Behind Local News Conference video: What does the future hold for news?

Few sessions at a Behind Local News conference provoke as much debate as Nic Newman’s future of news keynote speech.

Nic Newman, senior research associate at the Reuters Institute spoke about the findings of their annual survey at the Behind Local News conference. The survey includes responses from 32 countries including local newspaper groups from the UK.

Putting the audience first and developing products which are valuable to communities will be the real change in focus for the media in 2020, according to industry leaders.

Nic said: “It’s no longer about those big numbers, it’s about showing you have that deep connection, providing that deep value on a day to day basis.

“That means we have to really change the perceptions and reality of what journalism does.”

While 73% of respondents have confidence in their prospects, there is a much lower confidence in journalism in general.

“There is a real fear that business models around local are more difficult and require more time. And then we have concerns about attacks on the media particularly by politicians.”

He explained publishers are losing faith in digital advertising as a way of funding newsrooms and are looking how to diversify revenue streams and get some element of reader revenue.

“We know the majority of people are not going to pay for news, and if they do they’ll probably only pay for one subscription out of their own pocket.

“We are seeing news disappear behind paywalls, people asking for registration details. We are starting to see a lot more barriers for people to get to news and there are good reasons for that. We are also seeing the dangers of quality news going behind paywalls rather than being free and accessible for people.”

He added: “The real driver will be the death of the third party cookie. A lot of key browsers are withdrawing support on privacy grounds. That is going to make it harder for some of the digital advertising we’re used to to work.

“The race is on to collect first party data, email addresses, build direct relationships with consumers, and in many ways Facebook and Google are at an advantage because they have theses huge number of users logged on and provide a service.”

Nic said the industry will see more partnerships, such as Behind Local News — which is run by Reach, JPIMedia, Iliffe, Archant and Newsquest — where local media work together to start competing on advertising with first party data.

“That’s going to be a real battle ground over the next year or so.”

The annual survey by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism found 47% felt the UK media was too negative, 30% felt worn out by the news agenda and more than a third said they often avoid the news.

“There’s a sense that if people see the news as a chore they’re not going to value it, they’re certainly not going to pay for it. There’s some real lessons in this.”

The Institute also held a study into young people and the disconnect with the media.

“In many ways local news organisations are in the perfect position to adopt service journalism. Publishing trusted guides on things to do providing that information at the right time in the right format for people. Tapping into those strong community bonds you have to help you curate and scale a lot of that content.

“It’s that idea of having local news organisations as the indispensable beating heart of the community but expressed in a different way.”

Nic explained the reason for this change is the attention challenge — the media no longer has the monopoly of attention. He referenced journeys on the Tube, where in the past, most people would be reading a copy of a newspaper.

Today people are on their smartphones catching up on entertainment.

He said it was critical to create content that properly fits into people’s lives and how they are living them.

Audio has become “one of the hottest topics in digital media right now” due in part to better quality headphones — hearables — and much better content created by local providers.

Nic has been talking about what the media will look like in 2020 for the past 15 years.But what of the future?

Nic said: “In 2030, and of course I’m making this up, there will be fewer, better media companies. Not necessarily fewer titles, but companies which really focus on audience who are much more connected with those communities and as a result will be much more valued. It will develop a hybrid of funding streams

“Beyond that, it’s not about a website, it’s not about a newspaper, it’s about a whole range of different formats by which you reach people in more personalised ways.

“You are reaching a lot of those individual beats and niches, but together they add to something to more than sum of its parts.”



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