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Research, rants, and random thoughts by Axel Bruns.


Does ABC News Siphon Audiences from Fairfax?

Mon, 29 May 2017 02:35:28 +0000

PoliticsJournalismIndustrial Journalism'Big Data'Fairfax CEO Greg Hywood has been busy. His company’s announcement on 3 May 2017 that Fairfax would sack 125 of its newsroom staff led to Sydney Morning Herald and The Age journalists going on strike, at the worst possible time in the Australian political calendar. Meanwhile, media reports highlighted Hywood’s annual pay of over $7 million – which at a median reported salary for journalists of just over $51,000 would comfortably pay for the total number of staff laid off in Hywood’s announcement. This is not to say that Hywood does not deserve a CEO-level salary, of course. But in light of the criticism of the job losses at Fairfax, his defence of executive pay levels was tin-eared, to say the least: We pride ourselves on providing above-market salaries. … We need good people to work at this business. You don’t fix the issues confronting the media business by doing the same thing again and again, and expecting a different result. Yet here we are again, with more journalists sacked, and no clear indication of how this is going to make Fairfax’s news outlets more attractive. Faced with such questioning from the Senate inquiry into public interest journalism, Hywood resorted to a familiar trope for commercial media executives: blame market distortion by the public broadcaster. The ABC is creating additional pressure on commercial media by aggressively competing for the same audience that commercial media rely on by providing online content for free, undermining our ability to create a sustainable model. However, this seems to be fundamentally ignorant of the fact that for years now, the ABC has done what few commercial news outlets have been prepared to do: promote the news stories published by its competitors. Promoting the Work of Others The ABC has long partnered with Microsoft’s Bing search engine to include a block of links to related content from elsewhere on the Web alongside its own stories. This recognises audiences’ interest in seeing multiple independent angles on the same story; sadly, commercial outlets like the Sydney Morning Herald still lack this basic feature and link only to (often virtually identical) stories on their sister sites, such as The Age. Rather than siphoning eyeballs from its commercial competitors, could ABC News be a driver of traffic to them, then? Traffic data from Hitwise, which tracks Australian users’ Web browsing patterns, can provide an answer to this question. First, let us put these sites in perspective. In order to compare like with like, we’ll use the numbers for ABC News here, rather than visits to the main ABC site with its multitude of non-news content. Hitwise data report that the SMH consistently attracts a much larger volume of visits than ABC News. In March 2017, for instance, its 38.2 million total visits constitute about a quarter more than ABC News’ 29.9 million; The Age receives around 27.5 million total visits over the same period. Neither can compete with undisputed market leader, with 72.8 million total visits that month. Put together, visits to these two Fairfax properties are already more than twice as large as those to ABC News, then – if the ABC is undermining Fairfax’s market position, it is not making a very good job of it. Traffic Patterns But this is not a zero-sum game, of course. Visitors to ABC News, aided by its helpful links to external content, may well find themselves heading to the Fairfax outlets for more information; even in the absence of outbound links from Fairfax, the same might be true in reverse, too. Here, the upstream Websites recorded by Hitwise – that is, the sites visited just before coming to the SMH or ABC News tell an interesting story. The Sydney Morning Herald receives the vast plurality of its inbound reader traffic from Google sites: some 38.9% of its traffic enter via Google Australia, Google, Google News Australia, or Gmail. Another 7.8% arrive via Facebook or Twitter. Similar patterns hold for other si[...]

