Dr. Rasmus Kleis Neilsen: “The Latest Findings of the Digital News Report” | Talks at Google


SPEAKER: I have the honor of
introducing our guest speaker today, Dr. Rasmus Nielsen, who
is the Director of Research at Oxford’s Reuters Institute
for the Study of Journalism. And he also serves
as Editor in Chief for the “International
Journal of Press Politics.” His work focuses on the
changes in the news media, on political communication,
and the role of technology that it plays in both. He’s done extensive
research on journalism and American politics as well
as various forms of activism. He’s received many awards
throughout his career and has a PhD in communication
from Columbia University. He will be sharing
some research that he’s done globally on the use of– or the use of journalism
and social media and how it’s consumed
on digital media. That’ll be a 20-minute
presentation. We’ll then ask Erica
Anderson, our very own, who heads up the Partnerships
Team in the News Lab, based out of New York as
well, to do a Q&A. I learned a lot about Erica
along the way as well. Her current role is working
with partnerships in the news industry and seeing how we can
really broadcast and advance storytelling. Building trust in this digital
age with the news industry. Prior to Google, she was Katie
Couric’s first social media person, helping establish Katie
Couric as the first journalist to really lead the
way in social media. And prior to that,
she was at Twitter helping establish the program
with journalists, fun fact, helping build long codes
so that journalists can tweet from remote
regions in war zones using some satellite phones. Such esteemed speakers
that we have today. Please join me in giving a warm
welcome to Dr. Rasmus Nielsen and Erica Anderson. [APPLAUSE] Thank you. Welcome. RASMUS KLEIS NIELSEN: Thank you. Thanks very much for
the warm introduction and for the opportunity
to speak here today. I will talk on the basis of a
large collaborative research project that we do at
the Reuters Institute at the University
of Oxford that’s led up by my colleague,
Nic Newman, Richard Fletcher, Antonis
Kalogeropoulos, David Levy, and myself. So I will sort of
speak on behalf of what really is a team effort. And I’m just the one who
has the honor, if you will, to stand here in front of you
to talk about these issues. What I want to do is to give
a big picture overview, what’s happening to how people use
media, how they use news, how they get it across a range
of different countries across the world. I’ll touch on some key
themes around these issues and try to take away some
of the big picture points that I think are
relevant for thinking about the role of
journalism in our societies but also the role of large
technology companies, like Google. So first, a quick overview
of what the study is about. We do a large survey every year. This year, we have covered
36 different markets across the world, a total
of 70,000 respondents, more than 2,000 in every
country that we cover, to really give a
picture globally of how people are using media
and news across the world. This is made possible
by a network of partners and sponsors, including a
range of different media organizations, like the BBC;
media regulators, like Ofcom in the UK; private
sector media companies, including publishers,
newspapers, and the like; universities
and technology companies, like Google, who is
amongst the sponsors behind this
collaborative effort. I want to touch on a set of
key findings from this survey today before we open up for
conversation with Erica. And I’ll run through
each of them in turn. The first point I
want to talk about is the move towards
an environment of what we might think of as distributed
discovery, where people increasingly get their news not
by going direct to the websites and apps of news organizations,
but by coming sideways via search, via social,
and increasingly, via messaging apps
or other forms of distributed discovery, where
contrary to fears of filter bubbles, at least
in our research, we find that people, in
fact, are increasingly more exposed to more
different sources of news than they were in the past. But also, an environment
in which people don’t always recognize the
brands or the sources of news that they have, in fact, used. The second point I want to
cover is the question of trust. And I will argue that our
research shows that confidence both in social media
and in news media is low in many environments
and particularly in those that are politically
polarized, like the US. I will talk about the evolving
role of platform companies, like Google, in terms of the
way in which we, as users, use the technologies that companies
like Google, Facebook, and Apple, and others
are offering is changing the way in which we get news. And finally, I will talk about
mobile and the centrality of the smartphone as the
defining device of news today and, if you will,
the implications of these developments for
the business of journalism. So this is the terrain. The first topic is the question
of distributed environments. Now, it’s clear that in the
early days of the internet, we still lived in a world in
which people primarily got news by going direct to a source of
news, a brand that they knew. They would type in
thenewyorktimes.com, or still maybe use
a print newspaper or go to a broadcaster
for their news. But increasingly, the
world in which we live is one in which people have
embraced what we might think of as distributed discovery,
where we come across news via platform services that are
sometimes used because we want news but sometimes
incidentally expose us to news while we are using the platform
or service for other purposes. In our survey, by
now most people would say that they get news
in a range of different ways. Sometimes, going direct. Sometimes, use of
social or search. But when we do a
follow-up question of asking people, what is
your main way of getting news online, we clearly see this
shift towards an environment that is more distributed. So by now, in the
countries we cover, the 36 different
markets, about a third say that going direct
to a news provider is their main way of
getting news online. But 2/3 mentioned various
forms of distributed access. Search most importantly,
social close behind, and then other forms of sideways access. Amongst younger
users, those under 35, it’s 3/4 who named these
distributed forms of access as their main way
of getting news. Many people have worried that
this development would lead us towards an environment
characterized by filter bubbles or echo chambers where
algorithmic selection would lead us just to feed us more
of what we already want. In fact, when we look
at our survey data, what we find consistently across
the markets that we look at is that those people who use
social media or search, or both, amongst the ways in which they
find news are consistently exposed to more different
sources of news in the course of a week than those who don’t. Now, it’s important
to say here that, of course, for those people
who use a lot of news, this effect may
be quite marginal. So if you use maybe five
or seven different sources of news in a week,
you’re probably not going to see more
different sources of news via search and social. But what’s important to remember
is that most people do not use a lot of sources of news. They might use two or three
that they go to directly. And search and social in general
will add additional sources that they would not have
come across otherwise. So we really don’t find
these filter bubbles or echo chambers. In fact, we find the opposite–
incidental exposure to news that people would not
