Commentary: Why newspaper content counts for all of us

Brian Tierney is CEO of Brian Communications and Realtime Media and is the former publisher of The Philadelphia Inquirer. Tierney is the chair of The Poynter Foundation Board. This article first appeared in the Inquirer.

With the scope and gravity of the recent criminal charges filed against Attorney General Kathleen Kane, it's easy to miss one little detail: Last week's indictment probably wouldn't have happened without the persistent and tenacious reporting of investigative journalists.

This story wasn't broken on Twitter or Facebook, because it's the type of story that newspaper reporters such as The Inquirer's Craig McCoy and Angela Couloumbis have the ability and time to deeply research.

And you are likely familiar with it because you read the news, whether in print, online, via social media, or a mobile app. In fact, if you are holding a copy of [The Inquirer] in your hands today, you are joining more than one million others in the Philadelphia region who read The Inquirer in print each Sunday, as measured by Scarborough. That's not all: Hundreds of thousands of digital readers also absorb the content assembled by The Inquirer staff every day.

Yet, with the continued popularity of social media and new technologies, some recent news stories have called the value of newspapers into question. Given the proliferation of sources and information online, critics ask, how much is newspaper content actually read? Some suggest that even PR firms have abandoned the newspaper industry in favor of building awareness, reputation, and loyalty solely through these newer technologies.

As the news of Kathleen Kane illustrates, newspapers and their journalists remain very, very influential — on a variety of platforms. And as the former publisher of The  Inquirer and a businessman who has started four successful communications firms, the most recent of which began with the acquisition of a digital engagement agency, I know the story. Both platforms hold tremendous value, and I can say with confidence that social media and traditional media are not an “either/or” proposition. Rather, the smartest citizens, marketers, and journalists are the ones who leverage the power of both platforms together.

Look no further than the way citizens widely read and shared reporters' real-time tweets and livestreams during last weekend’s commemorative protest in Ferguson. Look no further than Sydney Seau sending her speech to The New York Times after the Football Hall of Fame denied her request to speak at her father’s induction ceremony, or the traditional and social media backlash toward the Hall and the NFL. And look no further than the way traditional journalism drives content on social media. Social media is certainly a powerful tool, but it is just that: A tool.

Whether you are a journalist, a marketing professional, or engaging new friends at a party, the heart of effective communication is invariably storytelling. Great communicators connect the dots — and the platforms — to tell a story that touches the right audience. As someone who has seen many successful social media campaigns, I understand how the combined power of traditional and social media often creates the best results.

The skyrocketing audience of newspaper content on all platforms is evidence that journalism still touches an important chord in society today. In reality, more Americans read newspaper content today than ever before. Some 88 percent of adults — that's 176 million Americans — consume newspaper media on digital platforms, according to recent comScore research. And despite popular myths, comScore shows that newspapers continue to attract younger and younger audiences: 92 percent of women and 87 percent of men ages 25 to 34 read newspaper content, with similar numbers in the 18 to 24 age group.

It's easy to see why. In a world of information overload, newspaper content remains the reliable shortcut to news that is actually accurate and interesting. A recent Nielsen study found newspaper content to be more engaging than other news platforms and more trusted than all other media — especially social media. Some 59 percent of Americans trust newspaper content, compared with the 37 percent who trust information on social media.

This trust allows journalists to shine the spotlight on matters that require our attention, wherever they find them. It allows newspapers to carefully cover issues of local importance, from government to sports to the newest restaurant. And it is that trust, earned over years of shining the spotlight on such issues, which allows investigative reporters to be taken seriously and gives newspapers the power to confront corruption — even in law enforcement.

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