Journalism is changing, with five key trends fuelling the change. So says the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism in a new piece of research called More Important, But Less Robust? Five Things Everybody Needs to Know about the Future of Journalism.
Digital has changed the way that news is consumed, presented and disseminated. More and more people are accessing and sharing news via search engines, social media and messaging apps. This both empowers people and magnifies the spread of disinformation and demagoguery. It is both a positive and a negative.
As a result, there have been some fundamental shifts in how news is perceived, how journalism and journalists are perceived and the nature of news.
In brief, here are the five things the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism says everyone needs to know about the future of journalism:
One: Media organisations are no longer the gatekeepers
Media organisations are no longer sole gatekeepers. They still create the news agenda, but it’s platform companies who control access to audiences. Reuters says this has created two gatekeepers – media organisations and platform companies.
The proliferation of digital, mobile and platform-operated media has been a game changer. More than half of all media use in high-income countries is now digital and more than half of digital media use is mobile. And a lot of that is taken up using the products and services of organisations such as Facebook and Google.
What this means is that there has been a shift from direct discovery – media organisations providing both content and the channel – to distributed discovery – media organisations providing the content, but not necessarily the channel.
So while journalism is more accessible than it has ever been before, it also has to compete with everyone else who wants to publish online, be that the general public, influencers, politicians or whoever else.
Two: The impact of filter bubbles is over rated
Contrary to popular belief, the transition to digital media does not generally create filter bubbles. Although we need to be wary of the echo chambers effect, it does not appear to be as much of a problem as sometimes said. People are actually accessing more diverse sources of information through a mix of what Reuters calls automated serendipity and incidental exposure.
The emergence of a broad range of social media – Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and the like – has led to people accessing different sources of news, including a diverse range. Distributed discovery has diversified where people access news.
There are two reasons for this. Firstly, there’s the algorithmic ranking system and what Reuters calls automated serendipity. Algorithms nudge people towards a diverse range of new sources, sources that people are unlikely to seek out independently.
Secondly, in the social media space news is packaged up among other forms of content. This means that people are incidentally exposed to news from a variety of sources when online for other purposes.
Three: The battle for attentions is being lost
There is a real risk that journalism is losing the battle for people’s attention. A lot of people are simply not interested in the news anymore, using digital media for other purposes. There are several illuminating facts included in the Reuters research:
- 17% of the public are news lovers (extremely interested in news and access it several times a day)
- 48% are daily briefers
- 35% are casual users (accessing news less often that once a day)
In the US, only 3% of the time spent online is accessing news, according to the analytics organisation, comScore.
And in some countries, journalism has lost the public’s trust. This lack of trust is fuelled partly by issues of disinformation. Some of the general public think bad journalism and biased journalism are spreading disinformation. There are also concerns around the news media being influenced and shaped by economic and political pressures.
Four: Business models are shaky
The business models that fund news are increasingly weak and straitened. Currently, most professional journalism is still funded by newspapers, but as the digital media environment continues to grow and become more and more prominent, so will print funding and revenues decrease. This impacts on professional journalism and further exposes the news media to commercial and political pressures.
These business pressures are recognised and understood by professionals working in the media, but not by most of the general public.
Five: Digital is driving diverse opinions
With the advent of digital, news is more diverse than it ever has been. It is much easier for different voices to be heard, for different opinions and points of view to be expressed and in different ways.
Reuters also found that the best journalism is also better than ever before. It is much more accessible, timely, informative, interactive and more engaged with its audience. There is more choice for people. Because of these new formats, journalism is also enabling readers to exchange views more easily. And there have been excellent cases of investigative reporting, such as that around the MeToo movement and the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica story.
However, there is a downside and it’s that there is more superficial journalism than ever before as well. This is largely due to cost cutting, the pressure to be present in more channels and because of the 24/7 news culture that now exists.
So what does all of this mean for the future? Those five trends are and will continue to have a big impact on media organisations, on journalists and on the general public, politicians, companies and everyone else who accesses news.
Reuters says the industry should embrace the best of what these five things offer – informing the public, countering disinformation, containing public demagogues and keeping public and private power in check.
However, journalism must also guard against the negatives. It needs to keep striving to produce accurate, relevant and unbiased reporting. It must not be influenced by commercial or political pressures.
Digital media is here to stay and will keep evolving, so the industry needs to keep adapting too.