Category Archives: Uncategorized

What will news look like after advertising?

The most recent round of year-end predictions is out on the Nieman Lab site, always full of really interesting and inspiring reads. Joshua Benton has done an amazing job again.

I wrote mine on the question of what news will look like after advertising. Full piece here.

The link between advertising and news that has for so long provided so much of the money invested in professional journalism is coming apart. […]

Beyond the job cuts, this presents journalists with a challenge and an opportunity.

The challenge is that a profession that has taken pride in its detachment from commercial considerations will increasingly be asked to be more directly involved in developing new potentially profitable products.

The opportunity is to rethink what value looks like when the business models underlying news production change. At end of the day, most journalists would probably rather work for their readers than for their advertisers.

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Platforms and publishers – my 2016 ECREA keynote

I was honored to be one of the keynote speakers at the 2016 ECREA conference in Prague. I spoke on the basis of research I am doing with Sarah Ganter on the relationship between news media organizations and digital intermediaries like search engines and social media.

Extended abstract and my slides below.

Publishers and platforms

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, keynote lecture at ECREA 2016 in Prague

What does the continued, global rise of platforms like Google and Facebook mean for public communication in a new digital media environment, and for how we research and understand public communication? That is one of the central questions facing the field of communication research today. In this lecture, I examine the relationship between publishers and platforms as one key part of how the rise of digital intermediaries is playing out, and show how news media—like many others—are becoming simultaneously increasingly empowered by and dependent upon a small number of centrally placed and powerful platforms beyond their control (and with whom they compete for attention and advertising). I develop the notion of “platform power” to begin to capture key aspects of the enabling, generative, and productive power of platforms that set them apart from other actors. As a range of different intermediaries including search engines, social media, and messaging apps become more and more important in terms of how people access and find information online, and in turn restructure the digital media environment itself, communication research is faced with a set of interlocking questions concerning both our intellectual work and our public role. The intellectual questions include the need to understand how people use these platforms to engage with public communication, but also institutional questions including how different platforms engage with other players (like publishers) and how these other players in turn adapt to the rise of platforms, as well as political questions concerning the implications of their rise. The question concerning our public role concerns how existing ways of doing and communicating communication research fits with our ability to understand—and help others understand—an opaque and rapidly-evolving set of processes profoundly reshaping our media environments.

Are book chapters worth writing?

Instrumentally rational academics are supposed to avoid book chapters like the plague. They are not prestigious. They do not get cited very much. They are often hard to access. They tend to take forever to be published. As one colleague likes to say: “Friends do not let friends write book chapters.”

And yet I end up doing it again and again, sometimes quite like it.

As I see it, the key issue is not what the book chapter itself can do for me, but what the process of writing it can help me do. This may not be instrumentally rational, but perhaps reasonable.

I’ve found the genre helpful in three ways in particular (and I hope the outcome is sometimes useful for others). I think of them as (1) argumentative chapters, (2) trailer chapters, and (3) review chapters.

First, argumentative chapters—a book chapter can be a useful way of developing an argument that is interpretive and personal, a genre that contemporary social science is not very hospitable to. For example, I thoroughly enjoyed thinking through the relationship between digital technology and democracy as I wrote my entry for Ben Peter’s Digital Keywords. It’s help me share some thoughts that underlie quite a lot of other things I do and also generated a lot of really interesting discussions at various presentations in recent years.

rkn-democracy

Second, trailer chapters. A book chapter can help test out ideas in advance of a larger empirical project operationalizing the underlying concerns. For example, back in 2014, I wrote a chapter on varieties of online gatekeeping (which now, more than two years later, is on its way out…) that helped me formulate some of the questions I am now pursuing in a project focusing on the relationship between digital intermediaries and news organizations.

gatekeepers

Third, review chapters—a book chapter can help structure a systematic review of a field of research, something I did for example when I wrote this handbook chapter on the business of journalism which after further revisions has come out in the new SAGE Handbook of Digital Journalism. Writing such a chapter imposes an obligation to really review what is out there, but also make judgements about what the most important findings are.

rkn-businessIt’s clear that there are other times where a book chapter does not help develop a personal, interpretive argument, trail a research program, or review a field.

