Search Results for: ""digital news""

Verification all the way down: the trouble with trust

Regulate to accumulate

In the short-term, maybe it isn’t all that bad that journalism is undergoing a trust crisis. Despite the fact that, per the last Reuters Institute Digital News report, 70 percent of people in the UK are now worried about the trustworthiness of news, news organisations aren’t even setting their sights as high as 30 percent of the public subscribing to their digital news products – and they don’t need to.

Even the fact that low double digit proportions of the public are happy to subscribe is enough to support subscription- and membership-based organisations like the Washington Post and the Guardian. For those organisations, at least, the journalism crisis is

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The Athletic is a bold, brash bet on reader revenue that could hurt the whole industry

For the past few months sports publisher The Athletic has been aggressively hiring UK-based sports journalists and, because journalists can’t resist a good analogy, it’s been compared to aggressive transfer window negotiations. In the past year the media company has been charged with ‘setting off a bomb‘ by purloining the top sports journalists from the BBC, the Times, the Guardian, the Mail, and many others.

Ball’s in their court

It’s an aggressive bet from a media company that sees a future in direct reader revenue and wants to be the biggest sport show in town. On the one hand that’s very heartening – any more evidence that people will pay for journalism online is very welcome. The only problem is that it’s almost certainly going to fail in its stated aims, despite all the hopes to the contrary, and could possibly stunt the chances of other publications as it does so.

As explained in this article from The Drum’s Rebecca Stewart, since its launch three years ago the “ad-free digital sports publisher The Athletic has garnered 500,000 subscribers with a reported 90% retention rate to its website and app and expanded into Canada”. In that time it has attracted almost $90 million in VC capital from, among others, Comcast Ventures and Founders Fund. As a result of that investment, it now operates in over 15 markets across the US and Canada, and plans a launch in the UK with 55 staffers primarily covering the Premiere League, having reportedly ploughed around £10 million into the launch.

Its subscription-based model will apparently cost its readers £9.99, though it will offer a discounted starting package. Considering its stated goal is to have fully one million paying subscribers by the end of the year, it is unsurprising it would offer discounts in service of that goal: the Guardian recently celebrated reaching one million paying supporters after a 3 year campaign, and it has reach and awareness far beyond that of the Athletic (so far).

Effectively, The Athletic’s plan seems to be to throw money at the problem of scale. By hiring some of the most well-known journalists in the UK and spending a fair amount on marketing that on social media, it’s hoping the allure of big names will help convince UK consumer there’s a space in the market for a new, subs-based sports site.

By throwing money at the problem, its founders hope to effectively outlast its competition in local media and become the only game in town. Its CEO Alex Mather told the New York Times: “We will wait every local paper out and let them continuously bleed until we are the last ones standing. We will suck them dry of their best talent at every moment. We will make business extremely difficult for them.” That rhetoric is likely to stick in the craw of journalists in the UK, where the straits of local news led to the formation of the Cairncross review.

However, there are many obstacles in The Athletic’s path to success, not least the fact that doubling its subscriber numbers in less than six months appears to be almost an impossibly tall order. For one thing, the UK market is effectively saturated with national news subscription products already, and some – like The Telegraph – are making sports analysis one of the key selling points for their own subscriptions. The Guardian, too, is well aware of the lucrative nature of sports and is investing a lot of money in covering growth areas, like women’s football, providing free alternatives in addition to those already offered by the BBC and commercial broadcasters.

Per the latest Reuters Institute Digital News Report, even among the relatively low proportion of people who are likely to pay for news online, the average number of digital subscriptions per person is one: “Perhaps more importantly, the average almost never exceeds one, regardless of what group you look at. Even among those who are most interested in news, the wealthiest, or the most educated, most people only pay money to one news organisation.” Perhaps worst of all, the report also found that if people could only choose one subscription product, 7% would choose news and another 7% would choose the sports content itself, suggesting that the proportion of people who would pay for sports news subscription is even smaller still.

The fact The Athletic is placing its chips on the UK market, which is almost certainly about to hit a period of financial instability and has a significant chance of entering recession that will limit its population’s incidental spending, is also a worry.

On the one hand, then, The Athletic’s aggressive move to control a niche is laudable, as it seeks to find a sustainable model for sports news journalism. However, as the economics behind its decision to launch in the UK don’t seem to add up, and its stated aim is to poach from and outlast the other local news outlets that would be its competition, its aggressive stance could end up detracting from the viability of digital news subscription rather than proving that they work.

