The media landscape is rapidly changing. With the continued rise of social media as a medium and information accessibility steadily increasing, the mainstream media is becoming less relevant.
Historically, there were a limited, finite number of media outlets. Everyone watched, listened, read and saw the same few pieces of news. This made it straightforward in how one would go about targeting a desired audience. The goal was to secure a feature in the paper, a segment on the 7PM news or a highway billboard with your desired message. Audiences all congregated in the same media spots and it was easier to control messaging.
Times have changed since then. Traffic and readership has expanded beyond the usual outlets, making mainstream media less effective than it used to be.
We’re at a strange transition period where the prestige and clout of the mainstream media remains – but its ability to reach people, stick to messages and cover a variety of topics has diminished significantly. The old and new world is colliding when it comes to the media.
But from a PR perspective, the desire and urge for mainstream press coverage remains high – mostly as a means of appeasing investors and making a company ‘look good’ rather than having a meaningful impact.
There has been a gradual decline in the appetite for news, fewer people are actively digesting it and watching broadcast television. This is paired with Ofcom’s research demonstrating a rise in the number of people consuming their news and current affairs through TikTok and other forms of social media. This is coupled with a decreased trust toward the mainstream media and people starting to favour mediums like longer form podcasts to learn about subjects and digest news in a slower and less sensationalist way.
So, how has the media landscape changed? And how are audiences best captured now?
In a short amount of time, we’ve gone from relying on mainstream outlets to cover stories that engage our desired audiences on a topic, to being able to communicate directly to our stakeholders. With technology advancing to the point where you can create your own platform and engage directly with your audience, it now cuts through the fuss of having to secure coverage in the mainstream media.
The development of niche outlets and social media influencers are prime examples of this and exist across the political spectrum, from Russell Brand, to The Young Turks to Tucker Carlon. The fact social media platforms are now monetizing content is only accelerating the trends. If you can make content which people will engage with and share widely – you will make a salary and living to cover it.
The future is niche outlets and platforms. I think we’ll only begin to see an increasing number of specific outlets and influencers, particularly when it comes to discussing fringe areas of policy. We are already seeing an increase in the development of bespoke platforms for bespoke areas, people are no longer going to the mainstream media but are going elsewhere to find outlets that report on matters in relation to how they see the world.
Like with any innovation, as it develops, choice increases and product choice spreads amongst consumers. We are seeing this with the media – the public are becoming increasingly disenfranchised and less interested in what the mainstream media has to offer.
Don’t get me wrong, the public still pays attention to the mainstream news, but it’s seen through a filter. Rarely are people getting out the morning paper at the breakfast table, watching the 10pm news or scrolling through the BBC News homepage. The vast majority of our news consumption is through a TikTok video referencing a recent news story, a Tweet with a comment on a breaking news topic or an Instagram post which breaks down the meaning of a recent event. Social media is becoming a delivery mechanism for mainstream news and a lens to view it through.
With the increasing lack of variety in what the mainstream media actually cover, or the blatant misinformation and sensationalist take they have on certain topics, there has been a turn toward niche outlets and platforms which cover non mainstream subjects in a more accurate way.
It is exciting to witness technology advance to the point where you don’t have to go via the mainstream media as the middleman – it makes communication significantly more straightforward.
This changing approach is particularly powerful for subject matters which the mainstream media do not understand or find are too complex for simple messaging – namely controversial, morally complex topics like drug policy and cannabis.
The mainstream media does not offer enough airtime or nuance to demonstrate a clear understanding of drug policy. Instead, we see sensationalist, click-bait titles which grab attention and result in public outcry over the issue from a fundamentally moralistic standpoint.
Take the drug diversion pilot scheme that London Mayor Sadiq Khan launched at the beginning of 2022. The scheme at hand would allow first time offenders aged 18-24 in 3 London Boroughs to be given a diversionary measure for personal possession of cannabis. The media spun this story into a sensationalist mess going as far to report that Khan plans to legalise speed and ketamine in the capital. Another incident of the media’s out of context reporting on drugs was the UK Government’s Drug Strategy released in December 2021. The strategy was actually one of the more progressive approaches that the government has taken toward drugs and treatment, with a focus on reinvestment and treating addiction as a health issue rather than a criminal justice one.
Rather than focusing on this, mainstream media outlets instead focused on an aspect to the strategy which was not even clear as to whether it would be focused – middle class drug users passports being confiscated. Not only is this policy ridiculous but also impossible to implement – but the media loved this scaremongering headline to catch the attention of readers.
More recently we saw the media’s misinformed reporting around drugs when The Times wrote a piece on ketamine use in UK universities and the turn toward harm reduction policies. The article was riddled with inaccuracies, deceiving the public around drug use and what harm reduction interventions actually focus on.
Across the board the mainstream media’s reporting of drug use and drug policy is pretty abysmal. Even with net-positive stories, a lot of these outlets are able to steer them away from what they are truly talking about, and instead go into nonsense sensationalist land.
However, given how inaccurate the mainstream media are on this and their lack of understanding around the subject of drugs, it creates an opportunity. This is where we are really beginning to see new media emerge, offering clarity and informative commentary on controversial subjects, with more substance than just an attention grabbing headline. This is particularly where platforms like podcasts and informative TikTok and Youtube videos are beginning to emerge, giving an audience time to digest a complex subject.
Despite new media emerging for drugs, I think the cannabis industry in many ways is still stuck in the past, with an obsession for mainstream media coverage and mentions in prestigious publications. I’m of the firm belief that coverage like this doesn’t do a whole lot for raising awareness of medical cannabis and broadening the public’s understanding – I think it is a virtue signalling sort of prestige to satisfy shareholders and make the company look good.
Nowadays having a TikTok go viral is much more effective than getting mentioned in an article in the Telegraph or the Times. The media landscape is changing, and I think for the better in a way that begins to offer nuance and detail through niche communities.
All of this is highly relevant to the cannabis sector. The medical cannabis industry is highly regulated, still has a high level of stigma associated with it and ample amounts of confusion to the average member of the public around the legality and what medical cannabis actually is. All of these factors are affected by the way the media reports about it.
As an organisation we are excited to play a role in this evolving environment and continue to use our content platform and network to bring about greater awareness of the medical cannabis industry and broader drug policy reform. For those who are bold enough to step away from the traditional media, create their own bespoke content and enter this new evolving environment, get in touch.
Katya Kowalski is Head of Operations at Volteface. She has been with the organisation since 2020. Tweets @KowalskiKatya