have sought out otherwise, in particular for young people
and for those least interested in news. The flip side of this,
which we could broadly say is probably a good
thing, if you will, is that there is a clear
issue of brand recognition in this environment. That people don’t always
remember or even recognize the news providers
that they come across via search or social. So this year in the UK, we
did sort of a closed study, particularly of this
question of attribution, where we tracked
people passively, looking at what they
actually accessed, a set of panelists who
had volunteered to let their behavior be tracked. We identified the ways in
which people came across news– by going direct, by accessing
first a social media domain and then a news site, or
using search and then accessing a news site. And then we would survey
those people within 48 hours, knowing that they had
accessed a certain news story, and asked them, do you
remember where you got it? What news brand did you
get this story from? Unsurprisingly, most of
the people who had directly accessed the news
organization would correctly recall what news organization
this was– the BBC, The Mail Online, The Guardian. Whereas less than
half of those who had come across this
story via search or social could correctly remember and
recall what the brand behind it was actually like. So here is a real issue that
is in part, if you will, an issue for publishers
around their business and the standing of
their journalism. But also it’s a public
issue in the sense that we know from
a lot of research that brands are key to the
ways in which people think about the credibility
of information, and the trustworthiness
of information, and the degree to which they
will let that information influence or inform
their views, if you will. So there is an issue here
of whether in distributed environments, we are
helped enough as users to actually navigate the
information that we discover via the search and
social services. The next topic I
want to touch on is this question of
confidence and trust, which sort of follows
on, if you will, in some ways from this question
of distributed discovery and whether we recognize
brands in that environment. The first thing I
want to say here is that we asked
people in this survey as sort of a simple top-line
question of whether they felt that different ways
of getting news helped them distinguish
between fact and fiction. So it was sort of
a way of trying to get at this
issue of fake news that didn’t rely on
simply asking people. So, Rasmus, do you feel like
you’ve been fooled recently? And then me sort
of volunteering, yes, I’ve been
fooled all the time. No. Instead we asked
people whether they felt empowered by
different forms of media to distinguish between
fact and fiction. Now, the first figure there
is quite striking, we feel. It’s that only a quarter
of our respondents, 24%, feel that social media
helps them distinguish between fact and fiction. Now, obviously, this
has never been a promise that social media made. It is not something that social
media platforms promised people to help them do this, but
it is still quite striking that when we know that
so many people rely on social media as one among
several sources of ways of finding news that so few
people seem to think that this is actually a good way for them
to distinguish between fact and fiction. The optimistic spin
on this, if you will, is that people
are actually quite skeptical of this information. And this image that some people
have of people sort of naively believing every
piece of information that they come across
on Twitter, on Facebook, is not one we can
recognize at all. To the contrary,
our data suggests that people are highly
skeptical and quite critical consumers of information
that they find in distributed environments. When we turn to news media,
the figure is much higher. 40% say that they feel news
media helped them distinguish between fact and fiction. Whether the figure is
as high as journalists would like it to be is then
a separate question because of course, here
journalists actually do believe that
this is what they are trying to do in many cases. So the figure here,
if you will, is one I think that
indicates that there is a much broader issue of trust
and confidence in news media that I think has been
illustrated quite vividly recently in the United
States around elections and, if you will, the attitudes
of certain politicians and parts of the public
towards journalists and media organizations. But it’s important to
see here that this, while a global phenomenon,
is not equally pronounced or the same level, if
you will, of distrust or even crisis of confidence in
every country around the world. So looking across the 36
markets we cover in the report, we find very
pronounced differences in degree to which people say
that they can trust the media. Some countries, often
in Northern Europe, have half or close to
half the population saying they have a lot or quite a
lot of confidence in the news media. Whereas in countries like
the US, it’s less than 40%. And many very
polarized countries in Southern Europe,
Central, Eastern Europe, and Latin America have
even lower levels of trust like that, like
Greece, for example, and Korea, where only about
a quarter of the population feel that they can
trust the media. Now, a subset of this
is a follow-up question about whether people trust not
the media, but my media, if you will, the media that they use. And in polarized
societies like the US, we see very big differences,
where people are much more likely to say that they
trust the media that they use than they are
to say that they trust the media in general– implicitly, the media
that other people use. Whereas in many of the countries
with high levels of trust, people trust both their
own media and the media that other people use, which
is a slightly different environment. In our view, this
is in large part due to political polarization. So something that
may be accentuated by media and by technology,
but it’s fundamentally a political question. We tried to map this by showing
the degree to which audiences are distributed along
partisan political lines in the online environment. And you can see, for example,
in a country like the United States, that you have
a majority of brands that have an audience
that leans to the left. I should underline
here, this graph is about the audience’s
political leaning, not about the
content or editorial line of these organizations. But a large number of brands
who have left-leaning audiences, and then a few who have
right-leaning audiences, and very little in the
middle, apart from Yahoo News. A country like the
UK, where you have a large provider in the middle,
the public service media organization, the BBC;
a number of newspapers that are sort of clearly
center left or center right, whether it’s The
Mail Online, The Telegraph, or The Guardian, and
The Daily Mirror; and then very small,
very purely partisan outlets on the far
left and the far right. So this is quite a
different picture, if you will, of
what an online media environment, a high-choice
media environment, might look like in a country
that is less politically polarized than the US and
where people generally have higher levels of
confidence in the media, though declining,
perhaps, after Brexit. Now, the next topic I wanted
to quickly walk through is this question of the evolving
role of platform companies, and how we find and
access news, and the way in which these things
are changing over time. The first point here
is really, of course, to highlight the
centrality of social media, by now the only
