Each year, the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism (RISJ) interviews global media leaders on how they view the year ahead. In the 2022 report, 246 news leaders from 52 countries, shared their insights about the trends that publishers need to pay attention to.
1. Paying for news is alive and kicking
Optimism is still here! Despite the noticeable fall in news consumption in several countries, the majority (59%) of the surveyed publishers experienced revenue growth that derived mostly from subscription and membership models. In fact, the report highlights that the New York Times hit 7.6M digital subscriptions while its 2025 goal is to reach 10M.
- 79% publishers admit that subscription is their priority for 2022
- Publishers are looking for a mixed subscription model with display (73%) and native advertising (59%), events (40%) and funding from platforms (29%), which has grown significantly over the last year
2. Journalists will be returning to traditional newsrooms
In the recent past, we witnessed the rise of the “creators economy”, where many journalists joined several paid-for platforms, instead of traditional newsrooms; however, this was not proven as successful as expected. As a result, in 2022, mainstream news outlets should probably witness some of that talent returning back to them.
On the other hand, the collective monetization of large audiences that star journalists have accumulated on social channels is highly anticipated. A striking example of this case is Puck News, a startup created by a former editor of Vanity Fair Jon Kelly, who recruited influential writers covering Silicon Valley, Hollywood, Washington, and Wall Street. However, these collectives could face the same problems as newsrooms, especially in finding enough people that are willing and able to pay for their content.
3. Podcasts, newsletters and digital videos to drive engagement
Increased audience engagement is the #1 factor to drive subscription and membership products. For that matter, 80% of the surveyed publishers plan to invest in podcasts and other digital audio, 70% in newsletters - two channels that have proved effective in increasing loyalty and attracting new subscribers - and 63% in digital video formats. On the contrary, only 14% will be investing in voice and just 8% in creating new applications for the metaverse, like VR and AR.
Furthermore, both the pandemic and dramatic global-reaching events brought a boom in live video. Nearly half of the surveyed publishers plan to put more effort into Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube and focus less on Twitter and Facebook, in order to reach out also to younger audiences. The report mentions the case of the Swedish Public Broadcaster (SVT), which is now the number one destination for 26% of Swedes aged between 20 and 29 years old; which was up from just 9% back in 2017. This is mostly due to SVT’s investment in creating mobile-friendly online videos that get to the point quickly or address non-traditional subjects. In addition, other public broadcasters like Germany’s ARD, have been experimenting with the creation of video content for TikTok and Instagram. Last but not least, everyone holding a smartphone is officially a potential creator, thus social platforms are investing in new audio creation or curation tools. As the RISJ pinpoints, this will actually create tougher competition but at the same time, will also stimulate overall audio content consumption.
4. Hybrid newsrooms are the new normal
The pandemic brought confinement but yet, seems to have some silver linings in employees’ work-life balance and productivity rates. On that matter, the RIJS report indicates that more and more publishers (like Quartz) will be going fully virtual, even if many employers state that model hinders the 3Cs - creativity, collaboration, and communication.
5. Reduce confrontation in news delivery
Both audience and journalists seem to be fed up with the relentlessly negative news cycle. RISJ predicts that publishers will focus more on constructive formats of news coverage that will be partly driven by a ‘greater diversity of newsroom leaders who are questioning traditional assumptions about news production’. For example, the Constructive Journalism Institute in Denmark along with a local TV station has introduced ‘Solved or Squeezed’, a show where politicians from different political parties must come up with solutions to a specific problem as their physical space gets more restricted over 20 minutes.
Apart from constructive formats, the increased complexity of several news stories such as COVID-19 has led to an interest in explanatory, often data-rich, online formats. An interesting case here is the one of BBC aiming at digital audiences, where presenter Ros Atkins further develops a style of ‘no-nonsense analysis of complex events’ into 5 to 10-minute monologues, which are heavy on facts but delivered in an impartial way.
6. Safety comes first
Unfortunately, both online and offline attacks on journalists continue, publishers step up their support, including security protection for TV crews and better training.
Furthermore, publishers are setting new rules for social media in order to restrain abuse and boost public trust. Online interactions and polarizing debates are making publishers reconsider the ways journalists should interact within online platforms. For example, BBC’s new guidelines include a ban on ‘virtue signaling’, with staff warned that adding emojis to social media posts can count as sharing a personal opinion on an issue.
