October 16, 2012
It hard not to be struck by the paradox of the growth of demand by multiple channels for 24/7 news and a sharp decline in the supply of quality journalism across the world and Europe inparticular.
Barely a week passes without new threats to media pluralism across Europe. Newspapers are closing or publishing less, with or without an online version:
- Spain’s El Pais to cut jobs: Since 2008, 57 media outlets in Spain have closed and 8,000 journalists have lost their jobs.
- German news agency DAPD declares bankruptcy
- Netherlands: Telegraaf Media Group takes over free newspaper Metro
- Court Winds Up Russian-Owned France Soir
- National part-paywall for Poland to start charging readers
- News media in Bulgaria struggle for independence
- Hungary pressed to ease judiciary and news media laws
- The limits of free information in the Netherlands
Falls in newspaper sales are mirrored by budget cuts, as this annual survey by Burson Marsteller shows: http://burson-marsteller.eu/innovation-insights/media-survey/
Most respondents agreed that new digital tools had given them unprecedented access to information, all at the touch of their fingertips. However, increased competition – as well as the de-professionalisation of their trade through citizen journalism – were cited as serious causes for concern.
The key findings of the survey were:
- 81% of journalists surveyed said their organisations faced budget cuts
- 22% of organisations had cut editorial jobs
- 30% had cut the use of freelances
As a result
- 20% of journalists surveyed said they had less time to research stories
- 13% said they had less time to attend press conferences
- 20% said there was less time or space for their editorial content
Falls in the number and frequency of newspapers is driving consolidation of press agencies and wire services. Collectively, these reductions can be observed in the numbers of accredited journalist attending the daily EU press conferences. While it is, of course, also possible to follow EU Press conferences online via Europe by Satellite, EBS, one cannot ask follow-up questions via EBS, so it is a less interactive experience.
The decline of print readership in the UK, after Germany a market with most competing papers, is marked by a seminal change announced in September: circulation figures will now record the combined readership of print and online versions, changing the ranking of some of the leading titles. Publishers go to war over new NRS figures – not many dead. The Guardian is now ahead of The Telegraph, due to the former’s stronger online readership, while The Times and Sunday Times suffer as they have small online figures due to paywalls. Noteworthy is that the main figures are now based on monthly unique readers, downgrading the previous daily print sales to the more standard online metric, possibly driven by media buyers.
The paradox of a growing demand for 24/7 news and a sharp decline in the supply of quality journalism across Europe needs to be addressed by politicians and publishers alike.
In the UK, Lord Levesen is due to publish his recommendations on future regulation of the British media as early as next month: Leveson report to contain strong criticism of British newspapers
Are there any answers to these challenges?
Yes, some but they will also require time and money from a variety of sources.
- The EU sponsors many short-term visits by journalists as well as proving funding to the European Journalism Centre, EJC. Eric Karstens, a senior consultant to EJC, published a useful article recently describing in detail the successes and failures of EU initiatives as well as an agenda for how it could improve in future: Eight Ways the EU Can Help Journalism . Among these one is entitled « Civil servants must seek to become digital natives to stay relevant » underlying how the public sector often lags behind best practices due to tradition and its innate conservatism.
- Robert Bosch foundation in Germany have supported journalism for many years via a variety of programs. “Journalists play a vital role as mediators by presenting a wide range of topics critically and comprehensibly, making them accessible to wide audiences.“ One of the more recent programs, EU Journalism Fellowships, is operated by Fondation EurActiv whereby up to 12 journalists per year spend 8 weeks in Brussels working alongside experienced editors before returning to their home media with enhanced expertise in how “To make local stories European and European stories local”.
- A new initiative from Aidan White, former Secretary General of the International Federation of Journalists is worth watching: Global Editors Network is seeking to raise ethical standards among senior editors.
- Carnegie UK Trust has called for civil society organisations to support high quality news via ‘New investment from civil society organisations to help fund new and innovative journalism initiatives – strengthening quality and diversity across the sector.’ See their 7 recommendations for Better Journalism in the Digital Age
It is a fact that Europe lacks an effective European demos. There are few, if any, true European-wide political parties and few pan-European media, which together makes it difficult for citizens to engage effectively to debate issues cross-borders and languages. Nevertheless, while pleas for more funds for journalism may appear self-serving and peripheral, journalism is an essential intermediary of democracy and without independent quality journalists all our futures are at risk. All stakeholders: governments, civil society organisations, trade unions and professions irrespective of their individual and legitimate attitudes, have an interest in supporting better quality journalism. Now is the time to commit to better quality journalism.
Julian Oliver leads Fondation EurActiv, he runs the Training unit and has a background in public affairs as a diplomat and consultant. He is a former chairman of AmChamEU, former board member of the European Foundation Centre and is a regular moderator and panellist on EU affairs in London and Brussels.Julian Oliver