Journalism students today are entering an entirely different industry than their predecessors. When Steve Jobs unveiled the first iPhone more than ten years ago, claiming it would “change everything”, no one could have imagined the real-world impact it would have. And none more so than journalists.
Back when print was king, the profession was relatively stable. Back then, the primary focus was on submitting complete stories to your editor before the deadline and then calling it a day…
But digital journalism is an entirely different ball game; it’s an industry that never sleeps and competition for eyeballs is more intense than ever before.
With Internet penetration in half of the world today (a figure predicted to grow further), journalism graduates will most likely be working via this news medium for some time to come. If the last decade is anything to go by, newsrooms are struggling to cope with the switch to digital, with many shutting down or severely downsizing in the process.
Information is power, and journalism students aiming to survive in this tough industry would do well to keep in the know of its goings-on and use these trends to their advantage.
Here are some key developments to be aware of:
1. Mobile reigns
The number of Americans getting news through mobile devices is rising exponentially. Around six in ten adults in the US get their news through mobile devices over desktop or laptop computers, according to a Pew Research Center survey. In 2013, the number was just 21 percent.
In case you needed another reminder: If it doesn’t work on mobile, it doesn’t work https://t.co/PM0TCCeT2D
— Laura E. Davis (@lauraelizdavis) November 20, 2019
The same is true in the UK; a 2018 study by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism reported that mobile phones account for over half of online access to news.
Age plays a role in this. Younger adults are “far more likely” than their elders to get their news via mobile devices, with 72 percent of adults aged 18 to 29 often get news this way. Among those aged 65 and older, the number was just 38 percent.
Dame Frances Cairncross’ review into the sustainability of high-quality journalism in the UK in March 2018 claims this transition to mobile forms “a large part of the blame for the problems faced by news publishers”.
2. Prepare to move to New York, Los Angeles or Washington, DC
A “disproportionately large” number of newsroom employees in the US live in these cities – as much as 22 percent of newsroom employees. By comparison, only 13 percent of all US workers live here. New York hosts the biggest share of all US employees at 12 percent, more than twice the share living in LA and DC.
This trend could, in large part, be explained by cities’ roles as the country’s financial, entertainment and political capitals.
Most employment in the US is also concentrated in the country’s Northeast, reflected in the high percentage of newsroom employees in internet publishing who live in this region (41 percent).
3. The cutting of print
One trend among newsrooms is the reduction of print, which the American Press Institute describes as “one step in a gradual, carefully-planned transition to digital”.
More than 100 US newspapers have reduced their publishing frequency from “daily” status (publishing three or more times a week) to “weekly” status (printing two or fewer times a week) between 2004 and 2018, according to data obtained from the Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media.
In place of this, API has advised that newsrooms would need to invest more in digital experiences for their readers. One newsroom interviewed said this shift led to the building of separate team for content creation and engagement.
“The director of engagement is focused on what to do with the stuff that they created — whether the reporter should put it up right away on this (platform), which audience segment is it going towards, and how are we measuring whether or not that works,” said Publisher Bryce Jacobson of the Greeley Tribune.
And in this digital era, the learning process for journalists is constant. The tactics are revisited every couple of days so we can be “learning from every single thing that we do,” he said.
4. The worrying fall of ad revenues
In the UK, revenues from advertising and sales of printed newspapers dropped by half between 2007 and 2017. Online advertising revenue “has not come close to compensating” for this decline, according to the Cairncross Review. Though the idea is to maximise clicks for each article, it’s not a strategy that’s working, as the value for each click was found to be too low.
The opposite is happening in India, however. Readership of print publications in India has recorded consistent growth with advertising revenues for print growing by almost 70 percent in two years, according to Money Control.
5. A crisis of fake news
In addition to falling ad revenue, the industry’s facing a crisis of confidence along with the rise of fake news.
Americans now rate fake news a bigger problem than racism, climate change, or terrorism, according to a Pew Research Center study. Nearly nine in ten Canadians are concerned about the proliferation of fake news. From Australia to Nigeria, distrust on social media sites like Facebook is now global, with a majority of Internet users (86 percent) admitting to falling for fake news at least once, wanting both governments and social media companies to take action.
But it’s journalists that get the short end of the stick from this as governments from Russia to Singapore pass sweeping anti-fake news laws that impede press freedom.
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