Dancing With Big Technology

The rapid growth of smartphone ownership is helping traditional news media grow again, according the State of the News Media 2012 report released last week.The downward spiral for traditional news organizations is showing signs of reversing, thanks to the surge in sales for smartphones and other digital devices. Increasing use of mobile devices is adding to the public’s news consumption appetite, says the Pew Research Center in its State of the News Media 2012 report.

Released March 19, this year’s annual media review is far less doom and gloom. Now that Americans are fully engaged in the digital age – more than 75 percent now own computers – some surprising growth trends are surfacing, according to the report 

“New research released in this report finds that mobile devices are adding to people’s news consumption, strengthening the lure of traditional news brands and providing a boost to long-form journalism.”

Audience numbers are being driven up because of easier access to news offered by smartphones. “Eight in 10 who get news on smartphones or tablets, for instance, get news on conventional computers as well.” 

That bit of encouraging news is brought to us courtesy of the big technology companies, But be alert, the annual survey warns. Recent trends in big technology are something to watch closely. Pew points to two trends in the last year: 

“First, the explosion of new mobile platforms and social-media channels represents another layer of technology with which news organizations must keep pace.”

“Second, in the last year, a small number of technology giants began rapidly moving to consolidate their power by becoming makers of “everything” in our digital lives. Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple and a few others are maneuvering to make the hardware people use, the operating systems that run those devices, the browsers on which people navigate, the email services on which they communicate, the social networks on which they share and the web platforms on which they shop and play. And all of this will provide these companies with detailed personal data about each consumer.”

What will the relationship be between the big technology companies and the old giants of the traditional media world?

“All this raises the question of whether the technology giants will find it in their interest to acquire major legacy news brands – as part of the “everything” they offer consumers,” states the report. “Does there come a point, to ensure the much smaller media company’s survival, for instance, where Facebook considers buying a legacy media partner such as The Washington Post?”

The report cites recent evidence of close ties between traditional media and big technology, such as: 

• YouTube’s plans to become a producer of original television content, for example, by funding Reuters.

• Yahoo’s recent deal with ABC News for the network to be its near-sole provider of news.

• AOL’s purchase of The Huffington Post.

• Facebook becoming partners with The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian and others with the launch of its Social Reader. (This month. Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes purchased the 98-year-old New Republic magazine.)

Another trend examined by the Pew report is the revenue side of media. Traditional media outlets continued the quest in 2011 to turn the Internet into gold, most commonly described as a “pay wall.” 

“In 2011, traditional news operations also took new steps to monetize the web in their own right. The Associated Press launched a partnership with more than two dozen news companies to license news content and collect royalties from [news] aggregators,” the report said. “About a tenth of surviving U.S. dailies have launched some sort of digital subscription plan or pay wall.”

The report concludes:

“In sum, the news industry is not much closer to a new revenue model than a year earlier and has lost more ground to rivals in the technology industry. But growing evidence also suggests that news is becoming a more important and pervasive part of people’s lives. That, in the end, could prove a saving factor for the future of journalism.”

The 2012 news media report is the ninth year the comprehensive news business profile has been produced by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. The full report may be viewed at http://stateofthemedia.org/.

Watch this blog in coming days for more about what the reports says.

• Annual News Survey, Part 2: Major Trends

• Annual News Survey, Part 3: Key findings