Newsrooms and journalists have been making greater use of digital tools in order to confront the biggest challenges the industry faces, according to a new report by the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) published yesterday (16 October 2019).
The State of Technology in Global Newsrooms 2019 is based on responses from more than 4,100 newsroom managers and journalists from 149 countries across eight global regions. The survey follows on from its 2017 report, which revealed a lack of digital skills, worryingly, around verification and digital security.
Two years later, there is more encouraging reading. Use of social media verification tools by journalists has more than doubled (25 per cent, up from 11 per cent). At the same time, 67 per cent of journalists use end-to-end encrypted communications compared to the 46 per cent in 2017.
Catching up as an industry
"It’s too strong to say we’ve caught up as an industry, but we’re catching up," said Sharon Moshavi, ICFJ, senior vice president, new initiatives. "Particularly in areas that are challenging for journalism right now."
The numbers come as surprise to Moshavi but she said they also represent wider trends in the industry.
"It says a lot about how much the industry and the state of information in journalism has changed and also how the threat to journalism and information has increased. What we're seeing is journalists reacting to that.
"The sense of a profession under siege all around the world has increased. All of this points to the fact there is a recognition that the industry is facing a very severe period."
At the same time, advertising revenue is not a top revenue generator for 54 per cent of news organisations, as they see more income opportunities emerging.
For example, a quarter of newsrooms expect subscriptions and memberships to become as a key part of their funding model this year, compared to just four per cent that currently say subscriptions and memberships are important. Moshavi said this spells optimism in the industry about better times ahead.
Despite the hype around digital, there are significant caveats, such as the lack of tech specialism in newsrooms. 'New roles', like social media editors and analytics editors, have only grown by two per cent over the last two years.
As well as this, growth in digital-only startups have declined or remained flat in seven of the eight global regions, only east/southeast Asia showing gains. Perhaps newsrooms should be careful not to get carried away with the wonders of tech and digital.
Two years from now
Just as two years ago it would have been hard to imagine the current digital landscape, it is difficult for newsrooms to forecast two years from now and take measures to future-proof themselves.
But the report does give newsrooms reason to pause, crunch the numbers and assess which specific areas to be intentional about investing in.
"You can see where the gaps are still in digital usage and where revenue sources are coming from, which tools have grown and which have not," said Moshavi.
"How do we think about the future? Let’s understand, for example, 'We’re not hiring tech specialists, should we be doing this? Is this something we should change?'"
Hybrid and hyperlocal newsrooms
It is clear then that digital is not the answer to everything. The report presses the need for newsrooms to mix in digital and traditional approaches.
Journalists at smaller organisations are turning more to social media to crowdsource information compared to their peers elsewhere in the industry (15 per cent versus 10 per cent).
"Journalists covering local news recognise more than anybody they are there to serve reader needs," said Moshavi.
"They try more different tools and techniques in order to engage with their audience - that's a lesson for nationals and regionals.
"I hope all newsrooms recognise that whatever they do in tech is in the service of their audience, rather than chasing the next shiny thing.
"Recognise there are myriad ways to do good journalism and they exist in an ecosystem where people get information from many places - be very cognisant of that fact."
What skills will journalists need in 2020? Find out at our Newsrewired conference on the 27 November at Reuters, London. Head to newsrewired.com for the full agenda and details.