Last week it was announced that Rupert Murdoch and Fox group were taking over National Geographic. Coincidently, the same week in a talk on urbanisation, an unrehearsed sentence slipped out from between my lips. When I watched the YouTube video of the talk later, I flinched. The sentence was, "we now have the internet so we’ve taken over the media." Oh dear, where did that embarrassing exaggeration come from? I thought.
Still, no matter how ludicrous an idea might look, when spontaneous utterances such as these scuttle out from nowhere, as they are apt to from time to time, I’ll often ponder how much truth is in them. Was that a subconscious desire I wanted realised? Or was it a flash of intuition? Was another part of me trying to tell me something? That rogue sentence sent me on a little research binge. Two days later, I am squiffy-eyed but far better informed. So if you’ve been feeling a little powerless of late, as though the world is controlled by a few ecocidal sociopaths in suits and you have no voice or way to stop them, keep reading. In five minutes time you’re going to feel exceedingly empowered.
First, let’s take a look at the Fox "Goliath" that is all set to take over our beloved Nat Geo. Prepare yourself for an Emperor’s New Clothes experience. When you hear talk of Fox News ratings increasing to almost 2 million in prime time, you are given the impression that these are great numbers. They are not. From an online perspective they are fairly trifling. I actually checked them on six different sources, because I couldn’t believe they were that low. GOP debates aside, this year in the States an average total of about 2.8 million viewers switch on to Fox, MSNBC or CNN for prime time news each day (and those figures are sliding yearly). Now compare that with Facebook. 57% of American adults use Facebook and half of those use it daily. According to the last census there were around 250 million American adults. So...that’s around 125 million Americans on Facebook (more if you factor in the under 18s), and a good 60 million flicking through their news feed each day. Just to recap, Fox News, MSNBC and CNN combined net a piffling 2.8 million in prime time, while Facebook grabs a staggering 60 million Americans.
“Oh but wait!” You say, “Facebook is not a news outlet, it’s social media.” True enough. Yet whether or not you log in to Facebook with the specific intent of learning the news, your friend’s posts roll into your feed regardless (and they roll in even better if you hit the ‘most recent’ key). Facebook is, for example, where I learned that Murdoch was about to take over National Geographic. It is often argued that this doesn’t really count, because the source of the news is still a major news outlet, but the point is, you get to choose which news to share, and which to allow more viewers to see. You contribute to the broadcasting process. And as I am going to demonstrate a few paragraphs down, this has already radically changed the news media game. The world of newspapers is experiencing something of a melt down because of it.
But the shift in how and why people use media is not just about Facebook. The internet has transformed us from a people used to being spoon fed limited and selected information into an entirely different beast. Today, millions of people around the world have taken to searching for their own information. Wikipedia, (seventh most popular website in the world today) has 500 million unique visitors a month. That’s over 16 million a day, 3.5 million of them in the US. Remember Fox TV back there with its 2 million prime time on a good day?
Then there are the petition sites. www.avaaz.org, the well-informed online activist group, boasts 42 million members. That’s not 42 million page views a month, nor unique visitors, that’s a colossal mailing list. As any online marketer will inform you (if you just submit your email address), an email list is a far more effective way of reaching your audience even than social media. At any time, at the mere press of a button, Avaaz can talk to 42 million people.
It doesn’t end there though. Let’s turn to online news outlets; the actual sites who create the articles we are sharing on our social media or searching for in Google. Don’t be fooled by what the tabloids are telling you. According to today’s Alexa statistics, the highest ranking online news outlet today isn’t Fox News (no way near). Nor is it tabloid. It’s actually CNN ranked 74 by Alexa. CNN is very closely hustled by the increasingly popular BBC online website (ranked 82 and rising) which has managed to gain 40 million users a week (120 million plus a month). This ought to encourage us, because despite its issues, unlike Facebook the BBC doesn’t advertise, and it still has a vague ethic to broadcast properly researched stories. Where’s the Fox News’ website by the way? Oh...let me find my binoculars. There it is floundering back in the distance, ranking around the 190 mark with only 30 million odd monthly views. Why is that? Because you and I share more BBC and CNN posts on social media. Realise your power. Seriously.
What about the online newspapers? Despite the age-long cries that we are dumbing down, I’ve long suspected the internet was actually upgrading people’s news and article reading. Folk tend to share posts not only because they deem a topic important, but to promote their self image. Thus Facebook users will often share posts more highbrow than they might have read privately in a newspaper. This has changed the entire landscape of the British newspaper media. Which paper do you suppose scoops up the highest traffic these days? Remember when The Sun was the most popular daily? Not any more, at least not online, which is where the majority of readers are coming in from. In 2014 it was actually The Guardian with a pretty healthy 4 million daily visitors. Yup you got it. More people are reading The Guardian every day than are watching the top 3 US cable TV news providers combined. OK you can bring that lagging bottom lip back up now.
