We live in an information-rich society. At the press of a button, a click of the mouse or the flick of a page comes a wealth of local and international news and current affairs. On the flip side, as we’ve seen with recent political events, we also live in a misinformation-rich society. Who is regulating the content? Who is telling the truth? And what are the agendas behind the information? This tension means the accuracy, fairness and truth of journalism is in even higher demand at the moment as some of those in power pull at the strings of what seems to be an increasingly fragile democracy.
TVNZ head of news and current affairs John Gillespie says more so than ever, anyone can assume the mantle of a journalist, but making sure the writing is truthful, correct and fair is a skill that tends to go by the wayside from individuals who are not professionals.
Some comfort, however, can be found in News Works’ Trust in Media research with Colmar Brunton. The 2017 study examined how consumer trust in media has evolved with the digital media landscape and news media came out on top. When 600 respondents were asked to indicate how much they trust the news and information from digital media channels, news media websites/apps got 84 percent followed by Google’s 81 percent. TV website/TV apps got 77 percent while Facebook was just 38 percent.
Looking at traditional media, newspaper and radio both received 87 percent and TV 86 percent.
So why is it that Gillespie says journalism is under more stress than ever? Looking at some of the employment numbers, it’s clear: according to census data, 1,170 New Zealanders worked in print, radio and television journalism in 2013, down from 2,214 in 2006.
And while most understand the need for journalism, the problem is that no-one’s entirely sure where the money is coming from to fund it.
Earlier this year, Standard Media Index (SMI) released the 2017 agency ad spend in New Zealand showing positive growth totaling a record $1.04 billion was spent on major media across the country.
Unfortunately for newspapers, they did not see that growth as agency advertising spend on the channel was down 6.9 percent to $56.7 million. Newspapers and magazines (down 14.3 percent) were the only two media channels to fall.
Shortly after, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) released its 2017 report on New Zealand’s advertising revenue and, again, newspapers were on a downward trajectory. Revenue in 2015 was $474 million, in 2016 $417 million and in 2017 $353 million.
Where there was positive growth for newspapers was the “newspaper digital” category, which has been on the up since 2015 when it sat at $41 million, to sit at $82 million in 2017.
In both the SMI and ASA reports, digital was on the rise. And TV was holding firm, with the 6pm news still bringing in some of the biggest audiences. However, signs are emerging that digital’s shiny-new appeal could be wearing off. In 2017, P&G cut $200 million from its digital spend due to bot and brand safety concerns and reinvested in channels with bigger reach including television, audio and ecommerce. And earlier this year, Unilever threatened to pull advertising from online platforms that allowed "toxic content".
So could the concerns over tech see local advertisers move their spend in a similar direction? When Stuart Rutherford, managing director of Zenith New Zealand was asked the question by NZ Marketing, he said he sees no evidence that advertisers are shifting budgets away from online. By contrast, he said, its share of global advertising expenditure continues to rise rapidly and is forecasted to hit 44.6 percent of global ad spend by 2020.
“The concerns we have seen from large FMCG multi-nationals and others relating to brand safety and corporate responsibility are valid and yet they simply will not stop the tech and digital juggernaut, and we certainly will not see them shifting large spend back into traditional print channels.”
Most agree that advertising is not the answer if media companies hope to fund news and current affairs content. So what is it?