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Nic Newman joins students at Manchester Metropolitan University to present the Reuters Institute’s Journalism Trends and Predictions 2021 Report

  • 'We’ll never return to the office with an old-style newsroom'
  • Nic Newman from The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism joined first year multimedia journalism students to share its Trends and Predictions report
  • What can the industry expect after a particularly turbulent 12 months?
  • NQ reporting team: Lauren Jefferson, Keja Isaac Sofekun, Liam Taylor, Shelbie-Leigh Turner, Georgia Winters, Joseph Ward, Rosa-May Bown, Lucia Manfredi and Tia Downey
Nic Newman from The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism (RISJ) joined first year multimedia journalism students to share the just published Trends and Predictions report. What can the industry expect after a particularly turbulent 12 months?

COVID-19 is accelerating industry shifts to digital

Newman described the effect that Coronavirus and lockdown have had on the industry and its impact on the future of news. According to the report, the pandemic prompted 76% of their sample of editors, CEOs, and digital leaders “to accelerate plans for digital transition".

The pandemic forced a swift move to virtual reporting. According to María Ramirez, a deputy managing editor in Spain: “We’ll never return to the office with an old-style newsroom.”

In addition, Newman described a “thirst for face-to-face contact”, meaning journalists are likely to become more “embedded in communities as real-life events make a comeback”.

It’s clear the impact of the pandemic will be industry changing.

Trust and impartiality

Newman addressed students within hours of Donald Trump’s second impeachment by the US House of Representatives, so it came as no surprise that we wanted to probe issues of impartiality, truth and journalism’s task to hold the people in power to account.

Asked if far-right, high profile figures like Trump were to blame for the growing mistrust of the media, Newman warned that mistrust is still at a concerning level and cannot be blamed solely on misinformation online. 

Excessive ‘clickbait’ journalism alongside misinformation on social media is easily accessed.

Newman said: “The importance of being first [to a story] is not as important as it was. Twitter, social media will always be first; I think it is more important to be accurate.”

Worryingly, there are growing numbers avoiding mainstream platforms entirely. “It comes from large numbers of people effectively opting out of mainstream media, being a part of an alternative information ecosystem.

“Politicians like Donald Trump are both part of that system and are feeding it and are also being misinformed by it.

“A lot of people argue it’s not actually social media to blame, it’s also the mainstream media because it failed to call out the lies and take a moral stand.”

Newman referenced LBC’s James O’ Brien highlighted how “in the name of impartiality, the BBC and others have given a platform to people willing to tell lies and that is now having an impact”.

Journalism, Reuters Institute
Academic Nic Newman

TV and video temporary gains?

Due to the pandemic, there has been a shift away from print in the way audiences consume news. Last year saw a 20% increase in TV as a main news source for viewers with online and social media engagement also increasing.

When asked why there was such an uplift, Newman said: “Television news or video on the internet is having another peak because there is less friction, because it just works better, because people don’t put stupid 30 second ad breaks in front of it every minute.

“Video just has huge advantages, it’s so immediate, so powerful, but … it doesn’t give people control in the way that text does, it’s not searchable and there’s a whole load of other problems with it.”

Television news had been steadily declining over the past nine years, as many made the switch to online as their main source of news.

However, the impact of the coronavirus appears to have reversed this trend, though possibly temporarily.

Diversifying income, reaching new audiences

The RISJ survey found diversifying income rose as a priority with merchandise offered by news brands becoming more commonplace.  Virtual events such as online concerts also boomed during the pandemic, so for younger consumers the quest for a “meaningful experience” may even trump the desire to buy material products in the future.

Finding new audiences to shore up reduced advertising incomes will become more important. The number of platforms paying for content from news brands grew with Facebook news tab and Apple news+ emerging. The increasing popularity news podcasting is set to continue as people are favouring audio during the pandemic – audio content is paying dividends for finding non-print audiences.

Locally, it’s not so rosy

Reuters data shows that the Times and Telegraph alone make up almost 60% of all subscriptions for news in the UK followed by only 5% of subscriptions for local news titles.  To avoid further closures, local news titles must look for new ways to keep business going.

On this divide, Newman said: "It's quality that counts, local papers can't use the same business model as national papers. Event models and ecommerce will work more effectively for local."  

However, with only 25% of readers saying they would miss local papers if they were gone, some will worry that local news organisations aren't joining in the growing trend for subscription news. 

This adds to the financial stability headache faced by local titles.

Digital disrupters are showing there’s a viable path for some local news. Local start-up The Manchester Mill is embracing the popular newsletter format by delivering long reads directly to subscriber’s inboxes. However, Newman urged caution against potential ‘information inequality’ where only more well-off readers can access higher quality news.

Look out for the report next week when students meet the Manchester Mill’s Joshi Herrmann to ask him why his digital news service is bucking the downward trend for local journalism.

About Nic

Nic Newman cut his journalism teeth at the BBC. He now works at University of Oxford based ‘Reuters Institute’ where they aim to ‘explore the future of journalism’ and ‘build a better and more sustainable journalism for tomorrow’.

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