More Important, But Less Robust?

Today we are launching a new Reuters Institute report in Davos by Meera Selva and myself called “More Important, But Less Robust? Five Things Everybody Needs to Know about the Future of Journalism” at a breakfast meeting hosted by the Thomson Reuters Foundation (and streamed online) and featuring a panel discussion with Marty Baron, Sylvie Kauffmann, Nick Kristof and Mark Pieth chaired by Monique Villa and hosted by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

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The report is primarily based on a wide range of our own research from the last few years, but many other researchers have done work on these trends, and I include links to some examples here.

The five things are

First, we have moved from a world where media organisations were gatekeepers to a world where media still create the news agenda, but platform companies increasingly control access to audiences. (As documented in our annual Digital News Report by Nic Newman et al and discussed in the work of, for example, Kjerstin Thorson and Chris Wells)

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Second, this move to digital media generally does not generate filter bubbles. Instead, automated serendipity and incidental exposure drive people to more – and more diverse – sources of information. (As documented in work that Richard Fletcher has led on social media and search engines, but also in the work of others, including for example Seth Flaxman et al.)

slide2Third, journalism is often losing the battle for people’s attention and, in some (but not all) countries for the public’s trust, increasing information inequality. (As documented in for example a recent factsheet by Antonis Kalogeropoulos and myself, building on work by for example Markus Prior.)

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Fourth, the business models that fund news are challenged, weakening professional journalism and leaving news media more vulnerable to commercial and political pressures. (See for example this handbook chapter and the work of Anya Schiffrin on media capture.)

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Fifth, news is more diverse than ever, and the best journalism in many cases better than ever, taking on everyone from the most powerful politicians to the biggest private companies. (Different people will have different standards for what they consider better or worse journalism, but we base our cautious optimism on for example the rise of collaborative investigative journalism, deeper engagement with readers, and joint fact-checking work, as well as the growth of what Kate Fink and Michael Schudson call “contextual reporting”.)

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These are five broad, global trends trends, but they will not play out the same in every country. They will clearly differ depending on cultural, economic, political, and social context, most notably the intensifying “war on journalism” waged by some politicians, militants, criminals, and others with an aversion to accountability reporting and independent journalism.

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