Posted by: structureofnews | October 23, 2012

The World of Media

What shape is the world of news media in – and how different is it outside the US and other developed markets?

Understandably, there’s a tendency for all of us to look at developments through a local lens, and for a lot of people in the US, that offers up a fairly grim picture of the world of news – collapsing business models, cuts at legacy news organizations, and the like.

And, to be sure, this isn’t the kind of industry far-sighted parents encourage their children to get into.  But there’s much more to the world than that broad-brush, US-centric picture, and a new report from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism offers a clear-headed and well-researched look at the situation across a number of countries.

Entitled Ten Years that Shook the Media World:  Big Questions and Big Trends in International Media Developments, by Rasmus Kleis Nielsen,  the report dives into a number of key topics – changes in mass audience, media use, markets, policy, etc – and both gives a good sense of how things are changing globally while also highlighting how trends diverge, even among developed markets like the US, the UK and Germany, and especially so when it comes to countries like Brazil, where more popular media is making inroads into what’s been a traditional area, and India, where the market seems to be expanding for everyone.

That may not be new news to people who have been tracking the explosion of media in some parts of the developing world, but it’s good to have it in a well-researched report.  And, as it notes, this is potentially great news for those countries.

This represents a profound democratization of their media systems in terms of diversity and reach.

And even in more developed markets where gloom is more the prevailing meme, the paper highlights the differences among the various markets – and in particular, the particular US situation of decades of high revenues and  profit margins, built off classified ads, that allowed them to bulk up newsrooms and invest in news in a way that few others could (or can).  The collapse of that lucrative business has pushed US publications off a cliff; European papers who never enjoyed that revenue stream aren’t as hard-hit, but then again they weren’t as profitable in the boom years.  The US distress is greater because papers there had further to fall.

Responses to the crisis have differed significantly as well; the non-profit ecosystem that’s growing in the US hasn’t been replicated to the same scale elsewhere.  On the other hand, many other countries have traditions of state-funded public service broadcasting that hasn’t been hit to the same degree.  And so on.

But despite all the differences it points out in the various national media ecosystems, the report also calls attention to the broader trends that will likely define the industry’s future around the world.  Audiences will continue to fragment; there will be more competition in news; and it’ll be harder to sustain new organizations, at least purely on online ad revenues.  As it notes, there’s just too much ad space available out there for anyone to command a decent price for the audience they build.

…the overall growth in the supply of online advertising is still at least as rapid as the growth in demand, meaning that the value of any given online audience is at best stagnant and at worst eroding.

None of this is particularly earth-shattering; but it’s presently clearly, and with a fair amount of interviews and data to back its assertions up – although, like overly cautious journalists, it makes sure to hedge its bets as well, offering up an analogy that harked back to the invention of the printing press.  That newfangled invention didn’t suddenly displace monks hand-lettering manuscripts for some time.

… it took well over a century before “new media” became truly dominant and were embraced by even the religious institutions most invested in the existing order.

So perhaps it’s just too early to tell.  Anyway, read the report. It’s good.

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