This topic focuses on the future and perhaps the very survival of the print journalism industry. Journalism, particularly print, is evolving at unprecedented levels and is facing some of its biggest ever challenges. As I will carefully articulate, there are many variables hemorrhaging pressure on the industry, yet, journalistic freedom and integrity are at the epicentre of any healthy functioning democracy.
As (Scheuer, 2007) notes in his book The Big Picture: Why Democracies Need Journalistic Excellence: “Democracy and journalistic excellence rise or fall together. They are not just accidental neighbours, they are joined at the normative and conceptual hip.” The potential effects to democracy should our industry disintegrate could be catastrophic. That being said, it is incumbent on all of us industry personnel to educate ourselves in these trends and map out innovative solutions as we navigate into the future.
It is incumbent on professionals to be armed with the knowledge of key industry related issues to prepare us for what lies ahead and it is foolhardy to remain stuck in the technology of today or yesteryear.
As Damien Gayle of the Guardian summed up neatly at a special seminar on “The Future of Journalism”: “We have to adapt or die. We have to preserve our essential skills of researching and interrogating our sources and telling the story, but we have to do it in a radically different medium” (DM 2014).
Therefore, knowing the future trends is now arguably more important than at any other time in the profession’s history.
This paper identifies current and emerging trends in the journalism industry with a particular, but not exclusive, focus on print news media. To accomplish this I have carefully examined the latest facts, figures, surveys and studies pertaining to the topic coupled with my own practical research by interviewing three industry professionals; Tony Leen, Irish Examiner sports editor; Ralph Riegel, Independent News and Media (INM) news reporter and John Dolan, Cork Evening Echo features editor. I asked them to comment on what they see as the major trends in the journalism profession today. Although interviewing three journalists from a global field is somewhat anecdotal, (the NUJ represent more than 3,500 members in the Republic and 800 in Northern Ireland alone (NUJ, 2017)) it is no doubt a useful exercise and adds to the multifaceted approach of this report. I have presented and referenced my findings throughout and where appropriate, included relevant graphs as aids to paint a coherent picture of my findings.
Many important trends were identified but chief among them is the concern amongst industry experts about the shift to digital or print to digital (PTD) shift and its domino effects. In news media, particularly print, this has led to rapidly decreasing circulation numbers which precede a decrease in revenue, ultimately resulting in a severe lack of re-investment into the profession.
The shift to digital has meant commercial businesses are now investing more resources in digital advertising and but not necessarily with news publications. Instead, Google and Facebook are absorbing the lion’s share of income which has made it harder for publishers to attract advertising resulting in cost-cutting measures throughout the industry.
The shift to digital has also meant journalists too have had to adapt quickly to evolving working practices. New Media and Web 2.0 user-generated content have reshaped the journalism landscape and have added many new roles and responsibilities for today’s modern journalist.
The quick rush for online traffic has seen shortcuts in standards and a rise in a lack of public trust in news organisations.
The issue of trusted news sources versus “fake news” has made its way to the mainstream and while it poses many problems, some news organisations see it as an opportunity for them attract people back into traditional media.
This report seeks to identify some of the key trends facing journalists and the journalism industry today, paying particular attention to news media, mainly print media.
By examining all the latest research, I have presented a coherent report detailing the current trends which I hope will add to the academic field and equip us with the future challenges which lie ahead.
I have drawn from major studies including the “Reuters Journalism, Media, and Technology Trends and Predictions 2017” (Newman, 2017) and the “Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2017” (Institute, Reuters, 2017) which are the most comprehensive global studies on this topic to date as well ask interviewing industry professions from here in Ireland.
I asked all interviewees to discuss what they consider most pertinent and broke my findings down into various sections throughout the main body. The overriding theme is undoubtedly the challenges brought on by the shift to digital.
The overriding trend which emerged from my study is unquestionably the challenges brought on by the “shift to digital”. To be sure, more people are consuming their news on digital platforms via smartphone apps, desktops, tablets with most of these via internet connections.