2016 Publications Round-Up

Sat, 11 Feb 2017 04:39:02 +0000

PoliticsElectionsProdusers and ProdusageGatewatching and Citizen JournalismJournalismIndustrial Journalism'Big Data'Social MediaSocial Media in Times of Crisis (ARC Linkage)Crisis CommunicationTwitterQUT Digital Media Research CentreResearch ProjectsARC Future FellowshipJournalism beyond the Crisis (ARC Discovery)PublicationsWebSci '16We’re already deep into February 2017, but I thought I’d finally put together an overview of what I’ve been up to during the past year, at least as far as research outputs are concerned. It’s been a busy year by any measure, with a number of key projects coming to completion; research publications from some of these are still in production, but here’s what’s already come out. Routledge Companion Axel Bruns, Gunn Enli, Eli Skogerbø, Anders Olof Larsson, and Christian Christensen, eds. The Routledge Companion to Social Media and Politics. New York: Routledge, 2016. The year began with the release of a major Routledge Companion that I co-edited with my colleagues in the “Social Media and Election Campaigns” project led by the University of Oslo. In this collection we worked hard to provide as much breadth and depth in our coverage of recent political uses of social media as we possibly could, and we ended up with contributions covering political campaigns and movements on all continents except Antarctica, involving a total of some 60 scholars. There’s also a strong section that collects some recent and emerging theoretical perspectives. In addition to the introduction, I also contributed to three substantive chapters in the Companion: Axel Bruns, Gunn Enli, Eli Skogerbø, Anders Olof Larsson, and Christian Christensen. “Introduction.” The Routledge Companion to Social Media and Politics, eds. Axel Bruns, Gunn Enli, Eli Skogerbø, Anders Olof Larsson, and Christian Christensen. New York: Routledge, 2016. 1-3. Axel Bruns and Tim Highfield. “Is Habermas on Twitter? Social Media and the Public Sphere.” The Routledge Companion to Social Media and Politics, eds. Axel Bruns, Gunn Enli, Eli Skogerbø, Anders Olof Larsson, and Christian Christensen. New York: Routledge, 2016. 56-73. Eli Skogerbø, Axel Bruns, Andrew Quodling, and Thomas Ingebretsen. “Agenda-Setting Revisited: Social Media and Sourcing in Mainstream Journalism.” The Routledge Companion to Social Media and Politics, eds. Axel Bruns, Gunn Enli, Eli Skogerbø, Anders Olof Larsson, and Christian Christensen. New York: Routledge, 2016. 104-120. Tim Highfield and Axel Bruns. “Compulsory Voting, Encouraged Tweeting? Australian Elections and Social Media.” The Routledge Companion to Social Media and Politics, eds. Axel Bruns, Gunn Enli, Eli Skogerbø, Anders Olof Larsson, and Christian Christensen. New York: Routledge, 2016. 338-350. Social Media and Politics There were a handful of other publications related to social media and politics that came out in 2016, even though they dealt with events much further in the past. Published online first in 2016, and now properly in Media International Australia issue 162 (2017), I covered the use of social media in the 2013 Australian federal election campaign (and I’m hoping to put together a companion piece for the subsequent federal election in 2016 soon): Axel Bruns. “Tweeting to Save the Furniture: The 2013 Australian Election Campaign on Twitter.” Media International Australia 162 (2017): 49-64. DOI: 10.1177/1329878X16669001. Also (finally) coming out was an article on Twitter in the 2012 U.S. election – that innocent time when the worst outcome of the election might have been unemployment for Big Bird, rather than the all-out attacks by one branch of government on another: Axel Bruns and Tim Highfield. "May the Best Tweeter Win: The Twitter Strategies of Key Campaign Accounts in the 2012 US Election." In Die US-Präsidentschaftswahl 2012: Analysen der Politik- und Kommunikationswissenschaft, eds. Christoph Bieber and Klaus Kamps. Wiesbaden: Springer Fachmedien, 2016. 425-42. Journalism and Social Medi[...]