 


Chris Sutcliffe

enquiries@trippassociates.co.uk

Martin Tripp Associates is a London-based executive search consultancy. While we are best-known for our work across the media, information, technology, communications and entertainment sectors, we have also worked with some of the world’s biggest brands on challenging senior positions. Feel free to contact us to discuss any of the issues raised in this blog.

Why is the Herald Sun incentivising click journalism in a time of news avoidance?

It’s 2019: Media companies have been aware of the negative impacts of the race to lowest common denominator digital publishing for many, many years. But it seems that not everyone is changing course as a result: News Corp’s Australian tabloid the Herald Sun is reportedly offering its journalists cash incentives for writing stories that attract readers and convert them to paying subscribers.

On the face of it, it’s just a slightly more formalised version of similar measures in place across many global newspapers. In the UK, Telegraph journalists compete to see whose stories help convert audiences to paying subscribers, and the journalist-facing analytics tool at The Times & Sunday Times also display how many subscriptions or sign-ups an individual story has led to. The danger is that, without discipline, those systems can actually disincentive good reporting – particularly at generalist tabloids – and continue the trend of a fall in news engagement across the industry.

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New local news products for the UK: what works elsewhere?

All the news that fits.

The UK’s local news economy is in dire straits. Local newspapers have had their ability to create relevant regional news slowly stripped away as newspaper groups attempt to cut their way to sustainability, and the mishandling of specific local television channels has been a source of controversy over the past few years. In the executive summation of the Cairncross Review, the UK government’s year-long review into the sustainability of journalism, Dame Frances Cairncross noted that the ability of local news providers to make a living among the huge digital giants that now dominate ad spend was far from a given. As the sales of local news titles in the UK has halved between 2007 and 2017, few would argue that it is not an unprecedentedly challenging time for regional news producers.

According to the 2018 edition of Ofcom’s ‘News Consumption in the UK’ report, only 40 percent of people in the UK regularly get their news in print, with less than one in four (23 percent) using printed local or regional newspapers. By contrast, close to half of people (48 percent) get their news from local BBC television bulletins and just under a third (32 percent) doing the same with ITV. That might be why, in the US, the Tampa Bay Times is attempting to use local television to increase newsstand sales (every little helps!).

Far and away the least used source of local news is social media, which Ofcom found was only a source of local news for 16 percent of people. That is likely due to a number of factors, from how few local newspapers actually maintain active social presences, to people’s propensity to use social media instead to communicate with either friendship groups or national news. Concerns about online misinformation are also primarily focused around social media, which may be a slight factor. Even as use of social media increases, its use for local news remains fairly limited.

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Resource, not news source: How service journalism can help news publishers thrive

Recycled as ballot papers

Last week, I wrote that ad-funded digital news publishers were having a terrible time. But there are some reasons for optimism, if publishers are prepared to think more strategically.

It’s been apparent for a few years that US regional titles are performing better than their UK counterparts, despite costs being taken out en masse by their owners. It’s an apples-to-oranges comparison to some extent, given that the scale of ‘local’ is so different between the two countries, but the reality is that US local news titles are looking more sustainable than your average local paper (which isn’t actually saying all that much).

There are a few reasons why that might be the case: In the UK regional publishers tend to take costs out from local titles, and retreat to hub-based models that rob each title of truly local content (a rant Matt had five years ago, and which proved to be prescient). That then has a knock-on effect on UK local titles’ websites, which are for the most part unfit for purpose and flooded with low-quality ads in an attempt to salvage all possible revenue.

But the primary reason I would like to believe US titles are in ruder health than UK counterparts is that

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Amazon, ecommerce, and opportunities for publishers

and you might be

This week The Washington Post announced its ambitious plans for broadcasting on Twitch. In acknowledgement of Twitch’s primary audience, one of its two new shows will feature hosts from the Post playing video games alongside politicians, an idea that has ‘Steve Buscemi in 30 Rock‘ written all over it. The other show is set to be an irregularly scheduled live news show – and we’ve spoken about the challenges around digital news video before.

So far much of the coverage of the deal has been around the implications for other publishers looking to reach new audiences on livestreaming platforms, or about what this says about The Washington Post’s commitment to finding new audiences despite its paywall. But something that has been lost in the noise is that Twitch offers its creators both ecommerce and advertising revenue – and its owner, Amazon, stands to benefit from both. Considering that Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder, also owns the Post,

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The changing economics of news video

With the news that Facebook is betting upon news video to help grow its Watch platform, there has been a fundamental shift in the economics of video news production. Where once entertainment content was used to attract customers and audiences, against whom the broadcasters could sell adverts, the nature of video content has become somewhat flattened and undifferentiated.

