What’s the news?

When I was a young reporter I was told that the best way to write a news story was to imagine how you’d tell it to a friend and to then write it in that order.

If you wouldn’t bother telling them, then it wasn’t a story.

It’s a simplistic definition of news, yet one that’s proved useful to me for more than a decade in the communications industry.

News is information that is relevant to the person reading/watching/listening to it. But news has, in the decade I’ve spent in the media, seen a huge sea-change in how it is accessed.

Historically national newspapers, the big regional newspapers and the TV news were who you went to for information.

But today add to that news from Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and blogs.

The days of having a select few outlets has gone. In addition to this as local papers lose staff and so can cover less local news, so people look to find information from other sources. In this situation the online world comes into its own as people curate their own news through search engines/blogs/favoured websites.

‘News’ is something people can find for themselves now. Increasingly teenagers and 20-somethings are their own journalists. Older people may lag behind with this slightly – but as my 87-year-old Facebook-using granddad proves they are catching up.

If you’re a music-lover you can exclusively find news about new bands, if you’re a foodie you can choose to only read about new recipes and food launches.

For anyone working in communications these are exciting times. It is easier to get access to people to communicate with them directly.

Yet it is also hugely important not to neglect the traditional, respected giants of the media world.

It is true traditional media is suffering greatly from this variety of communication channels – yet newspapers and TV are far from irrelevant. People rely on them, despite Leveson, for the big stories, politics and crime.

It is a truth well-known in PR that people are much more likely to believe positive press written by a journalist far more than a glowing paid-for advert.

The influx of social media and blogging muddies these waters – certainly a few years ago people were more confused and likely to treat content written on a blog as truth.

But now people are starting to suss-up that blogs often aren’t impartial – for example mummy bloggers receive free toys if they give positive publicity, and so are unlikely to be critical. In addition to this an anonymous blogger can libel to their heart’s content, or spread malicious untruths to their heart’s content.

Speaking to Shami Chakrabati, director of Liberty and an assessor on the Leveson Inquiry into Culture Practice and Ethics of the press, a few months back it was interesting to see her take on the issues surrounding the UK media.

She is vehemently in support of a free press and declares it pays an essential part in any healthy democracy but also emphasised how important public trust is in that press.

Hopefully a result of Leveson will eventually be that systems are put into place so accountable news outlets staffed by trained, impartial writers regain public trust.

How the big media outlets will manage to make this pay – or whether new media outlets are created to do this, is the big question people in the communication industry are seeking to answer.