In the United States, one-in-four adults consume their news online, and as of 2016, just two-in-ten U.S. adults often get news from print newspapers, a 27% fall from 2013 (Pew, 2016).
TV news remains the most popular platform for accessing news in Ireland at 68% with online at 66% and social media at 52% – see figure 1 (McNamara, Cunningham, Culloty, & Suiter, 2017, p. 31). Interestingly, four in ten adults see printed newspapers as their most popular, double the US figure. Trends over the past three years show online media remaining dominant and stable with a continual slow decline of print and TV news consumption. This decline is particularly notable in terms of TV consumption amongst under 45 age groups (Institute, Reuters, 2017, pp. 76-77).
Fig. 1: Platforms for news
Which, if any, platforms have you used in the last week as a source of news?
We are moving faster than ever from print to digital and from an internet of websites to an internet of smartphone apps and social platforms. The picture that emerges is, according to Michael Foley, “one of news consumers using a mix of platforms: a digital summary over breakfast, a newspaper over coffee or at the weekend, news on a desktop in the office, email alerts and video when on a mobile device” (Foley, 2017).
And, as most online content is available for free (only 9% of people in Ireland paid for content last year), (Digital News Report , 2017) printed newspapers are now sitting at the bottom of the pile. Consequently, as circulation numbers plummet their revenue streams follow suit.
Fig. 2: % Paid for Online News content in Ireland last year
(Digital News Report, 2017)
The very survival of the industry could well be at stake as publishers struggle to monetise this shift or as Independent News & Media (INM) reporter Ralph Riegel says, “How do we make online pay”? (Riegel, 2017).
The outlook for the traditional news industry is bleak. The paid daily newspaper circulation in the United States amounted to over 62.82 million in 1987 but in 2016, amounted to 34.66 million (Statista, 2017). In 2014, there were 1,331 dailies in the U.S. market, down from 1,676 in 1985.
The latest “ABC” figures show that the Irish print newspaper market declined once again in the first half of 2017, in an unbroken trend that began 10 years ago (Slattery, Aug, 2017). The daily market has declined 9.3% year-on-year, with 422,415 copies sold on an average day. Sales in the Sunday market fell 7.6%, with 618,866 newspapers now sold each Sunday.
Take the Irish Examiner for example. Its circulation has dipped from 57,217 for the period January 2006 to June 2006 (RTE, 2007) to 28,338 for the period January to June 2017 (ABC, 2017). These trends have resulted in newspapers rethinking their business models, but not all of these outlets have followed similar paths.
In the UK, The Guardian adopted an open-access model on the basis that news online should be free, but has now launched a paid-for membership scheme. The London Independent closed its print edition and has gone online only and London Evening Standard is a free paper.
Although overall print sales declined by around 6%, there is strong growth for digital editions. The Irish Times Digital Edition, a digital replica of the daily newspaper, doubled its readership between the first half of 2015 and the first half of 2016. Maintaining the metered paywall model, new subscription packages were introduced in February 2015. Independent News and Media increased their digital revenue by around 20%, which goes some way to offset the continued decline in print advertising (Institute, Reuters, 2017, pp. 76-77).
Although digital isn’t the main income generator for INM, the organisation operates a “digital first” strategy for its journalists in that it must prioritise “independent.ie” over its print publications like the Irish Independent, Evening herald and Sunday Independent (Riegel, 2017). Riegel accepts that journalism has changed an awful lot in the last 10 years and believes that while, “digital is very much future, it’s very hard to make it pay”.
With the possible exception of the New York Times, which now claims over two million online subscribers (but has also engaged in a round of staff cuts, mainly in the sub-editing areas) scarcely any media organisation has, as yet, produced the silver bullet of successful transition from print to digital – and retained quality and numbers.
It may yet come from consumer taste, who knows? There is small pockets of evidence in some US states of a revival in print on the basis that consumers have lost faith in click-bait and fake online news and believe that print journalism is the only source of news to be trusted. Maybe.
Until that fine day, newspaper organisations are straddling the respective riverbanks between commitments to proper journalism and charging an equitable rate for it.
