Digital Publishing Guest Columns
5 mins read

Why the pandemic has provided fertile ground for a renaissance in quality media

It is no secret that trust in certain sections of the media are low, right at a time when the health and welfare of the globe is reliant on accuracy.

Whether cowed into submission by right-leaning politicians, or not helping themselves with ambiguous storytelling and a questionable relationship with the provable truth, the veracity of some publishers – particularly in the news sphere – is continually being questioned.

In a recent survey of more than 2,000 respondents in February 2021, only 44% of the British public trusted traditional media for news and information. The least trusted outlet was social media with just 19%.

These damning numbers would – and should – be an issue for any self-respecting media source, but during a pandemic, they are potentially fatal.

Media coverage has been shown to shape public opinion unlike any other form of mass messaging, as it moulds people’s perceptions and responses to health crises and other social issues.

Misinformation, bias and the formatting of coverage comes at a large cost, directly affecting the public’s notion of the pandemic’s dangers – or otherwise.

The Press Gazette recently spoke to leading editors around the world, as they outlined the biggest challenges for journalism in 2021. Surprise, surprise, truth and trust were top of the pile.

Gina Chua, global managing editor at Reuters, summed up the issues.

“With the rise of misinformation, the impact of social media and stark political divisions around the world, the erosion of public trust on the news industry will be a significant challenge to address in 2021. Fact-based and impartial reporting is more important than ever.”

Never underestimate the value of trust

As danced around above, the public’s perception of our media is not exactly exemplary. But there are publications witnessing growth and recognition despite these turbulent times.

New Statesman announced digital subscription growth of 75% in just one year, with subscription revenues up 77% in three years following significant investment in its journalism and the launch of new brands and associated digital services.

Registered users on its website rose by 83% to more than 200,000 from January 2020 to February 2021, and 86% of New Statesman’s circulation is now paid for.

By recognising the worth and need for fact-based independent journalism, the New Statesman shows a clear position on the use of hard data and truth-finding within its reporting is popular.

Yet, as Marty Baron, executive editor at Washington Post, told the Press Gazette: “The biggest challenge for journalism is that facts aren’t accepted as facts any longer. Societies can’t agree on a common set of facts. We can’t even agree on what constitutes a fact.

“We can certainly be more transparent, revealing more about how we go about our work.”

This could be a seismic change in journalism, and media in general. The more people understand and appreciate the processes and the raw data drawing indisputable facts, the better the trust.

Social media is not king

The elephant in the press room was brought out front and centre during Covid-19 times.

While individual social media platforms are vital for media outlets to reach all demographics in a modern world (there were 53 million social media users in the UK as of January 2021, according to DataReportal), they share this space with politicians, celebrities, non-celebrities and self-appointed spokespeople.

As an experiment, scroll through the replies to a Sky or BBC update on coronavirus cases if you want to gauge the public’s mistrust.

Accepting quality media will shape public opinion in a positive fashion is surely the best argument towards a modern-day renaissance.

New independent research from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism suggests we already have a good base from which to build.

They found that ‘people are generally sceptical of information they see on social media and are broadly able to identify false or partly false information’, and suggest the use of ‘fact-checking’ labels.

Director of Reuters Institute Dr Rasmus Kleis Nielsen commented: “Most people are sceptical of information they come across online, especially on social media and other platforms, and research suggests that independent fact-checkers not only help set the record straight, but also have a disciplining effect on anyone who may be tempted to share misinformation.”

Commercially speaking…

One of the pandemic’s more positive offshoots has been to remind everyone within and outside the industry how crucial a functioning media industry is for society as a whole.

Despite the protestations of the anti-MSM cliques, it remains the first place people turn to when honest and accurate information is required.

It is for that reason media outlets have always been such a key part of the advertiser’s relationship with its customers.

After all, any renaissance’s main goal must be to reduce the general mistrust of the media, which in turn produces a ‘safe space’ for advertisers.

As Press Gazette editor Dominic Ponsford concludes: “Our reporting suggests that the coronavirus slump has been far kinder to the news industry than the last big downturn in 2008. Back then lasting damage was done to the media as property, jobs and car advertising disappeared from the news media never to return.

“Looking at the 16 leading news and information companies, they were worth $38bn more in April this year than they were a year earlier.

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“While advertising revenue is down across the board, digital advertising is growing for everyone except local news brands. And the biggest and most positive trend to come out of the last year has been huge growth in the number of people willing to pay for news online.

Press Gazette research shows that English language news websites now have more than 23m paying subscribers. Titles like the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and The Athletic are proving that readers will pay a premium for high quality news.

“At Press Gazette we have hit record traffic numbers this year (more than 300,000 readers) but we are not focused on that number. Like many publishers we are focusing purely on serving our core market of media decision makers better, in terms that has paid off with a record quarter at the start of this year for commercial content deals.

“This has been helped by the fact that for the first time we are able to back our editorial commercial content product with Lead Monitor, a high-tech AI-driven marketing tool which helps our partners turn readers into leads.”

Phillip Othen
News Statesman Media Group

The New Statesman Media Group aims to tell stories about how the world is changing for the people delivering that change. New Statesman, the Group’s flagship title, is one of the leading progressive political and cultural magazines in the UK. The group has recently launched a number of ‘Monitor’ titles, headed by seasoned editors, covering Energy, Investment, ESG and the Technology sectors. These brands are Investment Monitor, Energy Monitor, Capital Monitor, Tech Monitor and Press Gazette. They offer content specifically created for high-value audiences, helping to attract the key players in the market and positioning clients in front of them as thought-leaders, across sectors such as luxury consumer lifestyle; public sector and government; technology; energy and infrastructure.