Tag Archives: journalism

What’s happening to our media?

I’m in the process of writing up a report that presents the main findings from the research project on the changing business of journalism and its implications for democracy that I’ve been involved in over the last two years.

In the project, we try to identify the key “big trends” in the media in a range of different democracies (Brazil, Finland, France, Germany, India, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the United States) over the first decade of the twenty-first century.

Given such a spread of countries, widely different in too many ways to mention, there is obviously not one thing, or even a few things, that have happened to media and democracy in all of them.

Nonetheless, I’m trying to summarize the main points—below is a condensed passage from the concluding part of the draft report. Any and all comments on its most welcome, here or by email.

Most fundamentally, the last decade has involved a continued expansion of the number of options available to audiences and advertisers. This expansion originates in political, economic, and technological developments that gathered pace in the 1980s and 1990s with deregulation of the media sector in many countries, the growth of multi-channel television, the launch of an increasing number of free newspapers in many countries, and the spread of first-generation internet access via dial-up modems. It has been vastly accelerated by the spread of digital television and broadband internet in the 2000s.

The expansion of options has lead to an erosion of the everyday audience of most individual media outlets across most platforms, pressuring sales and advertising revenues for commercial providers, especially in mature markets with limited growth—in some cases to an extent that has jeopardized sustainability or forced severe cost-cutting. Few significant newspapers or broadcasters have actually closed, but most are under pressure. One the one hand, media companies have responded by adding more and more outlets to their expanding portfolios—at the very least adding a website and mobile services to whatever print title or broadcast channel they have historically been based around. On the other hand, this move towards more and more integrated and convergent media companies has been accompanied by layoffs, demands for increased productivity, and internal restructurings. (The booming Indian media market, where industry revenues are growing at double-digit rates annually, has seen much more of the former than the latter, though a recession will almost certainly result in retrenchment and consolidation.)

While a handful of infrastructural intermediaries in the telecommunications, pay television, search engine, and social media sectors have built positions that allow them to exercise market power and generate considerable profits, most content-based media companies face increased competition. In their attempts to remain distinct and relevant to audiences they are under external pressure from a growing number of alternatives appealing to the same users and under internal pressure in cases where cost-cutting threatens investments in quality content.

National newspapers that in the 1990s primarily competed with each other today face competition from both freesheets, broadcasters, and online services. The terrestrial television channels that ruled the airwaves twenty years ago are now up against a growing number of digitally transmitted free-to-air channels as well as premium pay channels and audiovisual services streamed over the internet. Legacy media websites and internet portals that dominated online news provision ten years ago are under increasing pressure from a growing number of aggregators and other new alternatives. As when radio disrupted the media sector in the 1920s and 1930s and television did the same in the 1950s and 1960s, the introduction and spread of a new media platform and the emergence of a multitude of new entrants all catering to the same finite number of audiences and advertisers have had knock-on consequences for legacy media, forcing incumbents to adjust their existing operations and take a stance on how to position themselves vis-à-vis the new medium.

This fundamental strategic challenge is the same across the world, but differences in conditions on the ground means that the tactics and outcomes vary in significant ways.

Amongst affluent democracies, the development is most dramatic in the United States, where all major news providers, with the partial exception of local television stations and a few cable channels, have lost revenues, seen their profit margin shrink or disappear, and have cut their investment in journalism. In much of Europe, public service providers face strategic challenges associated with the expansion of choice and the intensified competition for audiences, but their revenue models remain fundamentally solid. In Northern Europe, including Finland and Germany, commercial legacy media companies coming out of both print and broadcasting have so far managed to hold their own despite the spread of multi-channel digital television and high levels of broadband penetration. In Southern Europe, broadcasters have also held their own while many newspaper companies are struggling as challenges associated with the rise of the internet threaten their already weak commercial foundations, forcing some to rely on cross-subsidies from non-media businesses or financial support from their owners. In Brazil and India, large parts of the media sector are booming, but the revenues are not necessarily invested in quality content.

In the absence of dramatic change in media use, media markets, or media policy, and assuming no new game-changing technologies are waiting in the wings, media systems in affluent democracies are likely to see (a) a continued erosion of most media audiences and an increasing number of only partially overlapping niche audiences, (b) the continued decline of a newspaper industry that has in some cases enjoyed a few decades of monopoly-powered profitability but has been on the retreat overall in many countries for longer (as newspapers, for all their trouble, has been the main underwriters of professionally produced news journalism this has direct consequences for the number of reporters employed), (c) a continually growing gulf, driven in part by people’s preferences, in part by niche-oriented marketing logics, and in part by competition between outlets keen to differentiate their products from the competition, between the few who will in all likelihood be more informed than ever before, and the many who will receive, seek out, and find less and less news produced for them, especially if they belong to groups not considered attractive by advertisers. We are still at the beginning of the shake-out that will follow.

