How are Indian newspapers handling their digital transition?

thumbnailBy some estimates, India is adding something like 250,000 new internet users every day right now, driven by the spread of cheap smartphone and (often limited) mobile web access. While still limited by uneven infrastructure and by deep inequality and poverty, digital media are growing very rapidly in India.

How are Indian newspapers handling their transition to this new environment? Their print business is still growing (especially in Hindi and vernacular languages, less so in English), and they have the advantage of being able to learn from experiences of newspapers elsewhere.

That is the question Zeenab Aneez, Sumandro Chattapadhyay, Vibodh Parthasarathi, and I took on in a recently published Reuters Institute Report called Indian Newspapers’ Digital Transition.

We focus here specifically on changes in newsroom organization and journalistic work-practices. In the future, I hope we can do more work on the business strategy of Indian newspapers (most seem to offer news for free, and base their digital business on dispay advertising, a model that others in other parts of the world have struggled with).

The report is produced in collaboration with the Centre for Internet and Society and is in a way a companion piece to the report on Digital Journalism Start-Ups in India that Arijit Sen and I published earlier this year.

Full report available here and executive summary below.

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Indian Newspapers’ Digital Transition

By Zeenab Aneez, Sumandro Chattapadhyay, Vibodh Parthasarathi, and Rasmus Kleis Nielsen.

Published by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford.

Produced in collaboration with the Centre for Internet and Society.

This report examines the digital transition underway at three leading newspapers in India, the Dainik Jagran in Hindi, English-language Hindustan Times, and Malayala Manorama in Malayalam. Our focus is on how they are changing their newsroom organisation and journalistic work to expand their digital presence and adapt to a changing media environment.

The background for the report is the rapid and continued growth in digital media use in India. Especially since 2010, internet use has grown at an explosive pace, driven by the spread of mobile web access, also outside large urban areas and the more affluent and highly educated English-language minority that have historically represented a large part of India’s internet users. Some analysts estimate more than 30% of Indians had some form of internet access by the end of 2015 (IAMAI-IMRB, 2015). With this growth has come a perceptible shift of audience attention and advertising investment away from legacy media like print and television and towards digital media. This shift has been accompanied by the launch of a number of new digital media start-ups in India and, especially, the growing role of large international technology companies investing in the Indian market.

These developments present Indian newspapers with new challenges and opportunities. Print circulation and advertising is still growing in India, but more slowly than in the past, and especially the English-language market seems saturated and ripe for the shift towards digital media that has happened elsewhere. From 2014 to 2015, the Indian advertising market grew by 13%. Print grew 8%, but English-language newspaper advertising only half of that. Digital advertising, in contrast, grew by 38%, and is projected to continue to grow for years to come as digital media become more central to India’s overall media environment (KPMG-FICCI, 2016).

If they want to secure their long-term future and continued editorial and commercial success, Indian newspapers have to adapt to these changes. The three case studies in this report represent three different examples of how major newspapers are navigating this transition.

Based on over 30 interviews conducted with senior management, editors, and rank-and-file reporters from three major newspapers, as well as other senior journalists and researchers who have wider experience in the Indian news industry, plus secondary sources including industry reports and academic research, we show the following.

