Predicting the Media Landscape: What Lies Ahead for 2018


In an era of “fake news” is journalism at last fighting back? Taking a look back at 2017 it would appear so. Indeed, it would seem that the shocks to the media industry over the past few years are helping many organizations focus once again on quality news and investigations–in part to distinguish themselves from the mass of other, often dubious, information online.

2017 proved to be a vintage year full of reporting that made a real difference–from the The New York Times exposé on Harvey Weinstein to the ProPublica investigations of Facebook, and the Paradise Papers investigations. In terms of revenue, however, it was a mixed year that saw stronger titles pulling ahead while others faltered. The shift to reader revenue is well underway, but will not work for everyone. So what lies ahead for journalism and the media in 2018?

The report Journalism, Media, and Technology Trends and Predictions 2018, published by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism with the support of Google’s Digital News Initiative, holds some clues. Based on survey responses from 194 digital leaders from 29 countries, it lays out the challenges and opportunities expected for the news industry in the year ahead.

The battle with the platforms

Concerns expressed by the respondents include increasing worry about the power and influence of platforms, especially Facebook and Snapchat. However, many publishers blamed themselves for their ongoing difficulties, citing internal factors such as resistance to change and inability to innovate.

The survey makes clear that many publishers still feel that platform companies, Facebook in particular, need to do much more to face up to their wider responsibilities. Advertisers are demanding greater transparency over measurement and for more protection for their brands. Politicians, regulators and ordinary users will be adding to that pressure. Something significant is likely to give in 2018.

According to respondents, we should also expect more news organizations to pull out of deals with Facebook, Apple, and Snapchat as they realize they are not delivering sufficient financial return.

The report also predicts that the platforms will be forced to employ armies of human internet moderators.

More focus on subscribers and personalization

Almost half the publishers surveyed see subscriptions as a very important source of revenue in 2018, more so than digital display advertising and branded and sponsored content.

To attract more subscribers, publishers say they’ll focus on podcasts and look at developing content for voice-activated-speakers. Almost three-quarters plan to actively experiment with artificial intelligence (AI) to support better content recommendations and drive greater production efficiency.

Media companies, it appears, will be actively moving customers from the “anonymous to the known,” so they can develop more loyal relationships and prepare for an era of more personalized service. Quoted in the report, Mark Thompson, CEO of The New York Times, said: “AI/intelligent assistants solving for the consumer needs across devices, environments and media is the big tech story of the year.”

The rise and rise of artificial intelligence

The report also highlighted developments to watch in this space:

  • Computer-driven recommendations
    One of the most likely uses of AI by news publishers will be in driving better content recommendations on websites, via apps, or through push-notifications. A new recommendation service called James, currently being developed by The Times and Sunday Times for News UK, aims to learn about individual preferences and automatically personalize each edition in terms of format, time and frequency.
  • Assistants for journalists
    Get ready for AI bots that can manage journalists’ diaries, organize meetings, and respond to their emails. Already, Replika is an AI assistant that, with a bit of training, can pick up your moods, preferences, and mannerisms until it starts to sound like you and think like you when writing text. In the future, it may be able to mimic your style of posts on Twitter and Facebook and take care of your social media while you’re asleep.
  • Automated and semi-automated fact-checking
    AI will also assist journalists with fact-checking political claims in real time, possibly even while conducting a live radio or TV interview.
  • Commercial optimization
    The use of algorithms to recognize patterns in data and make predictions (machine learning) is already being used to drive commercial decisions. AI-driven paywalls will be able to identify likely subscribers and, based on previous behavior, serve up the offer (and wording) most likely to persuade them to subscribe. Another use will be to create more personalized advertisements.
  • Intelligent automation of workflows
    News organizations know they have to do more with less, without leading to journalist burn out. In the survey, 91% of respondents cited production efficiency as a “very important” or “quite important” priority this year. Intelligent automation (IA) is one way to achieve this. As examples, the Press Association in the UK has been working with Urbs media to deliver hundreds of semi-automated stories for local newspaper clients, while an automated news rewriting programme called Dreamwriter is already creating around 2500 pieces of news on finance, technology, and sports daily.
  • New audio platforms
    Meanwhile, new devices and technologies are set to change consumer behavior, especially the rapid adoption of voice-enabled smart speakers such as Amazon Echo and Google Home. Media companies polled in the leaders’ survey said they would be investing more this year in audio-based media such as podcasts and shorter form content experiments that are native to the new platforms.

