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A Trip Through the Media Mix

-first posted at RTDNA.org on September 1, 2009

The topic for this week’s blog emerged in the midst of my current trip to move my daughter to college in Boston.  My wife’s glaring at me now for typing away as we drive in the car, so I’ll keep this one brief.  But I think I can make my point in just a few words (in fact, that’s even part of my point).

The trip (by car from Missouri to Massachusetts and back) put me in the perfect place to experience a multimedia mix of news about the death of Ted Kennedy.  The story began with a first for me—my first major news event I first heard about on Twitter.  I’ll admit up front I’m not a rabid Twitter user.  As those of you know who follow my Twitter presence (http://twitter.com/staceywoelfel), I tend to use it to publicize what I write here and to announce a few other ideas of note.  I don’t pour over others’ tweets too often, tending to just check them out from time to time.  Working on a Mac, I have the TweetDeck app to keep track of it all.  And last Tuesday, as I was wrapping up some details of the trip before we left on Wednesday, I went to close down TweetDeck when I saw the first word of Kennedy’s death.  About five of the people I’m following had tweeted it.  The tweets sent me online to get more detail of the story.  CNN.com, MSNBC.com, and others gave me the information I wanted before I went to bed.   And as my head hit the pillow, I was thinking about how all of us now were learning of the death of the final Kennedy brother—and how different the delivery systems are from when we heard about the deaths of John and Robert Kennedy.

The next morning we hit the road, but not before I was able to catch NBC’s coverage of the death on Today.  Network news, as one of the more traditional players in the media mix on this story, did what it did best—bringing in the top names to talk about Kennedy and his legacy.  So far, Twitter had provided brief immediacy, web-based news had given me quick details, and now television was bringing me the live video and conversations about the story.  Hopping in the car to start the 20-hour drive, we turned to radio news to give us updates on the funeral plans in the Boston area.  Since we were heading that way, we were keenly interested in whether there would be disruptions in the city that would cause traffic problems or change our hotel plans.

With radio’s help, we were able to avoid the congestion on the highways in and around Boston as the Kennedy funeral played out.  What we were not able to avoid once we arrived in Massachusetts was the flood of local media coverage of the death of a beloved politician.  Local television news in Boston was rich with nearly 50 years of video of Kennedy’s public life.  I was able to see and learn more about what he meant to the people of Massachusetts than I could ever have done consuming national media coverage of the story.  And while television delivered the rich media mix of video and sound stretching back to the 60s, local newspaper coverage gave me volumes of information on Ted Kennedy the man.  I literally did not have enough time on this trip to read all I wanted of the local print coverage.

We’re on our way home now, carrying Time Magazine’s special edition on Kennedy—yet another part of the media mix on this story.  For me, being on vacation for a week or so to make this trip, I had the chance to step back a bit from a big story and watch myself consume media.  In the middle of our own big local stories, we don’t get the chance to think about this as much as we probably should.  But I know I wasn’t alone in my consumption habits.  As this story rolled out, lots of people consumed it just the way I did.  And knowing that, we can coordinate our own news streams better to try to eliminate overlap as much as possible and to maximize each medium to deliver what it delivers best.  That differentiation, along with connections between media, can lead consumers to what they’re looking for.  Providing archives adds permanence to our fleeting live media.

This mix doesn’t just exist for the big stories.  It’s in the everyday media use of our consumers.  I don’t need to tell you we’re not producing shows just for six anymore.  But if you take a few moments to analyze how any story breaks and where and how people follow it, you’ll see different patterns based on age group, socioeconomic status, and even early adopter status.  They all consume what we do a little differently, but almost all of them consume it on multiple platforms.

Perhaps it’s fitting the last bastion of the 20th Century’s leading political family leaves the scene in this way—across all media.  Our current political dynasties are capitalizing on the new media mix in a way of which no Kennedy could have ever dreamed.  And the 21st Century’s media dynasties will be the ones that figure out the way to give the consumer a trip through the media experience—without all the self-reflection I’m needed to make on this trip.

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