  • All three newspapers are proactively investing in digital media technology and expertise, and adapting their editorial priorities, parts of their daily workflow, distribution strategies, and business model to the rise of digital media. Tools like Chartbeat and Dataminr are now commonplace; search engine optimisation, social media optimisation, and audience analytics are part of everyday work; and some are experimenting with new formats (Hindustan Times was a launch partner for Facebook Instant Articles; Manorama Online has produced both Virtual Reality and 360 videos, an Apple watch app, and is on Amazon Echo).
  • Given that the print newspaper industry is still growing in India, especially in Indian-language markets, these newspapers are innovating from a position of relative strength in comparison to their North American and European counterparts. However, this is done with the awareness that that print is becoming a relatively less important part of the Indian media environment, and digital media more important. Short-term, reach and profits come from print, but longer term, all have to build a strong digital presence to succeed editorially and commercially.
  • All three newspapers aim to do this by building on the assets they have as legacy media organisations, and trying to leverage their brand reputation, audience reach, and editorial resources to maintain an edge over digital news start-ups and international news providers. Their legacy, however, offers not only assets, but also liabilities. As successful incumbents, all of them struggle with the inertia that comes from established organisational structures and professional cultures. To change their organisation and culture, and thus more effectively combine new technologies and skills with existing core competences, each newspaper is not only investing in digital media and personnel, but also trying to change at least parts of the existing newspaper to adapt to an increasingly digital media environment.
  • They do this in different ways. At Dainik Jagran and Malayala Manorama, the focus has been on building up separate digital operations at Jagran.com and Manorama Online, apart from the printed newspaper itself. At the Hindustan Times, in contrast, the aim has been to integrate print and digital in a joint operation working across platforms and channels. Dainik Jagran and Malayala Manoroma have thus focused mostly on building up new digital assets, whereas the Hindustan Times has been transforming existing assets to work across platforms. At Dainik Jagran and Malayala Manorama, much of the push for change has come from management, whereas there has been a stronger editorial involvement at the Hindustan Times, and a greater attempt to engage rank-and-file reporters through training sessions and other initiative designed to demonstrate not only the commercial importance, but also the editorial potential, of digital media.
  • All three newspapers have found that expanding their digital operations requires investment of money in new technologies and in staff with new skills. But it is also clear that this is not enough. Investment in technology has to be accompanied by a change in organisation and culture to effectively leverage existing assets in a digital media environment. In their attempts to do this, the most significant barriers have been a perceived cultural hierarchy, deeply ingrained especially in the newsroom, that print journalism is somehow inherently superior to digital journalism, and a lack of effective synergy between editorial leaders and managers, often combined with a lack of technical know-how. Money can buy new tools and bring in new expertise, but it cannot on its own change culture, ensure synergy, or align the organisation with new priorities. This requires leadership and broad-based change. Long-term, senior editors, management, and rank-and-file reporters will have to work and change together to secure Indian newspapers’ role in an increasingly digital media environment.

Digital media thus present Indian newspapers with challenges and opportunities similar to those newspapers have faced elsewhere. Only they face these from a position of greater strength, because of the continued growth in their print business, and with the benefit of having seen how things have developed in more technologically developed markets. We hope this report will help them navigate the digital transition ahead.

 

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.

How can collaboration enable investigative journalism?

Today, we hosted a workshop at the Reuters Institute organized by Richard Sambrook and myself on how collaboration can enable more investigative journalism.

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As more traditional sources of funding are under pressure, different kinds of collaborative projects, whether anchored by legacy news media like the Guardian (with collaborations around the NSA/Snowden revelations and many others examples), digital-born players like BuzzFeed (working with, for example, the BBC), or non-profits like the International Consortium for Investigative Journalism (of Panama Papers fame, based on documents initially leaked to Süddeutsche Zeitung), have shown they can deliver important forms of accountability journalism in new ways.

The topics discussed included where collaboration can work, where not, what enables and what hinders collaboration (competition, habit, practical obstacles), as well as how collaborations can be funded.

The workshop included a diverse group of international participants with considerable experience across investigative journalism, editing, media law, technology, and included both people from private, public service, and non-profit media. It’s just a real privilege to get a chance to learn from all the interesting and important work people are doing.

Participants included Brigitte Alfter (Editor Europe, Journalismfund.eu), Ceri Thomas (Former editor BBC Panorama), Chuck Lewis (Founder, The Center for Public Integrity), Eliot Higgins (Founder, Bellingcat), Gerard Ryle (Director, International Consortium of Investigative Journalists), Jan Clements (Media lawyer and editorial consultant), Javier Moreno Barber (Director, El Pais), Mar Cabra (Head of Data & Research Unit, International Consortium of Investigative Journalists), Nicolas Kayser Brill (Co-founder and CEO, Journalism++), Rachel Oldroyd (Managing editor, Bureau of Investigative Journalism), Sylke Gruhnwald (Chairwoman of Journalismfund.eu and Reporter) and Tom Warren (Investigations correspondent, Buzzfeed).

 

New report for the Council of Europe

The Reuters Institute has just published a report that Alessio Cornia, Antonis Kalogeropoulos and I wrote for the Council of Europe’s Steering Committee on Media and Information Society reviewing challenges and opportunities for news media and journalism in today’s changing media environment.

I presented the report Dec 1 in Strasbourg at the CDMSI Workshop: ‘The Future of News: media and journalism in the age of digital convergence’.

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It was a day of interesting discussions with participants from member state governments and the other speakers, including Nabil Wakim (Director of Editorial Innovation, Le Monde), Matt Rogerson (Head of Public Policy of Guardian News & Media), Pierre France, Founder of Rue 89 Strasbourg, Renate Schroeder (Director of the European Federation of Journalists), Wout van Wijk (Executive Director of News Media Europe), Benedicte Autret from Google’s Digital News Initiative, Alexandre Brachet (Founder of Upian), and Gabriele Bertolli (Team Leader – Future of the Media, Media Freedom and Media Pluralism, European Commission).