sort of other way, apart from search, that really
is central to distributed discovery. And we’ve seen an
incredibly rapid rise in the role of social
media for getting news. By now, in 2017, more than
half of our US respondents say that they get
news on social media. It’s basically a doubling
in just four years. The development in the
UK is very similar. But what’s important
to recognize here also is that, actually, this year
we’ve seen, if you will, a slowing down or even a
flat-lining of this seemingly inexorable growth of the
roles of social media. So in many countries,
the number of people who say they get news from
social media has stayed flat or even declined
slightly year-on-year. And again, there
are very pronounced country-to-country differences
between a country like Germany versus a country
like Spain, where in Spain, twice
as many people say they get news on social media. So social media, perhaps a
saturation point, the same way that search may have
reached saturation as one of the ways in
which people get news. Where do we see
the evolution then? Well, from our point of
view, the next frontier is probably messaging
applications. This is where we’ve seen
real growth year-on-year, in particular WhatsApp,
Facebook Messenger, but also in some countries,
individual other providers. So we have Snapchat
that are important for some demographics– younger
users in many countries, particularly the US and some
other English-speaking markets. But also in some
countries, there are individual
messaging applications that are very important– Kakao in Korea, for
example, and Line in Japan. So we see a lot
of difference here in the role of messaging apps. These more private
environments that are not filtered by algorithms
making display decisions but are filtered
by users deciding who they want to share
with that in some markets are really, really important. Already now we have,
in some markets, generally markets with low
levels of trust in mainstream media and with highly-polarized
environments where you may not want to talk about politics
publicly on social media, but may want to talk about
politics privately with people you trust, we see countries
that in some cases, like Malaysia and Brazil,
it’s half or close to half of the population say that they
get news via messaging apps. This really is a new
frontier that publishers are interested in looking at. But also, of course,
a whole new set of questions around the
spread of information and all the wonderful
ways in which this can empower people to share
things and get informed. But also, of course, the
fears around misinformation and an environment in which
it’s much harder to really track what kind of information
do people actually get in these environments
that are not public and not transparent from the outside. The next frontier
perhaps might be voice. Many companies are
investing in this, Amazon and Google included. And many publishers are
interested in this question of whether voice
provides a new interface, whether via smart speakers
or also via smartphones, and increasingly are
offering not only responses to voice queries, but
also a voice response to the query, if you will,
in terms of giving people the news via these devices. And we expect to see some growth
in this area moving forward. This is clearly a priority
for technology companies. And publishers may be able
to leverage this growth. The fourth issue I wanted
to talk about is mobile. Really the mobile phone,
our data suggests, increasingly is the defining
device of digital news. And again, a bit like the
growth of social media, it’s a development
that I think by now is so naturalized
for many people who might be in this room or
listening to this talk, we take it for granted because
for us, the mobile phone is already the remote control
to much of our life and our digital life. But I think it’s
worth remembering just how incredibly rapid
this growth has been, how quickly this has transformed
the environment for publishers and for a lot of people
who didn’t necessarily grow up with a smartphone
sort of glued to their ear. We see a rapid shift where
this year, for the first time, we reached a tipping point
where the same number of people in the US identify their
smartphone as their main device for getting digital news as
identify a personal computer. And again, just look at
the pace of development here in just three years as a
move from a situation in which less than a fifth would
say the smartphone was their main
device for getting digital news to a situation in
which 40% of the respondents, and if you include tablets, well
over half of the respondents say that their mobile device is
their main way of getting news. So this is a very
rapid development. And of course, it
creates a new environment where we start accessing news
in all these sort of found time, these little pockets of
time throughout our day that previously weren’t
necessarily connected with media use. We all recognize that
experience of waiting for a friend at a cafe. We flip out the phone. Sitting in the back of a
cab, we flip out the phone. Waiting for the subway,
flip out the phone. And there are all these, if
you will, new moments early in the morning, even
before we get out of bed, tending to other private needs. Or for that matter, using
public transportation where there are these new
moments where people can access media content in ways that were
almost unimaginable, if you will, just a few years ago,
where we were still tied to devices that were
largely desk-bound or using print and broadcast in
quite traditional ways. And this is a new situation
full of opportunities for platform companies
and for publishers alike. And of course, also one
where increasingly we are all competing for attention,
precious, precious attention of getting onto the lock
screen of these supercomputers we increasingly all
carry in our pockets. So head-to-head
competition for attention. Publishers are
pushing back here. Publishers who may
have felt that they were in a zero-sum game between
platforms and publishers are in some markets by
now really leveraging this mobile opportunity
to get their alerts onto the lock screen
of smartphones. We see a resurgent
interest in mobile apps. We see mobile alerts. We see email newsletters. We see the different ways in
which publishers are really fighting back to capture a share
of people’s attention in part by leveraging this
mobile opportunity. But again, of
course, this is also linked to the rise of
platforms in the sense that we know from our research
that people who use mobile are also more likely
to use social media and search to get news, even
controlling for other factors. So the rise of mobile
and the rise of platforms here is interlinked. And though publishers
are fighting back, it is clear that platform
companies have often been the best at
serving the mobile user and better than
publishers in many cases and for many problems. This leads me to the question
of the business of journalism. And I think in
some ways, this is where things get a little
bit trickier in the sense that in many ways, the
world that we are describing with our research
and our data is a wonderful world in many
ways, much better than the one I grew up in, where multi
sort of media diversity meant a couple of
different print newspapers and a couple of different
broadcast channels. This is a much better world
from my point of view as a user. I have access to more different
sources of information than ever before. They are generally free at
the point of consumption. I can find them
in many more ways. They are more
conveniently available through my mobile phone than
