Journalists say online doesn't make dollars or sense

Journalists say online doesn't make dollars or sense
The realities of mixed focus between print and digital journalism is taking its toll on New Zealand (and global) newsrooms, creating ripples across the media landscape that will change the future of news reporting.

The realities of mixed focus between print and digital journalism is taking its toll on New Zealand (and global) newsrooms, creating ripples across the media landscape that will change the future of news reporting.

According to the Oriella Digital Journalism Study – which surveys senior journalists from around the world – 36 percent of New Zealand respondents say their roles are "digital first", where they're expected to break news online as it happens instead of putting it away for the print edition. Almost a third of those who responded say they develop multiple versions  of the same story to utilise tools available online that aren't available in print, such as video and interactive elements.

The Oriella study surveyed almost 550 journalists from 15 countries, including 29 from New Zealand (although more than 100 Kiwi journalists were approached). Oriella is a network of 16 public relation agencies around the world, including Botica Butler Raudon in New Zealand. While the New Zealand sample is small and at risk of being skewed, it reflects the global sentiment which found 33 percent of journalists considered themselves digital first, and a quarter said they develop multiple versions of the same story.

The survey results were revealed at a panel discussion held in Auckland last week. Panelist and former Computerworld editor Sarah Putt says online journalism gives reporters a more robust tool set than print and access to a wider audience.

“Contrary to what most New Zealand journalists seem to think, digital is more exciting. You have a larger, more interesting audience, better feedback and the freedom to use different media forms including video, audio, graphics," she says.

Rob O'Neill, business editor for the Sunday Star-Times goes as far as to say the internet has made journalism better.

While the internet may give journalists better tools and channels to gather and broadcast news, it's creating havoc for publications' bottom lines. More than two-thirds of respondents (71 percent) say their audiences are increasing due to online exposure, however only 11 percent have seen recent increases in revenues. Much of this will be in perceived drop in value of online advertising compared to print, which still props up much of the news industry. According to the Search for the New Advertising Model report from Pew Research, for every $1 US newspapers make from online advertising they are losing $7 in print. By the end of 2012, this figure increased to $16. The Interactive Advertising Bureau of New Zealand (IABNZ) predicts online advertising will overtake newspaper advertising revenue by 2016. 

Freelance business journalist and mainstay of Interest.co.nz Bernard Hickey says the business model for online news is in free fall and journalism will suffer greatly unless consumers pay for content.

"Don’t dream ... The idea of online advertising paying for real journalism is over. We should all shut down our free websites and embrace paywalls and print," he says.

The general consensus from the panel was real journalism costs money, the tricky part is extracting that money from advertisers and consumers.

"News needs to be more than a philanthropic model," says The Listener's Toby Manhire. 

Among the advantages of online reporting cited by respondents to the Oriella study is the ability to gather news from a variety of sources – often live and at the scene through social media. The survey found 41 percent looked towards networks such as Twitter for news stories, but only when they know the person behind the avatar. This is 10 percent fewer than the global average. If the source is unknown, the trust drops to 17 percent (global average 25 percent).

Even in this day and age, only 65 percent of New Zealand journalists say they have a Twitter account. Most maintain some sort of social network presence, including blogging, but one unlucky soul admitted his or her employer doesn't allow blogging outside of work.