Not dead, just different: Big media in a social media world.


In a week when Newcastle Brown Ale admitted it was changing the recipe to please some Americans who don’t like the colour, it seems fitting that I was at the site where there famous ‘dog’ was once brewed.

The brewery has now been bulldozed after the familiar corporate merger/ acquisition/ sale process that seems to do for everything these days and a new science city building called ‘the core’ stands on the spot where millions of bottles of booze once rolled off the production line.

All that remains of the original site is a giant headstone featuring the famous Keegan-era blue star logo and it was tempting, as it often is, to think ‘another one bites the dust’ and write it off as dead.


Well, that would only be half the story as the brand is thriving and continues to be one of the bestselling bottled beers in Britain and the USA (they also have a brilliant and hilarious twitter feed @newcastle).

It’s not dead, just different and there seems to be a damaging trend these days label anything that’s changed (sometimes beyond all recognition) as finished. Dead.

I think that’s a mistake and something I touched on slightly in a previous blog here

So the building was the perfect venue for a CIPR North East event called ‘Why conventional media is more relevant than ever in a social media age’ by Alex Singleton (@AlexSingletonUK), a former Telegraph Journalist and top PR man.

Different not dead

His main contention is that far from being moribund, the traditional media publishers are actually more important than they’ve ever been.

He believes that despite the explosive growth and noise of social media, when it comes to the big stories it’s still the big beasts of traditional media that people rely on. He explained that during the riots of 2011 newspaper circulations actually rose and a combined audience of 22.3 million viewers tuned into BBC and Sky News.

This poses the natural question in a world dominated by social media:

Why do we still watch the BBC or read newspapers?

Singleton believes the answer is simple- because we like trusted brands. We rely and trust on brands in all parts of our life because they provide a familiar and consistent experience. There’s also an element of convenience of course and while we could easily make a coffee at home we still choose to go to Starbucks.

“Anyone can report and communicate on social media but we still trust big media brands for our news. Big media benefits from having social media. In the same way Facebook isn’t a threat to traditional news outlets but a giant, free marketing opportunity,” he says.

In fact, social media has presented the mainstream media with new impetus and fresh ways of distributing content and getting their brand seen.

“We’re moving to a time of a much more symbiotic relationship between traditional media and social networks,” he adds.

It feels counterintuitive but he explained that the number of working journalists is actually increasing. He cites figures that show 57,000 in 2003, compared to 70,000 last year (although this comes with a slight caveat that some are brand journalists, rather than hacks in the more traditional sense).

Having said that he also concedes that more than 242 local newspapers have gone to the wall since 2001 and traditional readership of newspapers have all but collapsed.

“This is change, not death. More people than ever before are reading these same newspapers but now they’re doing it online.”

The issue for the publishers is working out how to monetise that experience – a question which has been puzzling them for the last decade or more.

However, he thinks that one concept which probably is dead is the traditional inky print version of newspapers other than free titles like Metro given out at train stations. He sees a continuing divergence between the current paywall vs digital first debate, but like all of us struggles to see one clear vision of the future.

One thing that I’ve always thought personally is that publishing needs to have an iTunes moment, similar to the music industry where a new concept managed to arrest the idea of all content being free and fair game.

Future PR

The scenario described by Singleton is a two edged one for PR. It allows for more influence and opportunity for the industry but only if employers and individuals invest in skills.

“PR relationships are far more important than they used to be because all journalists are busier, have more space to fill and need to write at a much faster pace. However, PR is being held back because it can be short-term and many good people leave in the 20s or 30s. Too few employers and individuals are investing in their skills to make it a profession.”

3 media relations top tips

  1. The heart of all good media relations is creativity.
  2. Read the news and understand what each news  brand stands for.
  3. Bring a personal touch and don’t hide behind emails.

This event was also covered in The Journal: Click here

You can buy his book: The PR Masterclass here

4 thoughts on “Not dead, just different: Big media in a social media world.

  1. Have to say I agree – social media is transitory. Information is received in pieces. Big media provides context, detail, information, opinions and viewpoints. I think of social media as an alert system – it’s ok for when I want to skim stuff, but if I want more, then big media wins hands down.


    1. Thanks for your comment. I think people have written off big media too quickly. It’s role is changing for sure and there are questions about how it will monetise and continue sustainably


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