Updated at 9:34 p.m. on October 10, 2017
While many newsrooms and journalists are making great strides in embracing the latest technologies, even more are falling behind, a new study conducted by the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) found.
The State of Technology in Global Newsrooms, which garnered more than 2,700 responses from journalists and newsroom managers working in 130 countries, reveals this trend is largely consistent across regions, though Eurasia/former USSR is more likely to embrace digital news and South Asia is still dominated by traditional media.
Whether it’s tech gaps, security and verification issues, the trust factor or financial sustainability, the data shows that newsrooms aren’t fully embracing the tech revolution. Only 5 percent of newsroom staff, for example, have tech-related degrees and only 18 percent of newsroom roles are digital in nature.
Clearly, global journalists have room for improvement as far as their adoption of technology goes. So what can be done?
Here are some possible solutions:
Trust-building and verification
Newsrooms rely heavily on user-generated content for footage of breaking events, but only 11 percent of survey respondents reported using social media verification tools like TinEye and Dataminr. This is despite the fact that most journalists — 71 percent — use social media to find new story ideas and other content for their work.
And when news isn’t verified, the public loses trust. Despite public trust in the media being at an all-time low worldwide, only 21 percent of respondents in Eurasia and the former Soviet states — and 29 percent of North American newsrooms — identified building trust as a major concern. Other regions of the world, particularly Latin America, the Middle East/North Africa and Europe, are a lot more worried.
Joy Mayer has worked extensively on the issue of rebuilding the public’s trust in the news. Earlier this year, she led a team of journalism students on the Trusting News study, which sought out successful trust-building strategies for newsrooms on Facebook. She’s also a contributor to Gather, a new online hub where journalists can connect and share their favorite engagement strategies with one another. You can request an invite to Gather here.
Nearly two decades after the internet first disrupted journalism’s business model, many newsrooms are still struggling to develop a sustainable revenue source that doesn’t flood readers with ads or deter them with a paywall.
Digital-only newsrooms are finding it easier to adapt to the challenges of funding online news. According to the survey, they are twice as likely to generate revenue from alternative sources than traditional or hybrid newsrooms (which combine legacy and digital formats).
ICFJ Knight Fellow Janine Warner, who works with Latin American media entrepreneurs and startups through SembraMedia, said that digital media continue to flourish despite economic crises in the region. Outlets there understand that diversified revenue and reader support are the keys to both editorial independence and financial success.
She said she believes digital news outlets will begin to adopt “the NPR model” of soliciting monthly donations from readers, rather than yearly crowdfunding campaigns.
“[This model] gives startups a steadier source of income,” Warner explained. “It’s the model that speaks the most to their credibility. If you do original, quality content that changes people’s lives, people will pay for it.”
Despite some gains in journalists’ use of digital tools and technologies, ICFJ’s survey found a mere 5 percent of newsroom staff worldwide hold a technology-related degree — and just 2 percent of newsrooms actually employ technologists. Without substantive technology teams, it’s hard for newsrooms to innovate in a meaningful way.
Furthermore, the survey found newsroom managers are more likely to have digital skills compared to the journalists they oversee. According to ICFJ Knight Fellow Omar Mohammed, it’s often a challenge for journalists to convince their managers to invest in new digital trainings when resources are scarce to begin with. Mohammed shared insights and offered solutions for journalists facing this challenge:
Despite these findings, there is hope for journalism in the digital age — if you know where to look. In seven of the eight regions surveyed, digital-only and hybrid newsrooms outpaced traditional media. Innovation-driven startups could become the new standard as more traditional media fade out. And all eight regions surveyed largely share the same processes, tools, skills and training as they adapt to the digital age — a finding that opens up possibilities for new types of cross-border collaboration and partnership.
Main image CC-licensed by Flickr via Alyson Hurt.