Bad news for the news industry

The news industry is constantly bringing us tales of woe, so it was somehow appropriate for it to be writing about its own bad news yesterday.

The occasion was the publication of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism’s annual Digital News Report, which Edelman helped launch at our London offices.

Media coverage of the report concentrated on the rise of the smartphone and the fragmentation of the market that news broadcasters and publishers are aiming at.

But for British outlets, the most worrying statistic must have been that only 7% are paying for news in any form and only another 7% had any intention of ever doing so. And we all know that reliance on advertising revenue in the digital age is to skate on very thin ice. managing editor Robert Shrimsley made the point at our launch that "if they have to express a preference, everybody’s preferred paypoint is zero".

Nobody likes to pay if they can have something as good for free and they aren’t likely to tell opinion pollsters like YouGov that they will.

But Britain is tenth out of 10 countries surveyed when it comes to willingness to pay. Only Japan, which has a far, far stronger newspaper industry remaining in print, comes close.

Other parts of the report show that the smartphone and the tablet (and therefore the app) are becoming dominant in news consumption.

That may have effects on our society (people who get news from smartphones also say they use fewer sources for news and tend to "snack" so we would expect them to be less well-informed), but overall it means that traditional news outlets have to find more (and more expensive) ways of getting news out to their audience.

Social media and aggregators such as Google, of course, play an increasingly dominant role, so the media owners have to come to terms with a weakening grip on engagement with their readers and viewers.

For the PR industry, the splintering of audiences and platforms is gathering pace, the report shows.

This obviously provides more outlets for messages to reach consumers, but it poses many questions about how to draw people in, interest them in what you have to say and make them come back again.

In fact, these are exactly the same questions the Digital News Report shows the traditional news industry should be asking itself. And with some urgency. Next year’s Reuters Institute report will only have more bad news.   

Ben Fenton is a senior consultant and director in Edelman’s corporate practice, focused on its creative industries offering. He was formerly chief media correspondent for the Financial Times.


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