We have all observed the dramatic shift that the journalism industry has undergone over the past decade. The traditional media companies which have historically employed the majority of reporters and editorial contributors are grappling with a combination of existential threats. Print circulation has dwindled and audiences have fragmented across a near-infinite number of digital content publishers. And since these audiences now firmly expect their real-time news and information to be free, subscription revenue has plummeted.

Yet, advertising revenues have also dwindled as media inventory has become more and more commoditized. The bottom line is, it is becoming harder and harder for traditional media companies to retain the same number of staff reporters—and many of them have been forced to shrink their newsrooms, increasingly relying on independent contributors and freelance reporters.

At the same time, thanks to the digital media revolution and the emergence of self-publishing platforms, it has become easier than ever for individuals to create and distribute editorial content of all forms. This has produced a new class of authors who are either affiliated with a variety of media outlets, or are increasingly publishing from their own platforms without contributing to any of the major media outlets.

The result is an author ecosystem that has demonstrably shifted away from professional journalists who are primarily contributing to Tier 1 media outlets towards independent, digital-first authors who are contributing to Tier 3 outlets. Subsequently, the ratio of reporters to PR people continues to widen. According to the US Census, there are now more than 6 PR pros for every journalist.

If you are in the media relations business, these shifts can really complicate things

Obtaining earned media is hard enough as it is. First you need a great story to tell. Then you need to craft the perfect narrative. At which point you have to identify and influence just the right journalist who you think can best help you get your story told in the way that you want. And with an overall dwindling and fragmentation of the author ecosystem, this can feel like moving a mountain.

To fully understand the transformation which the world of journalism is undergoing, Onclusive analyzed 2.1 billion pieces of editorial content between the first quarter of 2018 and the first quarter of 2019. The numbers in the 2019 Global Journalism Report tell the real story of how the world of journalism is fragmenting across publication tiers, editorial topics, and content formats.

For example, between Quarter 1 2018 and Quarter 1 2019 there was a sharp decrease in the percentage of authors who contributed for Tier 1 publications, and an increase in the percentage of authors who contributed for Tier 3 publications. In Q1 2019, only 15% of authors contributed to Tier 1 publications. This is down from 26% in Q1 2018. Conversely, in Q1 2019, 41% of authors contributed to Tier 3 publications, which is up from 25% in Q1 2018.

What you didn’t know about the state of journalism

These are major shifts

And they may be driven in part by the changing shape of the media landscape itself. As we recently reported, we are witnessing an overall spike in the total number of outlets that are publishing content, and that spike is almost exclusively being driven by new Tier 3 publications coming online.

This is interconnected with the power of modern publishing tools and the fact that marketing platforms like Google, Facebook, and Twitter have more to do with the reach and engagement a piece of content receives than the brand recognition of the media outlet itself. Today, with a low-cost self-publishing tool, a decent social media strategy, and some basic search engine optimization, just about anyone with high-quality editorial can build an audience and garner as many readers as a well-known Tier 1 publication.

And while journalists are certainly valued for their editorial quality, they are also valued based on their “digital influence”

Accruing a large social media following who regularly engages with your content is a powerful new form of currency, and one that is equally accessible to anyone. Yes, writing for an elite publication like The New York Times or Wall Street Journal will give you credibility, but today’s author does not need to rely on those brands to gain influence. As we demonstrated in our study, influence is distributed fairly evenly and only the top 2% of authors truly stand out.

What you didn’t know about the state of journalism

This leveling of the editorial playing field only further exacerbates the challenges that today’s PR pro faces. It is no longer enough to keep a handful of journalists from a few key publications on speed dial. Now, you need to be able to sift through thousands of authors who are contributing across a seemingly endless ecosystem of media. And with less and less predictability around which of those authors can truly drive impact for your brand, it’s hard to know who you should really focus your efforts on.

But it is simply not realistic for us to read and analyze the volume of content that exists today

This is where AI comes in. With the help of machine learning and data science, we can actually make sense of it all. And most importantly, we may predict which stories, publications, and authors can drive actual business results.

But didn’t technology create this mess, you might ask? Well, yes and no. To some degree the democratization of media is inevitable and has been taking place over a very long period of time. But there is no question that digital media has accelerated things. And while technology can be seen as both helping and hurting just about everything it touches, when properly harnessed it can free us humans to do the things that we are so uniquely designed for—telling great stories.

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Dan Beltramo

Dan Beltramo

Dan Beltramo is CEO at Onclusive.

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