Key take-aways from the report (pp.6-7)–

The precise nature of change in the media environment varies in important ways from country to country, but there are some clear, high–level commonalities that represent both opportunities and challenges for journalism, media organisations, and public debate. The three most important developments driven by technological and market forces today are—

 

  1. The move to an increasingly digital, mobile, and social media environment with increasingly intense competition for attention where legacy media like broadcasters and especially newspapers, while remaining very important news producers are becoming relatively less important as distributors of news and are under growing pressure to develop new digital business models as their existing operations decline or stagnate.

  2. The growing importance of a limited number of large technology companies that enable billions of users across the world to navigate and use digital media in easy and attractive ways through services like search, social networking, video sharing, messaging, etc. and who as a consequence play a more and more important role in terms of (a) the distribution of news and (b) digital advertising.

  3. The development of a high–choice media environment where internet users have access to more and more information in convenient formats and often for free, across a range of increasingly sophisticated personal and mobile devices, and in ways that enable new forms of participation—an environment where those most interested in news embrace these new opportunities to get, share, and comment on news, but a larger number of people opt for more casual and passive forms of use.

Medientage München 2016 take-aways

I spoke at Medientage München 2016 (Munich Media Days 2016) in October as part of a day-long program organized by the Media Lab Bayern.

Here I am, looking characteristically serious. (I sometimes smile, photographic evidence to the contrary.)

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Foto: Medientage München 2016

It was really interesting, with lots of people from a new generation trying to do new things. There is a good summary (in German) of the day here, more on Twitter under #mtm16.

Three take-aways for me–

  1. Good to see more examples of people combining clear creative vision with data-informed decision-making: try, test, learn, repeat.
  2. As is often the case, professional/industry events tend to involve national speakers+speakers from US and UK. What about EU neighbors? Can’t we learn from each other across a continent with markets much smaller than Global, English-language market?(Looking forward to IJF in Perugia as always.)
  3. Discussion of relation between media companies, government, and large (US-based) technology companies are much more explicit and have a much harder tone in Germany than in the UK, let alone the US.

Is social media use associated with more or less diverse news use?

By Richard Fletcher and Rasmus Kleis Nielsen

In the wake of the US election result in November and earlier in the year the outcome of the UK referendum on the European Union, some have argued that the rise of social media and its increasing role as a source of news have led to a world where people get less and less diverse information.

The terminology varies—echo chambers, filter bubbles, etc.—but the underlying concern is the same: that the rise of social media means that people get less diverse news from a narrower range of sources.

But is that actually the case? At the moment, we know surprisingly little about how people get news via social media, and how social media platforms might shape news consumption. Much of the current discussion is driven more by worry than by evidence.

Data from the 2015 Reuters Institute Digital News Report might shed some light on what is going on. It suggests that social media users in fact use significantly more different sources of news than non-users, thus challenging the filter bubble hypothesis.

While both social media use and social media functionality have evolved since the survey was in the field in 2015, it provides an important pointer as to the implications of social media use, because it helps us distinguish between the news diet of (1) people who intentionally use social media to get news (News users), (2) people who use social media for other purposes and come across news in the process (the Incidentally exposed), and (3) people who never see any news on social media, or do not use it at all (Non-users).

When we compare the number of online news sources (e.g. BBC News, the Mail Online, the New York Times app or website, etc.) each of these three groups said they had used in the last week, and compared them to those who do not use social media, we see that social media use is in fact associated with being exposed to significantly higher number of online news sources.

Importantly, both those social media users who use the platforms for news (News users) and those who use social media for other reasons and in the process come across news (the Incidentally exposed) get news from significantly more different online news sources than non-users.

The data presented in Figure 1 (for the UK) and Figure 2 (US) below clearly show how those who do not use social media (the blue bar of Non-users) on average come across news from significantly fewer different online sources than those who do use social media (the red bar of News users and the yellow bar of the Incidentally exposed). The figure for the incidentally exposed is particularly important because the data suggests that social media users typically receive a ‘boost’ in the number of news sources they use each week, even if they are not actually trying to consume more news.

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Furthermore, Figures 1 and 2 also show that the difference between those who intentionally use social media for news and those who are incidentally exposed is quite small; usually smaller than the gap between non-users and the incidentally exposed. In the case of Facebook in the UK, the gap is almost zero.

Put differently, the effect of incidental exposure is in some cases powerful enough to close gaps in news consumption between those who are motivated or interested enough to actively seek it out using social media, and those who use it for other purposes.

