I’m a journalist, and a member of the journalists union, the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (of which the Australian Journalists Association, the AJA, forms part).
All members receive a monthly magazine with news and in-depth articles about the industry, but this year is special – it’s 100 years since a wily bunch of Aussie scribblers formed the AJA.
So, a century into Australian journalism proper, the union has published a report of the state of the industry, and where it expects the future to lay. (SPOILER: online).
The report is called Life in the Clickstream II (a similar report came out two years ago), and I thought I’d share some of it (less than 10% of course, to keep my copyright nose clean!) with you. Keep in mind that this is the industry talking (through the report) about where they are and where they are going, not me.
The state of play
It’s ugly out there right now. In the federal secretary’s foreword, he talks about the “carnage” that had been forecast for the industry, and how it has been mitigated slightly by the appearance of news apps for phones and tablet computers like the iPad. But the operative word is “slightly”. All the graphs are sliding downwards.
In Australia, the industry is on better shape than in the US or UK, but that’s no great prize. Hundreds of journalists no longer have full-time jobs, but here they are finding themselves in part-time or casual positions. I guess it’s better than being laid off. In the US the drop in print newspaper circulations are roughly 30%, in the UK about 20% overall.
In AU, the decline is about 3% – the second-best result behind Austria in the Western world. New Zealand fared worse, dropping 13%.
So it could be worse. But all but two major metro newspapers lost circulation here, and corresponding sales falls mean that the industry knows it needs to phase in a Plan B.
It’s already doing so. The nation newspaper, The Australian (Note: I am employed by News Ltd, publisher of The Australian, The Courier-Mail and lots of others. I also used to work at the other news conglomerate – Fairfax) launched it’s iPad app this year, and the newspaper I work on, The Courier-Mail, followed suit last week. The apps are fairly basic, but they are a start.
The big problems
The local industry faces plenty of challenges, and I’m sure that they are similar to those faced in news overseas. They are:
- Newspaper readers are dying. While for up to 80% of those born before 1929 read a newspaper daily, that figure roughly halves with each following generation, until you have Gen Y at 10-12-ish per cent.
- Young people aren’t used to paying for news/journalism. Gen X and Y have grown up with free news on the internet (and TV and radio). Because of the previous point, news publishers have to somehow get them used to paying for it. The report states that online is now easily the second most common source of news (26%) behind TV (46%). newspapers rare a distant third at 14%.
- On the web, there is always somewhere else to get news. Almost anyone can throw up a website,, at very little cost, and compete on a level news playing field. No printing presses, distribution, news networks. This also means that there’s always somewhere else to advertise. Ouch.
- It’s a bottomless pit. As journalists, we are being asked to file more content, faster, with fewer human resources (remember those who have become part-time or casual workers?), and work in video, audio and add to social media as well as write for print. When asked about our workload a poll in the report says 43% of respondents said their workload has increased “a lot” and 30% said it had increased “a little”. Only 8% said their workload had decreased.
The industry knows it must transition slowly to online news production. Print and online will coexist for many, many years, but all the numbers point to the fact that the industry needs to move now. They also know they need, so use a nasty bit of jargon, to “add value” to get people to pay for online news. Through the report, the industry thinks the following points are key to ensuring a successful, gradual, transition to paid online content.
- Twitter and microblogging will be incorporated into news gathering and distribution, especially for breaking news. This is already happening on a basic level, but filtering and trend mapping will be crucial, and ideally available to every news consumer. Live blogging will start to be the new TV newsbreak, as will the use of real-time statistics that help to tell the news story, within the story.
- Social network integration and content sharing will be an increasingly important distribution method, and new tools will be developed for this.
- “Expert directories” such as SourceBottle will increasingly be used to gather and comment on news.
- Journalist “branding” (ouch again) will be stepped up. News noise on the web is many orders of 10 higher than in print, so individuals will need to be their own brands, so their works cuts through. This has been done with popular columnists for many years, but now journalists of every genre are being asked to brand themselves as a trustees news source in their field.
- Dynamic maps, down to the hyperlocal level will become their own ongoing news reference points. Users will be able to “zoom out”, Google Maps-style, and see the big picture of a disaster, war, generic situation, then drill down and see the news angle from their suburb or even street. Images and video included.
- Crowdsourcing and transparent reporting will come to the fore. Journalists won’t/don’t have to hide their sources when the source is a Twitter throng, or crowd of blog commenters, or Q&A site respondents… News organizations want to foster respect by becoming more transparent in their news-gathering where possible. We’re always asking for FOI documents, we’d better be above board too, in the age of Wikileaks! One well-known journalist with a huge social media presence, Annabel Crabb (@annabelcrabb), currently has 26,500 Twitter followers. That gives her the means to take a serious poll or snapshot of her readership that is larger than polls taken by professional polling companies. And she can do it in minutes.
- Training for journos is more important than ever. In theory, the report acknowledges that social media and video training is now not optional for journalists. How this is reflected in the real world of busy newsrooms remains to be seen.
So what do you think of the industry’s roadmap? Will they/we sidestep the carnage and emerge into a strong new age of online news? Or be swamped by those who are smarter and faster, and free?