The full report will be published in October–stay peeled.

Does Nevada mean that conservatives have begun to “rally” around Romney? Not really

The overall result of the Nevada caucus—a clear Mitt Romney victory—was so predictable that I haven’t really been following the campaign there and hadn’t planned to write about it. But then some of the media coverage of the result is interesting and amnesic enough to merit a few words.

First the result, from AP via Google: Romney 50%, Gingrich 21%, Paul 19%, and Santorum 10%. Turnout little short of 33,000 voters.

What does that mean? According to Michael O’Brian writing on MSNBC/NBC, “Saturday’s caucus reflect an instance in which Romney was able to rally conservatives to his candidacy.” Chris McGreal writes for the Guardian that “Republican voters of various shades [now] latch on to Romney as the best prospect of beating Barack Obama.”

Wait a minute. Romney is the clear favourite to secure the Republican nomination, but it is not at all clear that the Nevada result suggests that conservatives are now rallying around him.

Why? Well, we could compare the 2012 results with 2008, for example—Romney 51%, Ron Paul 14%, John McCain 13% and the rest sharing the remaining 22%. Turnout? More than 44,000 voters. (The difference is clear from my highly sophisticated combo of the Wikipedia pages on 2008 and 2012 below, an example of the power of what Larry Lessig calls “remix culture“…)

In other words, Romney, the candidate that Republicans are now supposedly “rallying” around, and who came into Nevada with considerable momentum, who has a clear organizational and financial advantage, and who faced very little serious resistance on the ground as his rivals had given up the state in advance, got more votes in 2008 than in 2012. And not just a little– he got about a third more votes back then if you look at the absolute numbers. (16,486 in 2012, versus 22,649 in 2008.)

There are no doubt many reasons for this result that I won’t comment on here. But one thing I would venture to say is that it suggests that the Republican base is yet to accept Romney as their man. His campaign continues to have to fight on two fronts at the same time–making a broad-based appeal to the American people with an eye to the November general election while convincing the (diverse) conservative core of the Republican Party that they should support him too.

My book, Ground Wars: Personalized Communication in Political Campaigns, deals with how American political campaigns mobilize, organize, and target their field operations, using large numbers of volunteers and paid part-timer workers to contact voters at home at the door or over the phone. It has just been published by Princeton University Press and is available on Amazon.

Impressions of Indian Newspaper Journalism

I’m no expert on Indian newspaper journalism, but for the last two weeks, I’ve been an avid reader of the country’s English language press and have thoroughly enjoyed my fleeting encounters with the Times of India, the Hindu, the Deccan Chronicle, the New Indian Express and several other titles.

There are plenty of things to worry about when it comes to the status of newspaper journalism in India, even as the industry in contrast to its peers in many Western countries is enjoying rapid growth in circulation and revenues—problems include the proliferation of paid coverage not only of commercial ventures and in reviews, but also in politics (“no money, no news”), various fights between the editorial and the commercial side, plus the frequent harassment of journalists by local authorities, political activists, criminals, and sometimes the military or the police.

But boy can they write, and can they write about politics in particular—riveting accounts means that even now, after my return from travels in South India, I find myself frequenting their websites—trawling for news about Prime Minister Singh’s possible involvement in the 2G scam, following the twists and turns of the fall of Chief Minister B. S. Yeddyurappa in Karnataka after a judicial inquiry connected him directly with widespread illegal mining in the state, reading about how Ms. Jayalalithaa’s newly elected AIADMK government in Tamil Nadu is cracking down on their defeated DKM predecessors on numerous charges of land grabs, corruption, and the like.

All this is so interesting partially because the substance matter is so serious, so clearly worth ones’ time. (On my return I found by contrast that the London Times had seen fit to write an editorial about Prime Minister Cameron’s decision to, while on holiday, wear black shoes without socks. The Times editorial writer thought one should always wear socks when wearing shoes, though conceded that one could be forgiven for wearing flips flops or even loafers without socks. Riveting stuff, really.) The 2G scam, for example, is estimated is estimated by some to have cost the Indian state almost $40 billion in lost revenue.

This kind of stuff matters, and even without independent investigative work, simply reporting the work of judicial investigators, non-profits and others looking into this, and how elected officials talk about it is important and commands attention. Even as a complete outsider, on many days, I’d find as much of interest in the daily edition of a 24-page newspaper sold for 3 or 4 Rupees (about 5 pence) as I usually do in the UK in daily newspapers often approaching a hundred pages all included and sold for a pound.

The journalists and editors who write all this surely face many challenges as their industry and profession develops alongside so many other changes in India—let me just say I enjoyed my brief brush with their work and wish them and all their colleagues working in broadcasting, online, as well as in Hindi and numerous other vernacular languages well.