What Is Happening to Our Media?

Across the Western world, barely a month passes without more bad news for journalism and the commercial news media that have historically sustained the journalistic profession and its role in democracy. Newspapers and commercial broadcasters are boom businesses in emerging markets like Brazil and India, but in the old, affluent democracies, news journalism increasingly looks like a sunset industry. Paid print newspaper circulation is declining and while millions visit newspaper websites, few titles have succeeded in making money online. Advertising revenues are down or at best stagnant for much of the news industry, as companies cut their budgets in response to the economic slump or move their ads to search engines like Google or social networking sites like Facebook. Television broadcasters are generally holding their own financially but often cutting back on their investment in journalism as they compete for audiences who tend to prefer entertainment over news.

Even independent license-fee funded public service broadcasting, often seen as a stable safe haven for quality reporting in an uncertain media environment, is now under pressure—financially from governments in a time of austerity, politically from free-market forces and commercial media industry lobbies frustrated by increased competition on digital platforms, and in some countries from public outrage provoked by appalling editorial errors, as in the McAlpine scandal over spurious allegations of child abuse that recently brought down the newly-appointed BBC General Director George Entwistle.

The consequences are, as I’ve argued in my recently published report "Ten Years that Shook the Media World", likely to be profound—not only for the industry, but also for democracy. For all its many shortcomings, professionally produced journalism has been the most important, the most widely used, and the most independent source of information about public affairs for most citizens in most democracies, but its ability to play this role in the future is now in doubt.

The twenty-first century was supposed to be a golden age for journalism, a time of more accurate, easily accessible, transparent, and communally connected reporting leveraging the affordances of new digital and networked technologies and the resources of “the people formerly known as the audience” in pursuit of the public interest. In some ways, these predictions have come true—the best journalism today is arguably better than it has ever been, linking to original sources, available across many different widely used platforms, open to comments and criticism from readers, and engaged in an ongoing conversation and collaboration with a wider range of actors than ever before.

And yet in many Western countries, the most basic precondition for good journalism, that there are journalists out there to do it, seems endangered. The combination of a cyclical downturn—the biggest economic crisis since the 1930s—and a structural shift in how we communicate—the rise and rapid spread of first the internet and then personal and portable mobile media—has challenged the legacy of commercial news media organizations that continue to produce and disseminate the most professionally produced news content in most democracies. In places as different as Finland, the United Kingdom, and the United States, newspaper companies currently employ two-thirds or more of all professional journalists. In all these countries, newspaper companies are cutting their costs and laying off reporters to balance declining revenues.

Journalism has, for good and for bad, been integral to popular government for at least a century. Today, the institutions that make it possible are changing rapidly. Newspaper companies across the Western world are struggling to adjust to a new media environment, and commercial broadcasters know that they too will have to face the digital transition. There are important differences from country to country in terms of how well each industry has been able to handle the challenges at hand, but the overall democratic challenge is a shared, dual one—how to fund professional journalism in the future, and how to ensure it manages to remain relevant in an ever more competitive media environment with thousands and thousands of offerings competing for our attention?

In emerging economies like Brazil and India, traditional elite-oriented newspaper companies face some of the same problems their counterparts in more affluent democracies struggle with, even as an increasing number of popular newspapers grow by catering to the expanding salaried lower middle classes and benefit from the combination of economic growth, increased literacy, and limited internet access. In this context, news is reaching more and more people as more and more commercial media cater to a broader and more diverse audience, and journalism is not existentially threatened even as questions of quality and independence often remain unresolved.

But in most affluent democracies, both popular and elite news media are struggling to adjust to a new communication environment. The trends today points toward a future in which there are fewer large media audiences gathered around a shared news agenda and more niche ones oriented towards their own interest, towards a further erosion of the will and ability of commercial media companies to underwrite general interest news journalism, and as a consequence towards a continually growing gulf between the few who will in all likelihood be more informed than ever before (as users of various premium news products) and the many who will find less and less news produced for them.

This development points towards a different, and less equal, twenty-first century democracy than the one most Western countries aspired to in the second half of the twentieth century. It represents one of the great social and political issues of our time, and a massive challenge for journalists, news industry professionals, policymakers, and media reform activists interested in shaping the future of the media. It will profoundly change not only journalism and the news industry, but also democracy.

