By Gerard Braud
“Trending today” or “trending now” are phrases I hate to hear on television news. If news is defined as information that allows us to make smarter, more informed decisions, then a trending video of a cat playing with string is not news.
Each day there is less news on news programs. News is increasingly replaced by entertainment and info-tainment.
I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but I’m starting to miss the days when the adage applied, “When it bleeds it leads.” This phrase meant the newscast lead, or started, usually with a violent event or natural disaster that resulted in injuries or the loss of life.
Trending, on the other hand, requires little or no news gathering skills. It only requires the regurgitation and re-posting of something from the Internet. In most cases, it is a viral video or a hot topic that the anonymous, faceless, social media world feels compelled to pass judgment upon.
Both the Today Show and Good Morning America have cordoned off sections of their studio specifically to share what is trending on social media. Both are actively trying to engage their viewers with links and hashtags. What is sad about this trend is that people who are active on social media don’t need to turn to television news to know what is trending. At the same time, the networks are sending more viewers away from network broadcasts and into the social media realm. This move may mean increased web traffic and more income from online advertisements. However, in the long run this is pushing more people away from the viewership and revenue of the current and future traditional news broadcast.
Often, what is trending is mindless. Social media users are commenting about a photo of a fashion model who is too skinny or a celebrity who said something that offended a portion of the audience.
The impact this has on you, if you are in public relations or communications, is that your effort to get news coverage for the corporation, non-profit organization or government agency, for which you work, continues to get harder.
Your legitimate news may not get covered at all because producers have already filled their allotted time in the newscast with fluff.
The fluff is appealing to the media because it is a low cost way to fill a newscast. This low cost fluff is already known to be popular with the public. In a day when advertising revenues are falling and the size of the news staff is getting smaller, trending fluff is a solution to the media’s short-term problems.
What the media fails to recognize is that the trend of trending is really exposing an increasing number of people to places on the internet where information or entertainment can be gathered for free. This leaves the audience with less need for the original media outlet and the advertisers on the media outlet’s website and news broadcast.
From a pro-active public relations standpoint, you will be under increasing pressure to make your public relations events trend. This adds one extra layer to an already complicated process of pitching a story to the media. It also adds one more point upon which you will be judged. Hence, when you fail to get media coverage, you’ll be scrutinized over your pitching efforts and your social media efforts.
The reality of what gets news coverage is really based on the point of view of a producer, who has a limited amount of time in a newscast and fills it with the things they think the audience will talk about the most. Producers can be fickle. I fought with them daily in the newsroom when I was a reporter. Often, they were Jeckle and Hyde; I never knew which I was getting on any given day.
But the bottom line is trending things get selected by those producers for inclusion in the newscast, taking precedent over things a true journalist would consider to be real news.
Trending is a trend I could do without. Sadly, it will be with us for a very long time.