Breaking news. Live videos. Social media updates. Push notifications. 24/7 news cycles. We're more informed now than we've ever been. We have unlimited choices to consume news. But, as modern journalists work around the clock, how are they facing the industry’s biggest challenges?
Digital Transformation has been described as the "golden era for journalism." It has offered journalists a full range of storytelling formats. Society is better informed now than ever before and great journalism is being produced with a heightened focus on media accuracy to feed the overall growth of knowledge consumption. But Digital Transformation has also accelerated issues in the industry, such as the downfall of traditional media and mass unemployment, profound distrust in members of the press, and unexpected technology challenges. Even though journalists are no strangers to unforeseen circumstances, 2020 hit them with more uncertainty following the unexpected COVID-19 pandemic.
Our 2020 global media survey allowed us to dig deeper into the modern challenges that journalists face today and how they are rising above the noise in this digital age.
Lack of Trust in News
Traditionally, journalists have been considered gatekeepers. They report the news objectively to the masses, while leaving their own beliefs and opinions behind once they enter the newsroom. However, in today’s society, the idea that journalists act as gatekeepers has been questioned.
Our survey revealed that 46% of journalists see a lack of trust in the news as the biggest challenge in modern journalism. This represents a significant threat to the value of media. It keeps the door open for bias in news coverage and for the "fake news" narrative to feed on the crisis of confidence in the journalism industry. This matter corresponds with Americans' distrust in the media, which hit an all-time high record of 33% in 2020. Unfortunately, it has continued to rise in the last decade and shows no signs of decreasing.
This distrust in media is also attached to various unsolved industry difficulties – the increased pressure on journalists for an on-demand, 24/7 news cycle, newsrooms facing a shortage of revenues and resources, and the discourse of disinformation and misinformation on social media. As one of our surveyed reporters said: "The internet, being the way it is, means people do a two-minute research on YouTube and think they know more than an article with tons of evidence and credibility."
Unstable Job Market
It is not surprising that 30% of our respondents said that job security was one of the most challenging aspects of being a journalist nowadays. Moreover, 35% of respondents believed the news industry would provide no job security for the next five years.
2019 brought both digital and print media several rounds of layoffs, furloughs, and closures. Entire publications also ceased to exist, and many journalism careers ended. By the beginning of 2020, the media industry had already lost 8,000 jobs. A few of our surveyed journalists shared how they have experienced the turbulence of the industry. One respondent said news staff cuts represented "having to do the work of laid-off staff with less compensation and zero freelance budgets," while another respondent stated, "lack of resources [and needing to] overwork due to fewer employees" as immediate challenges.
It’s important to keep in mind that when newsrooms permanently shed jobs, a journalist might lose several sources of income. One survey respondent lost two reporting jobs near retirement stating, "Two publications I wrote for went out of business – one local newspaper, and [the other one a] business publication."
Navigating Remote Work During the Pandemic
Journalists have also encountered new obstacles and difficulties posed by the pandemic. From our survey, 31% stated that working from home is another challenge of being a journalist in 2020.
One survey respondent shared that working from home has "disrupted communication between members of [the] newsroom." Most journalists are having to adapt to using technology more effectively, as well as conducting research or interviews differently to complete their work. Social distancing considerations might have physically emptied newsrooms; however, journalists are working harder and for more hours to cover the pandemic. In fact, news consumption, site views, and traffic numbers increased due to the pandemic.
Still, both the lockdowns and newsroom closures that came with the pandemic interfered strongly with journalists looking to make ends meet. Many journalists who lost their job before or during the pandemic have taken jobs without stability or benefits as they work as contractors, freelancers, or assume part-time positions. Others have moved across the country either for their job or to find one. One survey respondent explained the additional challenges related to traveling for work during the pandemic: "From the perspective of catching the virus, having to quarantine at one or both ends of a trip, and also the potential to end up being stuck in [another] location."
According to The New York Times, an estimated 37,000 employees of news media companies in the United States have been laid off, furloughed, had their pay reduced, or left the media industry for good since the arrival of the coronavirus.
Balancing the Digital Landscape
As journalists are asked to do more in the digital realm with fewer resources, around 28% of our survey respondents said that adapting to new technology and formats has been another challenge of modern journalism.
Social media has changed the face of journalism forever. As mentioned in our blog post about journalism and social media, 53% of U.S. adults get their news across varying platforms, including Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook. Even so, reporters have a love-hate relationship with social media.
These platforms have become the battleground for the "fake news" phenomenon. Unreliable news sources such as clickbait and propaganda as well as manipulation technologies like synthetic media (known as deep fakes, shallow fakes and speech synthesis) continue to fuel the distrust of reality.
This has resulted in journalists countering the perception that they are the “enemy of the people” as they work harder on debunking false stories, intensely verifying the accuracy and credibility of their sources. For instance, the Associated Press’ initiative "Not Real News: A look at what didn’t happen this week" publishes weekly roundups exposing untrue stories and visuals.
Furthermore, overworked and overwhelmed journalists have added "managing the digital landscape" to their resumes. Now, they’re leveraging on engagement metrics, optimizing search engines, producing social-only coverage, and overseeing community boards to ensure their content is viewed, liked, and shared by as many people as possible.
Regarding this issue, a respondent in the B2B industry shared that journalism is not really "just journalism" anymore. Instead "It's content marketing, audience development, website management/SEO, project management, and event development as well. You cannot survive in [the] field of trade publications if you're putting out a newsletter once a week and that's it."
The Reality of News Deserts
As shared in our Current State of the Media blog post, the decrease or absence of local news sources is considered another challenging aspect of modern journalism by 22% of our surveyed reporters.
A respondent commented, "The absence of local news has been bad for my community and state.” Another expressed that the journalism industry can no longer "[sustain] a financially viable business." So, what is at stake when losing thousands of local newspapers? UNC’s The Expanding News Desert report states people with the least access to local news are often the most vulnerable – the poorest, least educated, and most isolated.
The collapse of hyperlocal journalism represents lost access to information on community issues and local government. In an era of fake news, the diminishment of local newspapers poses yet another threat to the long-term vitality of communities. The UNC report also reveals that many state and regional newspapers have reduced coverage to their core metropolitan markets, abandoning rural and outlying suburban areas. As a result, between 1,300 and 1,400 communities that had newspapers of their own between 2004 and 2018 now have no news coverage at all.
All in all, it seems the fates of audiences and news organizations are intertwined – there must be a balance across social, economic, and digital. News content comes in print, broadcast, and online formats, but, most importantly, must reach local, regional, and national levels. Strong journalism and a mindful society are the much-needed backbone to help implement a sound industry model that strengthens trust in media.
Read more insights from the 2020 Business Wire Media Survey on our blog.
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