The data presented above are raw figures, but the patterns identified remain consistent even when we use regression analysis to control for demographic differences such as age, gender, income and education, as well as people’s level of trust and interest in the news. Social media use is thus associated with more diverse news use.

Of course, in some cases, using more different sources of online news will not in itself guarantee a more diverse news diet. It is possible that all the sources used by some respondents reflect the same basic political or ideological stance. A few respondents may use a high number of different but very similar, very partisan sources of news and thus still live in a filter bubble or echo chamber of sorts. Our data only captures the number of sources respondents say they have used in the past week, not the content they have actually consumed.

Nonetheless, in most cases, using significantly more different sources of online news is likely to result in a more diverse news diet, and social media users—both those who intentionally use social media for news and those who use the platforms for other purposes but come across news while on them—use more different sources of online news than people who do not use social media.

Take-aways from Google’s DNI Berlin

November 17, I attended a Google Digital News Initiative event in Berlin, where a new round of €24 million in grants was announced and developments in media discussed with various publishers from across Europe. (More on the winners here – lot’s of interesting initiatives.)

30 minutes took me from Tegel airport and its abundant offer of local printed newspapers to a conversation focused on the future of media and news.

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It was an interesting event with very good group of attendees, lively discussions during the sessions and even more so during the breaks.

My take-aways (check #dniberlin for more discussion)—

Journalism remains challenging and news a tough business, but both are important and I take 3 positive things from what I heard and conversation with various publishers.

  • First, it is great to see a gradual move beyond vague talk of “innovation” to how leaders can encourage it, how everyone in an organization needs to engage for it to succeed, and to how new and more diverse skills are needed. This is in line with what Lucy Kung’s research has found and others working on change and innovation too and it is good to see more publishers embrace these ideas—even as innovation and change in practice remains difficult and the environment continues to change faster than many publishers have been able to change themselves.
  • Second, more and more news media are embracing the idea that you need to try things, test them, evaluate, and repeat to constantly adapt and learn. This is a move away from the tendency to talk about and perhaps in practice focus on big-bang type initiatives that takes months to develop and require lots of resources and often in-fighting and resistance, to a greater focus on all the little things one can do to constantly try to improve and adapt, and how one can both empower decentral teams to try things while also having ways of deciding what to go ahead with and what not.
  • Third, there is obviously competition and even conflict between different actors in the wider ecosystem, but also a real interest in collaboration, in identifying synergies and win-win scenarios. No one can “go it alone”, so news media, technology companies, and other actors including foundations, non-profits, and universities need to find each other and find ways of working together.

News media are frequently criticized for being conservative and slow to change. Many of them are, and the pace of change and the pain of collapsing revenues in itself neither explains nor excuses this.

But it is also important to recognize that, as Alessio Cornia, Annika Sehl and I have found in our research on how private sector media and public service media across Europe are adapting to change that some of them have both (a) invested a lot in digital media and (b) build very significant audiences, produced great journalism, and in some cases found promising business opportunities.

Not everyone is equally conservative. And some of those who have tried more aggressively to change have done demonstrably better. A few media companies seem content to die with their current aging (print/broadcast) audience without fighting to build a digital future, but that is, thankfully, not the general outlook.

On the technology side, Google gave short presentations of various products, including the Accelerated Mobile Pages project, YouTube player for publishers, and various products around monetization.

The two most interesting things gauging from what people were buzzing about during the breaks were—

  • Rudy Galfi (Product Manager for the AMP Project)’s presentation on the development of “Progressive Web Apps” that aim to combine the discoverability (through links, search, social etc.) of the open web with the engagement and good user experience of native apps. As publishers think about scale versus niche, and about building reach and converting people to loyal (and potentially profitable) users, this is an important area.

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  • The demo by Behshad Behzadi (Director of Conversational Search) of Google Assistant, an attempt to “build the ultimate assistant” by developing a personal virtual AI assistant that can be controlled by voice and provide highly contextual, personalized, interactive information and services. It is being rolled out initially via the Google Pixel smartphone and the Google Home smart speaker, but will be available across smartphones, wearables and more in the future. As Laurence Kozera (Google Global Product Partnerships) put it, “as news publishers, you should be thinking ‘voice’ right now, and how you can integrate it into assistants”. And from December, developers can build “actions” for Google Assistant. As the content  will be delivered via the assistant, publishers will wonder about the usual issues around distributed content–recognizing the opportunity, but also wonder about editorial control over brand identity, access to data, and opportunities for monetization.

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