18 Comments

К сожалению, в России проблемы
- у работников СМИ – это очень-очень опасная профессия и
- у граждан, которые заинтересованы в достоверной информации
Я более 20 лет не покупаю российские газеты и журналы - это пресса восхваляющая лиц российской власти и ругань лидеров демократических стран
Всю информацию получаю из Интернета
- Правящая власть России уничтожила независимое СМИ, ведет борьбу с демократическими движениями «Марш Свободы», «Марш не согласных», «Мы за честные выборы» и другие. Эти демократические движения россиян не освещаются на телеканалах, в печатных СМИ. Власть замалчивают правду о том, что «граждане разоблачают коррупцию властных структур»
- При этом, власть фальсифицирует уголовные дела в отношении честных журналистов, юристов. Власть очень жестока расправляется с гражданами, которые работают в СМИ и правозащитников.

Я призываю принять адекватные меры к России за преступления и злоупотребления власти.

Особенно жестокая расправа с гражданами идет в регионах Урала и Сибири.

Translation via Google Translate

Unfortunately, problems in Russia
- The media workers - it is very very dangerous profession and
- Citizens who are interested in reliable information
I am over 20 years do not buy Russian newspapers and magazines - is the press praising the Russian government and people swearing leaders of democratic countries
All information obtained through the Internet
- The ruling power of Russia to destroy independent media, has been fighting with the democratic movement "Freedom March", "Marsh disagree ',' We are for fair elections" and others. These democratic movements Russians are not covered on TV, in print media. The authorities ignore the truth that "the citizens to expose corruption authorities"
- In this case, the power of falsifying cases against honest journalists, and lawyers. Power is very cruel deals with citizens who work in the media and human rights defenders.

I urge to take adequate measures to Russia for the crimes and abuses of power.

Especially the massacre of citizens is in the Urals and Siberia

The role of non-traditional social media, not fully explored in this piece, was seen dramatically in the recent coverage of a gang rape in Steubenville, Ohio. Covered minimally by mainstream commercial media, it was taken up by a blogger who obtained a video, then taken up by a hacker and finally by the NY Times. Without a vibrant social media sector, commercial media indeed loses its primacy and ability to shape public discourse.

Well said Lisa Vives. Same thing here in Malaysia its more political or NGO based rather than real life happenings and opinions. Despite the "vibrant social media" some are merely VIPs at FB and other forums, we rarely get footage or piece from people living to the situation, events or problems. In some countries "citizen journalist" are been paid and therefore we can't get actual feedback, accounts on certain matters. This hope OS is a platform that accepts opinions, stories from all walks of life.

We have watched in the state of Florida as every major newspaper has laid off its capital bureau reporters. Now, the governor and Legislature basically work with little or no public supervision. It is disheartening, at best, and terrifying when one sees the end result of policy decisions the public had no information about because there are so few around to report it. It does not bode well for the ideas of good or democratic government.

Social media completely changes the role of traditional media and journalism as a whole. It is like everybody becomes (citizen) journalist, going online, either twitter, facebook or blog, but for sure these are not standard media and therefore is not reliable. Traditional media role will be something like investigative one, using hints from those social media, and feeding back to the readers with confirmed, valid, adding valued news. If traditional media can beat the time, it will remain - as credited source- although not as much as before like we used to be.

The media in the United States is very liberal. They protect President Obama even though everything he does is wrong and evil. The media is anti-Christian and anti-conservative. Free speech is getting scarce.

Correct. The PBS is simply another arm of the complicit, state favored media which controls a good 80% of all news. Whatever the president's agenda is we will get complimentary articles backing his message: climate change, higher taxes, gun control, etc. The major web search engines, Yahoo and Google are also corrupted by the same bias.

I read news sites from around the world- there are reliable news reporters just reporting the facts known at the time and updating as more facts are released. Nordic tv/radio sites are very reliable (vg.no/yle.fi/stp.se)-Focus.de/morgenpost.de/guardian.co.uk/bbs news/france24+observers/thenews.com/pk/- egyptindependent.com/ - hurriyetdailynews.com/- ynetnews.com.il/- nzz.ch/- worldcrunch.com - alertnet/reuters - delfi.ee - .What newspaper sites must ldo in order to keep reporting factually is taking advantage in different countries of advertisement- job openings- civic news bulleting- health bureaus' notices- weather notices- and videos of cats/dogs/others and cultural items from different countries- i.e. 8 mill.mummified dogs undug in Egypt- or Pompeii 'facebook' advertising on walls of homes etc. TV news have lost their credibility- no more Ed Murrows/Cronkites/Andy Rooneys- all is about visuals- and opinions. One also sees very clearly what is not reported which should be.

