Credit: Gino Crescoli from Pixabay

Each year, the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism (RISJ) publishes predictions based on interviews with news industry leaders to share knowledge about trends publishers need to pay attention to in the year ahead. For its 2022 report, lead author Nic Newman and his team surveyed 246 news leaders from 52 countries or territories, including 57 editors-in-chief, 53 CEOs or managing editors, and 31 heads of digital or innovation.

Is the 48-page report is TL;DR? Here are the highlights.

1. Subscriptions and memberships are the number one priority

Although news consumption has fallen in 2021 in many countries, including the UK and the US, the majority of publishers surveyed by RISJ (73 per cent) are looking forward to 2022. The main reason for this is that journalists feel their work is more valued by the public and, after two years of uncertainty, more than half of the surveyed publishers (59 per cent) experienced revenue growth.

A lot of this growth is down to money from subscription and membership models. This is not just the case of the giants like the New York Times that reports 8.4 million subscriptions. Smaller digital-native brands like Dennik N in Slovakia or Daily Maverick in South Africa bet on subscriptions as sustainable revenue models.

Why it matters: There is not enough money and people willing to pay for news in the world to sustain all the media outlets. Although nearly four in five publishers (79 per cent) say that subscription is their priority in 2022, many look for a mixed model with display (73 per cent) and native (59 per cent) advertising, events and sponsored activities from platforms. And for a cause - almost half of news leaders worry that subscribe-to-read journalism will only target more affluent and educated audiences, leaving others out.

To counter this, many publishers offer deals to those from disadvantaged backgrounds, like The Daily Maverick in South Africa that offers a 'pay what you can afford' membership, or Correio da Manhã in Portugal that offers free subscriptions to people living in care homes. RISJ predicts this trend will grow in 2022.

2. Mainstream media will poach talent back from platforms

Previous years saw journalists leaving their newsrooms and setting up their own businesses on Substack and other paid-for platforms, but not all of them, have found success. The mainstream news outlets should see some of that talent returning to the newsroom in the year to come, although publishers may need to allow independent creators to continue with their podcasts and newsletters at the same time.

Another trend could see star journalists group into collectives to monetise large audiences they have amassed on social channels. One example is Puck, a startup created by a former editor of Vanity Fair Jon Kelly, who brought together writers covering Silicon Valley, Hollywood, Washington, and Wall Street. However, these collectives may struggle with the same problems as newsrooms, especially finding enough people willing and able to pay for their content.

3. Podcasts, newsletters and digital videos even more important

If publishers want to monetise all those subscription and membership products, they need to get more readers, viewers and listeners to use them.

To boost audience engagement, four in five surveyed publishers plan to invest in podcasts and other digital audio, followed by newsletters (70 per cent), and digital video formats (63 per cent). Tech investments such as applications for voice and metaverse are largely not seen as priorities.

Social platforms are also investing in new audio creation or curation tools which opens up the content creation market to anyone with a smartphone. This will create tougher competition but also stimulate overall audio content consumption. Moderation will add additional challenges since audio is even harder to monitor than written text.

To stand out in the crowded audio space, some publishers like The New York Times and Schibsted are creating platforms and apps of their own. But paid features from platforms like Apple and Spotify will also open up the market for individual creators, much like Substack did for writers, adding to the competition.

Live video is also enjoying a renaissance, partly because of virtual events during the pandemic and news events like the storming of the US Capitol. Short-form video thrives thanks to the apps like TikTok, which now reaches a billion users worldwide, as well as Snapchat. But as RISJ previously found, it is mostly influencers and celebrities that users follow, so it is not quite clear how these platforms are going to be of use to journalists.

What that means: Publishers are still eager to reach younger audiences who are also major users of short video platforms. About a half of surveyed publishers plan to put more efforts into Instagram, TikTok and YouTube and focus less on Twitter and Facebook. But independent creators may overtake journalists in this space too.