Evolving Attitudes to Paying for Online News

Sat, 12 Nov 2016 16:20:10 +0000

JournalismIndustrial JournalismOnline PublishingECREA 2016Finally for this session and for ECREA 2016, Richard Fletcher directs our attention to the question of paying for online news, drawing on a six-country study of online pay models. Such models have been a major concern in the industry for a long time, but have remained elusive; there are also few findings in the research that are consistent across different national media systems.When newspapers went online in the mid-1990s, they decided that there was a need to make online news available for free in order to grow their audiences and eventually convert them into paying customers; this has not panned out as expected, however. Large audience segments are fundamentally disengaged from specific news brands; the online advertising market is now controlled by large companies such as Facebook and Google; and a strong reluctance by users to pay for online news persists.Nonetheless, many news organisations have continued to explore pay models, highlighting the negative impact of the 'culture of free' on the news industry. But any kind of price tag that publishers want to put on online news will always be compared by news users with the established reference price tag of zero, which is used by news audiences to make their usage decisions.People use observed prices to make their purchase decisions; in this, however, zero is a 'special' price as consumers associate greater benefits with products that are available for free than they do with any products that are available on a for-pay basis. The free availability of news especially from public service media organisations is suspected to enforce this reference price particularly strongly; at the same time, consumers used to paying for offline news and older consumers may be more willing to pay for online news as well.The present study utilised data from the 2015 Reuters Institute Digital News Report in order to explore audiences' willingness to pay for the news; generally this ranged from 11% in the U.S. to 6% in the U.K. No more than 2% of these in any country indicated that they were very likely to pay for online news in future. Public service media users, surprisingly, were generally more willing to pay for the news than non-users; print news purchasers were more willing to pay for online news as well; for older users the situation was some what more variable.This means that consumers who have a reference price above zero for offline news are also more likely to have a reference price above zero for online news. At the same time, consuming online news from public service media does not appear to by itself create a reference price of zero for other types of online news. Similarly, younger users may still have a reference price above zero in spite of their experience of free online news content, perhaps because they are used to paying for other forms of online content.Thus, people might have different references prices for different types of news coverage: breaking news content may be expected to be free, for instance, while they may accept that niche and in-depth coverage will not be free. How can differences between paid-for and free content be marketed, then?[...]

Social Media Guidelines in Norwegian News Organisations

Sat, 12 Nov 2016 15:50:20 +0000

JournalismIndustrial JournalismSocial MediaECREA 2016The next speaker at ECREA 2016 is Karoline Ihlebæk, whose focus is on social media regulations in Norwegian news organisations. These are related to questions of trust, legitimacy, and changing professional ideals: journalistic adoption of social media has at first been unregulated, but news organisations are now increasingly seeking to regulate this to fend off any potential negative implications. This is also a question of power within these organisations. Such power need not always be negative and restrictive, however: it may also be supportive and empowering for journalists. The present study explores issues of scope, form, and content of these guidelines, then. It works with data from a survey of members of the Norwegian Association of Journalists (with a response rate of some 21%, equating to some 1,600 respondents), as well as with 14 qualitative interviews with editors at national and regional news organisations. The study also distinguished between professional staff in different journalistic and editorial roles.The study found that some 30% of respondents answered that their organisations did not provide any written or oral guidelines; some 21% did not know whether they did. The remaining journalists outlined a number of areas covered by the guidelines: advice on what to post in their professional roles, advice on personal uses, advice on how to follow up on their own news stories via social media, on how to engage in dialogue with audience members, and advice on what journalistic content to post on social media. Editors said that they strongly encouraged journalists to engage with social media; their attitudes to providing guidelines varied widely, however. Many felt that the most important need right now was to encourage journalists to use social media in the first place; they did not want to curtail such uses through guidelines, and were instead prepared with problems when they arose. Those editors who had tried to develop guidelines (especially at public service media organisations NRK) felt that the impact and importance of such guidelines was somewhat limited, however, as uses remained in flux. Guidelines were largely ad hoc and dynamic, and subject to continuing discussion with staff. This is also a matter of trust: largely, editors trusted journalists to know to do the right thing.Controversies with journalists did occur, however, and editors expressed concerns about the confusion between professional and personal roles on social media, and their impact on journalists' professional standing. This did not happen particularly often. Editors also expressed support for the view of journalists as citizens with important rights to free and open expression, in spite of (or in addition to) their professional roles.Other editors expressed more commercial perspectives, and pointed to a difficult balancing act between journalists' and news organisations' priorities in these environments. Editors also felt that occasional problems arising for journalists from their social media activities would contribute to their learning about more effective ways of using social media. Editors were overall supportive of a learning by doing approach, indicating a self-regulatory form of power relations within these news organisations.[...]

