The Future of Journalism

Following the invention of the printing press and the rapid industrialisation of much of Europe over a hundred years ago, print media enjoyed a massive boom. Today much of the bloom has gone as advertising revenues have declined faster than readers of print media. Many daily and weekly titles have either disappeared or have gone online.

At the same time demand for news, opinions and intelligence about what’s happening seems to be growing exponentially.

How to explain the apparent paradox of declining demand for trusted media with an explosion of social and citizen media? And are there any firm guidelines for reporting on Europe in the future?

Recent figures from UK National Readership Survey Print and Digital Data [1] indicate that the so-called ‘quality’ papers such as The Guardian, the Daily Telegraph, The Times, The Independent and the Daily Mail now have about twice as many online as print readers. In contrast, the print versions of the ‘popular’ papers such as The Sun, the Daily Mirror, the Daily Express as well as free papers such as Metro and the London Evening Standard whose print versions still outsell their online versions by up to ten times each digital reader.

What are the innovations and techniques that are supporting the strong growth of online media? Clearly the economics and speed of distribution of electronic media supercede print distribution, the ease of digital photography and video clips are other contributory factors. Thus the print versions tend to veer towards more opinion and feature articles while online versions focus more on breaking news and minute by minute sports and financial trades. Perhaps more surprising is the rise of collaborative ventures and content exchanges.

Using UK data again, though one suspects that the rest of Europe is not much different, over 48% or one in two British adults use a smart phone. Adding the adult population who have daily access to a laptop or PC must bring the total proportion of UK adults able to scan a newspaper online to close to 90%. This is a phenomenal increase on five or ten years ago.

Why then, in a world that appears to have an insatiable demand for 24/7 news does one also observe a growth in shared news provision?

Professor Robert Picard, Director of Research at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, suggests that collaborative ventures started over a century ago with the establishment of news agencies such as Associated Press and United Press International, UPI.

More recently, in the 1990s newspapers started to share offices to save costs and make reporting from new cities easier. This did not at first involve shared content but then publishers started to licence articles to each other. This took different forms by different international publications such as the Financial Times, the International Herald Tribune and The Wall Street Journal. There were and still are co-branded supplements in Central and Southern Europe, although the FT withdrew or sold its relatively large investments in FT Deutschland and Les Echos in France.

Another new way of producing content emerged in the 2000s when newsrooms began to form teams to work on international stories. This collaboration was attractive, due to the stories’ geographic scope and complexity, combined with shrinking resources. WikiLeaks is undoubtedly an example of a complex and large-scale project that was empowered by the development of global communication technologies. As two writers from The Guardian expressed it: “If media groups did not learn to work across borders on stories, the stories would leave them behind”. [2]

Europa [3] is the most recent innovation: this is a shared editorial venture, but without the complexities of a legal entity, employees or management board, nor does it create a tax liability. Six well-established ‘quality’ publications: El País, La Stampa, The Guardian, Le Monde, Süddeutsche Zeitung and Gazeta Wyborcza have agreed to pool editorial resources to publish a supplement on the same day three times a year, since January 2012.

There are pro’s and con’s to this form of shared content:

Pro’s

  • Simple decision-making, much like EU itself, no one media dominates or has final say
  • Editorial team seeks consensus on outline of each issue: main topic/theme, interviewees etc.
  • Technical and business issues such as print orders, sales policy and even if to have a separate supplement or include in main paper are left to individual publishers
  • Originality of narrative, derives from presenting the coverage in a comparative manner, in which the experiences of one country correspond directly with the parallel experiences of another.

Con’s

  • Not yet profit-making, though costs are low
  • Insignificant increase in readership or advertising revenues, due to low or no promotion, but publishing costs increasing
  • No new partners, one Nordic publication refused permission to join, but six media do not represent whole of Europe. Unclear what will happen if one or more partners withdraw
  • Main question remains unanswered: is there a pan-European reader for shared content? Sylvie Kauffmann, editor of Le Monde, believes that there is: “People engaged in public activities want and need a pan-European view – it’s crazy that we don’t have a pan-European newspaper”

Online media in Europe also share content: both via news agencies such as Reuters, AXP, DPA, PA etc as well as either bi-laterally such as Euractiv.com with Guardian online, but so far it is rarer.

George Brock, Professor of Journalism at City University London (and co-incidentally a former Brussels correspondent of The Times) has recently published a new book [4] in which he predicts a bright future for online and print journalism so long as it includes four ‘core’ activities:

  1. verification,
  2. intelligence (via use of analysis, opinion & context),
  3. eye-witness reporting, and,
  4. investigative reporting.

As Brock says “The first, verification, gives a clue to a shift which has come with the information-saturated world of today. One of journalism’s new challenges is managing abundant information. When journalism, (like the EU) began, information was scarce. Now it’s in glut: the problem is working out what’s true”.

Readers are invited to share their opinions on whether they agree that journalism has a bright future and which are the core values that will ensure such a new horizon.

 

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Comments

  1. As a fomer journalist/photographer, now a frequent blogger, this is my “take” on the journalism future.
    There are no longer any “trusted media”. People never fully trusted media and with the scandalous way the climate lies have been hyped by media there is no trust left.
    Readers tend to divide more and more into two separate groups. Those who want quality and sources, so they can check out the facts for them selves. These are media users, they make something with the information they receive. Even if it’s only making their mind up.
    The other group are those who want news as entertainment, fiction, gossip. It doesn’t have to be true, but it have to tickle and leave them without worry about the consequences of how the information is obtained, what it entails. This is the group that puts democracy in jeopardy with the help of unscrupulous media.

    The professor is therefore correct in his analysis, except for one thing. Journalists are by definition not as knowledgeable about the facts and circumstances as the people they interview. So the trick is to let the source/horse open his mouth as much as possible and try to transmit an analysis of whether the horse is telling the truth or not.

  2. I hear what Mats Jangdal says about there not being any ‘trusted media’ and many readers being satisfied by entertainment. However, according to some surveys certain media retain more trust than others: trust is relative unlike being pregnant.

    The UK Office of Communication (Ofcom) recent Communications Market Report found that the Guardian and the Observer are the most trustworthy, accurate and reliable newspapers in the UK. GNM’s “trustworthy” score of 82% beat the Telegraph’s score of 72%. GNM titles were also ranked top for “importance”, scoring 72%, ahead of the Times and Sunday Times and all other rivals.

    Likewise, there are other “trusted media” in other European countries such as Die Welt, FAZ and Deutsche Welle in Germany, for example.

    On ‘news as entertainment’ there are anecdotal stories that sites such as http://www.dailymail.co.uk/ should no longer be treated and classified as news sites as they are ‘entertainment’ sites and simply read for vicarious satisfaction, rather than real news NB these anecdotes tend to come from the ‘unpopular’ quality papers. Many of these popular sites certainly would fail to pass George Brock’s 4 tests quoted in my original post: verification, intelligence, eye-witness reporting and investigative reporting.

    I rest my case that there is a strong and prosperous market for ‘trust worthy’ media that can score positively on these criteria.

  3. It may be different in the UK. Surveys in Sweden show constantly that the professionals people trust the least are politicians, journalists and bankers. They all rank below used car sales men, meteorologists etc.

    So, if the sentiments on profession has any bearing on what companies people trust, media is in a dark place.

    Perhaps the surveys that show some news papers being trust worthy is a relative opinion. The citizens are in practice forced to trust one or another media agent in order to decide what policies to support. That doesn’t necessarily mean they are deemed trust worthy in absolutes.

    There is very likely a market for reliable information and analysis. I’m just not convinced media is the business to satisfy that demand.

    Once again, this may differ between countries.

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