What have been the biggest changes in the media over the last ten years? Will the Internet be held responsible for killing the newspaper? Did a new fragmented audience determine the end of the mass audience?
These are just a few of the questions a new report published on October 11 by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford tried to answer, analyzing “Ten years that shook the media world”. It covers eight countries across the world from mature media markets - the United States, the United Kingdom, Finland, France, Italy and Germany - and emerging economies Brazil and India.
Clearly, the news industry has undergone a vast amount of change over the last decade. Some trends are long-lived, such as the ongoing fragmentation of most television audience, the decline of paid print newspaper circulation or the rise of Internet access and use. Others are more recent, such as the emergence of a few dominant search engines, the relentless expansion of social media sites and the spread of mobile web access. All these trends have been observed on a global scale; nevertheless they developed differently in different countries accordingly to the peculiarity of each media system.
In the US, loss in revenues, profit margins that shrink or disappear, cuts in the investment in journalism with threats to its quality have been experienced by major news providers. In Northern Europe commercial legacy media companies have managed so far to hold their own, as broadcasters have in Southern Europe where instead many newspapers companies are struggling. The situation is slightly different in Brazil and India where both, despite some differences, have seen a growth in the media sector due to the economic growth, urbanization, increase in literacy and therefore the emergence of the middle-class.
Despite the arrival of Internet-based newcomers, the report found that legacy media – both newspaper and broadcasting – still play an undoubtedly central role in providing news across the countries analyzed.
Having said this, the report underlines that a shift from a mass communication to networked communication – already forecasted by sociologist as Manuel Castells - provoked a fragmentation of the audience and put the news providers in a perpetual “war” for the attention of the audience. “Most content-based media companies face increased competition and often reduced profit margins” the report says.
The report notes that as the spread of the Internet coincided with mounting economic difficulties for newspapers around the world, many saw the two phenomena as related and the internet has been “painted as the killer of virtually every legacy media business around” from music to publishing to broadcasting. This can be misleading, the report says: “Cyclical changes have had a much more dramatic and immediate impact on the overall revenues of legacy media companies than the rise of the internet over the last decade.” However, the report also notes that in most of those countries where Internet is available to the majority of the population, the already existing drop in newspaper circulation has been accelerated in the 2000s by the rise of the Internet.
Differences persist, of course. As the report puts it: “It will take 70 years before newspaper circulation in Finland reaches the level where France is today”. And although “circulation in France can decline another 20 years before it reaches the level where Italy is today” ... “there are in Italy some newspapers – a few big ones like Corriere della Sera and La Repubblica – which have represented important alternatives to the (politicised) public service broadcasters RAI and Silvio Berlusconi’s Mediaset channel and many smaller ones that remain the most important sources of news in their local communities”.
In fact, despite the trend that sees Internet use growing and newspaper circulation declining, the report points out that most of the evidence available suggests that newspapers still play a vital role.
The picture that appears from the report is that of a world in which the vast majority of media users mix old and new media.
As example of this the report cites the case of Finland where, despite being the country covered with the highest level of internet use and broadband access, people are still reading both printed and online news and where the 60-70% of the readers are “mixed users”.
One aspect that has been a great challenge in the last decade for newspaper is the revenue stream and particularly advertising. “The basic problem is simple – news organizations have traditionally funded their newsroom either on the basis of sales revenues combined with considerable advertising revenues or on the basis of advertising revenues alone. Both revenue streams are precarious online”. One of the main trends visible over the last decade and analyzed in the report is the continuous expansion of possibilities provided to users in terms of how and where to consume the news and therefore an expansion of options available for advertisers.
In its conclusion the report states that despite the ten last years that shocked the media world affecting media use, markets and policy, we are at the beginning of the current transformation and not at the end. In the foreseeable future – the report says – newspaper companies are likely to remain with us, even if in a diminished form, and part of the challenge will be to cope with the new users’ media diet made by a mix of old and new media, which is a characteristic of the present world.
Historical analogies are often drawn between the rise of the Internet and the invention of the printing press in early modern Europe. The report says that accepting that analogy, “we are today about as far as into the Internet revolution as Europe was into the printing revolution in the late fifteenth century”.
So much more change is yet to come.
The aim of the report written by RISJ Research Fellow Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, and supported by a grant from the Open Society Foundations, is to provide an overview of how the media have changed over the last decade, assessing how the above-mentioned trends arose at a general level and how they were applied in different media systems, as well considering the implications of this change for journalism and democracy.