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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.

  • Download the full report here.

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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