By Andrés Cañizález*
CARACAS, Apr 7 2020 (IPS) – All over the world, journalism is going through an era of uncertainty. It is not yet clear what the business model for the news field will be, and this is happening precisely at a time when information is a central issue in every person’s life.
The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted both dimensions. Citizens in preventive confinement consume much more news regarding the wide implications of COVID-19; but this, in turn, happens under a modality not necessarily lucrative for the news business. The scenario of a post-pandemic global recession is stirring fears in the news business field among many countries.
Citizens in preventive confinement consume much more news regarding the wide implications of COVID-19; but this, in turn, happens under a modality not necessarily lucrative for the news business
The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism published its report on the future and main trends expected in this field for 2020. This was released before the global spread of the coronavirus. However, the document is very relevant as it draws important lines on the future of journalism.
In this article, for reasons of space, the most significant aspects of the executive summary – just the tip of the iceberg – are included. For those interested in further detail, I recommend reading it in full here.
The study is based on surveys administered to executives in the journalistic world and leaders of digital projects in the media. A total 233 people in 32 countries were surveyed. The countries include the United States, Australia, Kenya, South Africa, Mexico, Argentina, and Japan.
Nevertheless, most respondents live in Europe: United Kingdom, Germany, Spain, France, Austria, Poland, Finland, Norway, and Denmark. It is very important not to lose sight of this fact, as it implies the viewpoints of people living in environments with no issues regarding connectivity, Internet speed, or access to smart phones.
Below, a closer look at some interesting aspects:
Most media executives claim they are confident about the prospects of their companies; but they are much less certain about the future of journalism. This is usually the case in surveys: When people are asked if conditions in their country will get worse, to which they usually reply affirmatively, next thing they say – conversely – they expect an improved personal situation.
One of the significant issues about journalism resides in local news output. There are fears of loss of credibility impacting journalists and media in general; and this may be intensified by attacks on journalism from public officials. Furthermore, it may be the case that Donald Trump is turning into a role model of this form of attack for populist leaders of any ideological persuasion in their run for power.
Closely related to the above, 85% of the respondents agreed that the media should do more to fight fake news and half-truths, that is, addressing disinformation while keeping an eye on the fact that it can be encouraged or steered straight from the hubs of political power.
The global crisis generated by the coronavirus, leaving thousands of casualties behind, with no certainty about the effectiveness of the vaccines currently under evaluation, has been a hotbed for the spread of fake news. These not only increase in contexts of political tension, but also thanks to the uncertainty prevailing at this time.
How should journalism be funded? Media owners still rely heavily on subscription fees: Half of them assure it will be the main avenue of income. About a third of respondents (35%) think that advertising and income from readers will be equally important. This is a big change in the mindset of those running the media: Only 14% venture that they will manage to operate exclusively on advertising.
Without knowing exactly the global economic impact of coronavirus, news companies must brace themselves for the direct impact of a massive recession on the pockets of their readership base, as they, faced with the dilemma of paying for news or meeting basic needs, may end up choosing the latter.
On the other hand, there is much concern among publishers and media project leaders about the growing power of digital platforms providing social media to the public (Facebook, Twitter, Google). Although this concern is widespread, there is no consensus on what kinds of response should be given to this new power that has been consolidating.
It is feared that regulations approved by the legislative or executive branches of government will end up hurting instead of helping journalism (25% to 18% of respondents), although most consider that they will not make a noticeable difference (56%).
2020 will be the year of podcasts. Over half of respondents (53%) state that initiatives in this field will be important this year. Others point to text-to-voice conversion as a way of capitalizing on the growing popularity of these formats.
We are likely to see more moves from the media this year to customize digital covers and explore other forms of automatic recommendation. Over half of respondents (52%) state that such AI-supported initiatives will be very important; but small companies fear to lag behind. This is still practically a science fiction topic for readers in Southern Hemisphere countries.
Attracting and retaining talent is a major concern for media companies, especially for IT positions. Another concern relates to the way in which companies are taking action on gender diversity. In this area, 76% believe they are taking steps in the right direction.
However, although progress is being made on gender diversity within the news media, this is not the case for other forms of diversity – geographic (55%), political (48%), and racial (33%). There is remarkably less progress regarding decisions inside of news companies and, in some cases, these issues that are just not part of their agendas.
The outlook for the future of journalism, in general, is marked by questions rather than certainty. The world as it turns in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic may further trigger some of these questions, without any likely answers in the short term.
* The author is a Venezuelan journalist and Doctor of political science.