Read the phrase Cont_ _t Matters. How did you fill in the blanks? If you’re like most news people, you’ll see the word “Content” because it’s been beaten into your head. And it’s where we’ve strayed as news organizations, because content was always our strong point. We didn’t need to learn something we already knew and something that had long been our unique selling proposition. Content Does Matter. But it’s not all that matters.
Journalists are trained from Day 1 in J-school that content matters. And if journalists weren’t steeped enough in tradition and silo’ed thinking, the onslaught of social media hasn’t helped. The social media drum beat consistently repeats that “content matters.” It’s an important drum beat for the average blogger, tweeter and poster because, unlike journalists, they tend not to understand content and post everything from spammy sales pitches to this morning’s breakfast menu.
In contrast, news posts on Twitter and Facebook tend to be shortened headlines and more shortened headlines and more shortened headlines. It’s content on steroids. If the goal is to drive freeloading traffic to news websites, they’ve succeeded. But if the goal is to create community, they’ve failed.
Social media is just another marketing channel and as such should be treated with due marketing respect. This means that in addition to content, two other words need to be considered – ConTEXT and ConTACT. With context, the market wants to know “Why they should care.” And, with contact, they want to know why they should trust you as the source.
This last piece is critical to understanding why the industry has lost credibility. A 2011 Pew study in September 2011 found that “75% of Americans say journalists can’t get their facts straight.” 1 With readers and audiences losing trust in legitimate news sources, it’s hard for marketing folks to put out ads with taglines such as “Your Trusted Source,” or “News You Can Trust” and yet those are the slogans you continue to see around the country.
There are likely many reasons why trust levels are falling, but at least one is the failure to build community, or ConTACT. It’ s the industry’s true weakness.In the desire to be objective, we’ve failed to connect. We appear uncaring and aloof. We judge political stories as more important than high school plays, and good news as less valuable than hard news, an increasingly couched term for news of bad events.
And this is where news marketing plays a key role. Of all departments in a standard news organization, it’s marketing that goes out into the market to participate in events, listen to the voice of the customer, and manage community service programs. Without marketing, Content is not balanced with Contact, and without key touchpoints to keep customers and readers engaged, Content loses Context and Trustworthiness. It’s no longer coming from a good friend or neighbor.