“As someone who has lived abroad and spends some time out of the country still, I am a huge fan of the e-paper and surprised that there hasn’t been a more significant take-up from our ex-patriates and the diaspora”, says Tony Leen. “It is a fantastic service, well priced, but no Irish newspaper can claim it is a success at present – further underlining the point that we now exist amongst a generation which believes it wasteful to pay for journalism” (Leen, 2017).
Probably more alarming is that investment in newspaper advertising is also deteriorating and will amount to $16.1 billion in the U.S. in 2017, over $4 billion less than it did in 2011.
Forecasts from various sources at the start of 2016 were for the print advertising market to be flat or down a fraction. Instead, it suffered double-digit declines.
Radio revenues that were expected to increase 5%, fell about 5%, while the anticipated 7% growth in television advertising turned out to be more like 3% (Slattery, Jan 2017).
In July, INM issued a profit warning amid falling newspaper circulation, advertising revenues and Brexit “uncertainty”, indicating that pre-tax earnings will fall about 20 per cent below market expectations (Joe Brennan, 2017).
“A key issue facing the newspaper sector in Ireland is the sustained decline in circulation and readership, resulting in reduced sales and a decrease in advertising revenues,” the company statement reads. “In addition, continued uncertainty over Brexit is expected to result in a publishing advertising revenue decrease of circa 12% year on year.”
The group’s total advertising is forecast to decline by about 7% this year, as a result of a decline in publishing advertising and lower-than-expected growth in digital revenues.
Kathryn Hayes and Tom Felle are cautiously upbeat arguing Irish audiences are not abandoning journalism per se but migrating from print to digital. That said, although digital platforms are showing impressive growth, the revenue they generate is still small compared with that from print (Foley, 2017; Mair,et al, 2016). “It is not that news has suddenly become unfashionable, it’s that making money out of news is proving increasingly difficult,” they say.
Digital ad revenues however are galloping ahead. Industry body IAB Ireland and PricewaterhouseCoopers estimated they had grown 33% for the first half of 2016, with mobile revenues edging ahead of desktop for the first time (Digital as a whole overtook television as the single biggest category of advertising in Ireland in 2015) (Slattery, Jan, 2017).
Mobile is attracting an even greater chunk of advertising cash as companies from the once separate sectors of telecoms and content production merge, or at least sit down and do business with one another.
Fig 3. Digital Ad Spending, Ireland, 2016 – 2020
However, it’s not traditional news media outlets who are reaping the rewards but Google and Facebook who are sucking up digital advertising and putting the squeeze on once-comfortable national media brands not blessed with anything like their scale.
To contextualise the dominance of the “Big Two” in 2017, internet advertising is expected to take half of all revenue worldwide, and more than 60% in the United States (Reuters, 2017). In the U.S. market, no other digital ad platform has a market share above 5% as they consolidate their power.
Advertisers are flocking to Facebook and Google because they reach billions of people and have a wealth of data that can be deployed for targeted marketing – something traditional media just cannot compete with.
This year (2017), for the first time ever, advertisers in Ireland are expected to spend more on digital advertising than commercials in traditional forms of media as advertisers are tipped to spend €433 million on digital ads, up 12% on 2016’s tally (McMahon, 2017).
In Ireland alone, Google and Facebook enjoyed 50% of the €216 million spent on digital ads in the first half of 2016 (Bodkin, 2016).
The dominance of this “duopoly”, has prompted news organisations like INM to suggest that they should pay for the articles and videos they use to populate their platforms and attract users (McMahon, 2017). “In an ideal world, of course, Facebook and Google should be paying for copy and video, but the probability of it happening on any meaningful scale is low” (Leen, 2017).
“The ‘issues and trends’ can be bundled into one word”, says Leen, “survival”. The primary issue for decent sized media organisations in the PTD shift (print to digital) is revenue. What a newspaper can still secure for, say, a half page run of paper (ROP) ad in broadsheet would dwarf the equivalent clicks online. And if that is the financial model going forward, there won’t be a revenue stream to sustain current levels of salaries and employment. So with less journalists, there will be less journalism. Essentially the quality of our trade and the trust in it would be in danger of collapsing.