But hey—academics are in a high waste business. Much of what we do have no impact at all, even within our own internal discussions.

It’s hard to know in advance what will help you and what might help others, so maybe hard and fast judgements for or against a whole genre are a bit premature. Of course we need to make choices, and especially junior academics have to think about not only what they value, but also what their field values.

But not everything we do need to be instrumentally rational, as long as it is intellectually useful, and I’ve found even much-maligned book chapters intellectually useful for some things.

2016 International Journal of Press/Politics Book Award to Andrew Chadwick

I’m happy to announce that Andrew Chadwick (Royal Holloway) is the recipient of the 2016 International Journal of Press/Politics Book Award for his book The Hybrid Media System: Politics and Power (Oxford University Press, 2013).

Below is the official announcement of the award from the full award committee, which included Jesper Strömback, Matt Carlson, and myself.

2016 International Journal of Press/Politics Book Award to Andrew Chadwick

More and more scholars argue political communication research needs theoretical innovation to properly understand a changing media environment. Fewer have led such innovation.

Andrew Chadwick is one of them. For years, he has combined insights from political science, media and communication research and other fields with carefully executed case studies of political communication processes in different countries.

His 2013 book The Hybrid Media System: Politics and Power is an outstanding example of this, and we are proud to honor it with the 2016 International Journal of Press/Politics Book Award on behalf of the journal and the award committee, which this year consisted of Jesper Strömback, Matt Carlson, and myself.

This is the second year we give the IJPP Book Award, which we have instituted to honor “internationally-oriented books that advance our theoretical and empirical understanding of the linkages between news media and politics in a globalized world in a significant way.”

Books published within the last ten years are eligible for the award, and we had a very strong field of candidates. This is a real testament to the theoretical creativity, methodological rigor, and growing internationalization of this field of research.

The award committee agreed that Andrew’s book stood out as a creative, innovative, and genuinely interdisciplinary work with a strong link between theory-development and empirical examples.

Instead of relying on existing, older paradigms, Chadwick develops his own original theoretical notion of hybrid media systems, offers the term as a starting point for analyzing the interplay between older and newer media and the implications for power and politics, and puts the idea to use in a series of case studies of particular forms of hybridity found in contemporary news media and campaigns in the UK and the US.

This is an important book, for the theoretical ideas it develops, for the use it puts them to, and for the questions it raises for other scholars. It will have an impact far beyond the study of news and political communication in the UK and the US by presenting new useful ideas and for putting new questions, especially comparative questions, on our collective agenda.

I hope you’ll join me in congratulating Andrew for writing this book. The award is simply a way for the community to recognize and highlight his contribution to the field

What is happening to television news?

TelevisionFor a long time, television seemed to remain resilient to the rise of digital media. In many countries, television viewing increased, as did industry revenues, even as digital media disrupted publishing and music.

For years, many warned that the digital disruption of television was imminent. (Myself included.)

In a new Reuters Institute report written with Richard Sambrook (Professor of Journalism at Cardiff, former Head of BBC News), I argue that we are now seeing the beginning of that disruption. The fact that people have cried wolf before does not mean that there are no wolfes.

Richard and I outline our main argument in a piece on the Nieman Lab here. The full report is available for free as PDF or HTML.

The Executive Summary is below.

Executive Summary

In this report, we analyse what is happening to television news. We map recent changes in traditional television viewing, the rise of online video, and a range of examples of how different organisations are working with new forms of television-like news developed for a digital environment.

We show how recent years have seen significant declines in traditional television viewing in technologically developed markets, and a rapid rise in online video viewing driven by video-sharing sites, video-on-demand services, and the integration of video into social media sites. Television is still an important medium, and will remain so for years to come, but it will not be the dominant force it was in the second half of the twentieth century.