The actual problem is that the mainstream media is corrupt so are many of your so called journalists. The Internet would not be powerful if the high quality journalism and news agencies existed but they don't. Your unwitting defense of corporate news illustrates the very reason these agencies are failing. They fail to recognize that no one is buying their balony anymore. Instead of watching your documentary I suggest watching on the ten following documentaries https://www.impartial-review.com/stories/ten-best-documentaries-about-wh...

B"H

It is not necessary to have professional journalists and large scale news organizations for people to be well informed about what is happening that is of interest to them. Just as it is not necessary to employ a chef and a maid to get housework done - thanks to domestic labor saving devices -- so it not necessary to have professional journalists when we can search for and find the information that we need -- without paying a premium. Three decades ago I wrote "Remaking media in the image of man " about how new technologies would lead to the personalized information service and would create multidimensional linkages between and among people -- according to the complex nature of our very distinctive lives. These linkages will strengthen bonds between people who previously hardly knew of each others existence -- while weakening the more artificial bonds of national borders. The new media enrich our lives as individuals and as a communities -- ultimately as a Community of People Living Together in Peace on Earth.

Shalom.

Thank you Prof Neilson, for raising some vital questions clearly and helpfully.

I'd very much like to read your 'take' on some of the published discussions of these problems I've come across..

For example, Cass Sunstein in his book, Republic.com 2.0 and especially his description of internet filtering as "The Daily Me"; and suggestion that groups of people tend to get their news and views within a narrowing span - an "echo chamber" of opinions they agree with.

Perhaps the most prominent - and the most original thinker I've come across - is Clay Shirky. In numerous pieces in his blog and in videoed discussions and talks available online. He seems to have fairly accurately predicted the impact of digital media; and the failure of most traditional media organisations to grasp the scale of the change they faced and to respond effectively.

I am afraid this article shed little light on the problem of journalism at risk, especially in other areas of the world. If mass newspaper markets are not responding to the needs of readers in the U.S. - and little evidence is presented for that argument - it has only itself to blame. All over the world journalists would give anything to have the kind of liberty of expression we have in the U.S. I am surprised that your organization puts out such a poorly documented and flawed piece.

In the third world, there is no time in history like to day, where professional media is so much needed to educate, inform and entertain. In Africa, the media was used as a tool for oppression. Too many laws were enacted to oppress citizens

My country Benin Republic a country of false democracy where the is no freedom of press except those who only write to praise BONI YAYI GOVERNMENT .Today ther5e is is no freedom of meeting eg a meeting was recently prevented in Porto -Novo KASSA MANPO GILBERT and many of his regional union members are arbitrarily arrested and sent to prison and many others .All this on the order of Boni yayi. Tell the world. PROF. MAURICE FANGNON

Thanks for all the interesting comments on my post above.

I’m glad Ivanna Greme and Edward Ladu highlight the importance of political and legal preconditions for media freedom that we often take for granted in developed democracies, but that are far from universally in place. Censorship, corruption, and various forms of pressure and harassment from both governments, commercial interests, and other groups of course represent major challenges for journalism in many countries around the world, quite separately from how the business of journalism is doing. Even in a country like India, where newspapers have enjoyed huge economic growth in recent decades, problems of like these remain rife, and the situation is much worse in less democratic countries.

But even in places where basic media freedoms are fairly secure and the spread of internet access, increasingly smart mobile phones, and social networking sites allow people to share information in new ways, the economic model for journalistic news production continues to face a great many challenges. Whether this matter depend on what you think of journalism as we know it, which obviously depends a lot on what context you find yourself in. In most developed democracies I’d be prepared to say that it, with all its many shortcomings, has on the balance been a democratizing force. Popular government predates professional journalism and can survive without it, but it may be worse off in important ways should journalism disappear or change beyond recognition (to again serve only a tiny elite, for example).

Insisting on the democratic importance of journalism as we know it (in some cases potential, as Edward Ladu makes clear with reference to the situation in many African countries) takes nothing away from the multiple and sometimes contradictory implications digital media have for democracy and political life, but simply underlines that the main source of news about public affairs that most people relied on in most developed democracies in most of the 20th century is changing rapidly these years. People have always gotten news about their community and about public affairs from other sources than the news—personal conversations, informal networks, political associations and civic groups, all increasingly online as well as offline—and will continue to do so, but for the last fifty years, journalistic news produced for, funded by, and disseminated via mass media have in survey after survey been identified as the single most important and regularly used source of information about public affairs. Changes in the production of, funding for, and dissemination of such news is bound to have political and democratic implications.

