The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Anyone involved in the production of news journalism, whatever their medium, feels assailed by a dizzying rate of evolution. Content creation, distribution platforms, interaction with consumers are all in constant flux.
But the annual Digital News Report, launched at Edelman's offices this morning, reminds us that all of that change is attributable to some very familiar forces.
Here are the headlines:
• The emergence of mobile - smartphones and tablets - is identified by the authors from Oxford University's Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism as a second disruptive digital revolution that threatens to sweep away traditional links between the audience and the news source.
• The number of people prepared to pay for news is small as is willingness to pay, but more are moving to subscription rather than one-offs purchases.
• The choice of platforms for discovering, sharing and commenting on news events is multiplying year by year with different countries favouring different platform brands - though Facebook and Twitter are leading the way and Twitter, WhatsApp and Google+ are also fighting for the podium places.
• And the report also highlights the growing power of the "journalist as brand": the individual - whether a columnist like Caitlin Moran of The Times or a reporter/statistician like Nate Silver in the US, becomes more important
On the face of it, a recipe for change and, from the point of view of the traditional news broadcaster or publisher, perhaps even hyperventilating chaos.
But as the panellists who analysed the report at the launch pointed out, these are not trends that should take us by surprise.
1) "Mobile is a growing form of distribution and it brings up different challenges on how news is presented" - Yes, but so did the emergence of movable type, of hot-metal printing, of the radio transmitter, and television, and the web browser. It all comes down to who caters best for the customers' need and does not have to spell the end of an entire industry. As Carla Buzasi, editor-in-chief of Huffington Post UK told us: "Content is key to engage users and sharing is key to us." Media companies need to marry the best content with the best mobile and big data minds. When a content tree falls in a forest, you need data analytics specialists on hand to make sure the world hears it.
2) "Paywalls are a tough proposition" - True enough, as Robert Shrimsley, managing editor of ft.com, said in his contribution to the panel: "We've done a lot of research on paypoints, and it tells us that, given the choice, people's preferred price point is zero". It was a joke, but one with a serious point: people will pay for what they value whether it is the FT or a cinema ticket or an apple. He added the important rider "if they can't get it cheaper elsewhere", but that is again just a simple market law. It's not all depressing reading though. Dig into the Reuters data and you find that in the US 11% have paid for news and a further 11% say they would be prepared to pay for it; if you scale that up globally it is as my old boss at the BBC would say a "non-trivial amount". Let's gloss over the fact that the comparable numbers for the UK were 7% and 7%...
3) "New ways of spreading the news keep getting bigger and more diverse" - 'Twas ever thus, (again) but do you have to treat them as enemies? Not in the view of our panellists. Andrew Miller, CEO of the Guardian Media Group, whose theguardian.com is the world's 3rd most successful newspaper website, said he regarded it as his duty to get on as well as possible with those others saw as threats, whether it was social media or aggregators like Google and Apple. "Of course there are anti-trust issues with Google and Apple, but our challenge is to work with them as best we can and use their platforms." Shrimsley added that moaning about disruptors was as much use as "complaining about the weather".
The fact is that there have always been threats to news distributors. Some have closed, some have prospered, but the good ones almost always survive and are stronger for it.
4) "The journalist as brand" - Putting aside what this means if you are a managing editor and faced with the annual pay review round, it is inescapable that people are interested in other people. It's no surprise then that the New York Times this week launched the NYT Opinion app. There is a market in news and a market in views. Incidentally, here is the take of today's top Tweeter, @caitlinmoran.
So, as the CEO of a fast-growing PR company, would I rather have the business model and the outlook of the news industry? Probably not. But as a former TV producer and news editor, and a champion of journalism all my life, do I think that the news industry if done for? Absolutely not.Suggest a correction