New report on digital-born news media in Europe

nicholls-thumbnailEven though digital-born news media like Slate and Salon, El Confidencial in Spain, and global players like the Huffington Post have been around for more than ten years, and every year seem to bring new digital-born news start-ups from Mic.com to Les Jours and El Español, there has been surprisingly little research systematically mapping these players, their editorial priorities, distribution strategies, and funding models.

A new Reuters Institute report by Tom Nicholls, Nabeelah Shabbir and myself builds on previous efforts by the Project for Excellent in Journalism, the Tow Center at Columbia, the SubMoJour project (and indeed ourselves with our work on Europe and India) by analyzing 12 different digital-born news media across France, Germany, Spain, and the UK.

We find that most digital-born news media sites in Europe are motivated by an ambition to do quality journalism, based on a lean cost structure, and have a pragmatic approach to new technology. The founders are normally journalists, often ex-newspaper journalists, and rarely come from a technology or finance background.

They are thus quite different from the kind of VC-backed, tech-oriented, aggresively expansionist image the word “start-up” brings to mind.

We identify three different kinds of digital-born news media (1) domestic for-profits like El Confidencial and Mediapart, (2) domestic non-profits like Correctiv and the Bureau for Investigative Journalism, and (3) international for-profit players like BuzzFeed and the Huffington Post.

Interestingly, while the international for-profit players all pursue global scale and offer news for free at the point of consumption, supported by advertising (display and native), our research suggests more and more domestic for-profits are moving away from the free, ad-supported approach and aim to build much more diverse funding models, often including a significant element of reader revenues.

Domestic digital-born news media seem stronger in those countries – like France and Spain – where legacy media are weaker, not in those – like Germany and the UK – where the digital media market is most developed. This is in line with what Nico Bruno and I found in our 2012 study of these issues.
Our research also suggests that many of the issues that these digital-born news media face are very similar to some of the key ones confronting legacy news media: how do you develop a clear editorial identity in a very crowded environment, how do you master distribution as media use is  more and more distributed and intermediated by platform companies, and how do you fund your work when the advertising market is so challenging for content producers?
The full report is available for free download here.
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