The (Social) Mediatisation of Journalism

Sat, 12 Nov 2016 15:24:47 +0000

JournalismIndustrial JournalismSocial MediaECREA 2016I'm chairing the final session at ECREA 2016, and once more we're talking about the future of journalism. Ulrika Hedman is the first speaker, and she begins by highlighting the increasing amount of social media monitoring that is being done by the early adopters amongst professional journalists. Such journalists are beginning to combine news media logic and social media logic, and this makes their professional activities considerably more complex.News media logic has a number of dimensions: it links production (where journalists are gatekeepers, select content, and engage in objective storytelling), distribution (to paying audiences), and media usage (where audiences consume content passively and as masses). Journalists are therefore professionals, guided by their own norms, values, strategies, and practices.In social media logic, on the other hand, other norms apply: production seeks to maximise attention and mixes professional and personal content; distribution is guided by virality and metrics, and pays attention to networks; media usage is bound by peer networks and selective exposure; and this contributes to an ambient flow of news in which journalists aspire to being central hubsSome leading social media adopters amongst journalists are such hubs; they are constantly online and constantly monitoring the impact metrics for their social media presences and activities. This can be described as the mediatisation of journalism: journalism is increasingly dependent on (social) media logic in the conduct of its core activities.How, then, do journalists present themselves, and their profession, on Twitter? Ulrika conducted a strategic snowball sample of Swedish journalists' Twitter accounts that resulted in a representative sample of some 2,500 accounts, and engaged in a corpus analysis of the texts in their profile information.Almost all journalists identify their personal names and identify themselves as journalists, reporters, editors, etc. Tabloid and metropolitan journalists are most likely to present their contact information, while some others provide very little information about this or about their employers. Journalists frequently also provided some personal information about the things and people they 'liked' or 'loved', including family, sporting teams, and specific causes.A small group of leading journalists accounts for the majority of followers, followings, as well as tweets posted; this is a typical long-tail distribution. Such journalists often worked at news organisations with the highest reach. This shows a negotiated accommodation to social media logic: those journalists who fully accommodate are more audience-oriented, more networking, more individualistic, and mix personal and professional elements most strongly, and in doing so set a standard for others; those others, however, follow their lead only hip to a point and remain reluctant to fully accommodate such logic. Perhaps this might leads to the deprofessionalisation of journalism.[...]

Talking Gatewatching and Journalism at ECREA 2016

Sat, 12 Nov 2016 11:17:05 +0000

Taking a quick break from liveblogging the paper sessions I've seen, I was asked to do a quick interview for the ECREA 2016 YouTube channel – and it's online already. So, here's a quick chat about the future of journalism, and a preview of the themes of my upcoming sequel to the Gatewatching book:

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The Disruption of Journalism by Algorithmic News and J-Robots

Sat, 12 Nov 2016 11:05:04 +0000

The next speakers at ECREA 2016 are Marko Milosavljević and Igor Vobić, whose interest is in the emergence of automated journalism and 'j-robots'. Such technologies are gradually emerging into everyday journalistic practices, and the prospect in an industry under stress is that what can be automated will be automated; this creates new tensions for the news industry, however.

