zuckerberg’s efforts to reassure users that only a limited concentration of false or misleading articles spread on the network, mainstream media in the US are still under fire – as the UK mainstream media were for being selective about stories covered in the lead up the summer’s EU referendum – for failing to deliver a breadth of accurate information.
In history, 2016 will undoubtedly be remembered as a highly divisive and political year, but it is also a year which has highlighted a change in public feeling towards mainstream media. Once holding the mantle as the most authoritative source of information, this reputation is being turned on its head with increasing force as an aggressive focus on advertising revenues and sales lead the public to question sincerity, priority and ability to report the truth of the news.