Fake news? Fighting back for credibility and respect

BRUSSELS, January 31, 2020 – Fake news, alternative truth, disinformation, hoax, falsehoods, unsourced and unverified information: how often did the headlines appear in worldwide media? Frustrating and irritating for all of us who want to be clean, honest, fair, competent professionals. “In this certainly unpleasant panorama we, journalists, live in uncertainty, because the fake news tsunami was artfully created to delegitimize our work and our credibility” as President Gianni Merlo stated in his New Year-message.

“Wrong news” is a giant aspect, one of the many problems and challenges that the media – also sports media – had, and still have to face. Our hungry and demanding customers, readers and viewers want to consume sports on media when were and how they want it: print, audio, classic tv, live, highlights, tv-on-demand, podcasts and more. And they want to enjoy it in a slalom between different platforms. A varied menu, in line with the historical reality that new media do not chase or destroy the existing media, but only enlarge the offer, the appetite and the consumption. And generate also another effect: it sharpens the competition in a faster and ideally also in a better way. A professional, technological and commercial ratrace that, with major cuts, put public broadcasting – merely in Western Europe and even at the monumental flagship BBC – under threat.

Therefore, it is good that established institutions such as” Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism”, “Research Centre Journalism Media”, “Alliance for Audited Media”, “Niemanlab FactTank” and others are keeping their finger on the pulse. Very interesting and helpful! To gather inspiration for our contacts during our congress, I am collecting some of their findings here.

TELEVISION it is still the most popular platform for news consumption overall – even though its use has declined since 2016. News websites are the next most common source, followed by radio, and finally social media sites and print newspapers. And when looking at online news use combined – the percentage of Americans who get news often from either news websites or social media – the web has closed in on television as a source for news (43% of adults get news often from news websites or social media, compared with 49% for television).

NEWSPAPERS Decline in newsroom employment occurred at newspapers, but digital boomed. The balance in numbers and reach still shifting from print to digital. The figures concerning the situation in US are clear. U.S. newspaper circulation (print and digital combined) reached its lowest level since 1940, the first year with available data. Total daily newspaper circulation (print and digital combined) were down 8% from the previous year. The decline in overall newsroom employment has been driven primarily by one sector: newspapers. Some papers experienced more than one round of layoffs within the same year, particularly in 2018. The number of newspaper employees dropped by nearly half between 2008 and 2018. But the digital-native news sector saw notable job growth during this period. The number of digital-native newsroom employees increased by 82% between 2008 and 2018. The dramatic decline in newspaper employment also means that the newspaper industry now accounts for a smaller portion of overall newsroom employment than it used to be. From 62% in 2008, to 44% by 2018.

RICHER WORKING ENVIRONMENTAttracting and retaining talent is a major worry for news organisations. Especially in technology areas, for a mix of data scientists and technologists (24%) with 76% for editorial staff. Newsroom employees include news analysts, reporters and correspondents; editors; photographers; and television, video, sound, and motion picture camera operators and editors. A precious mix of talents, skills, visions, generations, ethics, styles and experiences that requires refined management.

TRAFFIC DECREASE Traffic to news websites seems to have levelled off. Unique visitors to the websites of both newspapers and native digital news sites noticed the second year in which there was no notable growth. Time spent on these websites has declined as well: The average number of minutes per visit for digital-native news sites is down 16% since 2016, falling to about two minutes per visit. The decreases in website audience and time spent per visit come as Americans increasingly say they prefer social media (Facebook, Google, Twitter & Co) as a pathway to news.

REVENUE Digital and revenue has grown exponentially, but a majority goes to Facebook and Google. Revenue from ads placed on digital platforms – counting all platforms, not just news sites – rose by 23% in 2018, and now makes up nearly half (49%) of all ad revenue in the U.S., according to eMarketer estimates. And when it comes to display ad revenue (a form of digital advertising that include banners, videos and other advertisements that news organizations and other websites typically run alongside their content) half of all digital revenue went to just tech companies: Facebook (40%) and Google (12%), Netflix, Amazon, Apple. Overall digital ad revenue has tripled since 2011, the earliest year tracked, while digital display revenue has grown by almost five times over the same period. About a third of newspaper ad revenue (35%) now comes from digital, according to an analysis of SEC filings, but total ad revenue continues to fall. And while the digital-native news sector is on the rise – its newsroom workforce has nearly doubled over the past 10 years – this growth hasn’t replaced the loss of employment at newspapers.

PODCAST Podcasting audiences have continued to grow over the last decade. It looks set to be another big year for podcasting, with many publishers saying podcast initiatives would be important to them this year. Others are looking at voice and turning text articles into audio as a way of capitalising on the growing popularity of audio formats. Better, more immersive, feature-rich headphones (e.g. AirPod Pro and similar devices) will prove the big tech hit of the year and give a further boost to audio formats. The average weekly unique users who download Public Radio podcasts, which include some of the most popular podcasts in the iTunes library, rose from 5.4 million in 2017 to 7.1 million in 2018, according to data provided by NPR.

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