Television viewing in countries like the UK and the US have declined by 3 to 4% per year on average since 2012. These declines are directly comparable to the declines in print newspaper circulation in the 2000s and if compounded over ten years will result in an overall decline in viewing of 25 to 30%. The average audience of many television news programmes is by now older than the average audience of many print newspapers.

The decline in viewing among younger people is far more pronounced both for television viewing in general and for television news specifically, meaning that the loyalty and habits of older viewers prop up overall viewing figures and risk obscuring the fact that television news is rapidly losing touch with much of the population.

There are no reasons to believe that a generation that has grown up with and enjoys digital, on-demand, social, and mobile video viewing across a range of connected devices will come to prefer live, linear, scheduled programming tied to a single device just because they grow older. This raises wider questions about how sustainable the broad public interest role broadcast news has played in many countries over the last 60 years is.

Television news is still a widely used and important source of news, and will remain so for many older people for years to come, but if television news providers do not react to the decline in traditional television viewing and the rise of online video – in particular on-demand, distributed, and mobile viewing – they risk irrelevance. The full implications of the changes we identify here will not be felt immediately, as current viewers will continue to watch for years to come. But the challenge needs to be recognised now and acted on if television news providers want to reinvent themselves and find an audience that increasingly prefers digital media to television, and increasingly embraces on-demand, distributed, and mobile video distributed online.

Many different kinds of news organisations, including legacy broadcasters, print legacy media, and a range of digital pure players, are experimenting with different kinds of television-like and online video news to reach audiences, especially younger people. We review some of what they are trying to do below and show how a limited number of new players, most notably video-on-demand providers like Netflix and Amazon Prime, and platforms like Facebook and YouTube, are currently leading the move towards a video-enabled internet and that, while there are impressive experiments with long-form, in-depth content, shorter clips, and various modes of distribution, no one seems to have found the right recipe for online video news or IPTV news. None of the platforms and on-demand services that dominate online video focus on news.

The fact that no one has found the right recipe for doing online video news in this rapidly changing environment takes nothing away from the urgency of adapting to it. Television as a platform may well be about to face disruption on a scale comparable to what printed newspapers have experienced over the last decade. Television news providers face this transition with many strengths, including well-known brands, creative talent, and deep archives of quality content, but they also risk being constrained by their legacy organisation and culture.

Television news providers who wish to reach younger audiences, adapt to this changing environment, and remain relevant will therefore need to continue to invest in innovation and experimentation, and can learn much from established insights into organisational traits that enable innovation in digital news.

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.

Editorial analytics: new report out

Federica Cherubini and I have written a report for the Reuters Institute on how newsrooms across Europe and North America use analytics to better understand theEditorial analyticsir audience and to support editorial decision making.

The full report, “Editorial analytics: how news media are developing and using audience data and metrics”, is available here in PDF and here in html.

Based on more than 30 interviews, we show how, while most news organizations have embraced analytics, the majority still use analytics in very rudimentary and genric ways.

Only a few are developing what we call “editorial analytics“, approaches that are tailored to the specific needs of a particular organization, underpin both short-term and longer-term decision making, and constantly evolve to keep up with a changing media environment.

In the report, we suggest that news organisations can assess their “analytics capability” along three dimensions: tools, organization, and culture. (More on that here.) Do they have the tools they need, does their organization possess the expertise to make use of them, and does the newsroom culture embrace data-informed decision making?

With the development of more powerful and easier to use tools like Chartbeat, parse.ly and others, we find that what sets best practice examples of editorial analytics apart from other, more rudimentary and generic approaches, is at least as much about organization and culture as it is about tools. People can be the hardest part of analytics.

We hope the report will help newsrooms think about how they use analytics and move beyond rudimentary and generic approaches.

We also hope journalists will agree that it is important that they engage in the development of analytics, so that the tools and techniques that news organizations use reflect editorial values as well as commercial and technological considerations.