they ever were in the past. This is great. And it’s even a world in
which, contrary to fear of filter bubbles and
the like, we actually find that many people are
exposed to much more news than they would seek out
of their own volition. But there is a catch,
which is the question of the funding of this news,
the professional production of journalism. And it is worth
keeping in mind here that when we look at who
invests in professional news production, which,
warts and all– nothing is perfect– we
know from a lot of research helps people be more
informed about public life, help people be more engaged
with local communities, help people take part in
the political process. So again, news is not perfect. News is very far from
perfect, but we know from lots of research it has positive
civic and political consequences when people
actually engage with professionally-produced
journalism and that the existence of
such journalism– again, with all its
imperfections– demonstrably help hold power to account,
reduce corruption and the like in countries
around the world and communities
around the world. Who invests in this journalism? Well, in this
country, even today– that skipped one slide– about 60% of investment
in professionally-produced journalism, if we go by the
Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of reporters
and correspondents comes from print publishers. Newspaper organizations who
still generally make 80% or 90% of their revenues from
their offline operations that are in steep decline and
who are investing ambitiously in their digital
operations and are reaching significant audiences there
but are facing difficulties in getting a return
on that investment and generating a profit from
their digital investments. So news is still primarily
funded by newspaper publishers with their digital
operations, but much of the revenue coming from
legacy operations and print. And online media information
is a much smaller part of this. Though, of course, it is a
much larger share of people’s attention and of the advertising
market, increasingly. The funding? Well, historically the
funding in the United States, in particular, came
from advertising. Newspaper publishers
historically made something like 80% or
even 90% of their revenues from advertising. That advertising
now increasingly goes to digital media. This is a well-known story. American newspapers used to
make something like $60 billion a year in print advertising. Now it’s more like 20. And digital, of course, has
grown very, very rapidly. When it comes to
digital advertising, they are competing head-to-head
with very, very successful companies, like Google. So when we look at the share of
digital advertising globally, these are estimates of the share
captured by two large platform companies. Blue at the bottom is Google. The pinkish color is Facebook. And then the orange
part at the top– about half of the pie– is what everybody
else in the world competes for in terms
of digital advertising. So advertising alone has been a
very tough business proposition for the professional
production of journalism, which can be quite
expensive and where the average revenues per user
for the digital operation has been quite low. And advertising has
been tough to get to generate the kind of
revenues that publishers have been hoping
for and that they have generated in the past. So many have turned to pay. We find in our survey that 13%
of our respondents across 36 markets say that they pay in
some form for news online. Highest in the Nordic
countries in Europe, lower in a country like the
UK, where I live currently. And in this country,
in the US, we have seen evidence of what we
think of as sort of a “Trump bump,” if you will, where
a number of publishers have seen a real increase in the
number of people who have been willing to pay for
their journalism, perhaps in part
because of this more polarized political environment,
where there’s been attacks on the value of journalism
but also a certain rallying, if you will, around
the importance of journalistic organizations
as part of the functioning democracy. And we’ve seen individual
titles, whether The Wall Street Journal, “The New Yorker,”
or The New York Times reportedly benefiting from this. And we see, again, in the
survey a clear upwards tick in the number of people
who pays for news. Now, while it is a challenging
environment for publishers, I think there is no
question that there is also opportunities ahead. And I think one of the
opportunities ahead really is this, if you
will, increasing evidence that if you do really good
journalism that really connects with the problems that
people actually have, the concerns that they
actually care about, and if you are able to serve
it to them in a way that is convenient, whether that
is via platform companies or through your own
apps and websites, or some combination
thereof, you can not only monetize that attention
through advertising and other auxiliary revenues,
but also increasingly convince people this is actually
worth paying for. This has value that I will
pay honest dollars for. And importantly, it
is not only those who already pay for print. It is not only older people
who are willing to pay. So when you break
down the pay behavior by age, contrary to this
idea that some older sort of commentators on the
digital media environment may– the comments they
may make sometimes, it’s not a question of
sort of millennials, quote unquote, “to be the
blame for all this stuff.” In fact, we find
that younger people are more likely to say that
they’re paying for news online. Probably, in large
part, at least we would argue,
because they don’t have a reference price of zero. Unlike old people
like myself, who have grown up in a world in
which everything online was free– and I’m sort of mildly
offended whenever anyone wants to charge
me for something online. I have to get used
to that idea that I have to pay for
things online, just as I have to pay
for things elsewhere if I want something premium. Younger people who
are younger than me have grown up in an
environment where they’ve been used to paying
for things online, in particular on their phone,
from the get-go, whether these are music services, like
Spotify, premium video and entertainment, like
Netflix, or for that matter, mobile applications
and games online. And in that context, it is
no longer sort of shocking or scandalous to suggest that
if you want a premium news product, you may actually
have to pay for it. And in fact, we
have, again, evidence here that young people are no
less likely than older people to pay for news. And I think this
is, if you will, an opportunity, a
business opportunity to say to publishers that
not only is it the case today that the best journalism is
better than it’s ever been– and also, from a user point
of view, easier to access, easier to find,
more convenient– it’s also something that at
least a part of the population, primarily more affluent and
privileged news lovers– so there are issues of
social inequality here– but that at least
some people find it’s actually worth paying for. OK. Key questions, and I’ll
leave these on the slides before we kick off the
discussion with Erica. But from my point
of view, I suppose, some of the key questions that
we are left with this research is, first, the
question of whether we can help more effectively
as researchers, as platform companies, as publishers,
can help people more effectively navigate this
distributed environment that is so rich but also so
confusing in some cases and full of pitfalls. There’s a question of whether
publishers and platforms can help restore trust and
