It was over a decade ago that digital technology companies like Facebook and Google entered the market and blew open the possibilities for content sharing and social networking.
The ramifications of this digital disruption on the media have been well documented. We’ve seen new digital publishers, new styles of journalism, new commentators and new advertising opportunities. In terms of the news, there’s more of it, it’s more niche, it’s more targeted and curated, and it’s harder to verify.
So, what’s next for news media post-disruption?
Emerging from the rubble of disruption, media companies and governments are starting to make sense of what a global digital media means for news, privacy, competition and public discourse. Some trends are showing positive signs of improving news quality and rebuilding trust such as investment in investigative journalism and subeditors, automated reporting to free up journalists, the growth of long-form journalism via podcasts and dynamic subscription models to better fund news publications.
However, there are also five major threats to news media that won’t be easily solved:
1. Ownership and media bias: The Australian media is undergoing a process of concentration and centralisation. Media ownership reform in 2017 led to the major Nine-Fairfax deal last year, which resulted in the loss of 144 jobs and the sale of 170 regional papers. At the same time, regional newsrooms are closing around the country. The risk of a less diversified news media is the increased influence of media bias on the information being delivered to the public.
2. The impact of digital platforms: In response to concerns about the growing power of digital technology companies and the failings of self-regulation, many countries such as the UK and Australia have started investigating how far regulation should go to protect national security, fair competition and privacy while simultaneously safeguarding free speech and a free market. While opinions vary, the world seems to be united in wanting to reign in Facebook and Google.
3. Fake news and public trust: The prominence of fake news is one of the main drivers of public distrust of the news media. In fact, 73% of people worry about fake news being used as a weapon. Despite a rise in news engagement worldwide, more Australians are trying to avoid the news than two years ago. The issue of stopping fake news is complicated, because it requires drawing lines regarding censorship. So far, the onus for tackling fake news, hate speech and foreign interference has been put on social media platforms, but governments are starting to intervene.
4. Press freedom and whistleblowers: Globally, we are witnessing a period of intensified government interference in the media. Efforts to discredit and remove journalists, intimidate whistleblowers and weaken public broadcasters are threatening the important role the media plays in keeping governments to account. Worldwide last year, 54 journalists were killed, 250 were imprisoned and 63 are still missing. In Australia, recent federal police raids on the media drew criticism from around the world and could lead to a press freedom inquiry.
5. Media ethics and digital defamation: Digital defamation is a growing trend and one that the current media code of ethics and defamation law is not yet equipped to deal with. From 2013 to 2017, there was an increase from 17% to 53% in defamation cases brought against digital publications. A recent ruling in the Supreme Court of NSW will also greatly impact the way media companies and businesses engage with audiences online. It puts the responsibility on publishers for defamatory comments made by readers on their Facebook pages. The concern is this could stifle free speech and require added resources to moderate discussions.
A good understanding of the future of news in Australia and the world will help businesses manage the media and their narrative. The full briefing paper on The next era of news media outlines the implications of news media trends and threats on businesses and includes recommendations of how to take advantage of them. It also includes key commentary from companies, government and public figures.