The ‘issue’ is the generational shift towards news consumption for free on electronic devices. An entire body of the population now believes it money better spent to pay €3.95 for a Starbucks latte than €2 for an Irish Examiner, Times or Indo. Hence the drop in circulation
A key question in 2017 is how the already tense relationship between publishers and platforms will develop. In (Newman, 2017, p. 10) 46% of those surveyed said they were more worried about the role and influence of platforms compared with last year. Fewer than one in ten (9%) were less worried. Despite this, the vast majority of publishers have no choice but continue to invest heavily in Facebook and to a lesser extent other platforms.
Three-quarters (73%) said that their overall digital strategies aimed to strike an equal balance between their own websites/properties and distributing content via third parties with only a fifth (21%) saying they would be mainly focusing on their own sites and platforms.
Ralph Riegel argues there is another dynamic in this battle for resources and access to revenue, and that is, “how do you balance the rights of the private sector with that of the public service broadcasters like RTE and TG4 who are able to source revenue from both the commercial sector and the public sector via the unavoidable TV licence? The BBC is funded solely from the public purse, unable to take source sponsors or advertising revenue from the commercial sector, something RTE has a huge advantage in. RTÉ makes money selling advertising whereas independent commercial broadcasters have to compete commercially with the State organisation for their advertising, while getting no part of the State licence fee” (Riegel, 2017).
In fact, RTÉ has a net deficit of €19.7 million, following a €2.8 million deficit in 2015, an extremely high wage bill (with average salaries twice those in the independent sector) and an unsustainable cost base (Slattery, July, 2017)
The shift to digital has also meant journalists too have had to adapt to evolving working practices. New Media and Web 2.0 user-generated content are now central functions and being well-versed in this sphere is obligatory. It is incumbent on them to learn these new skills while at the same time retaining traditional journalistic values and standards.
The advent of social media as well as greater access to audio and video technology has introduced new roles and responsibilities to journalists. Web 2.0 technology’s new tools enables journalists to create multimedia content news packages which include text, audio, interactive graphics as well as still images – oftentimes referred to as convergence (Kolodzy, 2006).
Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter act as an absolute necessity for journalists as they are compelled to use these mediums to interact with the reader and to drive them to their websites because their revenue and sponsors are also located there.
These extra roles often come at a cost. The National Union of Journalists says its members are often placed under immense pressure by their employers to quickly adapt, up skill and produce more stories at an increasingly fast rate (Steve Hill, 2014).
That being said, (Davies, 2009) refers to how journalists increasingly fail to perform the simple functions of the profession, like the checking of basic information and facts because of a rush to compete in the digital, breaking news market. Davies argues how delivering the news electronically has the potential to slash the heavy costs of producing and distributing conventional newspapers which could be re-invested into journalism. But instead, simple journalistic functions like fact checking are being overlooked as cuts to newsroom editorial budgets result in journalist working faster than ever before.
With many internet “users” being the ones creating content due to the rise of citizen journalism and social media platforms there have been knock-on effects to traditional news outlets and professional journalists with ever increasing concerns surrounding fundamental journalistic standards being circumvented.
Editors and newspapers owners are always conscious of falling behind to the latest technologies as competing publications may get an edge over them. Revenue relies on hits and traffic to a site and today regular content is what attracts and dominates the search engines as newspaper sales decline.
This has led to journalists looking to fill spaces and report on tabloid type content rather than what’s significant, interesting and relevant.
Ralph Riegel highlighted the current shift in the industry to eradicate the role of sub-editors. Cutbacks have resulted in some organisations emailing their writers the shape of the content piece and then the writer must edit his work to fit the space and post it himself/herself – thereby cutting out the sub-editor. But worryingly for Riegel, this sidesteps a critical checkpoint and as the “extra pair of eyes to proofread are being lost (Riegel, 2017). Tony Leen pronounced it would be “a bad day for newspapers if we were to eliminate quality control and that extra pair of eyes” (Leen, 2017).