credibility in news and information, I think is
another issue where there might be space for shared action. It is a question of whether
publishing platforms who have co-existed, sometimes
fractiously, for quite some time now have
learned enough from that history
of collaboration and occasional confrontations
to find a more mutually satisfactory settlement for
coexistence in the future as we move towards these new
forms of platform services, whether messaging apps,
or voice-operated systems, or for that matter,
virtual reality. Whether we’ve learned
enough from the past to find a better
settlement for the future that works for publishers, for
platforms, and for the public, too. There is a question
about publishers, too. About whether they
are sufficiently ambitiously embracing
the opportunities of this environment. Or whether they are
sometimes, if you will, captured by the
glory of their past rather than the promise
of their future. And finally, of course,
this question of money. Who’s going to pay? And I hope we can get to grips
with those questions today. So I look forward to the
discussion with Erica. Thank you very much. [APPLAUSE] ERICA ANDERSON: Thank you. Testing. All right. Thank you so much. That was fascinating. And I’m sure everyone
in the audience agrees. Let’s just take a step back. So this is the sixth year
that Reuters Institute has done this study. This is the biggest one
by far, 36 countries. I think you interviewed
70,000 people, both quantitative and
qualitative research. Like zoom out for us. What was perhaps most
interesting or out of character for this report that you saw
compared to the five before? RASMUS KLEIS NIELSEN: I think
in some ways, this year, with the expansion of the number
of countries we were covering, I think the most important
findings are not always surprising, if you will. And I’ve tried to cover
some of them today. But I think some of the ones
that were revelatory for us and really
interesting are really about the international
comparisons. I believe very firmly that
just the same way as news organizations and tech
companies elsewhere can learn from what happens in a
country like the United States, so, too, people here
can learn from what’s going on elsewhere in the world. And I would highlight
two examples. One is that journalists in
this country and commentators in this country might feel that
an environment characterized by political polarization, low
trust in political institutions and the media, and
media organizations with limited newsrooms and
often shrinking newsrooms is sort of a shocking and
new situation in the US. I have colleagues from Italy
and from Greece who would say, welcome to the club. This is nothing new. And I think there is a real
idea there, if you will, that we can sort of
use data like this to start a
conversation about how publishers and platforms,
for that matter, in a country like this can learn
from the experience of people elsewhere who have long
tried to have a functioning public debate in
an environment that was much more challenging than
the US was till not so long ago. The other I think
surprising finding I would highlight in terms of
sort of the new things that were new for us in this
year’s report is I think the– and again, as an
example, if you will, of the value of
looking at developments elsewhere to sort of supplement
one’s understanding of one’s own national and
local context is that it’s been really
interesting to look more closely at Asia-Pacific. Where I think it’s easy to
overlook for people in North America and Western Europe that
many markets in Asia-Pacific– Taiwan, Hong Kong,
to some extent Japan and South Korea, and
Singapore, for that matter– are technologically
ahead in many ways. Higher levels of internet
use, higher levels of smartphone use,
younger populations who have taken to
digital media more quickly than more aging
populations, in particular, in Europe. And I think it’s
interesting to note that in these
environments, while there is no question that platform
companies are absolutely central to how people
find and access news, it is also clear that not
all publishers but the most successful and
aggressive publishers have been able to carve
out a role for themselves in that environment. Whether this is a tabloid title
like Apple Daily in Hong Kong or The Straits
Times in Singapore, that there are news
organizations there that are really,
if you will, have been– have found a space in a
truly digital first and mobile first and platform-shaped
environment that I think many North American and Western
European publishers are only beginning to
imagine, if you will. ERICA ANDERSON: So you’re
optimistic in looking at APAC and seeing the collaboration? RASMUS KLEIS NIELSEN: Yeah. I mean, I’m very
optimistic in many ways. I think there are very,
very real challenges around the question of the
business of journalism. And I think that challenge
is one we cannot ignore. The precondition of professional
and necessary but not sufficient precondition for
professional autonomous news production is profitability. And if this cannot be achieved,
then there is a serious market failure that has profound
democratic and public implications. But as serious as
that challenge is, there is no question that in
many other ways, the media environment we have today is
much better for our abilities as citizens, provided
we have the inclination, to find and access information
than it ever was in the past. ERICA ANDERSON: Let’s
take a step back and talk about trust,
which you brought up in showing the chart of trust
across the 36 countries, and the point you made about
polarization in society leading to less trust in news. Just to quote the report, “less
than half the population, 43%, trust the media across
all 36 countries surveyed. And almost a third
actively avoid the news.” That number rises
to 38% in the US. So for me, the headline there
is less trust equals less news. If you don’t trust the
news, you don’t consume it. RASMUS KLEIS NIELSEN: Yeah. I mean, I think
there is a real– two problems that are
compounding each other around trust and confidence. One is that this undermines
the ability of journalism to play its role
in our democracy. It also undermines the ability
of the business of news to sustain journalism itself. And this crisis of confidence,
I think in part, in large part, is about politics. Journalism primarily
covers public institutions. And if those public
institutions themselves are deeply riven with conflict
and are populated in part by elected officials who not
only question the integrity and motives of each
other, but also actively campaign against
the news itself, this has consequences
for people’s perception of journalism as well as
those public institutions. I think there is also a question
in many cases of a disconnect between the content produced
by even the best news organizations and the
concerns of many individuals. Whether these are around
issues of inequality and marginalization, where
there are many people who understandably do
not feel represented by journalism in terms
of diversity, of gender, of sexuality, of
race, and ethnicity, whether it’s around class– increasingly,
journalism is basically done by people like
me for people like me. And there is a question about
whether a lot of very good– otherwise very good journalism–
actually confronts the people– the problems that people
feel that they have. And there is, if
you will, sometimes an issue of a risk
that people will judge the totality of the
journalistic profession, the output of the entire media
institution, by, if you will, the excesses of the worst. So this perception that because
