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Mainstream media and the distribution of news in the age of social discovery

A new RISJ report by Nic Newman is now available online after its highly popular launch on Tuesday 4th October at the BBC Council Chamber.

Social media have helped UK newspapers and broadcasters gain traction around the world, but news organisations are becoming increasingly worried about the potentially disruptive effect of social media on their business models. Nic's paper offers an important contribution to understanding the implications of these changes for the quality of news and the future of journalism.

The Report's key conclusions are:

  • Social media are beginning to rival search as a way of discovering news content in the UK. The average news site receives 7.5 per cent of referral traffic from Facebook alone (up from 2 per cent in 2008), whilst the overall importance of search as a gateway has begun to fall for the first time (down 3 percentage points since 2009).
  • Facebook is far and away the most important social network for referring traffic, but Twitter has become a crucial tool for journalists. It has spread rapidly through newsrooms, and now plays a central role in the way stories are sourced, broken and distributed – contributing to a further speeding up of the news cycle.
  • Mainstream media content is the lifeblood of topical social media conversations in the UK – providing the vast majority of news links that are shared. News organisations may not always be first to publish the news, but their agendas and discussions continue to shape conversations around major news stories.
  • News correspondents and columnists are gaining new authority and influence through their expert use of social media. Some are becoming ‘network nodes’ attracting significant audiences of their own – independently of their parent brands.
  • Social media have helped UK newspapers and broadcasters gain traction around the world and especially in the United States, but news organisations with paywalls are in danger of missing out on the benefits.
  • News organisations are becoming increasingly worried about the potentially disruptive effect of social media on their business models. They are struggling to square the circle between using these new powerful open networks to drive traffic and engagement whilst maximising commercial revenues on their own websites.