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How journalism faces a second wave of disruption from technology and changing audience behaviour

23 Oct 2015

Seminar reportNews is in the middle of a second wave of disruption, according to Nic Newman, digital media strategist and research associate at the RISJ. The main reasons for the changes which occur in journalism as well as in society are: the new important role of mobiles, social media and video. Let‘s focus on the most important point: mobile. It is THE device in the digital age because it is flexible and personal. The Reuters Institute Digital News report shows that in 2015 almost 42 per cent of people living in the UK used their smartphone to access online news. That is a strong growth compared to the figures from 2012, when only 28 per cent used their smartphone in this way. Other interesting figures are: for 27 per cent of the UK population, their smartphone is the main way of accessing news. In the group of people under 35 years-old the figure rises to 45 per cent. Another important fact when it comes to smartphones: mobile alerts via app or SMS are becoming a more important way of reaching customers. To quote Newman: “The lock screen of your phone is becoming the new front page.“ Besides mobile the other key disruptive force is social media, and especially Facebook. Around one billion people use Facebook every day. Youtube is also getting more and more important  - one billion users each day, with visitor timeup 70 per cent. To contrast, Twitter has 300 million users every day. What is really interesting when it comes to Facebook and Twitter is that people look for news on Twitter, but they bump into stories on Facebook and THEN share them. As one Fellow put it: “People of my generation aren´t reading a full newspaper - they are looking what their friends are reading, what´s trending.“ If you have a look at the United States this means that 41 per cent of people between 18 and 24 are getting their news from social media. But only 19 per cent of people over 45. It is the other way around when you take a  look at a traditional news brand. 34 per cent of the people aged over 45 rely on an established brand when it comes to news (24 per cent of those between 18 and 24). So what do journalists  need to learn from all these facts? They should always be aware of how they publish, what they publish, when they do it, what it is, which formats they are using and what tools. Essentially, it’s abouto reaching the right audience. The last crucial point in Newman‘s presentation was around the concept of the democratisation of newsgathering. We live in an era of active citizens and we, as journalists, cannot ignore them any longer. Have a look at the Hudson miracle for example. The picture of the plane, which ditched in the Hudson river in New York was not taken by  a professional photojournalist, but by a citizen. But it was published on front pages around the world. To sum it up, there are a lot of new skills required from journalists to be able to connect with citizens. For that change to happen, companies need good leadership, they must invest in resources, they need to train and educate their staff and they need to re-allocate resources. And we as journalists need to be aware of one fact: We need to compete in a way we have never done before. We need to remember our role. The task is no longer being first to break a story. The task is to verify, to analyze and to explain a story. Because if you want to be first, you will lose - Facebook or Twitter will always be one step ahead.

Written by Anja Kröll Nic Newman, Digital Media Strategist and Research Associate at the RISJ, spoke at the Business and Practice of Journalism seminar at Green Templeton College on Wednesday October 14, 2015.