So if this is all as I have written, why are we so unaware of it? Because unless you’re a driven blogger or working in online marketing, you don’t check web stats very often. The traditional media has cast a mysterious ring of superiority around itself that magnifies its own importance. I first started to sniff the power independent online media wields as a result of book publishing. My book sales stats show clearly that when a blogger or online site mentions me or reviews for me, my sales increase by between 600-2000% depending on the site. When I’m mentioned in traditional media, the increase is more like 200-300%. I have learned to use traditional media sources for validation, not for sales. This is an interesting point. Apparently, people still trust traditional media outlets more, though it’s hard to say why, when researching the sources on any online article is so much easier if links are provided. Personally, I think it’s an outdated belief system, a bit like in the middle ages when everyone gamely gulped down the opinions of the priests. The print pages of traditional broadsheets are like pulpits, they tend to elevate the writer’s words in the mind of the reader.
As I said, it’s tricky to discern to what extent the internet is sweeping up, because traditional news outlets tend not to be all that happy about it. This BBC article from last year has it that digital news ‘catches up with’ traditional news. That isn’t what the figures show, though. Exactly how was the question in the very limited Ofcom survey worded, I wonder. Was it, “Where do you go to find the news?” Surveys can be incredibly biased depending on the questions asked. For example, if someone asked me where I go (actively) to search for the news, I’d say the BBC online. But that’s not how I in fact come across the news. It’s social media that is swinging the axe. I generally pick up a story from Twitter, or Facebook (Twitter tends to be more current) and take it from there. Twitter has 100 million users a day globally, 40% of whom are only logging in for the latest news in a topic area. Facebook has a 1.4 billion users and 83 % are outside North America (ONE POINT FOUR BILLION, that’s a fifth of the entire planet!) There is no one traditional media outlet that can compete with those numbers or that global scope.
Facebook has many limitations when compared to Twitter (which currently offers the most democratic news feed). The news you receive is dependent on your friend circle, for one thing. You don’t see all your friend’s posts, for another. And it’s now long on the road to becoming a commercial venture. Even so there’s no denying, when using social media we engage in a virtual wave. We have a say about what is shared, and we actively influence the type of stories generated in the future. News outlets that have cottoned on to the power of social media sharing (The Huffington Post, The Guardian, and this year The Daily Mail) have seen a dramatic upturn in their fates, while those that don’t are fading. Many traditional media outlets now refer to ‘what’s trending online’ in their publications, or as with The Daily Mail, who hired Buzzfeed’s chief operating officer to overhaul their website, visibly change the slant of their stories to get more shares.
Print newspapers have already lost to the internet. TV is so obviously next. Netflix is trawling in the majority of the traffic in the entertainment sector. Not to mention youtube which is the third most popular site in the world today. Some of you may be shaking your heads at that. Are you over 40 by chance? Because if you are, you are in a steadily dwindling group of traditional media worshippers. A recent study in the States has shown that the over 60s are watching between 40 and 50 hours TV a week, the 30-50 year olds around 35 hours, while the under 30 year olds are only watching between 15 to 30 hours a week. For the young, those TV viewing hours are declining every year, and fast. Ten years from now things are going to look very different.
So yes indeedy, Rupert Murdoch has taken over Nat Geo. But does it really matter? Everyone now knows about it, so most likely as with the The Sun, Fox news and the rest of Murdoch’s steadily eroding media empire, Nat Geo will lose its readership. Or perhaps Murdoch will have a road-to-Damascus moment and abruptly consider there might be a tiny climate issue. You see Murdoch might have his fossilised old hand in the news agenda his companies dish out. But he isn’t in control of what the majority of the planet shares or sees. You are. You perhaps just didn’t realise it.
5 ways you can influence the media that you might have been unaware of:
1.Consider the type of article you share or like on social media. What you share is what you are voting for an increase of in the future.
2.Set specific Facebook posts to "public" if you want them to gain a wider audience.
3.Comment on FB posts you want to gain more publicity for (because FB algorithms are set to place the posts with the most comments and likes into the news feed)
4.Just for your information, Pinterest drives more traffic to a website than Twitter, LinkedIn and Google Plus combined. When you pin, you are sharing amplified.
5.Commenting on articles, be they in traditional media or on blogs, drives traffic. In the same way, reviewing anything, from books to films, automatically pushes it into higher visibility. Amazon, the sixth most used website in the world, is basically a massive search engine with algorithms like Facebook that pick up reviews and then boost a product. So if you want to promote the work of a small business, a book or film discussing a subject you deem important, or an indie artist, review for them. It’s actually more valuable than buying the product!
Nielsen.com (Official US TV Ratings)
BBC 'Digital News Catches Up With Papers'
Journalism.org Cable News Fact Sheet
Journalism.org 'State of the News 2015'
The Guardian 'The Guardian overtakes NYtimes in Comscore traffic figures'
The Guardian 'Ofcom Report Indentifies Emerging Generation Gap in TV Viewing.'
Pew Research Centre '6 New Facts About Facebook'
Variety 'Fox News Dominates Cable'
Marketing Charts 'Are Young People Watching Less TV?'
Kids Count Data
By The Numbers '150 Amazing Twitter Facts'
Atulya K Bingham
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