The challenge here is in part to journalistic professional ideology, including ideals of public service, objectivity, autonomy, temporality, and ethics: journalism sees itself as performing a public service for its audiences, but personalisation and customisation has also been seen as undermining this; objectivity describes a particular journalistic stance, and there are now new hopes for a kind of algorithmic objectivity in automated news content; autonomy rests on premises of rationalised (dis)connection from politics, and algorithmic and autonomous decision-making could help with this.

Temporality reflects the historical salience of time in the creation and distribution of news, and automated news production and dissemination holds up the promise of instant and even anticipatory coverage; finally, journalistic ethics have become codified in the last century, but still differ widely across organisations and countries, and algorithmic journalism shifts the challenge of such ethical considerations to the programmers of the algorithms.

This project has so far explored these questions through interviews with editors at the Financial Times, Guardian, and Reuters. These have shown that automated news production processes to date only augment rather than replace conventional journalism at these institutions (unlike, say, the situation at Bloomberg). Algorithms so far inform the journalistic process – for instance in story selection or placement, or the commitment of further journalistic resources to a poorly-performing story –, but final editorial decisions remain with human editors as autonomous decision-makers.

The biggest impact has been on the temporality of news reporting: algorithmic reporting – especially in analysing press releases and doing automated reporting on business results – is already prominent here. But editors are also well aware of ethical issues here, as well as more broadly of the potential for mistakes to be made; so far, except for the temporal dimension, this is still a 'humans in the loop' rather than 'humans out of the loop' model, but there is also a sarcastic anticipation of a further algorithmic takeover of the news: 'the robots are coming for us'.

Drivers of Innovation in European Public Service Media Organisations

Sat, 12 Nov 2016 10:49:44 +0000

Next up at ECREA 2016 are Annika Sehl and Alessio Cornia, whose focus is on the presence of public service media online. Online news consumption across a range of devices is now very prevalent, but the online reach of public service news is widely divergent across different countries; in many countries public service media have been overtaken by social media platforms as sources of the news, in fact.

Part of this is also related to the funding models for public service media; funding sources range from entirely public funds to a subsidisation by advertising and other commercial sources. This is also linked to the political situation in each country; German public service media, for instance, are highly restricted by market competition policy in what they are allowed to do online, while the Polish government has interfered in deeply undemocratic fashion with the editorial direction of the public service media organisation.

Public service media must find a way to cope with this difficult environment, including developing new approaches to social and mobile media distribution. The present study explored such approaches by interviewing senior managers and editors at such organisations across six European countries.

In some such organisations, news production is now highly integrated: the philosophy is now story-first rather than format-first, and journalists no longer specialise in producing content for any one particular platform. In others, broadcasting remains central, and online distribution is a secondary concern; even if changes in consumption patterns have been recognised, the transition to appropriate new approaches is proving difficult.

Approaches to mobile news distribution also differ widely; other than at YLE in Finland, mobile apps and dedicated formats have yet to be fully developed. Similarly, social media distribution is seen as increasingly important, but also as a challenge. The concern here is that public service media risk a loss of control over distribution processes.

The factors influencing change thus include external issues (new technological advancements, available levels of funding, integrated and centralised organisational structures, and the degree of insulation from direct political influence), as well as internal drivers (the existence of a pro-digital organisational culture, and progressive internal leadership).


How Do Journalists Cover Journalism Innovation?

