Is the news breaking?

by Adam Batstone

“They say true character is only shown when no one is looking” so said The Sunday Times’ political editor Tim Shipman as he reflected on the state of the modern UK media.

The reality is that in today’s connected digital world, the numbers of times when no one is looking are increasingly rare. That was the clear consensus from MHP’s Media Panel event which brought together Cait O’Riordan, Head of Digital Products at the FT, Lloyd Embley, Editor of the Daily and Sunday Mirror and Chris Ship, Royal Editor at ITV News.

The comfortable old world, where newspapers, television and radio dominated the media landscape has been well and truly disrupted. Lloyd Embley pointed the finger at the BBC – now the UK’s biggest publisher – which should, in his view, “stick to broadcasting” rather than run a “fantastic website” which is completely free at the point of use.

But O’Riordan pointed out that from the point of view of advertising spend, Trinity Mirror’ss real rivals are Facebook and Google, who between them mop up 89% of money spent on digital advertising.

She said at the FT the focus is on maximising revenue from making its website and app as good as they possibly can be. “We monitor web traffic very closely. If someone visits the site twice in a week but isn’t a subscriber, they clearly like our product and we should sign them up.”

If you have exclusive content that people are willing to pay for the subscription model works well – and the US media is witnessing a growth in subscriber numbers. But Embley said for a mass market tabloid the competition is much tougher. “MailOnline have 70 entertainment reporters in LA, we have five working across all our titles – it’s tough to compete,” he said.

Chris Ship, who took over as ITV News’ royal editor earlier this year, said the royal family are a great example of a brand using modern communication channels to reach a new audience with a consistent message.

“Prince Harry has a sophisticated understanding of how the media – and in particular social media – can work,” said Ship. “In the past few weeks he has talked about mental health, the impact of his mother’s death and the Grenfell Tower fire without doing a single traditional media interview.”

But new technology has not only transformed the way news is distributed, Tim Shipman said he now relies on Twitter for around 90% of his news sources. “In the past I might have struggled to get a quote from a politician – nowadays I can send a direct message on Twitter and often I will hear straight back.”

He added that as Twitter matures, it is increasingly acting as a reality check that counters the spread of fake news stories online.

The event host Ian Kirby, who heads the MHP Media Unit, asked panellists to give a single piece of advice to communications professionals. O’Riordan said any work on digital channels should be strictly monitored to ensure success is measurable.

Both Embley and Ship said organisations cannot afford to hide when they have a problem. “Ant, from Ant & Dec’s, situation could have been much worse if his people hadn’t worked with the media. I’m just sorry he didn’t choose to speak to The Daily Mirror.”

By contrast Chris Ship said Theresa May’s recent problems have stemmed from a failure to engage with the media. His advice to her: “Work out who you want to reach and don’t hide. That’s the message I would give Theresa May. You cannot hide.”

MHP Media provides a full range of media training and strategic advice to our clients. The team can advise you in a crisis situation or help you get coverage when you have news you want to share – contact media@mhpc.com

The booklet which accompanies this event which includes articles by Chris Ship, Tim Shipman and Cait O’Riordan can be downloaded here

MHP’s Media Unit also produces a regular podcast; On Message. The latest edition focuses on the changing nature of UK media and is available to listen to here