How should PR adapt to the advent of 'grey' journalism?

Cut the crap. Get to the point. The job of journalists has been to wade through complexity and get to the core of an issue, sparing unnecessary clutter so that audiences are presented with what matters - and the best PR people help them do it.

How should PR adapt to the advent of 'grey' journalism? asks Sam Shaw
How should PR adapt to the advent of 'grey' journalism? asks Sam Shaw

News stories have long followed a simple pattern; leading with the most ‘interesting’ aspects and getting to the ‘lesser bits’ later on.

However, with awareness increasing around the political polarisation gripping the US and Europe, a number of high-profile publications are emphasising the importance of nuance, balance and detailed context.

The FT is now encouraging readers to see the world in ‘shades of grey’ and promises to contrast the ‘black and white’ perspective given by others.

Its latest ad campaign features grayscale images of political figures and news events with a pair of divisive viewpoints. The strapline reads "for the full perspective, turn to the FT".

Going ‘grey’ may reflect an ongoing shift in what people want from their news.

The likes of Private Eye in the UK and the New York Times are thriving because of their perceived reliability and thoroughness in an age where anybody with an opinion can cultivate a media brand.

But what does this mean for brands and how they communicate?

For a long time, brand comms has been about crafting simple, clear messages. This dictum may be loosening in an era of increasing complexity and ambiguity.

Perhaps things don’t always have to be dumbed down. Maybe readers don’t need ideas spoon-fed in order to ‘get the message’.

I would argue that consumers are becoming more, not less, media literate.

That search engines are now more popular for news than ‘traditional news’ could be a sign of a diversifying media diet.

Some argue this has been a big contributor to ‘filter bubbles’, whereby people only read news that supports their preconceived ways of thinking.

But this challenge is being acted upon. Facebook, which has been accused of creating filters which fuel this fire, is now trying to help people ‘pop’ their bubbles and tweak their filters for a more well-rounded world view.

A desire for ‘grey areas’ has become a touchstone for a much bigger reaction to feelings of polarisation.
After all, a third of Brits say trust in media brands has declined significantly in the last year.

Even the acknowledgement that people need to check sources of their news, break out of filter bubbles and embrace the context behind headlines is a positive step.

Whereas this all sounds nice, I know what you’re thinking – ‘try pitching an intricate and nuanced story to a journalist that doesn’t know you [and is not giving you time out of politeness] and you’re likely to get shut down pretty sharpish’.

I know brilliant PR people who have the makings of some very interesting stories, but if they cannot be pitched in a sentence, they’ve been met with a brick wall.

Perhaps a growing desire amongst consumers for ‘grey’ news will help influence not just the stories that journalists write, but the time they give to PR people to pitch ‘grey’ stories of their own.

Sam Shaw is head of insight at Canvas8

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