Where do you go to for news these days?
David Brooks 27.10.2016
Not that long ago a popular source of news was the daily newspaper. Supplemented by radio, and later television.
Most homes had the daily paper delivered to the door by a local paper boy. A newspaper round was probably the first introduction to work for many. Those who went out and bought a paper did so at a news agents where it was also handy to buy the day's cigarettes at the same time. When I commuted to London a huge majority of passengers (now called customers in pc terms) hid behind their morning paper. They also would pick up an evening paper on the way home and listen avidly to the news on the BBC at 6 o'clock. Interestingly newspapers said a lot about you, particularly about your political preference, by the title you chose to read. At the tender age of 11, I attended an interview at a public school in the next town. Each year 3 scholarships were awarded for free tuition to common kids like me whose parents could not afford to send their son to a public school, or probably even want to. It was an interesting experience in so far I had never been interviewed before. Our expectation was that the interview would take the form of mental arithmetic tests, general knowledge, spelling and our hobbies or interests. Instead we were asked what papers our parents read and our batting average.
Then along came rolling 24 hours TV news and the Internet. It's wall to wall news 24 hours a day. What soon became obvious is that most days there is just not sufficient news of interest to justify the airtime available and here is the problem. If the readers, viewers or listeners switch off, what about the advertiser? When I was young, the news was regarded as both serious and important. The freedom of the press a cherished right of democracy and essential in keeping people informed. The 3rd September 1939 was probably the biggest news day for years, with the prime minister making a radio broadcast at 11 o'clock, the King too and the newspaper headlines announcing that Britain had declared war on Germany, published the next day incidentally, were typically restrained. Typical statements of fact. 'Britain and Germany are at war' or 'Britain Declares war on Germany'. We can't imagine The Sun would be so reserved. Judging from the headlines from the only recent British war over protection of the Falkland Islands when invaded by the Argentine military junta, The Sun's headline screamed 'Stick it up you junta' as Britain declared war. No talk of curteous reference as when British papers referred to the German leader as 'Herr Hitler'. And when the British Navy promptly sunk the Argentine's (or Argies in media parlance) capital ship their only aircraft carrier, the headline 'Gotcha' and sub head 'Our lads sink gun boat' filled the whole front page.
The habit of reading news spilled over to individual interests with magazines a popular format for those interested in news of a more specialised nature, such as gardening, cooking, knitting, pets, woodwork, music, politics and hundreds or thousands more - anywhere publishers could identify an audience. Not surprisingly business publications provided a source of news and in depth review of their specialisation too.
The trade press that informed the business communities did actually carry 'news' at one time along with articles written by experts in their chosen field. It seems odd now that, something could be a month or so in preparation and still be 'news' when the magazine arrived in the office. The habit of appending a circulation list to the cover ensured that by the time it reached the end of the circulation it could be very old news indeed. In fact trade magazines spent days or weeks sitting in one in-tray or another. News is hardly the role of the trade press anymore. That has all gone out on emails, web sites, text messages, tweets and the rest.
Perhaps what surprised me recently was actual proof that a lot of people don't actually read the contents of the messages they receive. Think about this for a moment. The way we consume news is not to read a publication from cover to cover, but to skim the headlines, glance at photos and move rapidly progress on through the publication. They have to be pretty interesting headlines or images to stop you long enough to recognise the article might be worth reading. The piece has to be a show stopper and promise and of course deliver information of value to you. So how do I know most online content and messages are not read is because people say so. Our youngest is in his late 20's and appears to have an iPhone grafted to his hand. He works in an IT environment complete with all the trappings expected these days of computer games and beanbags and works strange hours. Now he is the process of buying a house with his girl friend he is getting emails from his solicitor. It is the old world intruding into the new, but because the email subject lines from his traditional solicitor seem boring he doesn't go on to read the piece. Apparently he applies the same criteria to most of his messages received. So no action happens. Asking around it appears he is not alone.
Likewise I get forwarded emails from clients who fairly evidently have not read what they are sending on to me. Somewhere in the scroll down to origins sent from somewhere deep in their organisation lurks the original question, brief or instruction. The intermediaries can presumably offer no answer - their skill lies in figuring out where it should go next.
It all comes back to the same thing. There are more news channels than ever before, you can be informed in a instant, but you have to promise content of value, importance and interest to the recipient of your news item if you are to stand a chance of it being read and acted upon!
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