Latest research by MORI has for the first time examined the wide variety of ways the public accesses and consumes the 24/7 news culture.
A nationally representative sample of 1,355 adults aged 16 and over took part in the survey in March. One of the major findings is that the growth of news channels, the internet and mobile phones in recent years has not only led to the fragmentation of audiences, but has raised expectations.
Forty-eight per cent of adults in the UK now say they would like to be able to access news updates whenever they want.
But what is more revealing - and will have most practical application for PROs - is the identification and description of groupings of news consumers and how they can be reached through the media.
MORI has identified six distinct groups from the research: all-rounders (32 per cent) are generally interested in all news and national events, while ho-hums (21 per cent) confess to not being interested in the news.
In contrast, newshounds (14 per cent) can be described as news junkies, and early birds (13 per cent) get most of their news in the morning. Technos (12 per cent) are early adopters of new technology and consume news on demand, while night owls (eight per cent) prefer their news in the evening.
All-rounders, says the report, usually come from lower income households and are interested in national and regional news, as well as special events.
PROs can reach them through TV and the tabloids in the morning, tabloids and radio during the day and terrestrial TV in the evening.
Ho-hums tend to be female, younger, single and not working. They are interested in celebrity gossip - but no other kind of news - and can be reached by the tabloids and local radio during the day and terrestrial TV in the evening.
Newshounds follow news in depth in newspapers and on TV and follow international, business and financial news. They are male and female graduates, in a relationship and aged over 45, with a high household income. They are best reached through broadsheets any time of day, as well as national radio in the morning and during the day, and terrestrial TV in the evening.
Technos prefer news on demand on business, finance and sport. They tend to be male graduates aged 22 to 44 and single. They consume TV, local radio and the broadsheets in the morning, local radio on the way to work, the internet, teletext and their mobile during the day, using TV, the internet and teletext again in the evening.
The two surprising groups to emerge, according to MORI director Stewart Lewis, are the early birds and night owls. Early birds are men and women who are keen on regional news and major events, tend to be in the mid-income bracket and generally live in the North East and the Midlands.
They can be reached in the morning through local radio and newspapers, local radio again during the day, and in the evening through TV. Night owls are young, single working women who prefer local radio and TV in the morning, and again local radio on the way to and from work. They also listen to local radio during the day and read newspapers, while they source news from TV, tabloids, the internet and services such as Ceefax and Teletext in the evening.
Lewis says these two groups were only discovered because the methodology did not impose any assumptions on the data. Because of this, the data could be used to create different groupings.
'If we cut this data by income or where people live, it would probably show different results. But this is the purest way to do it,' says Lewis.
'We told the computer to seek out different groups, and the only intervention MORI had was in the labelling of each group.'
There are also some overlaps, in that night owls and ho-hums tend to be predominantly female.
The survey also highlights public levels of trust for different types of people who are often in the news. This could have serious implications for PROs using specialists as quotable sources or in deciding how to target certain groups. When asked which type of person they thought would most often 'tell the truth', TV newsreaders came top, with 70 per cent of the public trusting them to do so.
Tellingly, only 17 per cent trust business leaders, with Government ministers and politicians generally only polling ten per cent and eight per cent respectively. However, independent 'experts' came second on trust, but still only polled 39 per cent.
In terms of trust, the type of media is also a factor, with perceptions of bias in editorial agendas a notable factor.
'National broadcasters are largely seen as unbiased and independent, while the national press is seen as having its own agenda and politically biased,' says Lewis. 'But regional press is seen as less partial and having no biased agenda.'
This, for example, could help inform PROs wishing to target early birds.
'If corporate communicators were targeting that group, the regional media would be absolutely critical,' says Lewis.
Understanding market and customer segmentation is historically a weakness of the PR industry when compared with direct marketers and the advertising world of media planners. Lewis believes this research is evidence that things may finally be changing.
'The PR industry's increasing use of scientific measures and bringing more rigour to the process of better measurement of outcomes are all signs that it is really catching up with other marketing industries, and I think this research fits into that trend,' says Lewis.