The digital media revolution has only just begun
"Ten Years that Shook the Media World", a new report published today by the Reuters Institute, shows that even after more than a decade of often dramatic turmoil in the media sector, we are only at the beginning of a longer transitional period.
Today, inherited forms of media, especially linear television, still dominate media use, attract a large proportion of advertising, and support the majority of content creation—especially when it comes to news. All of this is likely to change, with profound implications for media as we know them. Even in countries with very high levels of internet access and use, like Northern Europe and North America, the vast majority of professional journalism continues to be funded by legacy media organizations and by revenues derived from offline platforms like print and broadcasting.
In the absence of major business innovations, the commercial underpinnings of professional journalism continue to erode in most of the Western world as "old media" decline or move away from news and very few online-only new media companies have found sustainable models for news production. While new digital platforms have created exciting new opportunities for socializing, information sharing, and search, it is not clear that they provide a hospitable environment for professional journalism.
The report, written by RISJ Research Fellow Dr Rasmus Kleis Nielsen and supported by a grant from the Open Society Foundations, documents some very significant differences in how media companies in different countries have fared over the last decade, examining both six affluent democracies (Finland, France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom and the United States) as well as two emerging economies (Brazil and India).
The US newspaper industry, for example, has suffered far more than its counterparts elsewhere, and many news organizations in Southern Europe have struggled with inherited institutional problems and cyclical downturns in the economy as much as with problems associated with new technologies. So far, many news organizations in North-Western Europe have performed better than their North American or Mediterranean counterparts, but even given their enviable subscriber base and devoted audiences they are not immune to the challenges that accompany digital convergence.
The report also shows how large parts of the media sector in both Brazil and India is experiencing rapid growth, benefiting from increased literacy, economic growth, and the emergence of a urban middle class of interest to advertisers, though some elite-oriented media organizations there, including broadsheet newspapers, are beginning to face some of the challenges familiar to media companies elsewhere.
In most affluent democracies, the trends identified are undermining both the capacity to professionally produce news and news organizations’ ability to draw broad audiences, whereas the growth seen in emerging economies—while not countering problems of proprietorial interference, political abuse, or necessarily improving the quality of reporting—enables greater and greater quantities of news content production as well as offering news to millions of people who have been left out in the past.