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Global journalism study shows ‘cautious optimism’, Kiwi media less affected by digital technologies

News of three senior defections at Fairfax in Australia surfaced yesterday, following on from last week’s news that it planned to cut 1,900 jobs—or around 20 percent of its staff—as part of a restructure aimed at facing up to the challenges of digital publishing. News Ltd is also set to cull staff, although it has said the number is “significantly less” than Fairfax (its own press appears to be looking on the bright side of that decision). And while New Zealand’s newspaper biz is still doing it tough at the moment, Fairfax NZ chief executive Allen Williams told the NBR it was a “case of two different markets, in two different timeframes”, so going tabloid and putting up paywalls wasn’t on the agenda–yet. Add in the Leveson enquiry in the UK and it’s tough out there in media land, so it was interesting to see the results of the 5th annual Oriella Digital Journalism Study, which showed the world’s media were cautiously upbeat despite continued uncertainty in the global economy and “digital technologies have affected the practice of journalism less markedly in New Zealand” than elsewhere.

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The study was based on a poll of over 600 journalists from 16 countries spanning Europe, Asia-Pacific (New Zealand journalists were interviewed for the first time) and the Americas and it showed media brands around the world are carrying a wider range of digital content assets, supporting more devices and are drawing on digital sources in their reporting more heavily in 2012 than at any time in the past five years.

Over half (54 percent) expect their title’s audience to grow this year, compared with only 20 percent anticipating a decline. And the digital boom has also “heralded a return to traditional journalistic practice”, where “trusted, influential sources command far greater value in 2012 than pre-packaged stories”.

Publications’ use of online video has almost doubled since last year, with 36 percent of journalists saying their publications publish videos, compared with 20 percent in 2011. In addition, 40 percent say their publications offer journalist-authored blogs and 22 percent produce infographics in-house.

The growing importance of mobile devices and social media promotion to publishers’ monetisation strategies is reflected in the sustained growth of mobile apps and the continued popularity of publication-owned Twitter and Facebook pages. The proportion of journalists saying their titles now have apps has experienced continued growth over the past three years and now one publication in four has a mobile app. Around half of the respondents said their titles had Facebook pages (52 percent) and Twitter feeds (46 percent).

The only key content type to experience year-on-year decline are discussion boards operated by individual publications. The proportion of journalists saying their titles use these has fallen to 26 percent, down from 37 percent when the survey began in 2008.

A relatively high number of New Zealand media (88 out of over 600) responded to the survey, and their responses indicate that, on a number of measures, digital technologies have affected the practice of journalism less markedly in New Zealand than in other countries, perhaps evidenced by the fact that the recent readership and circulation figures showed good old fashioned paper is mostly holding up and in some rare cases increasing (it’s the loss of print-based ad revenue that’s hurting most, as evidenced by some of the figures showing the steady decline of newspaper revenue in the US, where building digital revenue is proving “painfully slow”).

The study showed Kiwi audiences are still primarily non-digital: 63 percent of New Zealand respondents said their largest audience was for their traditional print or broadcast format, while internationally only 47 percent of media internationally said their audiences consumed traditional formats. And just five percent of New Zealand media said they only published in an online format, compared with 16 percent globally. So some might say our relative backwardness—and regionalism—is insulating the industry.

This local preference for traditional formats is in line with Fairfax’s recent announcement that, while it will push to become “an increasingly digital business” in Australia, with the prospect of paywalls for its major mastheads, that push will not—or not yet—be reflected on this side of the Tasman.

The digital lag is also reflected in the amount of exclusive online reportage generated. Where 45 percent of journalists in other media markets claim that 60 percent or more of the online material they publish is new, only 25 percent of New Zealand journalists claim that 60 percent or more is new.

When asked: “How has the changing media landscape affected your publication?” New Zealand media had experienced less growth and more shrinkage in terms of audience size, advertising revenues and editorial staff size.

Decrease No Change Increase
Global
Audience size (readers, listeners, viewers) 21% 27% 51%
Advertising revenues 34% 28% 38%
Editorial staff size 33% 40% 27%
New Zealand
Audience size (readers, listeners, viewers) 21% 36% 43%
Advertising revenues 50% 28% 22%
Editorial staff size 42% 42% 16%

Yet that experience doesn’t necessarily translate into expectations of a tougher future. When asked: “What’s the outlook for your organisation?” some 24 percent of New Zealand media said, ‘e don’t expect any changes”. Globally only 17 percent agreed with this statement.

The study found use of social media in newsgathering is now a majority pursuit—but only when the sources behind them are known to journalists (Italian hoaxer Tommaso De Benedetti has made it his mission to expose how unreliable social media is and how gullible the media are in accepting that information). Just over half (53 percent) of the journalists surveyed use microblog updates (e.g. Twitter, Facebook, Weibo) from sources they know. However, when the source is unfamiliar, reliance on microblogs roughly halves.

Use of conventional blogs in newsgathering is slightly lower but follows a similar trend: 44 percent of respondents said they used blogs that they know to source news stories, but just 22 percent would use unfamiliar blogs in the same way.  This is a reversal of the picture in 2011, when 43 percent of respondents said they would source news from blogs they did not know, and only 30 percent said they relied on familiar sources.

The study highlights the growing importance of trusted sources and a decline of more conventional vehicles for message delivery. Reliance on industry insiders for new stories has grown from 54 percent in 2011 to 64 percent this year, and interviews with spokespeople have become journalists’ preferred first port of call for stories, replacing press releases, which now rank fifth.

“Journalists can’t afford to take what they see on social media at face value,” says Chris Keall, head of digital at the National Business Review. ”But if they take steps to verify the identity and credibility of a source, the likes of Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook are valuable additions to any reporter’s arsenal. Social networks let you reach a public figure directly, circumventing their protective layer of staff and other gatekeepers. They are also an incredibly useful source of news tips, and feedback on stories. Facebook and Twitter let you take the public temperature on broad range of issues, or zero in on trend-setters in a particular niche.”

The study also shows the growth of online news media at the expense of offline is slowing.  In 2011, 50 percent of respondents maintained their offline print or broadcast outlet had the largest audience. In 2012, 47 percent held this view. Meanwhile, the proportion of each publication’s online output that is new—a rough measure of the level of investment in digital platforms—has remained largely unchanged since last year: 45 percent of journalists in 2011 said 60 percent or more of their online output was new (2011 figure: 46 percent).

The proportion of journalists saying they enjoy the job more than a year ago has declined sharply since last year, but still outweighs those who enjoy it less.  This year, a third (33 percent) say they enjoyed the job more, compared with 43 percent in 2011. A similar proportion—36 percent—believe their title’s output has improved over the past year, compared with 20 percent who think quality has declined, with journalists in Asia particularly positive about the impact of digital media on their work.

“The fifth Oriella study shows the high premium attached to the influence of credible sources in social media,” says Allan Botica, chairman of the Oriella Networks New Zealand affiliate, Botica Butler Raudon Partners. “It also shows that publications around the world are using an ever wider range of digital assets, such as video, infographics and apps, to convey storylines.  The more brands are able to reflect and support the changing requirements of the media, the better placed they will be to win in their chosen markets.”

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