Mark Fowler, VP in our London office, gives his perspective on how the COVID-19 crisis has changed his relationship with the news and what that possibly means for the media when we come out the other side.

“Day 8 of UK lockdown: the grey cat and I are no longer on speaking terms. Meanwhile, I maintain an uneasy truce with the fat one based on a dwindling supply of Dreamies.”

You too are likely settling into your own ‘new normal’ way of working. A life lived on Zoom where the spare room acts as a conference room. Personally, I’m not coping as well as others and (as you might have guessed) have turned to humour as a coping mechanism. At least until I can get a Tesco delivery slot.

A lot of people say the trick is to follow a routine. For a lot of people in the UK, the government’s daily press conference has provided that degree of structure to life. Judging by the ratings, the same applies on the other side of the Atlantic too. This is to be expected, of course. I’d be highly wary about anyone who didn’t want to know what was going on right now. But that same appetite has manifested itself in some pretty fascinating ways.

People aren’t necessarily looking for depth or detail – they just want the news as quick as possible. The latest projections, the most recent changes to regulations: whenever these are updated, we want them right away. We’re snacking on news constantly in the build-up to gorging ourselves on the feast of the big press conferences which we take on soundbite-by-soundbite as they happen. Inevitably, platforms like Twitter and Facebook have become central to the way we get information, now more than ever.

Where Zoom has replaced meeting rooms for work, group chats and social platforms have become proxies for our pubs and family living rooms. The problem with that is that they are prone to the same problems you’d expect where everyone feels comfortable, even encouraged to say what they want. Your mate who after one pint too many would claim on the books at Arsenal is the same one who is sharing "Resident Evil" theories and plans for a Wembley Stadium-sized lasagne that will feed the country while on lockdown. Equally nonsense but there’s always someone who believes them.

We’re starting to see an effect on traditional media too. Yesterday brought the sad news that City AM would be suspending all its events and the digital edition of its daily newspaper (the physical version was put on hold a week previous). As a result several staff have been furloughed and salaries cut while those still working would focus on the rolling news of its website which has seen a spike in traffic over recent weeks.

Covid-19 Changes

The hiatus on the events and physical newspaper are a reflection of the very specific limitations we face today but the pivot to rolling news over a daily edition is particularly interesting. This is more than superficial: the type of news will change too. Shorter news-driven stories will replace longer form, investigative or thought leadership content. As the restrictions on the public look likely to drag on for many more months, it would be hard to imagine that other publications won’t follow suit.

While it’s fair to expect that some changes will be temporary and scaled back others are likely to become the ‘new normal’ of media. The migration from physical media to new models has been going on since the advent of the internet but it’s hard to see how things won’t be accelerated further. Likewise, habits are being built that might be hard to shake.

User-published content on social platforms will likely become even more prevalent. That in itself will raise new questions of how we check the veracity of information being shared and how we regulate these platforms. Twitter and Facebook have already started censoring disinformation on their services – including ‘outspoken’ Brazilian President, Jair Bolsonaro.

Just like with lockdown, it looks like we’re only just getting started.

About the Author

Mark Fowler

Mark is a Vice President in RPG’s London office, working with the technology team. He has ten years of experience in technology PR, having worked across leading B2C and B2B brands including Huawei, ARM, Auth0 and Barclaycard.