Social media and cultural habits pose major challenge for news outlets

Sept. 11, 2014


BCCJ members and guests learn just exactly how technology is changing the face of news consumption at a phenomenal rate, and how cultural differences can pose an additional headache for news outlets and marketers

Media experts Dr David Levy, Director of the Reuters Institute, and Nic Newman, author of the Reuters Institute Digital Report, spoke at a BCCJ breakfast at the Mandarin Oriental Tokyo this morning.

Dr Levy explained how traditional and established media companies with "huge investments" were battling against new start-ups with alternative business models - and some were putting up a better fight than others.

The UK-based newspaper Daily Mail has managed to grow its online audience to the point where it is the world's largest English language newsite. Other established brands are not faring quite as well, with more people engaging with digital newcomer Buzzfeed - run by 170 staff - and the online Huffington Post, than reading the New York Times.

How best to adapt to mobile phone and tablet news consumption has proved a headache for some traditional outlets, with younger readers in the under 35 age group more likely to move away from TV bulletins and print media. In Japan 38% of 18-24 year olds see the internet as their main news source, compared with just 11% for print media. In the UK, 53% of commuters now access news via their phones compared with 40% reading newspapers.

"The more devices we have the more addicted we are to news," added Dr Levy. "In terms of mobile phones, people are coming to really rely on them more and more, as they are so personal."

The advent of the constantly updated newsite has also shaken up the traditional "prime times" for news consumption, particularly among younger people.

"The new prime time for media is in the early morning, whereas previously it was lunch time or during the working day when people would access news from their desktops," Mr Newman said. "However we can see from the over-45s that the idea of the daily edition is still quite strong. 18-24-year-olds on the otherhand access news constantly throughout the day and are not necessarily watching out for an evening bulletin."

News outlets must find a way to cater to both audiences to succeed.

Global media companies face other challenges, since cultural differences mean consumers in different countries behave in vastly different ways.

Japanese consumers are among the least likely in the world to particpate in online discussion and interact with news, which is believed to be a reflection of a conservative cultural mindset. Similarly, in Germany internet users are wary of putting too much personal information into the public or state arena, whereas in Spain and Brazil web users are much more open. In the UK, people are much more likely to share their views if they can be published anonymously.

"We could say that those who are more sociable online are also more sociable offline," said Mr Newman.

The Institute's research has also shown that 45% of UK internet users tend to go straight to their usual outlet brands for news, compared to 20% in Japan. In Japan, Google News is the number two starting point for people wishing to read the latest developments. Google News has also proved a hit in France where it is the most popular news source, but in the UK it has a small reach.

Dr Levy and Mr Newman also discussed the impact of social media on the news landscape, explaining that companies such as BuzzFeed had managed to by-pass traditional marketing channels and rely on social media for 75% of their traffic.

"How people use social media is very different in different countries; Japan is towards the bottom for users using Facebook for news (12%), whereas in the UK 67% access Facebook and 33% use it for news," Mr Newman added.

Twitter is a popular way to access news in both countries, but developers are currently vying to create platforms for more traditional "long-form" articles.

Mr Newman said: "A lot of the platforms were created for compressed news but now some of the brightest brains in Sillicone Valley are looking at how it can work for long-form news, for example with platforms such as Medium. I'm hopeful that we are going to see a resurgence in that."

Dr Levy agreed with the need for long-form journalism: "you can create a media brand with snippets and short-form journalism, but this will not build a business." He argued that public information "would be a lot poorer" if ultimately the depth and wide-range of publications such as New York Times were replaced by "click bait" sites and short news pieces.

Messaging apps such as Whatsapp and LINE were also considered by the researchers, with 26% of people in Japan accessing LINE but only 7% using it to consume news.

Regarding the issue of state broadcasting, the researchers reported that the BBC is a successful model of how a major broadcaster can make the shift to online news, but Japan's NHK has not found as large an online audience. "For whatever reason, NHK hasn't been able to do what the BBC has done. In Japan, Yahoo is number one followed by Google News and Nikkei."

There was good news for outlets such as the Times that have chosen to install a paywall in order to earn more revenue from content. Of those willing to pay for content, 59% were now doing so on an ongoing subscription basis.

Still, both the UK and Japan lag behind other countries when it comes to paying for news - 7% of consumers in the UK and 8% in Japan.

In an engaging Q&A session, the experts were asked whether there was a danger that by choosing to follow certain newsfeeds via social media, consumers were in effect self-censoring their exposure to news.

Mr Newman responded: "People are using both traditional media and using newsfeeds to supplement that. I don't think there's any evidence that we are all disppearing down into own social bubbles."

The pair were also asked whether they believed there was a role for state media in the modern media landscape.

Dr Levy said: "There is some role for public intervention. I think that should be a part of the market but not dominate it, private companies would ideally carry most of the weight." 

Finally, Mr Newman said now was one of the most exciting times to be a journalist, given the number of creative new mediums, but also one of the least secure, with business models being redrawn and resources stretched.

Full access to 2014 Reuters Digital Report HERE

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