Welcome to Journalism’s Tipping Point

As a range of experts explore the concept of “Future Platforms for Independent Journalism” from different angles, there is one clear message: We all need to move fast to keep up.

First, the good news: There finally seems to be an awakening to the notion that quality journalism is key to the survival of well-functioning democracies. There are also an increasing number of voices stressing that not only do we need journalism to support democratic values, but also declaring that quality, rather than quantity, is what engages people and makes them pay for content. Therefore, the argument is slowly but surely moving away from clickbait and reach, and in favor of quality content and engagement.

The disturbing news is that one key question still has no answer: Are publishers to doomed to become marginalized as mere content producers, or can we actually evolve our position as independent news service providers? The best solution would be for media companies to develop logged-in ecosystems, gathering user data to improve personalized user experiences as well as attracting advertisers. However, publishers have not yet focused on developing ecosystems. The investments in the platforms to support an ecosystem are substantial and far outpace the resources of almost all media companies. Therefore, the vast majority of users for any publisher are anonymous, and users’ intents are equally unknown. We know the effects; both news consumption as well as advertising budgets are moving away from publishers’ own sites towards Facebook and the like.

Consequently, publishers are flirting with the giants, letting them distribute some of their content and seeing what ad dollars this approach leaves on the table. How will this influence a free and independent press — our editorial accountability, our financial stability, and our relationship with our users? From what we know, this alternative will also imply that publishers are surrendering the opportunity to monetize their content. Furthermore, some publishers are concerned that they will lose editorial power when the tech companies have discretion on which stories to publish when and to whom. And how will all of this influence our ability to innovate?
It only becomes even more complicated for content providers as the tech companies become more interested in publishing — not for its own sake, but because news creates engagement and therefore helps them keep the attention of their users. This extra engagement is already becoming particularly important because sharing of personal information is slowing down on the social sites.

Publishing is not a primary goal for the tech companies, and they have limited desired to get involved in content creation or to be held accountable for it — so far, for them publishing is simply a means to an end. To us, of course, it is our reason for being. The tech companies’ main interest lies in user engagement, which again drives advertising money. The Western European digital ad market is huge, forecasted to reach $38 billion in 2016 — of which $15 billion is display advertising.

This year’s Tinius Report is dedicated to exploring the theme “Future Platforms for Independent Journalism” from a range of different angles and perspectives. To examine this issue, we have invited some of the leading thinkers and practitioners in the world to share their views and visions. Even though opinions differ, there are some common denominators: All contributors have a passion for publishing, everyone agrees it has to change, and they are all trying to shed light on possible paths going forward.

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