Digital Ad Reliance Paints A Bleak Future For Journalists

It has come to something when the only surprise with research in Press Gazette about the state of confidence in journalism is that a mere 78% fear for the future of the profession.

Admittedly, the Cxense research was carried out with a small number of journalists -- just 153 -- but they did come from a range of local, national, business and international titles across Europe and the US.

The consensus is that there is not a lot of confidence in the industry. That is very clear, with just 7% reporting they felt being a journalist means you are in a reliable job. 

The big issue for the industry, for 60% of respondents, is poor-quality output.

Only around half blame the public for not being willing to pay for decent content. That is roughly the same proportion who that fear fake news and relying on advertising are big issues.

The big takeaway is what every journalist will tell you. The commercial pressure on titles has never been higher because audiences are now getting their content for free and news is, in many cases, commoditised. That means there isn't money around to fund great journalism as newsrooms shrink.

This is a non-virtuous circle of low investment, overworked writers who end up bashing out stories to keep up with demand. As a PR person will tell you, in some cases, news sites will borrow heavily from press releases.

This non-virtuous circle leads to poor-quality output, which means the public is even less likely to buy content and makes titles even more reliant on digital advertising.

The sad truth is that for every pound they make through digital, they are losing very roughly around five in print revenues.

This impacts quality even further because it raises the temptation for publishers to plaster a page with advertising and to accept thinly veiled native advertising. Again, this just puts the public off, as they need to close down windows to get anywhere near reading content. 

It's hard to see a way out of this. Around a third think paywalls might be the answer, but the irony is that if quality has dipped, will people pay for it? Paywalls can help if titles have invested in quality journalism, but the problem will always be that there are only a couple of titles that can pull this off in any niche.

News is much too generic to pay for, unless leaping over a paywall rewards the reader with out class opinion writhers and investigative stories. That needs somebody to take a big gamble and invest in titles when revenues are going down.

Of course, the big winners in all this are the duopoly of Facebook and Google who are hoovering up the majority of digital advertising revenue. As for journalism, I would concur with the concerned respondent in this survey. For the first time ever, I'm warning friends asking about the profession for their kids that it isn't what it used to be.

Titles are seeing money go out the door and those remaining on the payroll are having to do a lot more with less.

It's a bleak outlook, but it is shared by many in the industry, in fact according to the research, it is shared by three in four to be more precise.  

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