much journalism, or at least some journalism, is about
sensationalist coverage of crime, terrorism,
celebrity gossip, and the like, then surely all
journalism must be like this. And then I don’t want to pay
attention to it because it’s depressing and irrelevant. ERICA ANDERSON: It certainly
feels like a crisis and one that we’ve seen for
the last 10 years with the changes
in, as you said, decentralized distribution. We’re no longer
getting the newspaper and reading it in the
morning with a cup of coffee. Maybe some people are,
but habits are changing. Revenue is changing. Certainly, a lot
of disruption has occurred on behalf of
technology and platforms. But there are signs of life. I mean, it’s interesting. You showed that
example about the, quote unquote, “Trump bump.” That subscriptions
increased at least for a few national
organizations. I mean, talk to me. What did you learn
about subscriptions and the ways in which– that really compelling
statistic that young people are willing to pay for news? You said earlier there’s
this reference point. They’re willing to
pay for Spotify. They’re willing to
pay for Netflix. They’re willing to pay for news. Talk about that if you can. RASMUS KLEIS NIELSEN: Sure. I mean, I want to stress that
the situation here is complex, and there are real problems. And I don’t want to sugarcoat
any of those problems. And those problems
are very often around business as
well as politics. But I also really want to
underline that it really is the best of times
and the worst of times at the same time. I’m not a pessimist. And I think in many ways,
again, the information available and the ways in which we
can find this information are vastly superior to the
ones that I grew up with. I don’t know anyone under
40 who would willingly trade the media environment
we live in today for the one that I grew up with. And I share that view myself. So it is a situation that’s
characterized by many problems, but not only problems–
also huge opportunities. In terms of
willingness to pay, I think there is a real
sort of question of how to manage transition here. A lot of news
organizations have, for understandable reasons,
but perhaps in retrospect, reasons that were a little bit
short-sighted– this is not a criticism of any
individual involved, but simply an
observation– have tended to navigate by quite short-term
metrics of maximizing page views that in turn were
used to sell advertising. If you have done
that for 10 or 20 years and people have formed
their view of journalism on the basis of encountering
your brand primarily through the lens of things
that can uncharitably be called “clickbait,” then turning around
and saying, oh, by the way, you should pay me
$20 a month for this, is a tough transition to make. And I think there is
quite a profound question that a lot of news organizations
are really only beginning to seriously ask
themselves, which is, what is the problem that we solve? OK? Not the problem
we used to solve. Not the problem that our
civics teacher in high school will tell us that
we are solving, but the problem that
we actually solve for actual people
in our community. What is that problem? And can we actually solve that
in a way that is effectively addressing the people of– the issues faced by
real people out there, and also done so in a way
that’s convenient enough to get their attention
and to get them to engage, and is done in a way that
is cost-efficient enough that one can do it on the basis
of revenues that will almost inevitably be smaller than
the one news organizations had in the 1990s? ERICA ANDERSON: So I want
anyone in the audience who have questions to
start thinking of those. And please, line up if
you have a question. Let’s talk about social
media and messaging. Because one of the
findings from the report is actually consumption
of news on social media is flattening out
in some places, but there’s a huge increase, I
think last year a 15% increase, in people consuming
news on WhatsApp. On Facebook Messenger,
I think there were 30,000 bots, since that
started, delivering news. So we’re beginning to see
this transition, actually, into closed networks, into
messaging apps for news. Can you talk a little
bit about that– what you see as the
trend, having spent time in Hong Kong,
Singapore, in Asia? What can the US or
European countries learn from how news is
being delivered and consumed through messaging apps? RASMUS KLEIS NIELSEN: I
mean, I think those are all early indications of how– and again, this is
more than anything a challenge for the
journalistic profession itself and for those–
the wider ecosystem of people who care about
it, whether ordinary users, or platform companies, or
researchers like myself, is the question
of, how do we think about the act of
journalism itself if we are leaving behind the
shackles of how journalism was done in the past? A lot of journalism is
still primarily produced in the form of an
article that is instantly recognizable as an
artifact of print technology. It has the length. It has the look. It is largely dictated by how
things were done in the past. It has evolved, but not much. Or the short news clip that was
part of a broadcast bulletin, two and a half minute video. There’s nothing wrong
with these formats. I consume them everyday
myself– sometimes gladly, sometimes, with
mild disgruntlement. But I think there is
a real question of, what do we think about? What is the act of
journalism or the profession and the practice of journalism? What does it look like
beyond the article? What comes after the
article or the news clip? What is the way in which
journalists can find a position in that ecosystem, whether
it is the mobile experience or this distributed
environment where I think we have to accept
that for most people, journalism will be a smaller
part of a larger media experience than it
was in the past? And I think in some ways, this
may be tough for the journalism profession to confront. But if it is a fact, then it’s
incumbent on the profession to face this fact
and then think about, how can you solve
problems if you have less of people’s
attention or you have to work harder to get it? And I think that apps
are interesting here. I think bots are
interesting here. I think rethinking the format,
whether slideshows or videos. And this whole idea
that increasingly, I think some of the most
innovative thinkers in the profession,
in the industry, are thinking about
journalism as a service rather than as a product. Rather than just churning out,
frankly, 200 articles a day or video enough for a
30-minute broadcast bulletin that’s then cut up and
loaded onto social media, what does it look like if you’re
no longer simply pushing out a product, but trying
to think from the needs of different
communities and serving those needs in different ways? ERICA ANDERSON: Yeah. I’m curious, what platforms–
you talk a bit about platforms. Obviously, we’re here at Google. We have a lot of people
inside the company working to support journalists
and news organizations. What have platforms done well? What have they not
done enough of? I mean, this is a transition. It requires collaboration
and working together. But from your perspective and
from what the report found, what are your
perspectives on this? RASMUS KLEIS NIELSEN: I
think the first thing to say is that different platform
companies are different. And different publishers
have different needs. So there is no
one sort of recipe for what this relationship
should look like. And there is also, I think,
sometimes the slight risk that when platforms
and publishers start working together,
that the interests of each individual
