Report on public service news and digital media

PSBWe’ve published a new report by lead author Annika Sehl, Alessio Cornia, and myself on “Public Service News and Digital Media”.

In the report, we look at how public service media across Europe are adapting to a changing media environment, with particular focus on issues around organizational change, the rise of mobile, and the move to a more distributed media environment.

We interviewed a range of leading people in editorial and strategy positions across pulbic service media in Finland, Germany, Italy, Poland, and the UK.

Below is the Executive Summary. Full report here in PDF or HTML.

Executive Summary

In this report, we examine how public service media in six European countries (Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, and the United Kingdom) are delivering news in an increasingly digital media environment. The analysis is based on interviews conducted between December 2015 and February 2016, primarily with senior managers and editors as well as on survey data from the Reuters Institute Digital News Report.

We show the following:

  • Public service media organisations have high reach for news offline (via television and radio) in all six countries, but only in Finland and the United Kingdom do they have high reach for news online.
  • In all countries but Finland and the United Kingdom, significantly more people get news online from social media than from public service media.
  • Our interviewees highlight three particularly important issues facing public service news provision online today, namely:
  1. how to change organisations developed around analogue broadcasting media to effectively deliver public service news in an increasingly digital media environment;
  2. how to use mobile platforms more effectively as smartphones become more and more central to how people access news;
  3. how to use social media more effectively as more and more news use is driven by referrals and in some cases consumed off-site on platforms like Facebook.
  • Public service media organisations in all six countries have faced, and continue to face, serious challenges to their ability to effectively deliver public service news online. These include internal challenges around legacy organisations’ ability to adapt to a rapidly changing media environment and the constant evolution of new digital technologies, but also external economic and/or political challenges.
  • Across the three areas of organisational change, mobile delivery, and use of social media platforms, the British BBC and the Finnish Yle are generally seen as being ahead of most other public service media organisations. (Though they too are still heavily invested in their traditional broadcasting operations and need to continue to change to keep pace with the environment.)
  • We identify four external conditions and two internal conditions that these two relatively high-performing organisations have in common. The four external conditions are: (1) they operate in technologically advanced media markets; (2) they are well-funded compared to many other public service media organisations; (3) they are integrated and centrally organised public service media organisations working across all platforms; (4) they have a degree of insulation from direct political influence and greater certainty through multi-year agreements on public service remit, funding, etc. The two internal conditions are a pro-digital culture where new media are seen as opportunities rather than as threats and senior editorial leaders who have clearly and publicly underlined the need to continually change the organisation to adapt to a changing media environment.
  • The need for public service news provision to evolve will only increase as our media environments continue to change and digital media become more and more important. Addressing the external conditions for the evolution of public service media is a matter for public discussion and political decision-making. Developing the internal conditions, however, is the responsibility of public service media themselves, and a precondition for their continued relevance in a rapidly changing media environment.
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