Digital Didn't Kill Traditional Media

It's clear that despite dire warnings of social media would upend decades of traditional news sources, digital did not mean the end of newspapers, broadcast and magazines. People will always want the news, distribution and form aside, and quality will always be the difference maker and the biggest attraction for consumers.

This week at Ogilvy PR we published a new whitepaper which takes a deeper dive into how digital has transformed news, but left traditional media in a renewed position of importance. Below I lay out the main points from the white paper to tell the story of how traditional media survived and even thrived after the digital "revolution."

Traditional media companies evolved from being in the paper business, to being in the information business. Their core reason of being, delivering news, doesn't change despite the shift in medium. Although many companies made this change slowly, successful traditional media outlets stepped up and invested in digital technologies and are now available across multiple platforms.

Equally important, new outlets adapted to new formats better suited to these platforms like video, 'listicles', slideshows and interactive stories, rather than just posting a version of the newspaper online. Stories are now adapted or specifically created for these new formats and audiences - think 15-second subtitled videos for Instagram or 140 character breaking news on Twitter.

These formats were often borrowed from new media organizations that started as sources of varied online content. Outlets like VICE, The Daily Beast, Upworthy, Elite Daily and BuzzFeed were a new set of competitors 'born' out of the digital revolution that understood how to distribute content better than their forefathers. What were once considered 'fringe' online news organizations have now become major players. However, the new outlets didn't always do news better, allowing an opening for savvy, digitally-fluent journalists.

Social media enabled journalists to become media brands in and of themselves. These 'Uber media' are reporters that cross platform and are the reporters that other media listen to. These journalists have also built direct relationships with audiences via their traditional platforms and personal social channels.

Digital also gave traditional national media outlets a chance to build a global audience and become international brands. For example, The Guardian was previously a UK-only newspaper, but is becoming an increasingly international service with less than one-third of their audience in the UK, more global offices and locally adapted content.

Often this transformation to global media brand happens with stories that are broken by traditional media outlets and widely shared around the world. Rolling Stone's Sean Penn interview with El Chapo became a global sensation, with the publication itself inseparable to the story. This is not a new phenomenon, but the ease of sharing content online means it's become more frequent and valuable for the media brand that breaks the story.

National media outlets were supposed to go the way of the dinosaurs, at the hands of "citizen journalists." In fact, audiences didn't become the journalists, but they did become part of the story by responding to the coverage and spreading the story further. These reactions shape how the story is covered, think #jesuischarlie and #prayforparis. The digital response and solidarity shown to the tragic Paris terrorist attacks became central the story. However professional analysis and traditional media drove the story worldwide.

As the media changed, so did the ads that support it. Digital allowed people to seek out the content they want and block unwanted interruptions from traditional ads. Advertisers responded through 'native' advertising and producing original content that is sought out rather than delivered. Through carefully signposted integrations, news sites can offer advertisers content that promises not to interrupt people's online experience, while offering their savvy audience something useful.

However, digital distribution has also caused 'content overload' for audiences. Contradictory information from unfamiliar sources is everywhere. This means that trust and content loyalty is more important than ever before. Media consumers today are curating a smaller number of publishers that they are loyal to, leading to large and trusted traditional media outlets assuming an important role.

The source for information remains crucial, and earned stories in traditional news sources are the most trusted. People are still skeptical of visible involvement of a brand in content. Earned media cannot be bought or owned, it is "earned" organically. There is a significant difference between trust in the media in general, and trust in select traditional media influencers that those surveyed followed.

Contradictory information from unfamiliar media sources is everywhere. Most brands and individuals are often nakedly self-interested and under-qualified to provide verifiable and engaging content. In our diversified media landscape, traditional media's status as a trusted source of content has been re-established and earned media's influence is more valuable than ever.

For more on this topic, read our new white paper "Earned Media is Alive and Well":

David Rosenthal contributed to this article.