company can sometimes overshadow the interests of the
user, the public, if you will. And I think this is
a sort of a risk we need to be conscious of. I think there are real
issues now that are already beginning to be addressed– Google is involved in this. Facebook is involved in this– that are around trust
and verification. So how to flak fake or
misleading content online, how to try to help more
clearly communicate the brands whose reputation are
behind the content that people might come across. Google has worked on this in the
AMP carousel in search results. Facebook has just
announced the integration of brands in the articles
that show up in the news feed to sort of more clearly
communicate where the information originates. There’s a whole set of
issues around helping people navigate
this environment, enabling effective use of it. More fundamentally, I suppose
that the issue specifically between platforms
and publishers have been around editorial control. So who makes the decisions
about what is displayed where? And how can publishers
influence those so that they feel that
their content is not only discoverable, but also
discoverable in a context that they feel content with? And this has been a
very long discussion between Google and publishers
as well as between Facebook and publishers. Many people in the
room will be aware, going back to Google News
and Google Search more than– many years ago. It’s around data. So there is a question
of data that is in part about commercial use. Can data be shared in a
way that doesn’t compromise the privacy of users and that
enables not only platforms, but also publishers to make
more informed decisions about their content as
well as the advertising and other forms of commercial
considerations that they have? And then the final
one is revenue. It’s the question of, what is
a revenue split that reflects the value being created? And again, there’s been a lot
of discussions around this where some companies,
like Google, have been invested in revenue
sharing around advertising. But there are
publishers who have considerations around this. There are discussions
around Facebook around this sort of
question of monetization of revenue sharing. And there is the question
of whether platforms– in particular,
platforms in the West– have been so
committed to an idea or free at the
point of consumption that they have made it
even harder for publishers to actually start working
with subscriptions and micro-payments
than it needed to be. And here, many publishers in
Asia-Pacific, for example, would say that
companies like WeChat– the Tencent in China, their
social media platform, WeChat– are ahead of where platform
companies are in the West. And actually, that platform
companies in the West could learn a lot from
e-commerce and social media in China. ERICA ANDERSON: Well, good. We’re taking notes. Thank you. I think that one thing
I want to mention– and we’ll go to
this question– is that from my perspective
on the News Lab, and working with industry
partners and journalists around the world,
one of the trends that I’m seeing that I
think is really important is utilizing and seeking more
information algorithmically from journalists and
developers inside newsrooms about the quality
of their content. So a good example is– or defining their content so
that we can more strategically visualize it to consumers who–
there’s a media literacy gap. Is this an op-ed? Is this analysis? Is it reporting? So we’ve launched a local
news tag, the fact check tag. And you know, that’s all
schema, open web markup. And so I mention it. It’s technical. It’s in the weeds. But I mention it because there’s
this theme happening where the platforms are trying to get
more information to showcase the quality of the content
and to distinguish it. Question? AUDIENCE: Yeah. I thought the point about
the echo chamber and filters was interesting, about
how people are actually seeing content that they’re
not normally exposed to. I was wondering, when you’re
doing your research, how you account for
how people report on what they behave versus
how they actually behave? Because I know a
lot of the time, people will say that
they read certain things but in actuality, they won’t. So is there any kind
of research techniques that you use to account
for that dichotomy? RASMUS KLEIS NIELSEN: Thanks. I think you’re spot-on. I mean, that’s a key challenge
in doing any kind of research in this, in particular. For this particular
research, we rely on recall. So we have one set of questions
that are about asking people to name sources of
news they’ve used in the last week, where they’re
prompted with a list of brands. So that’s where we know the
number of sources they’ve used. And then a separate
set of questions that are around the
ways in which people say they come across news. So for this particular analysis
of incidental exposure, the figures both for
those who use social media and those who don’t are equally
susceptible to that problem of recall-based
use, if you will. So it shouldn’t
disproportionately affect either one of them. The problem is real in the
sense most people don’t recall everything they’ve done
and don’t report everything they’ve done accurately either. So there is a real problem
of recall versus behavior. But in this particular
case, it should influence both sides of that equation. Now, a follow-up
piece of research we did that was based on
actual behavioral data rather than self-reported
data is the deep dive I mentioned around attribution. In that case, we passively
tracked a panel of– I believe we had about 6,000
working with our partner company, YouGov, in the UK,
about 6,000 people in the UK for a month. In that case, we
had behavioral data. We knew what they had accessed. And we could count up the
number of different sites they had accessed. We haven’t released the full
breakdown of that analysis yet, but I will foreshadow
now and say that the general
thrust of that analysis is the same, is that
social media use and search again is consistently
and significantly associated with more diverse views than
not using those ways of access. AUDIENCE: Thank you. RASMUS KLEIS NIELSEN: Thanks. AUDIENCE: Hi. I have a question about
any behavioral differences you may have seen between the
people who actively seek news out and those who
more come across it on social media or elsewhere. And then, if there
are differences, is there a way to get that
second group of people more engaged? RASMUS KLEIS NIELSEN: I’m really
glad you asked that question. I think that’s, in many ways– from my point of view, that’s
probably the part of the public that we should all think
the most about in the sense that, frankly, the news and
information needs of people like me are well-tended to. There have never been a more
privileged and spoiled group of media consumers
in human history than people like me today. I’ll be fine. But there is a question
of a much larger part of the public who don’t feel
motivated enough to seek out journalism as we know it
today but may come across it incidentally while doing
other things on social media. We are trying to drill
more deeply into this because we are very
interested in that question. We think it’s very important. And we are particularly
concerned about this issue that Erica also brought up of
news avoidance– people who say that they actively avoid
the news, asking them why and thinking about the ways
in which they navigate news. And I have to say that
the findings around that are, I think, quite
sobering, both for journalism and for the wider
public, and have much less to do with technology
than one might imagine. Fundamentally, a combination–
