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Reuters: Journalism and technology trends and predictions

News organizations are covering huge stories, like wars in Ukraine and the Middle East and climate change, all the while facing economic challenges and the rapid development of artificial intelligence.

What are the potential new hurdles in the industry? How will newsrooms grapple with them? Nic Newman, senior research associate at Reuters Institution, explored these questions and more in his new report Journalism, Media, Technology Trends and Predictions 2024. Newman and Tom Platt, global video editor at Reuters, talked about what they discovered in a webinar on Wednesday, Feb. 7.

Newman explored many hotly debated issues in the industry, including shifts in platforms, the future of search in the age of AI, changing formats of news and more. Newman surveyed 314 news professionals from 56 countries and territories. Half of the participants were from organizations with a print background while 22% of participants came from commercial or public service broadcasters.

According to the report, in 2023, Facebook referrals to news sites decreased by 48% with Instagram and X, formerly Twitter, also experiencing declines. 77% of participants indicated their newsrooms have been investing more in direct channels to deal with the loss of referrals. Newman believes that WhatsApp has been gradually becoming an alternative. 

“Early adopters like The New York Times now have 6.2 million followers [on] WhatsApp. It’s not replacing Facebook, of course, but it is providing some traffic. It’s a bit more like a newsletter strategy. The Daily Mail has set up a number of different channels in different verticals,” Newman said.

Subscriptions and membership continue to be the main revenue streams for newsrooms, but more bundles will come out, according to the report. Newman believes that instead of selling single subscriptions, more newsrooms will follow the Times and combine news, games, sports and product reviews into bundles to sell to customers.

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“It’s much harder for people to leave those bundles because there’s more inherent value trapped in them,” said Newman.

In 2024, the formats of news are leaning toward video, newsletters and podcasts. According to the report, 64% of participants indicated their newsrooms would increase video content, 53% would increase newsletters and 47% would work more on podcasts. 

The report also explores how newsrooms countered the avoidance of journalism by readers exhausted by political polarization last year. Newman believed that three widespread methods are better explainers of complicated issues, focusing on solutions and constructive journalism and publishing more inspiring human stories.

Nic Newman, left, and Tom Platt, right, talks about potential new challenges in journalism in 2024 on webinar on Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2024.

“If you look at it from an audience perspective, as you see, people just feel overloaded with the amount of news. They don’t want more news,” said Newman. “They want news that is more relevant to them or makes them smarter in different ways or entertains them in different ways. I think that’s a massive challenge.”

AI is a threat but also another tool for journalism. The industry faces this external threat from search generative experience, or SGE. SGE is a process where users interact with an AI-powered system to explore and generate diverse search results based on their queries, preferences and context.

Google is rolling out AI SGE in 120 countries, including most of Latin America, South Korea and Sub-Saharan Africa. Newman believes the impact of SGE goes beyond search, as publisher brands are largely invisible under the AI SGE. Further, the revenue for news companies may be affected.

Newman’s research shows that 48% of participants believed that there would be very little money for news companies from any deals with AI companies.

Meanwhile, some newsrooms have already been using AI in their reporting. According to the report, the common uses of AI in news are text summaries, headline testing, copyediting, translation, image generation, article generation and TV channel generation. 

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For example, the German Tabloid Express.de has created a virtual journalist called Klara Indernach. Indernach now writes more than 5% of published stories on a wide range of subjects.

“If you’re a challenger brand and you don’t have many resources, then you’re going to use AI to try and produce something at a much cheaper cost,” said Newman.

Ultimately, the implementation of AI in any part of journalism may put the entire industry at risk. According to the report, 56% of participants believed that AI in content creation carries the greatest reputational risk. 28% of participants thought using AI in news gathering also carries the same.

In spite of so many challenges and uncertainties, however, Newman sees opportunities. 

“I think we’re at a point where the platforms are resetting, many traditional behaviors are moving as well in terms of moving towards videos and audio. And in that change, there are always opportunities,” Newman said.

Heather Wang

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