In their survey, RISJ found that 57% of senior managers feel that journalists should stick to reporting the news when using social networks like Twitter and Facebook. However, 38% believe that they should be able to express their thoughts. As it is explained, ‘these scores reflect the different traditions in journalism, with public broadcasters concerned that the informal nature of social media communication is undermining trust, while publications with a ‘point of view’ are keen to encourage commentators to express their opinions freely’.
7. Reporting globally affecting issues: focus on climate change
News coverage of the ‘single biggest health threat facing humanity’ doesn’t seem to be attractive for audiences worldwide.
As RISJ highlights, there are the following reasons for that:
- The slow nature of developments makes it hard to cover it as a news story
- Audiences are put off by the depressing outlook
- The lack of expert journalists and money to travel to remote places
- The complexity of the science
- Pressure derived from owners and advertisers
Upon this issue, the report highlights the need of subject matter experts brought into newsrooms. On the other hand, journalists must also experiment with constructive formats to counter some of this ‘doom and gloom’ content that puts their audience off. Finally, journalists need to also find the right balance between the urgency of the situation and campaigning, which can undermine public trust if perceived as a lack of impartiality.
8. Stricter regulations on online platforms
With Covid -19 infodemic on the rise alongside with violent events such as the storming of the US Capitol promoted via social media, we are moving rapidly towards stricter regulation on multiple fronts, including anti-trust, privacy, safety, and more.
- The European Union leads the way with its Digital Markets Act (DMA) which is set to curb anti-competitive behavior among the biggest players, and its Digital Services Act (DSA), which aims to regulate online content for a much wider set of intermediaries – these two are set become law this year.
- At the same time, UK is planning to pass its Online Safety Bill which aims to sanction platforms that do not do enough to curb illegal and harmful content.
Additionally, on the verge of a cookie-less world, the GDPR impact on user tracking complicates the delivery of personalized services and making a profit from advertising. At the same time, as third-party cookies become less profitable, more publishers will focus on building first-party data through interactive features, events, and competitions.
9. Artificial intelligence and machine learning are gaining popularity in newsrooms
85% of the surveyed publishers identified AI tools, such as Machine Learning (ML), Deep Learning (DL), Natural Language Processing (NLP), and Natural Language Generation (NLG) as key tools to create personalized content for news audiences. News organizations are also looking forward to using AI-powered tools to speed up some of the newsroom tasks, investigative journalism, or optimize subscription models. As the RISJ report pinpoints, AI tools could help:
- original image and video creation which could boost anything from story illustrations to visual journalism
- journalists experiment with news personalization and story formats
Moreover, with Facebook morphing into Meta, there is more focus on metaverse, a ‘shared online environment that connects users through virtual or augmented reality'. Nevertheless, journalists are not jumping on this concept just yet; we might see more interviews done in the metaverse, using avatars of the participants.
Finally, the development of the metaverse is closely linked with virtual currencies and the idea that digital objects and experiences can be bought and sold in a safe and secure way. Following the success of publishers like Quartz, South China Morning Post, or The New York Times that raised $860,000 from the sale of non-fungible tokens (NFTs), more news organizations may want to experiment with NFTs. These digital items range from illustrations to an original news story and can be bought and sold online.
Conclusions on the 2022 report
This year’s report shows that many publishers are determined to refocus their businesses on digital, specifically building digital connections and relationships.
In 2022, newsrooms are prioritizing innovation around their core services and investing in formats like email and audio that are proven to generate loyalty and quality over time. News leaders want to invest in products that are more convenient, more relevant, and that can help them build communities of interest.
As a new generation of editors is coming through, publishers will attempt to engage younger audiences, as well as disaffected ones, with more constructive journalism, and also by more explanatory content, more visuals, and data. At the same time, improving the coverage of complex subjects like climate change will be another challenge for newsrooms, as they will need to invest in different kinds of skills and approaches.
Last but not least, understanding the next wave of internet disruption will be also critical for newsrooms. AI and machine learning automate production processes and help engage audiences in more personalized ways. The metaverse, Web3, and cryptocurrencies that have already been discussed in journalism are planning to create new opportunities and challenges for publishers too.
Here is a podcast on the report!