The Times’s 550,000-plus digital-only subscribers, new analysis publications like Tortoise Media or Semafor, the rising profile of investigative outlets like TBIJ or Bellingcat, and the proliferation of profiling pieces during this election cycle, may suggest that we are entering a ‘golden age’ of in-depth, longer-form, journalism.

Wary of ‘fake news’, and looking for trusted voices in an increasingly louder and more pluralistic world, many have argued that consumers have moved from traditional ‘red tops’ and media outlets like talk radio, to those publications which are able to provide a detailed, and more analytical, approach to the day’s news.

In trade media, a movement towards longer-form analysis is clearly visible, with CoStar and Green Street News (formerly REACT), and regional titles like PlaceNorth and Thames Tap, moving away from relying only on fast-moving breaking news coverage – and diversifying content to include more thoughtful and data driven columns, which aim to forecast where the market will move next. New entrants into the real estate media market, such as the Developer (led by former editor of the AJ, Christine Murray) or Housing Today, have also carved out a niche through longer, and more critical, coverage, whilst the growing popularity of SubStack’s paywalled blog approach (including by former Minister Neil O’Brien) has arguably democratised this trend.

This is a false economy, and one that PR professionals should be wary of when drafting comms strategies or approaching the media. Whilst it is true that some readers, and therefore journalists, are hungry for more data, longer quotes, and critical analysis, it is clear that many news consumers are switching to shorter, and more hyperbolic, news ‘diet’. As the University of Oxford’s Reuters Institute found in June 2024, just eight per cent of UK respondents pay for online news – with the Times, the UK’s most popular paywalled publication, only being read weekly by four per cent of respondents.

This can be seen from a recent article from Jim Waterson, the Guardian’s political media editor, on news consumption during this election. Summarising a 28-year-old, Labour voting, telecoms manager’s habit, he remarks that:

“Her phone usage stats show she consumes very little mainstream media. She doesn’t watch much TV and spends most of her evening scrolling on her phone. Zoya doesn’t visit news websites because she thinks their stories are too long and full of jargon.”

This is not limited to the UK, with analysis of the 2024 European Elections from Politico EU indicating that many on Europe’s right have allocated dedicated resources to targeting voters directly through TikTok and Twitter. As Politico found of the EU’s 705 MEPs, 186 lawmakers have active TikTok accounts – with many posting on a daily basis. Beyond established social media, the local elections in May saw the rise of several independent, personalist campaigns which benefitted from strong voter engagement via group chats – notably Akmed Yakoob’s campaign for the West Midlands mayoralty – whilst WIRED reported the importance WhatsApp played for Labour’s 2019 campaign.

How should PR professionals adapt to this changing media landscape? Firstly, we should be aware that news, especially at a local level, is often being driven less by NCTJ-trained journalists, reporting to established titles and media groups, but from a diverse current of individual blogs, local community pages, and group chats – which do not often comply with established media procedures, codes of practice or techniques.

As news driven by these channels becomes well-known, we should expect it to cross into established publications staffed by journalists vying for attention. In turn we should warn clients of the speed in which news can spread via these methods, and the importance of establishing protocols to quickly address misinformation. Finally, the ability to adapt messaging to meet different channels of communication has never been more important – in particular, producing short, and concise, messaging that can provide clarity and fact amongst a growing backdrop of rumour and noise.