Crisis in journalism: Quick takes from global survey

The Reuters Institute annual survey on digital news covers covers 75,000 news users in 38 countries who were polled in January 2019.

Reuters is a huge international source of traditionally constructed syndicated journalism. Part of the profits go into the Reuters Institute which has almost unique experience of the global news environment across all media. You want a unified point of view? Here it is, via that 75,000 person sample interrogated by YouGov. 

The annual Digital News Report  comes with a nifty clip which is instructive and compelling. But first, some background.

The international picture

The introduction tempts us with these key findings:

  • Around the world, the proportion paying for any online news has increased only slightly, with this growth being limited to a few Nordic countries. Even in countries where people pay in higher numbers, most only do so for one title.
  • Social communication is becoming more private with people continuing to turn away from Facebook. WhatsApp is becoming the primary social communication tool for news in many countries in the Global South including Brazil (53% usage for news), Malaysia (50%) and South Africa (49%).
  • Concern around misinformation is high in many countries despite efforts by platforms and publishers to build public confidence.
  • Trust in news in general is down by 2 percentage points to 42%, and less than half (49%) trust the news that they themselves use. 

According to the separate summary, 

Against this background of declining confidence [and the rise of fake media] we are seeing some real shifts of focus. News organisations are increasingly looking to subscription and membership or other forms of reader contribution to pay the bills in a so-called ‘pivot to paid’. Platforms are rethinking their responsibilities in the face of events (Christchurch attacks, Molly Russell suicide) and regulatory threats, with Facebook rebalancing its business towards messaging apps and groups – the so-called ‘pivot to private’. Meanwhile audiences continue to embrace on-demand formats with new excitement around podcasts (New York Times, Guardian) and voice technologies – the so-called ‘pivot to audio’.

The Australian scene

The big takeout? Podcasts are going gangbusters. As Caroline Fisher from the News and Media Research Centre at the University of Canberra wrote of Australia on page 132 of the report,

Podcasts continue to be popular in Australia, particularly amongst the under 35s (43%). The highest award for journalism excellence, the Gold Walkley Award, went to Hedley Thomas from The Australian newspaper for an investigative podcast series called ‘The Teacher’s Pet’ about an unsolved murder. It had a global audience of more than 27m listeners. For a traditional newspaper journalist to win for a piece of audio journalism marks the massive transformation of the news industry away from single to multiplatform reporting.

In a single month, says the report, 27% of Australians listened to a podcast, 14% pay for online news, 27% share it on the net, and 19% comment on the news by social or website. 

The Canberra News and Media Centre provides the Australian data to Reuters and breaks out the results in its own document which came out last June. We are going off politics something terrible as 62% of respondents now actively avoid the news, up 5% in a year. Some mental fugitives also admit they care about the news, like 58% of the population.  So at least 4% are hanging in with gritted teeth. 

They are presumably among the 55% who think the media does not hold the powerful to account. This idealism does not translate into cold, hard cash as only 14% pay for online news, which is also the international average. Oddly, 17% of men pay compared to 10% of women. 

Faith in the media is being replaced by a colossal swing to agnosticism. 62% are worried about fake news, while, in the words of the report,

36% say they checked several different sources to check the accuracy of a story; 26% say they have started to use more reputable sources of news; 22% say they have stopped using unreliable sources; and 22% say the decided not to share a story they were unsure about.

Just to make journalists feel really small, 

…only 9% of Australian online news consumers would prioritise paying for news over a video streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon or Stan.

The soul is fed by dreams rather than truths.

Check out the handy Reuters summary, turn off the useless sound and stay for some solutions envisaged in the year since this research was collected. 



The future is culture management

Last November, the Institute put out a discussion document on European policy options which it claims are relevant to Australia as well. 

The whole report is worth a read. It emphasises that we can’t think of a healthy environment for journalism by focusing on individual organisations like the ABC or Murdoch. Instead, we have to create a context which works for every news worker in every organisation and form of communication. Keep that up and we will remember that journalism is a profession.

There are plenty of factoid summaries on that video page as well.

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