Ethnic newspapers continue serving closely-knit communities in new information age

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The New Information Age

journalismMany years ago, print journalism was a straightforward thing. Journalists could get their message across just by publishing an article in one reputable paper. But, since 1990, newspaper subscriptions have dropped 50% (in the U.S., Pew Research Center) while the number of unique visitors of newspaper websites in the U.S grew 40% from 2014 to 2017 (Pew Research Center).


The need to fight on two fronts, print and online, is not the only battle for the print media – the online platforms are so diverse that the media are struggling to keep up with the audience’s changing habits of information consumption. Mary Meeker (Internet Trends 2018 by Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers) suggests that people spend time on multiple platforms which means that the media audience is fragmented, and its attention is spread out as well. When Facebook was in its prime, it served as a substantial catalyst for news outlets: a post on a Facebook page could significantly help fuel a wide conversation.

But recently the papers have had to deal with the new ways the audience accesses information. In the U.S., mobile access to information now exceeds the desktop one (56% of vs. 36% of time spent in digital media in 2017, Internet Trends 2018 by KPCB). Within mobile, video is booming. According to Meeker’s study, the average daily minutes spent watching videos took off from 14 in 2015 to 29 in 2017, and are projected to reach 33 in 2018. Video-heavy platforms YouTube (used by 85% of teens), Snapchat (72%) and Instagram (69%) are the most popular online platforms now for the U.S. teens (Pew Research Center). This is why most articles on the websites of the biggest news organizations, from the New York Times to CNN, start with a short video with large-font captions that explain it in an exceedingly succinct way.

One of the crucial features of today’s audience is its increasingly shorter attention span. Pew Research points out that the audience’s attention span is decreasing: the average time spent on a news website per visit dropped from 2.59 minutes in 2014 to 2.44 minutes in 2017. Snapchat owes its leading position in particular to its instant short video sharing component. Instagram picked up the idea later in a form of a “story” which official Instagram website describes as a photo/video the user can add to their profile, adding that “stories disappear from your profile and Feed after 24 hours unless you add it as a highlight.”

Attention span is decreasing in advertising too. According to a report by Adweek and GumGum, the overall tolerance for ads is going down: the report found that 55% of viewers are annoyed with digital video advertising, while 81% of them find the unskippable six-second pre-rolls effective and very effective.


Challenges for Journalists

In her comment for NP-UN, Diane Francis, Editor-at-Large with the National Post, said that journalism nowadays has greater challenges than before due, in particular, to division of audiences and difficulties to find audiences to write to or what they’re interested in.

How can good journalism survive and cater to this kind of audience?

Jane Lytvynenko, a BuzzFeed news reporter, suggests that to combat this fragmentation, journalists should bring their journalism to the audience, instead of relying on the audience to find their journalism. Lytvynenko sees the future of journalism in its successful adaptation to the platforms that people are on, whether it is Snapchat, Twitter or even Pinterest: “In the long-term it’s important to pay attention to the trends… but it’s also important to recognize that they are trends. We don’t know what the Internet will look like in 10 years and the best way newsrooms can prepare for that is to have a dedicated team that is actively on top of those trends, that is actively on top of new audiences and that’s actively looking for ways to promote journalism in any form that the journalists are doing.”

Lytvynenko thinks that one thing that’s not going to change is the need to tell the truth to power. This is what is at the core of good journalism, “the idea to hold democratic institutions accountable, … to try to expose unfairness in an unjust society. And you can do that with a Snapchat app, or as a huge organization that reaches millions of people every day.”

Jeffrey Dvorkin, journalism professor with the University of Toronto’s Department of Arts, Culture and Media, points out that, in the current information-intense world, both news producers and consumers need to heighten their sense of what is credible and what is not. He says that in the future journalists will need to develop “news literacy” that will require verification of where the ideas originate, ensuring of journalists’ independence and that they really act on behalf of the public, and their accountability.

Ethnic Media in the New Media Landscape

Importance of the proactive position of the news consumer for the newspaper business also transpired in Warren Buffet’s words which he said after investing $344 million in different U.S. newspapers in 2012-13: “Wherever there is a pervasive sense of community, a paper that serves the special informational needs of that community will remain indispensable to a significant portion of its residents.”

Although later Buffet became less optimistic about the future of newspapers, his words from 2013 ring true for the ethnic community media in Canada: “papers delivering comprehensive and reliable information to tightly-bound communities and having a sensible Internet strategy will remain viable for a long time.” This is demonstrated by the case of the Ukrainian Canadian community – where there is a population group bound by the common culture and interests, there is a need in a medium that informs the members about their community and its issues. The New Pathway – Ukrainian News, which has met the challenge of the new era while retaining its 90-year history of service to the community, proves just that.

Yuri Bilinsky and Kateryna Bandura, New Pathway – Ukrainian News

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