The favourable impression created by continuing high trust in Portuguese news media only provides a partial picture of the situation. Journalists are up in arms about working conditions and wages falling behind inflation. At the same time, media companies are struggling for successful business models in a market where consumers are extremely resistant to pay for digital news.
As the rising cost of living hits consumers, the news business is also feeling the impact of structural economic changes. Many are still clinging to traditional business models, but declining print circulation and revenue are making the shift towards sustainable digital strategies ever more urgent. Portugal remains one of the markets with the lowest rates of paying for digital news (11%); consumers prefer to rely on free sources and, although some brands have developed paywalls, most are failing to win large numbers of subscribers.
Portuguese journalists have long suffered from low wages and poor job security. In the past year journalists have been active in demanding better working conditions, highlighting the relationship between job security and decent salaries and their ability to produce quality journalism. Localised strikes and protests have taken place with the support of the Portuguese Journalists Union, whose president has raised the possibility of a general strike.
According to APCT, the official body responsible for tracking circulation, falling print circulation and revenue is affecting all major national outlets. Modest rises in paid digital subscriptions cannot compensate for the losses in print sales and the huge reliance on print advertising. In 2022, Impresa's weekly Expresso led the market in terms of paid print circulation, followed closely by Cofina's Correio da Manhã. Expresso and Público both also have impressive digital subscription numbers (47,450 and 46,560 respectively) – Correio da Manhã is behind with 23,932. Expresso and Público's success is built on their early transition towards digital revenue and the gradual introduction of paywalled content online, even in a market where resistance to paying for online news is an issue. The digital landscape also includes a rich offer from advertising-funded sites Sapo portal and Notícias ao Minuto, which have considerable reach on the web and social media.
Audio and particularly podcasting are a key focus of investment for many organisations and some audio content now has more reach in podcast form than as a linear TV or radio show. Legacy print brands such as Expresso and Público now have an extensive range of podcasts, available for free, outside the digital subscription offer, and big legacy advertisers such as the banking, telecoms, or automotive sectors are starting to buy ad-space on the most-listened-to podcasts. Digital-native outlets such as Observador continue to rely heavily on podcasts to distribute their content.
Concerns over media concentration are rising again, as rumours circulate of a possible buyout of Cofina Group by another leading company, Media Capital Group. Cofina is the market leader in newspapers, with the best-selling daily paper Correio da Manhã and the successful TV news channel Correio da Manhã TV. Meanwhile, Media Capital is strong in TV with two 24-hour news channels (TVI and CNN Portugal). This explains why on 3 March 2023 the stock market regulator suspended trading in both companies until further information on the acquisition was made public.
In 2022, the media regulator ERC and the government agreed on the need to reform the press law, to help stakeholders adapt to the challenges of the digital age. Many hope that a new legal framework will provide clearer guidelines as to how journalism can address issues such as economic pressure from online platforms, the threat of disinformation, and new forms of revenue, such as sponsored or branded content.
The government has also announced plans to increase existing support for the ailing regional and local press. The Minister for Culture has recognised the need and pledged a 12.5% increase, since this funding has been frozen since 2015. The regional and local press see this increased support as essential to their future.
The current configuration of digital news brands seems unlikely to replace the democratic role played by existing regional and local media. A recent digital media map of Portugal,1 shows that they are mostly located on the coastal, heavily populated areas of the country. In January 2021, 27% of municipalities have become what are known as ‘news deserts’, having no digital news brand headquartered in their territory; about a quarter of all outlets are based in Lisbon.
Ana Pinto-Martinho, Miguel Paisana, and Gustavo Cardoso
ISCTE-IUL University Institute of Lisbon
Despite high reach offline, legacy TV brands face a more competitive scene in the online arena, where print and digital-born brands are increasing and diversifying their offer. TV remains central but online, mainly social, keeps getting traction among younger Portuguese.
Pay for online news
Listen to podcast in the last month
Trust in news overall
Trust in news I use
Portugal remains one of the highest-ranking markets for trust in news (3rd/46), due to low political polarisation and a generalised sense of the press as free (9th/180 according to the 2023 World Press Freedom Index). In a trust-enabled news ecosystem, most brands have high trust, with the public broadcaster RTP again the most trusted brand.