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News And Views

News & Views

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  • 15 March 2021
  • 3 Monkeys Zeno

New blog: Viral news: Covid-19 and the media, one year on

At one minute to midnight on 30 December 2019, Marjorie Pollack posted an update to ProMed, an online service that identifies unusual health events around the world.

She was requesting more information about an undiagnosed pneumonia that had been found in Wuhan, China, following a tip-off from a contact in Taiwan, who had seen chatter circulating on Chinese social media about the possible return of Sars.

This was the precise moment that news of what we now know as Covid-19 reached the wider world. Four days later, the BBC ran their first story about a mystery virus outbreak. Three weeks later, it was front page news in the UK. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Every aspect of every life in the country has been touched in some way by the pandemic and its ramifications. The media is no exception. Although longer-term trends have been shaping UK news brands for a decade and a half, following the near-simultaneous emergence of social media, smart phones and the global financial crisis, Covid-19 has super-charged these.

And so, as we approach the one year anniversary of the UK first going into lockdown, we have published a report, Viral News, reflecting on how the pandemic has changed the media, what this holds for the future, and how agencies and clients should change in response.

Based on a combination of industry insights, data analysis, conversations with journalists, and a year’s learnings, you can find the full report here

Here are some of the key findings.

The trends: Covid, cuts and community

There is a paradox that while the economic impact of Covid-19 has dealt serious blow to news brands’ businesses, the need for trusted, verified information, and the shared conversation the media fuels, has never been greater.

Editorial retains a unique power, one which no other channel can replicate. Directly or indirectly, news brands reach vast audiences and shape the country’s conversation. Instagram and WhatsApp media have become increasingly important sources of news, but whether shared articles, screen-shotted headlines or an informed opinion, that news originates in editorial.

And if many claim not to trust the media, editorial nevertheless remains more trusted than any other source of information. Not for nothing did traffic to BBC news double between January and April last year. Plus, reading between the data, “distrust” often appears to equate to dislike of editorial we disagree with.

Yet reduced print circulation through lockdown and cuts to ad spend have forced cuts to editorial resources. Pagination and sections have been reduced and editorial teams consolidated - even across publishers’ different titles, something that would have been considered sacrilegious at one time.

Redundancies and furlough have hollowed out newsrooms, operating now at 30-40% of pre-pandemic staff levels, with journalists who have kept their jobs busier than ever. Many are tasked with writing upwards of seven stories a day, across a broader range of subjects, with a sharper focus on attracting online readers, and all while working from home. A difficult job has become even more difficult, so truly working with journalists is essential.

Five things to do

The big brand news squeeze

Limited resources and an overwhelming amount of hard news mean brand-led activity is being edged out of editorial - down by 19% in our analysis. So brands need to truly earn their place. Tell a human-led story in the fullest sense, with a genuine audience benefit and a truly credible reason for doing it.

We’re all looking to earn our audiences’ interest

Brands need to reach an audience. And as readership patterns change, media also need to work harder to attract readers. So there’s a common purpose: offering media something that lets them stand out and adds value to their readers benefits all parties.

Editorial and social: It’s complicated

Editorial and social are ever more intertwined, with the one cross-pollinating the other, back and forth across the news cycle(s). So increase campaign effectiveness by planning for this: social assets that lead people to editorial and editorial assets that drive social conversation.

The regular rhythm of the news cycle is no more

The single press embargo and ensuing news spike now has less of a place. Abandon a brand-out, broadcast model, and adopt a fluid, newsroom mentality: follow the ebb and flow of conversation and be willing work to the media’s requirements.

We’re searching for a sense of community

And, finally, activity that cuts through is frequently rooted in the communal. Explore shared moments and emotions, treat audiences as communities of interest, and be a champion of communities that need one.

If you would like to hear more, please get in touch with our Editorial Director, Richard Price on