Could there be a silver-lining to fake news?

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In the week that saw Trump launch yet another attack on the FAKE NEWS media (Sad!), we take a look at the ever-challenging and changing news landscape. Can we start to see the beginnings of a post-fake news industry?

A complex and shifting industry

NiemanLab succinctly summarises the strains news publishers are experiencing in the intensified face of fake news: first, the ability of anyone to have their voice heard louder than any time before; second, a growing sense of the difficulty in detecting bias in digital, algorithm-led environments and third, a broader “crisis in cultural authority of knowledge”.

Coupled with ad-revenue pressure and wider discussions around the value of news content on social feeds (financially but also in terms of the attribution news brands get), news publishers are having to think quickly about their long-term strategies.

How publishers are moving forward

While there is a sense that diversification could be at the heart of ‘saving the publishing industry’, it seems the strategy of choice for many news providers is to focus on their specialities and convince consumers their news is worth paying for.

Reuters Institute’s Digital News Project 2017 explores how publishers are currently trying to create these loyal customers, and how it predicts others will try. While some (like the Times and Sunday Times) advocate creating specialist editorial content through “carving out a niche and fiercely defending your expertise in it”, others will be enhancing personalisation. Over 60 per cent of media companies involved in the Reuters Institute project say they will be focusing on data, segmentation and personalisation this year, while over half will utilise registration and sign-in. The Times currently uses a thoughtful subscription process, collecting readers’ preferences (online and print), and general interests before recommending the best offers.

Taking personalisation a step further, “conversational” journalism embodied by The Guardian and The Economist looks to be an important strategy for others this year. Since April 2016, over 30,000 bots have been created on Facebook Messenger, and over half of news editors and CEOs surveyed said that Facebook Messenger will be important or very important for them this year (with similar proportions saying the same for WhatsApp and Snapchat).

These strategies are intended to help drive consumers to pay for news, but interestingly, Reuters Institute predict we’ll be seeing a greater focus on memberships this year and a move away from paywalls in an effort to engage consumers more deeply, and to ensure publishers are “rewarded fairly” for their content.

Silver linings

It seems as though news providers’ ardent focus on in-depth journalism and memberships, plus high consumer awareness of FAKE NEWS are providing some silver linings (Good!).

The New York Times reported a “Trump bump”, adding more subscribers in 2016’s last quarter than any quarter since its pay model launched, with Washington Post and Wall Street Journal experiencing similar surges. The Times has been able to grow its digital-only subscribers to 44 per cent, while The Media Briefing reports that most national publishers included in January 2017’s results “have increased their daily average browser audiences both month-on-month and year-on-year”. Amongst magazines, print-only Private Eye had its most successful issue last Christmas, and the Times Literary Supplement increased print sales by 17% in the last year, proving that print retains an important role.

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Could these much-needed positive stories be a sign of a steady shift in consumer behaviour – a greater concern about the source of news, a more selective approach in how they engage with it online, a desire for longer, analytical pieces and importantly, an appreciation of the need to pay? We’ll be keeping our eyes peeled to see if the pattern only reflects those already heavily engaged in news, or if it’s the beginnings of a wider trend. We’d love to hear your thoughts!

About Georgie Coad

Georgie Coad is a Senior Research Executive at MTM working in the qualitative team. Growing up during phenomenal technological change, with the explosion of social media and the beginnings of OTT, Georgie is excited to research ways that media will continue to evolve and change the way we live.