Increasingly, however, what the public is getting, are rehashed press releases produced by fewer low-paid journalists, while important stories in the courts, local government, and other agencies are ignored, affecting civic engagement and democratic control (Foley, 2017).
“Certainly in some newspapers and media organisations, the pressure for traffic has dumbed down the quality of the writing. I get daily reports on our online stats and it makes for depressing reading at times. But unfortunately it is also a reflection of the society we live in – and those setting the example” (Leen, 2017).
Even writing in digital format brings its own set of skillsets. (Steele, 2015) has written an informative piece on the (six) differences between writing for print and online publications where hooks, length, sourcing, accountability, pitching and even pay all differ.
A significant critical difference is accountability, and how online journalism has created an interesting relationship between sourcing and accountability. While digital writers are expected to be their own authority, their readers will take note of any errors in real time. Make a specious claim in print, and your editor will publish a reader’s letter rebutting it or print a retraction in the next edition.
John Dolan, features editor for Corks Evening Echo who has over thirty years’ experience in the industry has lived through the shifting landscape, agrees (Dolan, 2017). He says that journalist’s first port of call for feedback is social media and it is now easier than ever for the public to engage with the journalist.
The Evening Echo focuses mostly on local issues and has built up a very effective social media following in the last number of years and have, according to Dolan, found it incredibly effective at marketing themselves seven days a week, “being at the people of Cork’s heartbeat every minute of every day”.
This he maintains, has helped journalists make the significant more interesting and relevant. He feels that social media has served as an excellent barometer to gauge public opinion and gauge what stories they feel are important. Social media analytics are very important for editors to see what’s being read and how it’s being received, it means you can see who’s viewing what and allows them to keep the news in proportion and make it comprehensive.
Traditional news routinely privileges the voices of politicians, official spokespeople and perceived ‘policy experts, and it is often they who set the agenda. But social media has allowed citizens to set the agenda which can only be described as a good thing, unleashing the shackles from some journalists. A typical example is the water protests in Ireland. Activists posted the locations of blockades and/or altercations which drove supporters to these platforms and also facilitated journalists knowing where to go and allowed them to know who was there.
For Dolan and many others, however, he sees both the positive and negative effects of social media and the shift to digital, labelling them as “double-edged swords”. “For all their benefits they have helped speed the decline in newspaper sales. People are driven to digital media and now almost expect that all their media be free. It’s in everyone’s interests to have trained journalists”, Dolan says. “Today everyone thinks they are journalists”.
This brings us to the heart of the journalistic profession and the issue of trusted news sources versus “fake news”. Fake news is a type of yellow journalism or propaganda that consists of deliberate misinformation or hoaxes spread via traditional print and broadcast news media or online social media with the intent to mislead in order to gain financially or politically (Leonhardt & Thompson, 2017).
While trust in news media and so-called fake need has been around for some time, the 2016 United States Presidential election cycle brought the debate back into the main-stream, largely due to Donald Trump.
In Ireland, the latest Edelsman survey found that trust in Irish media has declined to an all-time low in the 17-year history of the poll while the majority of Americans says mainstream media publishes fake news (Horgan, 2017; Easley, 2017). A report from the American Press Institute says that trust in the media has dipped to dramatically low levels as 41% of Americans said they have “hardly any confidence” in the media (Media Insight Project , 2016).
Donald Trump’s presidential election campaign signified a shift in political dynamics as candidate Trump was able to use social media to define issues, bypassing to a large extent, traditional news outlets.
In fact, Trump recently stated that he uses social media to present his “honest an unfiltered message,” a tactic that he said the “fake” mainstream media would like him to stop (Nelson, 2017). “The FAKE MSM is working so hard trying to get me not to use Social Media. They hate that I can get the honest and unfiltered message out,” the U.S. President wrote on Twitter in June. “Sorry folks, but if I would have relied on the Fake News of CNN, NBC, ABC, CBS, washpost or nytimes, I would have had ZERO chance winning WH.”