our qualitative research in the UK would suggest a very
low opinion of journalism. Seeing it as sensationalist,
crime-oriented, terrorist, alarmist, or superficial
celebrity gossip material, which I personally don’t
think is a fair judgment of journalism in its totality. But I don’t blame people
for holding that view. I can find many examples
that would confirm that view of journalism. So a sense of it as both
irrelevant and depressing, which is not something that
spurs much consumption, combined with, I think,
a much deeper sense of disempowerment and
alienation from public affairs. A sense that since
people like me– interviewees would say to us– can’t do anything about
all these terrible things we are told about in the
news everyday, why should we pay attention? How does that make
my life better? How does it make
my children’s life better that I know that all
sorts of terrible things are going on that I could
do nothing to change? So I think there are real
issues that journalism need to confront there. And if journalism
does that, I guess I am optimistic that the
affordances of search and social– and increasingly,
messaging and the like– will actually help
people who are not that motivated to engage
with more of that content. But the content has to be there. And it can’t only be
the kind of journalism that presupposes that people
are like me, that they follow with the obsession of
like a soap opera fanatic and that I know all the
characters, and the drama, and what was on yesterday,
and that I can tell the difference between
what Trump said this day and what Jeff Sessions
said the other day and what John McCain
said the day before, and what this, that,
and the other said. If that’s always the
premise, then you’re always only going
to be able to engage with the already engaged. And I think that is a real issue
now that we have to understand, that publishers
have to understand for the future of journalism
as a profession and the future of their business, but
one I think researchers can help to understand, too. And hopefully,
platform companies can help us begin to address
those issues to ensure that the whole public is
informed and not only, again, those who
are already engaged. ERICA ANDERSON: Thank you. Let’s take one more question. You want to ask a question? Yeah, go for it. AUDIENCE: Hi. So first of all,
thank you for coming. My question kind of relates to
the proliferation of fake news. And I guess I’m wondering,
in terms of like search engines and social media, are
news sites, like infowars.com, [INAUDIBLE] news, sites
that are known to publish just inaccurate information,
do you feel or do you know if they’ve gotten, I guess like,
a jump on known trusted brands, like The Washington
Post, Guardian, BBC, in terms of investing
in things like SEO, or partnerships with
social media platforms, and different things like that? RASMUS KLEIS NIELSEN: Thanks. What a fantastic round
of questions, by the way. I think there are
initiatives underway now. And Erica rightly
highlighted some of the ones that Google are involved in. But there are a couple
of different initiatives also by other players, like
First Draft Coalition working with tech companies
as well as publishers to try to identify signals that
could be machine [INAUDIBLE] to address some of these issues
around what kind of information surfaces. I think that’s incredibly
important in part because I think the real head
start that some sites have who are not always equally
committed to the idea of journalists being sort
of find truth and report it or fact-based discourse is
more that you can express your opinions about public
affairs a hell of a lot faster than you can report on
what actually happened. And as long as search
and social privileges speed over almost
any other signal, then there will inevitably be at
least a period of time in which those who are brazen enough
to simply say what they think has happened around
some public event and promote it aggressively,
using SEO and SMO, and so on and so forth, but just
saying what they think happened, that will have at least
a window where they dominate public discussion. I think the broader issue
is that in terms of– there’s much that could be done. And I’m glad to hear that
much of it is underway and that people like yourself
with a journalistic background are involved in this in
addition to technologists, who need to be part of
solving this problem. I think the next
complication, I suppose, is that there are things
that are demonstrably false and that are published either
with the intent of profiting from it or with the
intent of influencing political processes, whether
it’s state-backed propaganda or people who are
very ideologically committed to a certain
view of the world and do it as sort of
activists, if you will. But I think there is a
much broader set of issues that are more about
partisanship, if you will, than they’re about
being fake or false. And that, I think, will be a
hard engineering challenge, if you will. I live in the UK. The Guardian is a clearly
opinionated news organization. The Mail Online is a clearly
opinionated news organizations. They may publish things
that some people find infuriating that
will be selective, that will be partisan, that will
interpret things and perhaps even sort of push an argument
to its outer boundaries, if you will. But they won’t be fake. And it will be very hard to
think of a technical solution to adjudicating
that information, or whether we even should want
a technical solution to that. I personally believe that
we want a robust exchange of views in public. What we don’t want is to reward
malicious misinformation, which I think we have seen some
of in some countries. AUDIENCE: Thank you. ERICA ANDERSON: Thank you. Well, we’re at the end. I want to just ask you, since
we have you here, last question. Next year, looking a year ahead. If you could look into
your crystal ball, what do you think
the headline will be? What are you anticipating
might change? I mean, is there anything
you’re thinking about right now? RASMUS KLEIS NIELSEN: I mean,
I think the issue of trust is one we really want
to try to bottom out. And we’ll do more
research in that area. And I have taken some
suggestions today from conversations here
and from conversations with other publishers where we
are trying to understand better the flow of information in
these more private environments, like messaging apps, and really
trying to better track that. But of course, we are
vulnerable to the issues like the ones that were raised
by an earlier question– that at the end of the
day, our ability to map this stuff relies on
people actually telling us what they’re doing. So we have some
ideas for next year. And we will sort of try to
pursue them at our modest best. And we also hope
for more suggestions from people like yourself
as well as publishers and academics and
researchers elsewhere who, like us, are trying to
understand what the hell is going on with news
and information in this brave new world. ERICA ANDERSON: Good. Well, thank you so
much for coming. RASMUS KLEIS NIELSEN: Thank you. [APPLAUSE]

2 comments

  1. google to share revenues w/ major news outlets; now they'll have the power to push as many libtard online advertisements/commercials as willed – they're scratching the online media's back – and the online media (ie WSJ) will scratch theirs.  scary.https://techcrunch.com/2017/10/22/google-revenue-share-news-publishers/

  2. Great research work Dr Nielsen. I am just concerned that your research left out Africa which is also exploding in Digital news consumption.

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