Sat, 12 Nov 2016 10:48:57 +0000

JournalismIndustrial JournalismECREA 2016I missed the first paper of the following ECREA 2016 session (sorry, Helle Sjøvaag), so I'll resume liveblogging with a paper by Colin Porlezza. He notes that change is the only constant in journalism history, but this has become worse recently: many news organisations have gone out of business, and innovation has become a crucial asset for surviving organisations. A variety of small journalistic startups have also emerged to exploit gaps in the market.This is also linked to entrepreneurship: entrepreneurial journalism has become increasingly important, too. Overall, innovation in journalism is the process of taking new approaches to media processes and forms while maintaining a commitment to quality and ethics; media innovation occurs through mutations in a number of areas of the journalistic process. Much of this is related to digital and social media technologies, the relation between journalists and audiences, and the reconfiguration of professional culture.How are journalists themselves reporting on journalism innovation, then? What is the tone of their discourse, and what implications does this have for the future of media transformation? Colin gathered data from a number of major papers in the U.K. (Guardian), Italy (Corriere della Sera), Switzerland (Neue Zürcher Zeitung), and Germany (Süddeutsche Zeitung), as well as born-digital sites Vox and Mashable, from which he identified relevant articles during the 2010-16 period. Of these, The Guardian is by far the most active paper covering these issues, followed by the Corriere della Sera (which regularly covers a major journalism conference), while the German-language papers are least active. Articles in The Guardian have notably increased during 2014 and 2015.Major news operations mentioned as innovative in such articles include the New York Times, The Guardian, and the Washington Post. Largely, such articles are about technology and cultural aspects of innovation, with culture moving considerably ahead in the 2013-15 timeframe. There are few discussions of audience aspects throughout the period.But journalism innovation is generally poorly defined in these articles; it is used as a buzzword and a term of hope, but without sufficient specificity. This is also a discursive strategy: the vagueness of the term means that it can be applied to a wide range of topics and issues. Rarely is innovation talked about in purely positive terms; mostly, it is also seen as a challenge to established business models that has yet to be resolved.Most articles aim to take a positive tone, though; fewer take a balanced and neutral view of the issue; only a small handful are strongly negative in tone, and these are almost always contributions authored by Evgeny Morozov. Key discourses address entrepreneurial journalism, failure, and experimentation; several articles link to issues of open data, data protection, security, and privacy; a number of them deal with algorithms and bots; and many highlight the problems with innovating from within established organisational structures and business models.All of this points to continuities as well as discontinuities with regard to journalistic self-reflections on innovation. Progressive and innovative news organisations like The Guardian are much more active in this environment. [...]

Twitter-Based Journalist/Politician Interactions in Germany

Sat, 12 Nov 2016 09:10:20 +0000

PoliticsJournalismIndustrial JournalismSocial MediaTwitterJournalism beyond the Crisis (ARC Discovery)ECREA 2016The final paper in this ECREA 2016 session is by Christian Nuernbergk, whose focus is on the interaction of political and journalistic actors via social media. Both now have to deal with emerging personal publics in social media, in addition to their conventional mass media publics; they now need to have in mind a range of such publics in their everyday professional practice.It is no surprise that politicians' social media activities now also shape journalistic coverage, then. Journalists research background information and track politicians' activities using Facebook and (especially) Twitter; and these platforms are perceived as increasingly important and influential by all actors.Part of this is about personal branding: developing one's personal positioning rather than representing a larger group or organisation. These developments must be understood at micro- (personal), meso- (organisational), and macro-levels (systemic), and must be explored against the backdrop of the specific platform affordances of the social media tools being used here.Christian's project examined Twitter-based interactions between members of the German Bundestag and members of the German press corps (the BPK); this pointed mainly to interactions from journalists directed at the leading politicians. These are often one-sided; only 46% are two-sided, involving replies from the politicians to the journalists. This is because journalists often mention politicians as they are promoting new articles about these journalists, or as they are engaging in livetweeting activities. Additionally, most of this is professional in tone; there are only a small number of more personal exceptions. Conflict-related interactions remain very rare, given the professional dependency of journalists on politicians.At the same time, politicians are somewhat more likely to reply to ordinary users than to journalists; but engagement chains usually remain short and are rarely between more than two or three users. When users become involved, the tone of the discussion tends to turn more emotional.So, journalist tweets are directed preferentially to leading politicians; this represents a professional exchange, and remains largely civil and not overly critical. Journalists focus on politicians and tend not to engage strongly with other types of users. There are opportunities here to extend this analysis to cover other forms of interactions between a broader range of users, too.[...]