The news industry is in decline, and why Instagram is here to help.

Intro

Francesca Molteni
Jun 4 · 7 min read

Every morning when I wake up, the first thing I do is checking the news.
I look at those few articles suggested on the iPhone left swipe, and occasionally go on the news websites, both American and Italian. At the same time, I also check Instagram and Facebook, where I get a mixed variety of new, from both the private and public sphere. If I’m on YouTube, I might indulge in informative videos from new media companies, such as Vox and Vice, that often visually explain very well otherwise complicated situations. I personally enjoy reading the news and getting informed of what’s going on: it makes me feel more present, and more connected with what it is happening in the world.

However, I can’t help wondering, how many of my peers do the same?

Problem: The News Industry Decline

Unfortunately, the numbers say not many: according to a survey by the American Press Institute and the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, only 57% of under 30 try to keep up with the news, and only 29% of Millennials enjoy following the news, in contrast with the 58% of the over 48.

This data isn’t too surprising considering the falling trend in the newspaper industry: the total weekday circulation for U.S. daily newspapers — both print and digital — fell 8% in 2016, marking the 28th consecutive year of declines, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of data from AAM, the Alliance for Audited Media. The same research center has also found out that this has coincided with a fall in advertising revenues too: in 2016 it was $18 Billion, almost a third of what it was 10 years before. Revenues from subscriptions have remained steady if not increased since 2016, but haven’t been enough to cover the losses from the advertising. As a consequence, at least 36% of the largest newspapers across the United States experienced layoffs since 2017.

This adds up to the disappearance of more than half of the jobs in the news industry happening in the last 15 years, as the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in the same year. After all, the digital age has been disrupting every industry, and the news makes no exception. If news media want to survive, they have to start making changes on how they sell themselves, and also how they brand themselves.

Insight: Millennials read the news on Social Media

Therefore, it is important to understand where the newer generations, aka future audience, consume their daily news readership. With no surprise, it’s social media. Specifically, 60% of Millennials mainly come across news on social media, and Facebook is the main platform where this happens (70%). Meanwhile, younger millennials are three to four times more likely than typical online adults to get news content from Instagram, Pinterest, and Snapchat. Traditional media channels, such as tv, radio, and newspapers, don’t fit well in the Millennials’ habits to news consumption: “News and information are woven into an often continuous but mindful way that Millennials connect to the world generally, which mixes news with social connection, problem-solving, social action, and entertainment,” as stated in the results of a research conducted by the Media Insight Project in collaboration with the American Press Institute in 2015.

The study also argues that reading news on social media platforms has expanded users’ awareness of issues that unlikely would have known about in other circumstances. In addition, it was disputed a common myth concerning social media filtering the viewpoints on news. As a matter of fact, it happens the opposite: 70% of the Millennials interviewed found a good balance of opinion diversity in their social media feeds. Furthermore, 73% of them claimed they look into others’ viewpoint from time to time, and a quarter said they do it often or always.

It’s fair to say that the future of news reporting has to pass through social media and that news media company should definitely invest more their reporting on these platforms. But which one fits best this kind of content? At first impression, it might seem Facebook, since it’s currently the most used social media to get the news. However, there’s a growing frustration towards Facebook and younger generations have shown preferring other platforms.

Solution: Instagram

So, which one? Instagram is likely the best choice.
Instagram is used by 60% of 18–29 years old — who are the ones with the lowest daily newspapers readership — and it has an engagement rate 3 times higher than Facebook. Besides, 35% of American adults use Instagram daily. Unfortunately, less than 40% of newspapers are active on Instagram, and they should be: in 2015 newspapers had the largest engagement increase on Instagram than any other platform, growing 424% year to year.

The only downside of Instagram is that it’s nearly impossible to monetize from it. For this reason, the objectives should be different: Instagram has the potential to build brand awareness and reach new audiences, which can drive users on their subscription-based online websites. As a matter of fact, social media are the most common pathway to online news, tieing with the direct visit on news organizations websites.

At the same time, Instagram should have interest in collaborating with the news industry. In recent years, Instagram and moreover its parent company Facebook, have been accused of contributing to spread fake news which had influenced important political events, such as the Brexit referendum and the 2016 Presidential elections. It’s unsurprising that 57% of people expect the news read on social media to be inaccurate. This could be an opportunity for the company to take further action towards showing ethical decision making towards what it is spread on their platforms.

How can newspapers optimize their use of Instagram content?

Instagram Stories. News media should increase their use of this popular feature, by showing the 3–5 top stories of the day, giving people the opportunity to get an overall idea of what is happening. Stories also allow to link up articles with the swipe up feature, driving so people on the news website to read the full article. BBC News is actively strategizing their use of Instagram Stories: their first video gets 150,000 views, with a few thousand swipes up to read the article, with an average of 2,000 daily sign up for their newsletter.

Feed Content. News media such as Time Magazine and BBC News have noticed that there’s a specific content they publish on their feed that receives more engagement than everything else: human-centered storytelling, alongside high-quality photojournalism.

Link in Bio. Here is the other place where it is possible to put a hyperlink, and it would be wise to use it to drive users on the subscription page. In addition, the online subscription should be available on the new shop Instagram feature.

How could Instagram implement changes in the app?
In the search section, Instagram should include a “news” section, with a mix of content posts from only verified news media accounts, guaranteeing the accuracy of the news, a good range of opinions, and diversity of content.
The structure should have at the top a selection of the Instagram stories from the news accounts, so users can briefly browse the top news from different perspectives. The section below would look like the other existing pages in the search feature, with the trending feed content ruled by the algorithm.

Conclusion

The newspaper industry problems are complex, and clearly not easy to fix with a single solution. However, customers are changing, as well as their habits: the moments of one’s life that used to be segmented — home, work, free time – are now much more interconnected and overlapping. As simply put, people simply won’t sit down and dedicate time to read/watch the news anymore: it will happen at different moments of the day, and likely mixed with their daily social activities. Therefore, the news industry has to update how to reach the audience and become more relevant to the future generation of consumers. Instagram is the most promising social network at the moment, and even if it can’t directly help in revenues, it definitely has the potential to change the game on how the news industry promotes itself and acquires new readers.