Regional journalism conference says traditional media has to adapt to a digital world

A decline in traditional media is being witnessed globally because of the availability of a wide range of digital media.

An immediate impact of such a change is the massive job losses suffered by journalists all over the world.

A three-day conference on Future Organizing and Transforming Trade Union Workshop organized by International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), in Kathmandu, raised concerns on how the digital media is taking over traditional media.

Deputy General Secretary, IFJ, Jeremy Dear, said South Asia has the lowest penetration of digital newsrooms, and yet Facebook and Twitter are still bigger news distribution platforms than the print media.

He said online news is the primary source of news for almost 60 percent of 18-24 year olds compared to 16 percent for print media, and the figure is growing at around 5 percent per year in South Asia. 52 percent of the users prefer to use WhatsApp and Facebook as their major news source.

Across Asia, consumers now spend more time accessing news and media online than on TV, radio and print combined, said Jeremy Dear.

He said the number of journalists working in digital publishing has tripled. In Asia 50 percent of digital media increased staff last year. This will continue to do so, given the ever greater penetration of internet and mobile devices, said Jeremy.

India is one of the world’s largest newspaper markets but that is changing, as per India Digital News Report 2019 states, “The future of Indian news is mobile-first and platform dominated.” 68 percent of the people consume news via their smartphone.

These changes will happen at different speeds, and in different ways, in different countries but the future is coming, and if we want to remain relevant, we need not to resist the future but to shape it, said IFJ Deputy General Secretary.

“If we claim to represent journalists, we must increasingly open our doors to those working in digital media,” he added.

However, he said, “Supporting digital media does not mean we abandon the fight for jobs in traditional media, that we don’t speak up for all journalists or that we open our doors to every political activists or creative writers who describe themselves as a journalist, but that we recognize if we are to be able to speak for our profession and if we are to be able to exert any collective strength on employers and governments to improve the working lives of journalists, we cannot ignore these changes.”

He said in just span of a decade, 25,000 US newspaper journalists have been fired and a third of newspaper jobs have disappeared in just 3 years. Hundreds of titles have closed, and many of those that survive do so with reduced staff and fewer pages.

Jeremy said the biggest survey, to date, of the conditions of digital journalists showed they worked longer hours, had a bigger workload, were expected to have more skills but received less training, had more health and safety concerns, faced a massive rise in ethical and professional problems, work with smaller budgets and fewer resources and earned lower pay.

There is an impact on journalism. With fewer journalists and financial pressure to adapt to low advertising rates, papers and digital outlets are incentivized to focus on shorter articles which take less time and money to produce.

Reporters of digital media feel more pressure to write stories that get clicks.

Jeremy said in this economic environment, fake news and sensationalism thrive, local democracy suffers, and time-consuming, in-depth investigative reports which get less traffic and cost more money to produce than lighter fare have become increasingly rare. Why seek the truth when it is more profitable to deliver clicks?

But the changing technology has also opened up new spaces within journalism. Many of the leading investigative news operations across the world are digital publishers, he said.

There are thousands of new jobs being created in the digital economy that involves journalistic skills and editorial decisions but they are rarely recognized as journalism.

IFJ Deputy General Secretary said these areas need more targeted, practical and strategic research to help affiliates explore the new recruiting and organizing opportunities emerging in the digital economy as the paper product declines and disappears.

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