The Greatest Challenges in Media From 2020, Unpacked

For many, 2020 was a low point — especially with the pandemic, political turmoil and social injustices raging across the globe. These recent events have also sparked a set of ongoing business challenges within the media industry.

Thankfully, organizations are determined to stand strong and be a trusted resource for community members no matter what’s thrown their way. 

“After a year where everything was confusing, and the goalposts were always moving, the best we can do as [media] organizations is to be useful and supportive to our communities,” states Mandy Jenkins, general manager of The Compass Experiment at McClatchy.

So to help media companies become more resilient and build better relationships with their audiences and staff, we unpacked crucial takeaways from some of the greatest industry challenges of 2020. Organizations that keep these takeaways in mind will set themselves up for long-term growth and success.

Limitations on In-Person Experiences Reinforces the Need for Digital Social Experiences

The pandemic forced a large number of print media products, including newspapers and magazines, as well as in-person events to shut down practically overnight. 

While media companies are now unable to build relationships with audiences in person due to safety restrictions, brand relationships are thriving virtually. 

“This year, the sense of isolation caused by lockdown has pushed a lot of people toward online communities to fill the void left by the lack of social interactions,” states Francesco Zaffarano, the editor-in-chief of Will Media. “Although that isolation will eventually end, engaging with communities will still be the key to success in the post-pandemic world.”

By delighting audiences with online social experiences, media companies can encourage connections to form around their brands. These brand relationships will then lead to greater reader loyalty and digital revenue.

The Explosion of Misinformation Calls for Moderation

Misinformation and fake news have been circulating online for as long as the internet has existed. However, the monumental events from 2020 have amplified the reach and impact of misinformation, destroying trust and endangering safety.

A recent study of 200 million pandemic-specific social media posts even revealed that 40% of them were unreliable. 

In a world where people no longer know what information to trust, providing reliable news and building close relationships with audiences must be a priority.

That’s why it has become vital for media organizations to invest in making their owned and operated properties safe, trusted spaces for news and related conversation. 

Consider producing a trusted environment by tightening moderation on your website’s (or app’s) social spaces to prevent offensive behavior and misinformation. 

As Anna Nirmala, VP of the American Journalism Project, stresses, “having a relevant and trusted brand is linked to building relationships and engaging with the community.”

The Loss of Third-Party Cookies Means a Shift to First-Party Data

Despite shrinking company budgets and the global pandemic, 2020 threw another curveball to media companies: the end to third-party cookies

Most media leaders quickly realized that they would have to reconsider their audience data-collection strategies to survive beyond 2022, when Chrome phases out third-party cookies entirely.

Little by little, organizations are shifting focus from third-party to first-party data strategies to future-proof their businesses. After all, first-party data offers insight into what audiences find interesting and how companies can better meet their needs. 

“You have to triple down on data – not in the crude sense of chasing page views, but in the sense of infusing the [organization] with a visceral sense of who audiences are, why you matter and how you can matter more,” explains Lucy Kueng, a professor and senior research fellow at the Reuters Institute.

In other words, first-party audience data is essential for creating highly relevant content and experiences to boost the appeal of your company’s services.

Changing Work Environments Put Greater Emphasis on Improving Mental Health in the Newsroom

In recent years, the state of employee mental health at media companies has been under scrutiny. 2020 then unleashed a mass migration to remote workspaces along with an alarming number of job cuts across the media industry, adding new pressure on newsroom workers. 

“We are at an interesting point where newsroom cultures are changing very quickly and the pandemic has accelerated that,” states Reuters Global Managing Editor Simon Robinson. “The challenge now is to keep that momentum going as new remote workers are joining news [organizations] and relationship-building is getting harder.”

Business leaders must now take steps to improve mental health in the newsroom to maintain a positive, productive work environment with satisfied employees.

All throughout 2020, media companies were forced to tackle one challenge after another. Fortunately, we’ve finally entered the beginning of a healing period, where businesses can learn from the past to become more resilient and profitable moving forward.

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