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Consenec Impuls Event at Trafo Baden

Dwindling Traditional Journalism Landscape and Booming Social

“Does Anyone Still Read the Newspaper?” This question was the focus of last Thursday’s Consenec Impulse event, in which media sociologist Linards Udris discussed media use in the general population. Drawing on recent studies, he illustrated the overall shift in media consumption away from print and TV towards digital platforms. He also addressed the influence this development has had on journalistic quality – a vital part of a democracy that has (so far) survived the change.

 Watch the presentation of Dr. Linards Udris on Youtube

“How many people here still read a newspaper?” Linards Udris opened his well-attended talk at Trafo Baden with this question. He watched as many hands were raised. “And who gets their information from the Internet?” Almost as many hands were raised. So: who still reads the newspaper? “Behind this simple question lies a deeper question that concerns a fundamental shift in media use – meaning where and how we find information,” the media sociologist explained. And behind this question, there is yet another, even bigger question: “Who is shaping society?” Udris has an answer: Alphabet, the parent company of Google and YouTube, and Meta, which owns Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp. “These organizations are leaving a major imprint on the form our infrastructures take and how the relationship between media use, journalism funding, and journalism quality plays out.” Drawing on academic studies by the Center for Research on the Public Sphere and Society (fög) and the Department of Communication and Media Research at the University of Zurich (IKMZ), Udris discussed the following aspects in detail: media use, media funding, and media quality.

Google and Facebook dominate and control global media consumption.

Media use and the generation gap

Obtaining information from carefully researched articles and reports in print media or – even better – television broadcasts and paying for the service: this is still the way the generation over 50 prefers to learn the news of the day. And even though people over 50 also increasingly consume online news and engage in discussions on social media, many of them still enjoy getting the morning paper or listening to in-depth news programs on the radio, while over 40 percent say they watch the evening news on television.

Not so the younger generation. “Among 18- to 24-year-olds, only 10 percent say they watch the news on television,” Udris stated. Social media platforms are the main source of information for more than a third of this demographic. TV for the old, social media for the young: “Research findings suggest that this trend will continue,” Udris explained. People who mainly use social media will keep doing so, even later in life. That said, all generations frequently consult online newspapers (news apps).

Facts to combat fake news: we still need traditional, well-founded investigative journalism.

Reading the news by chance

Linards Udris said that many people hear the news more by chance than through targeted actions. He calls these social media users “news deprived” – and recent surveys indicate they form the largest social media user group. These individuals rarely watch public television, nor do they read print media or online newspapers. When they do procure information, then generally by reading free newspapers or on social media. However, Udris said, these channels are “an environment in which the news has a hard time spreading.” Social contacts and entertainment dominate here, and these users assume they’ll eventually find out when something important occurs. This is where algorithms – which are generally based on emotional responses – come into play, as they steer the flow of information on the platforms.

Linards Udris presented fascinating findings from current studies on our rapidly changing media consumption.

News should cost as little as possible

Information is increasingly losing its importance, making it less valuable. Udris also pointed out that users’ willingness to pay for online news is extremely low, despite the fact that more and more Swiss citizens are using these channels. “Only 17 percent of those surveyed said they paid a fee for online news in the past year.” These numbers are a little higher than in Germany, but much lower than in Scandinavia, for example. Because why pay if you can have it for free? People with this attitude said they’d be more willing to pay a – low – flat-rate fee enabling them to access a wide range of services. “This development is not good for media houses,” the media sociologist said, “as it means it’s impossible to generate enough revenue through online services.” This is one of the reasons why subscription rates for print newspapers have skyrocketed in the past several years: the funds are needed to subsidize online journalism.

In addition, the prospects aren’t rosy for advertising revenues in Swiss journalism, whether print or online. “In Switzerland, the pie is getting smaller and smaller, with the majority of global online advertising revenue going to Google and Facebook.”

Media concentration weakens journalistic competition

Udris is convinced that “the population of a democratic nation must have access to factual and well-founded reporting in order to form an opinion.” But what can media do when conditions are continually deteriorating? He pointed out that traditional media are increasingly required to collaborate and share content – a trend that weakens competition in publishing. And yet: “Media quality in most journalistic output is still fairly good.”

This statement is backed by findings from a content analysis of some 60 media providers and roughly 19,000 articles. The best results were attained by Swiss radio broadcasts in the German-, French-, and Italian-speaking regions, followed by public television as well as daily and weekend newspapers. Commuter and tabloid newspapers figure at the bottom of the ranking. Udris then presented several detailed examples, also showing that a learning effect took place in the reporting on the coronavirus pandemic.

Taking a stand for journalism

A further study revealed that, still today, people continue to rely on professional media for important information. According to Linards Udris, this “key finding proves we need journalism.” He added, “Present-day society is based on Enlightenment values and, as such, we maintain an interest in a functioning public sphere. We can and must afford high-quality journalism – politics, the economy, and the whole of society reap the benefits.”

Before the talk: Ingo Fritschi, Consenec CEO, in discussion with the speaker, media sociologist Linards Udris.

After this informative and inspiring talk, a lively question-and-answer session was held. Host Ingo Fritschi then invited the audience to the adjacent hall for refreshments – where the speaker spent considerably more time answering further questions from Consenec employees and clients.

Therese Marty

 Watch Questions for Dr. Linards Udris on Youtube