Dr. Pradeep Mahapatra
Journalism trends are partly dependent upon platform selection by news consumers. Audience preferences are regularly monitored in the developed societies. But there is little effort in the emerging economies. As a result, in absence of evidence based data, publishers and editors in media dark regions build editorial policies basing on presumptions. Reliable data helps for reviews and corrections in publication strategies. But assumptions instead of research data help a little for efficient business management. In cases, such practices contribute towards decline of the business models.
United States based ‘Pew Research Center’ conducts surveys on regular basis to gather data on social trends. It started a longitudinal study ‘The American Trends Panel’ from 2014. The results of 135th wave of survey conducted between September 25 and October 1, 2023 was published during the middle of November 2023. About 8,842 American citizen took part in the survey. The report of the survey revealed data on news consumption habit of American citizen.
It was found out that majority of the people access news in digital media rather than television, radio and print. About 56 percent accessed news often using smartphone, computer or tablet and 86 percent accessed news some times during 2023. A year back in 2022, about 49 percent accessed news often and 51 percent sometimes in the digital platforms. Previously television was considered as the main source for accessing news which declined to 32 percent in 2023 and 31 percent in 2022. Only six percent of news consumers used radio and five percent print publication to access news.
In 2023 about 25 percent of American citizen used news websites and apps in digital platforms. It is followed by 12 percent each in search engines and social media, only six percent used podcasts for news. During past four years popularity of news websites and apps steadily increased. Preference for podcast also grew from three percent in 2020 to four percent during 2021 and 2022.
Statistics on habit of American citizen on accessing news platforms may not be applicable in different corners of the world. But the status of media performance in USA may help to review of news media in other places for three different reasons. Firstly, studies are regularly conducted on news consumer habit in the USA and the results are available in the public domain. Secondly, longitudinal research on media performance offer opportunities for comparative analysis of public taste over a period of time. Thirdly, since such surveys are conducted adopting scientific methodologies and the participating citizen as samples are aware-of and used to survey process, the results present true picture of media landscape.
Developing nations face paucity of funds to conduct media research. It results in difficulties for selection of proper samples and gathering data. Local people either refuse to share experience or provide wrong data due to lack of survey participation etiquette. As a result, the true picture of media consumption by public does not get reflected in the survey results. In absence of longitudinal research, the available data hardly provide opportunity for comparative studies. On the otherhand, data gathered in USA are not applicable in other places. However media analysts consider data on public consumption of US media as a reference mark to access media practices elsewhere.
Longitudinal survey in USA revealed that the trend of gradual decline of interest in news is evident for past seven years by 2023. While in 2016 about 51 percent followed news, 2017 recorded 40 percent, 2018 recorded 52 percent, 2019 recorded 46 percent, 2020 recorded 45 percent, 2021 recorded 37 percent and 2022 recorded 38 percent. There may not be any available evidence of similar trend penetrating into India, but the popularity of smartphone as the singular device for accessing information might have resulted in a sharp decline of news followers.
The important reasons behind news avoidance in India include lack of emphasis on reporting news of social relevance, coverage of excessive political news and partisan press. Loss of public faith in both traditional and digital platforms in one hand and rise in internet penetration and smartphone adoption on the otherhand, open up an environment to replicate media trends of developed nations.
‘Pew Research’ survey documented loss of interest in news in all the age groups in USA. Generally news avoidance was evident among the young people and the older generation patronised news products during the past. But the situation has changed. About 75 percent of older people above the age of 65 followed news in 2016 which has been decreased to 64 percent in 2022. Similarly 27 percent in the age group between 18 and 29 years followed news in 2016 which came down to 19 percent in 2022. The development noted in USA is a clear reminder for mainstream news publishers in India to renew editorial policy to focus on readership interest of above 50 year consumers. About 46 percent of people in the age group between 50 and 64 years and 27 percent in the age group of 30 and 49 years followed news in 2022.
Though journalism need something novel every day, traditionally it appears to be difficult to change editorial policy of a news platforms. Editors and reporters hardly prefer to leave the content development approach which they have masteredover due to lack of academic interest, training and encouragement. Change in editorial policy need talent and financial investment, which many publishers cannot afford. However, each and every news organisation should find out a way to mitigate such problems utilising available resources. Negligence to change may be fatal for media platforms in the long run.
(English translation of the original Odia newsletter by the author circulated on December 01, 2023. https://tinyletter.com/pradeepmahapatra/letters/message-329. It is an open-access content, free for translation and reproduction)
Dr. Pradeep Mahapatra is a retired faculty of Journalism, Berhampur University, Odisha.https://about.me/pradeepmahapatra
Pew Research Center. News Platform Fact Sheet / November 15, 2023
Pew Research Center. American are following the news less closely than they used to / October 24, 2023