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Journalism’s New Dawn: Why Covid-19 Will Lead to a More Vibrant Media Landscape

Jamie Brownlee | 06.08.2020

While Covid-19 has accelerated the digitisation of media, the question remains as to whether this represents the beginning of the end for much of the news industry or whether the shift to digital will prove to be the media’s new dawn.

Since the advent of the internet, it was anticipated that print media would gradually become extinct. And certainly, there has been a shift. According to Ofcom, a communications services regulator, UK national newspaper circulation has decreased 52.8% in the past eight years, while digital media consumption continues its rise:

  • 2019 internet news consumption was 66%, up from 64% in 2018
  • 2019 social media platforms for news consumption was 49%, up from 44% in 2018
  • 2019 mobile phone access for news consumption was 40%, up from 34% in 2018

While Covid-19 has accelerated the digitisation of media, the question remains as to whether this represents the beginning of the end for much of the news industry or whether the shift to digital will prove to be the media’s new dawn.

2020 has brought upon the closures of Bauer Media, Q Magazine, Money Observer and Moneywise with job cuts announced at News UK and The Guardian. Buzzfeed has closed its UK news operation and Quartz shuttered its London newsroom. General Trust, which owns the Daily Mail and Metro, is cutting salaries by up to a quarter. The FT and the i lost nearly 40% of circulation month-on-month and in an environment of ongoing uncertainty, it seems inevitable that more publications will follow suit.

The beating epicentre of a newspaper has for generations been the newsroom, but with widespread remote working, journalists are both adapting to and redesigning what the media landscape will look like going forward.

Arguably, there remains a place and demand for hard copy media, although since the end of last year, the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Times, The Sunday Times, LA Times, Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday and The Daily Telegraph have increased digital subscription numbers by at least 15% on average. Advertisers have followed suit, driven by the economic benefits of freeing themselves from printing costs but also expanding their reach given the improved accessibility of news via mobile devices.

An important clue that the media is evolving, not dying, is that journalism is still rising in popularity as a career choice. National data sources estimate that there are 73,000 journalists working in the UK. This has increased from 65,000 in 2012. In the last decade there has been a surge in the number of freelance journalists. For example, in 2016 the number nearly doubled from 18,000 to 34,000 in just one year.

The media sector has vastly improved its efficiency and has become technologically savvy. Covid-19 has and will create a workforce across sectors that is far more flexible and appreciative of the work life balance that remote working provides, and this of course includes journalism. It has also made it even more apparent that a quality online publication no longer requires an office, printers, or a physical newsroom. The BBC, for example, has been praised throughout the crisis for broadcasting vital information to safeguard UK citizens’ health during the pandemic, expanding the network’s educational programming for children forced home from school closures, and providing virtual access to theatre, festivals and exhibits. Removing the requirement to be physically present in an office could dramatically benefit the inclusiveness of the sector, allowing young disadvantaged journalists unable to afford London (or other large city) rental prices the chance to climb their career ladders more quickly.

Each generation of new workers is more motivated and empowered to take ownership of their careers. Journalists with the drive, the tech, the social media know-how, and a genuine ability to ‘WFH’ will be empowered to be entrepreneurial. Although revenues are down, demand for the product – news – continues to rise, which eventually is likely to create opportunities to launch fresh, innovative online publications to the benefit of both the industry and its consumers.

2020 will see seismic changes for many sectors and the media is certainly one of those. Resilient and traditional news media houses will continue to move towards digital while maintaining smaller print circulations, but other publications will close, resulting in a swathe of journalists looking for jobs among a smaller pool of publications. Not only will online outlets have more candidates to recruit from but eventually, the influx of talent means it’s likely that new, dynamic publications will emerge. More news, more online outlets and greater competition – sounds like a new dawn for the media sector.

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