Brand Dies In Sameness: A Look At Major News Outlets

In news that will surprise no one, viewership of cable news channels increased astronomically in the first half of 2017. If you want an in-depth look at our news viewing habits, you could spend some time with the Pew Research Center’s 2016 survey “The Modern News Consumer.” The survey report goes into great detail on where and how we receive our news, how we share news, and how much we trust it. The surveys were conducted in early 2016, and published in February of this year. The study authors write about “a constant stream of news” from sources near and far, and how “hyper levels of immediacy and mobility can create an expectation that the news will come to us whether we look for it or not.” That’s become even more evident in the last year.


We follow Twitter feeds and share articles on Facebook, we have the TV playing in the background, and some of us even read newspapers. Suddenly, the news media is news, as our President and rival media outlets devote airtime and column inches to how, when and why stories are reported. We are getting a whole lot of news, for better or worse, and we’re interacting with news media brands more than ever.

Our business is brands, not news or politics, so we’ll leave the heavy stuff to someone else and take a look at differentiation.

Let’s take a look at how the brands are differentiated.

First, three major national newspapers:

Notice anything?

Not a lot of differentiation. These are the grownups in the newsroom. All three began publishing in the late 1800s, and the fonts and mastheads that mimic the print editions call back to their long history. They are reliable, steadfast sources of information.

The New York Times company core purpose is to enhance society by creating, collecting and distributing high-quality news and information. Producing content of the highest quality and integrity is… the means by which we fulfill the public trust and our customers’ expectations.

Similarly, the “Wall Street Journal is a global news organization that provides leading news, information, commentary and analysis… Building on its heritage as the preeminent source of global business and financial news.”

Alternately, the Washington Post adds differentiation with their tagline “Democracy Dies in Darkness” nestled under their name.  

Then we have the TV stations. Fox News, CNN and MSNBC are the big three in cable, with ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox being the networks we watch.

Lots of red, white and blue in logos and on-screen graphics. If you take a look at the graphics the stations are using on-screen and on Twitter to announce breaking news, spinning graphics and the color red dominate.

Fox News Alert graphics:

CNN Breaking News graphic

CBS News

Newscast Studio is the trade publication for TV creative professionals, and a quick spin through their website confirms our hunch: none of these stations are trying all that hard to differentiate from their competitors in positioning or look and feel.

More of the same: patriotic red and blue, or somber and serious black. If a station has a news legacy to uphold, like NBC and the peacock or CBS and the eye, you can bet they are going to leverage the equity.

As for journalists, we imagine they let their content be their true point of differentiation. As brand strategists, we wonder if they are missing an opportunity to do more to connect and engage with readers and viewers visually.

Where do you get your news? If the masthead or bottom of your screen was blacked out, would you know who was delivering the content? Does your level of trust depend upon the source? We’d love to know what you think.