The traditional media are not gone. On the contrary, in times of fake news, disinformation or simply an abundance of information, they tend to resurface as the go-to source of reliable information for many people. Whoever declares them dead, or starts building a strategy to circumvent them through newer channels like social media, risks making a costly mistake.
This trend of rediscovering the traditional quality news outlets in times of crisis is far from new. Just recently it was demonstrated by the institution know as The New York Times during the often controversial presidency of Donald Trump. It was a time when (claims of) fake news reigned supreme, and often originated from the Oval Office itself. In that context, the NYT saw its number of paid subscribers rise to no less than 7 million, a level never seen before.
A lot of these subscriptions were of the (cheaper) digital kind. An inevitable consequence of a deliberate choice by the NYT, who installed a paywall on its website in 2011. During the third quarter of 2020, the publication earned more money from these digital subscribers than from subscriptions for its print edition.
Another American journalistic institution, the Washington Post, sold considerably more subscriptions during Trump’s term. This is, despite everything, a remarkable evolution. Traditional (print) media have been declared dead or dying a number of times in the face of the rapid rise of new media like the social media platforms, new digital-only publications and the bottomless pit of information that is the internet in general. But whenever people feel like they start getting lost in the rising tide of (dis)information, they reach out for the beacons of reliability they know from earlier times.
The same evolution can be derived from the most recent statistics about the Belgian market, that are collected by CIM. Some insights:
- The French speaking market, which took a few serious hits in the past years, posted a 1 percent growth overall in 2020. Le Soir is now the biggest market in that part of Belgium with a market share of 23,4 percent. La Libre Belgique is the fastest grower (+14,5%).
- The Flemish papers grew 5 percent collectively. De Morgen gained the most (+22%).
- The digitalisation accelerated strongly, in the shape of strong growth in so-called “hybrid subscriptions”. People that subscribe to this formula, get full digital access, complemented with the print version of the weekend paper. It is this formula that allowed De Tijd and De Standaard to grow 9 and 8,3 percent respectively.
Herein lies an important lesson for each organisation, whether it is a public service, an ngo or a corporation. Yes, there is value in exploring new means of communication, in order to tell your story on those platforms as well. It might even seem enticing, as it allows you to circumvent the sometimes unwanted filter from a journalist.
But don’t just write off the traditional media. In times of crisis, when people look for reliability, they still carry a trustworthiness that, despite many critics, hasn’t worn out yet. But if your organisation has neglected their contacts with these media in proverbial peace times, you are facing an uphill battle to rekindle these relationships when you notice that your audience has retreated to these platforms again. In other words: it is worth your time and energy to keep investing in your traditional media contacts.