4. Hybrid working is here to stay

Although the industry is recovering from the pandemic, few newsrooms are in a hurry to bring everyone back to the physical office. A mix of physical and remote working is the way most organisations plan to go, while some are going fully virtual. Although many employees find a better work-life balance and productivity while working from home, bosses worry about the loss of creativity, collaboration and communication. To make hybrid newsroom work, leaders have to find better ways to talk to their teams and look after their mental health.

5. More solutions, less confrontation

Both journalists and audiences are exhausted by the relentlessly negative news cycle. RISJ predicts more focus on constructive formats of news coverage that will be partly driven by a greater diversity of newsroom leaders who are questioning traditional assumptions about news production. Efforts to increase diversity at the top echelons of news organisations should continue with hires and promotions of women and people of colour.

6. Focus on safety

As online and offline attacks on journalists continue, publishers step up their support, including security protection and training. Online interactions and polarising debates are also under scrutiny, and many news organisations are looking to tighten up rules for social media use to help curb abuse and boost public trust.

7. Reporting climate change

Although scientific evidence shows action is urgent to prevent dramatic consequences of climate change, publishers struggle to attract audience with climate content. There are several reasons for that: the slow pace of change which makes it hard to cover it as a news story; gloomy outlook; lack of expert journalists and money to travel to remote places; the complexity of the science; and pressure from owners and advertisers.

[Read more: Eight ways to nail climate emergency reporting]

Hiring journalists with a science background must become the top focus for publishers. Journalists may also want to experiment with solutions and constructive formats to counter some of the doom and gloom that puts audiences off. To address the lack of money, content-sharing and collaboration between organisations can yield better results. Finally, journalists need to find the right balance between the need to convey the urgency of the situation and campaigning, which can undermine public trust if perceived as a lack of impartiality.

8. Platforms and regulation

With online disinformation around covid or the role of social media in events like the storming of the Capitol in the US, the pressure is mounting to regulate tech platforms. The European Union leads the way with its Digital Markets Act (DMA) which is set to curb anti-competitive behaviour among the biggest players, while the UK is planning to pass its Online Safety Bill which aims to sanction platforms that do not do enough to curb illegal and harmful content.

More countries will be emboldened by the success of the News Bargaining Code in Australia and to the Copyright Directive in Europe, which saw large publishers receive money from licensing content to platforms. However, these deals often benefit only established big players rather than smaller and local publications.

News organisations are also starting to feel the impact of the GDPR as user-tracking becomes harder, which complicates the delivery of personalised services and making money from advertising. As third-party cookies become less profitable - and Google is planning to phase them out anyway - more publishers will focus on building first-party data through interactive features, events and competitions.

9. Artificial intelligence and metaverse

AI and machine learning are gaining popularity in newsrooms. More than eight in ten surveyed publishers (85 per cent) said that it will be very or somewhat important this year in creating personalised content for news audiences. Organisations are also looking to use AI-powered tools to speed up some of the newsroom tasks, investigative journalism or optimise subscription models. New tools could help original image and video creation which could boost anything from story illustrations to visual journalism. AI can also help journalists experiment with personalisation and story formats.

As Facebook morphed into Meta, there is more focus on metaverse, a shared online environment that connects users through virtual or augmented reality. We may see more interviews done in metaverse featuring avatars of the participants, but it is safe to say journalists are not jumping on the concept just yet. The main exception are sports broadcasters who are adopting mixed reality studios that allow hosts to interact with virtual content and bring in celebrities from remote locations.

Finally, more organisations may want to experiment with non-fungible tokens (NFTs), following the success of publishers like Quartz, South China Morning Post or The New York Times that raised $860,000 from the sale of NFTs. These digital items range from illustrations to an original news story and can be bought and sold online.

[Read more: South China Morning Post experiments with blockchain to record ‘shared human history’]

You can download the complete Journalism, Media, and Technology Trends and Predictions 2022 report here.

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