With more people getting news from social media, where does this leave newspapers and television?
This article was originally published on Vocal in 2020.
In a world where news and access to information remain vital, more and more people are turning away from television and newspapers, and are heading online and to social media for their news. What impact does this shift have on traditional news media? Are they slowly dying, to be replaced by social media news?
Technological change, if not killing the news industry, is irrevocably changing the traditional news media. Circulation of newspapers nationally has dropped from 30 million in 2003 to 12.4 million in 2017, as more people head online or to social media, particularly Facebook and Twitter, to get their news – 64% of UK adults get their news online, with the percentage increasing rapidly. Comparatively, only 40% of adults now get news physically from a newspaper.
It is no surprise that the technological development of social media has led to a decline in the traditional news media’s success – social media is simple, quick, free, and better for the environment than, for example, purchasing a newspaper every day. It also fits neatly into a person’s daily habitual routine – people check social media exceedingly regularly, spending around 135 minutes per day on it , so why wouldn’t they also consume news in this way?
In a similar way, online news fulfills the need for ‘instant gratification’ created by the technological development of social media, the internet and the 24 hour news cycle along with it. With events occurring all the time, around the world, no longer does a consumer need to wait to buy a newspaper until the following day, or wait for the 10PM news on television to find out what is going on. Online news is instantaneous and gives news to consumers whenever they want it in a way newspapers and TV never can.
The economics of the traditional news media compared to those of the new news media are another reason why technological change is killing the traditional news industry. As more people choose online news sources, for ease, and because, according to Gluck and Roca, ‘the willingness to pay for information has declined’, advertisers have followed their audiences online. The fact that advertisers prefer to advertise online is not surprising – online adverts can be targeted to specific audiences, even individuals, by collecting a great deal of personal information through cookies, which are unavailable with traditional news sources as they rely on online technology.
The impact of this move is obvious – in 2019, digital advertising was forecast to make up over 61% of total spending on advertising, with £12.8 billion being spent on it (an increase of 8.6% from 2018), compared to the £746 million spent on advertising in newspapers (a decrease of 9.4%). This indicates that technological change is clearly killing the traditional news industry, or at least its business model, which is reliant on advertising. Traditional news media simply cannot create the revenue from advertising that online media can, and thus find it extremely difficult to remain afloat without other forms of revenue, for example donations, as The Guardian asks for.
Amidst all the technological change, it is worth noting that the traditional news industry has retained its reputation as a reliable and powerful source of news. Television remains the UK’s most popular news source, with 79% of UK adults using it (Ofcom, 2018) – this also remained the case during the Covid-19 pandemic with 94% of the UK accessing the BBC for ‘information, entertainment or education’. It is also worth noting that 63% of TV news consumers felt the television was a trustworthy news source, compared to only 39% of social media news consumers (Ofcom, 2017), further demonstrating traditional news is more highly regarded than new news media sources, and has successfully retained its reputation, even if it is being threatened by technological developments.
The lack of trust of social media can be linked to the rise of ‘fake news’, a.k.a. ‘news articles that are intentionally and verifiably false, and could mislead readers’. Fake news is predominantly spread across social media and is a growing worry among Britons – 53% worry about their exposure to ‘fake news’ on social media, and 64% cannot distinguish between real stories and fake news. This is clearly an issue exacerbated by technological developments – whilst untrue stories have always been around, the internet and social media can spread the stories to a larger audience and create more official-looking sources which will confuse people as to what is true or false.
Whilst it is an encouraging thing for the traditional media to have retained a positive image within society, this is arguably only a consolation – a positive reputation does not equal money or being able to stay afloat – advertising does, and as previously discussed, due to technological change, the traditional news industry is losing out on advertising revenue to online sources. Therefore, rather than simply arguing technological change is killing the news media industry, perhaps it is more convincing to suggest that technological change is not killing the news industry as a whole, but that it’s killing the business model of traditional news media, which was heavily reliant on advertiser revenue, as companies cannot keep up with the competition offered by modern news media.
In some ways technological change has actually benefited the practice of journalism itself. Social media has been helpful in aiding journalists to cover difficult-to-cover stories, and has offered greater access to eye-witnesses and first-hand sources. Similarly, citizen journalism has flourished, thanks to the technological developments of ‘global telecommunication networks with broadband capability, wireless communication, and permanent connectivity’ which allows people to report and photograph events in real time and share them via social media.
Technological developments therefore offer journalists a wider range of sources and information which they would not have previously had access to, for example, accounts from war zones, or information on the police shootings across America, as used in the Guardian’s ‘The Counted’ campaign. Technological developments have also enabled reporting on global stories which once were exceedingly difficult to report on, as journalists had little to no information on the issues at hand. For example, members of the public in Syria set up their own makeshift news agency to keep journalists around the world abreast of the civil war and terrorist attacks happening in their country, to enable them to report on it. Clearly, therefore technological developments have enriched journalism and made it better – reports will be more informed, global and engaging.
So where does this leave us? Technological developments aren’t killing journalism, in fact, they are helping it to flourish and effectively inform people. But they are killing the business model of the traditional news media – newspapers and television cannot compete with online news sources, both economically and in terms of the 24-hour news cycle, and if they cannot come up with a way to combat these problems, no matter how good the reporting, it seems traditional news media is on the way out.