Don’t write off written content

There was a time when the pen was mightier than the sword. The impact of the written word on society, politics, and the arts has been transformative, devastating and controversial.

In the mid-fifteenth century, Gutenberg’s printing press democratised access to knowledge and learning, and, as books had historically been the preserve of the church, enabled ideas and creativity to break free from the constraints of religion. Science and alternative ways of thinking flourished, sowing the seeds for the Renaissance in the Western world.

Fast-forward five hundred years and semantic strength is still in evidence. Print media continues to exert power over public and government – for better or worse – and ethical questions still surround the responsibility and rights of those brandishing the metaphorical pen.

The Conservatives unexpectedly swept to power in the 1992 General Election after the Sun published the headline ‘If Kinnock wins today will the last person to leave Britain please turn out the lights,’ on polling day. In a second historical wielding of words, the Sun then followed up with a clear admission of its role in the election outcome: ‘It’s The Sun Wot Won It’.

More recently, the Daily Mail joined the Sun in the line of fire over the paper’s Brexit-backing words. A front page screaming claims of ‘dying’ Europe’s ‘lies’ and ‘greedy elites’, as well as similarly critical messaging from the Mail, have subsequently been blamed for influencing last year’s referendum result.

The death of print media has long been forecast, with millennials and gen z-ers abandoning the printed word to stoke their insatiable appetite for digital video content. For many, the appeal of online video as a news source is a no-brainer: why pore over the pages of a newspaper, wasting time reading through articles to find the desired content? Video on the other hand can deliver instant, emotive news bites, with clips easily shared via social media.

So, as ‘the younger generation’ move into adulthood, and begin to birth a cohort raised on a similarly digital-first diet, will video replace the humble word as the main mouthpiece of the media?

As a writer, I, like many other PRs and journalists, spend my days investing time and effort into honing clients’ messaging, and working to translate complex, technical and often intangible ideas into engaging prose and arresting news. But with more of us turning away from the printed word and toward visually appealing video, is mine a dying art?

Video content is expected to account for 82% of global IP traffic by 2021, fuelled by social media, citizen journalism and live broadcast platforms. Indeed, in a recent report, consumers named breaking news as the live video type they are most interested in. Breaking news events, filmed in-the-moment on a smartphone, broadcast in near-real-time, and shared at similar speed via social channels, have revolutionised news creation and consumption. But whilst the popularity of video will continue, it will never contend with the might of written content.

We reportedly still dedicate 97.5% of our time on online news sites to reading text, with a paltry 2.5% of average visit time spent on video pages. The written word allows the reader to interpret and imagine both the subject of the text and the writer in a way which cannot be achieved through video alone. Long-form whitepapers, analytical reports and press releases are a staple of the PR world, and newspaper headlines still have the power to make the headlines. So, whilst the word may not spark Renaissance 2.0, written content should not be written off quite yet.

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From the Babel team

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