Fig 4. Viewer ratings of CNN, Fox News and MSNBC Jan 16’ – Feb 17’
CNNs ratings have declined dramatically following its perception as being a purveyor of fake news, especially amongst US conservatives and Trump supporters (Samuelson, 2017)
“There are myriad of reasons why lawyers are now more trusted than journalists”, says John S. Knight Journalism fellow Tracie Powell. Among them, “lack of transparency, accepting police gospel as truth, and the pressure for traffic and ratings that has outweighed the relevancy of the information presented and the possible harm it would cause, in direct violation of journalistic ethical standards to do no harm. No journalist, or news organisation, has been publicly held accountable for these serial breaches” (Parish, 2017).
Google is to start displaying fact-checking labels in its search results to highlight news and information that has been vetted and show whether it is considered to be true or false, as part of its efforts to help combat the spread of misinformation and “fake news”. (Gibbs, 2017), but how can we trust Google and Facebook, and who are they to judge what is fake and what is not when they themselves have been accused of being typically liberal and censoring conservative points of view? (Duke, 2017; see also Solon, 2017).
Are they equipped to properly perform the function of news editors and journalists, even though Mark Zuckerberg continues to insist that Facebook is not a media company?
For example, last September, Espen Egil Hansen, editor-in-chief of Aftenposten, called for greater transparency and responsibility for understanding the context of what happens on the network. A Facebook algorithm had been unable to distinguish a Pulitzer Prize-winning war photo from child pornography and had removed Nick Ut’s iconic image. “You are the world’s most powerful editor”, wrote Hansen. Facebook restored the image but the incident highlighted the limits of rule-based computer algorithms in understanding complexity, nuance and cultural difference (Hansen, 2016).
Nic Newman compiled a comprehensive report about around the key challenges and opportunities for the industry for 2017, sourcing the input of 143 digital leaders from 24 countries including some of the world’s leading traditional media companies as well as new digital born organisations (Newman, 2017).
The majority, however, remain upbeat as 70% believe the worries over fake news will strengthen their positions because as the public yearns for the truth it will provide an opportunity for them to produce trustworthy content, highlighting the need for trusted brands and accurate news at a time of uncertainty.
Damian Radcliffe of Oregon University believes some audiences may “increasingly appreciate the importance – and value – of quality independent journalism” and points to the increased rate of subscription for the New York Times, and ProPublica amongst others immediately following the Trump victory (Newman, 2017, p. 9).
Fig 5. Will worries over the distribution of fake/inaccurate news weaken or strengthen the position of news media like yours online?
Restoring credibility in journalism is as, if not more important than battling falling circulation and revenue streams.
This report has detailed some of the most important trends in the journalism industry today. That is, a shift to digital has incurred unprecedented challenges to the profession, both in terms of standards as well as its very survival.
Falling print circulation numbers have resulted in a dramatic fall in revenue as traditional news organisations struggle to monetise this shift. Digital advertising continues to increase although Google and Facebook devour a great deal of this pie.
The role of the journalist continues to evolve as he/she must shift with the times and embrace new media and the extra roles and responsibilities it necessitates. News outlets integrity are constantly called into question as the topic of fake news becomes mainstream.
How we as journalists an industry professionals navigate these choppy waters will be crucial to its survival
Yet, despite all the graphs and statistics showing declining sales and falling revenue, there appear to be some reasons for optimism. Society needs good journalism, and the public clearly wants it”, says John Ridding, chief executive of the Financial Times. “In some cases, newspaper companies are doing well. Maybe a model is emerging where people will pay for good, challenging and even entertaining journalism on a range of platforms. That cannot be based on clearing newsrooms of journalists. Instead, it must come from enhancing editorial, by investing in journalism, so that the audience, if asked to pay, is getting value for its money (Foley, 2017). Ridding suggests it is a case of what editorial material suits what platform, arguing that value-added reporting and analysis, through either exclusivity or judgment, are the preserves of print, with breaking news made for the web.
“Wouldn’t it be ironic if fake news was the phenomenon that kick-started newspapers?” asks Tony Leen. Only time will tell.
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