Opportunity knocks for you, Mr Zuckerberg

That’s due to any number of things – unbundling, the rise of on-demand digital video on YouTube, Twitch and Facebook, and the overall conflation of ‘news’ and ‘entertainment’ that has come with homegrown news and analysis on those platforms.

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Frenemies forever: Future fights between media owners and platforms

With all the noise from Google and Facebook over projects to help fund journalism, from the Digital News Initiative to Facebook’s forays into funding local journalism, you might think that those giants are finally putting their weight behind an industry that they’ve been accused of undermining.

At least pretend you mean it…

Similarly, as publishers abandon scale in pursuit of subscription models, you can easily believe that news publishers and search and social giants are no longer in direct competition for ad money and that therefore the lopsided competition between the two is at an end.

Both of those statements are true, to an extent. Google and Facebook are

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There is no such thing as ‘The Duopoly’

George Orwell wrote that jargon and obfuscating language contributes to the degradation of the English language to the point that meaningful dialogue is impossible.

One of many Google HQs

He might have had a point, too: The term ‘fake news’, which the Reuters Institute recommended should be stripped from conversation around online misinformation, was meaningless almost as soon as it was born, allowing it to be hijacked by politicians with an anti-media bent. One of the people who coined it, BuzzFeed’s Craig Silverman, has admitted culpability in that (though he can’t really be blamed for not predicting how it was to be co-opted), and I’ve been arguing it should be retired as a term since August of last year. Because it was jargon, ‘fake news’ has made discourse about misinformation impossible.


‘Millennial’, too, has drawn ire as being completely useless as a description of an entire generation’s habits and trends. It has led to

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Video-on-demand: ITV must win the UX campaign

ITV, one of the UK’s most prominent terrestrial television channels, is looking to translate its expertise in making programmes for the box in the corner to more modern screens. Following its hiring of Huffington Post UK’s editor-in-chief Stephen Hull as the new digital chief in March, ITV has announced the launch of three new digital-only news shows, presumably with the intention of broadening the reach of its international news brand as its non-National Advertising Revenue (NAR) shows healthy growthAn old CRT television

The three shows – ‘Now What?’, ‘Ask A Woman’, and ‘Young, British and Muslim’ – use existing talent from ITV’s news section, which, combined with Hull’s track record at Huffington Post UK and metro.co.uk, and ITV’s traditionally high production values, should serve to allay fears that this is ITV doing digital video for the sake of it. Instead, in an interview with The Drum, Hull noted that the shows have the mandate to “show that digital media and publishing can be grown-up, articulate and thoughtful”.

The quality of the programming is all but guaranteed to be extremely high, then – though ITV’s decision to focus on building a product before it sells sponsorship might raise some eyebrows, even if, as Hull notes: “There are loads of carcasses on the digital publishing motorway of businesses who tried to sell something before they built it.”

Presumably ITV believes the shows will add to its digital proposition, which currently includes the ITV Hub and its premium subscription option, which removes the ads for those who choose to pay it. But

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How media businesses can fight the spread of fake news

It’s hard to believe that ‘fake news’ didn’t really exist as a term until a year ago. The accelerated pace of controversies and outrages that has driven the conversation around media bias has had such an impact that the term has now entered the Chambers dictionary.

In fact, it was only when politicians seized upon the term in November of last year that the term entered public consciousness with its current, woolly definition of ‘news that I don’t believe’. Prior to that, it was a specific if vague industry term referring to emotive misinformation created by scammers to game the algorithms that powered Facebook and Google to generate ad revenue.

Now though, the term is out there, for good or ill. A recent Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism report found that most people surveyed were at least aware of the term ‘fake news’ and its negative connotations. It also suggested that the term was able to enter the public lexicon so easily due to the ongoing trust issue people have in the mainstream media – and might in fact exacerbate it.

Speaking at The Truth Spectrum, an industry summit based solely around the ‘fake news’ problem, Quartz’s Global Finance and Economics Editor Jason Karaian said

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After the Manchester attack – assessing trust, bias, and media responsibility

This time the US media is in trouble for real news. Following the dreadful events in Manchester on Monday evening, the New York Times has published sensitive photographs and documents which, it is feared, might compromise the ongoing investigations into the bombing. The source is said to be from within the US security services – but the question of media responsibility again raises its head.

The NYT has been widely condemned in the British media: yet, as Hacked Off’s Brian Cathcart pointed out in a column last week, mainstream US journalists have in recent times been standard-bearers for the profession, in the face of a lot of pressure from government and commentators.

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