As Maarit Puska points out, lots of information is available online from around the world for those who seek it out, but the organizations that provide this news coverage rarely make money from doing so and will in the future have to cut back provision or access unless they find new ways of funding their work. (This is of course why more and more news organizations are experimenting with paywalls online—or relying on other forms of funding, like Al Jazeera, China Daily, Russia Today or other politically supported media—and many more are laying off journalists and investing less in news.) This problem is already pronounced in many places, especially at the local and regional level as highlighted by Carla Reid’s examples from Florida, where few alternative sources exist. You can still find countless different sources of international news, but once the limited number of media organizations that cover local news (or more remote areas of public policy) start cutting back and limiting access, there are currently few clear alternatives that provide regular, accessible, and widely used reporting on public affairs the ways newspapers and other legacy media used to do in their limited and imperfect ways. And that is a problem.

Es muy evidente que las reglas del juego en el ejercicio del trabajo como Periodista por la defensa de los principios de libertad, respeto a los derechos humanos, opinión pública, transparencia, derecho a la información están cambiando muy rápidamente en alguno de nuestros países. El advenimiento del internet, los móviles y otros dispositivos de tecnología coadyuvan a que un ciudadano común observe, transmita y opine sobre sucesos y hechos que pasan desapercibidos al Periodista profesional, por diversos motivos. Algunos de carácter político, otros vinculados al temor de perder su trabajo o no comprometerse, o porque el medio no les permite salirse de su línea editorial.
Entonces, hay una capacidad de contrarrestar los impedimentos que tiene el Periodista hoy para informar y denunciar aquello que representa un peligro para la comunidad, y a veces a pesar de que hay libertad de expresión, ésta realmente no existe porque hay intereses de por medio que impiden un buen ejercicio de la profesión. Por eso es necesario fortalecer los principios democráticos, la libertad de prensa y su libre ejercicio, la libertad de expresión; el derecho de los ciudadanos a denunciar cualquier atropello a la dignidad humana o contra la vida. Establecer límites a los dueños de medios para que permitan a sus periodistas cumplir firmemente con su deber de informar y de informar sobre la base de la verdad.

Google translate

It is very clear that the rules in the performance of work as a journalist for the defense of the principles of freedom, respect for human rights, public opinion, transparency, right to information are changing very rapidly in some of our countries. The advent of the internet, mobile phones and other technology devices contribute to a common citizen watch, forward and opine on events and facts that go unnoticed by professional journalist for various reasons. Some political, others linked to the fear of losing their job or not commit, or because the media is not allowed to get out of their editorial.
Then, there is an ability to counter the impediments journalist today is to inform and denounce that which represents a danger to the community, and sometimes even though there is freedom of expression, it does not really exist because there are interests by preventing good professional practice. Therefore it is necessary to strengthen democratic principles, freedom of the press and free exercise, free speech, the right of citizens to report any abuse to human dignity or to life. Set limits on media owners to allow their journalists aggressively enforce its duty to inform and report on the basis of truth

I wish to be part of the chorus who have shouted out that the traditional news media in the United States has systematically excluded coverage of women and people of color to this day, even as the demographics and political power in the U.S., has shifted. News media for the 1 percent is just not sustainable.

One of the, and perhaps the most injurious, blows to a free press in the America is the ownership of newspapers and other media by corporations with no interest in anything but ever larger profits. Complicating this damage is the purchase of previously locally- or family- owned media by persons or corporations with a political agenda they can now easily use slanted and/or propagandistic media to achieve for them.

We have all seen what's happened to the Wall Street Journal since it was purchased by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation. Mr. Murdoch and the Koch Brothers are both in the running to purchase the Tribune Company. If either party succeeds in achieving that purchase, we can watch the LA Times, the Chicago Tribune and some smaller newspapers and TV stations being turned into mass distribution outlets for these right-wing corporatists to spread their lies and disinformation on issues such as global warming, workers rights and safety, pensions and health care.

Might there be a way Mr. Soros could outbid these propagandists, purchase the papers and stations and retain their reporting and editorial staffs to manage them? He would be doing our democracy a huge favor. Thank you!

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