Facing an uncertain future

The report concludes with the inevitable—that the future looks uncertain. “There is no sense that the technology revolution is slowing down. If anything, it seems as if we are at the beginning of a new phase of disruption. The era of artificial intelligence will bring new opportunities for creativity and for efficiency—but also for greater misinformation and manipulation.

“Ironically, publishers know that in many ways they need to behave more like Silicon Valley tech companies, even as they try to wrest back a measure of control around distribution and strategy. That means taking risks, breaking down hierarchies and delivering higher quality products and services that audiences love. In doing this, the smartest companies will be combining data and algorithms with great content as they seek to rebuild both trust and their businesses.”

Record-Low Trust Levels Show Global Media Needs to Win Back Audience Confidence


Public confidence in news media has steadily declined in recent years. In fact, according to a poll conducted by communications marketing firm Edelman, it’s hit an all-time low in 17 countries.

The media is not the only institution dealing with trust issues. The Edelman firm has dubbed 2017 the year of “Trust in Crisis,” as faith in business, government, and NGOs has also plummeted.

Trust in media

Survey findings show that the media is distrusted in 82% of the 28 countries polled. The study, conducted in the last quarter of 2016, surveyed more than 33,000 respondents.

In most countries, trust levels decreased from the previous year, with particularly dramatic drops in the United Arab Emirates, Argentina, and Mexico. Trust levels in other countries also fell significantly, with decreases of 10% in Canada, Australia, Ireland, and Colombia.

The country that fared the worst was Turkey, where trust levels came in at a dismal 25%. Russia didn’t do much better, falling to 31%, but nor did the UK at 32%. For comparison, the US sat at 47%, unchanged from the previous year, while news outlets in China, India, and Indonesia maintained high levels of public confidence, despite an 8% drop for China.

Trust levels also varied by media source. People expressed more confidence in search engines and traditional media than in owned media or social media. In fact, 64% reported high trust levels in search engines. Since 2012, confidence in search engines has increased, while faith in both traditional media and social media has gradually declined.

The Edelman report identifies a more general fear that the system is failing as part of growing skepticism toward the media. Media echo chambers, which reinforce rather than challenge existing fears and opinions, exacerbate this distrust.


The paradox of social media

When we look at other polls, the picture becomes even more complex.

A lot has changed over the last decade, including the media landscape itself. One of the most obvious changes is how people access news. According to Pew Research Center, about nine out of ten Americans get some of their news online, most with mobile devices. This is a significant increase since 2007 when only two-thirds of respondents reported accessing online news.

As the Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2017 shows, this is a global trend. The report highlights findings from a YouGov survey of more than 70,000 people across 36 countries. Results show that among 18- to 24-year-olds, 64% use online media as their main source of news. Older groups are less likely to do so, but numbers hover around the 50% mark for audiences between ages 25 and 44.

Another dramatic shakeup stems from the diversification of news sources. The Digital News Report also revealed that a third of those in 18 to 24 age bracket now rely on social media as their main news source, and 21% of those aged 25 to 34.

But although people are increasingly dependent on social media for news, they’re also extremely wary. The survey found that just one-quarter of respondents thought social media did a good job of separating fact from fiction. That’s even worse than trust rates in news media, polled at 40%.

This is what we might call the paradox of social media. It makes news pervasive and people depend on it more, but they also have low confidence in it. This is a curious fact. Shouldn’t traditional media look better in comparison and earn a higher trust level as a result? As the Digital News Report speculates, skepticism toward online sources may have spilled over into the public’s confidence in traditional media outlets.

If true, the news isn’t all bad. It means there’s hope for media outlets that promote a clear distinction between the jumble of real and fake news that appears on social media and traditional professional publications.

Political polarization

The Digital News Report also revealed a correlation between distrust and political polarization. Its findings differed from Edelman’s, showing South Korea rather than Turkey at the bottom of the confidence scale, with only 23% of respondents expressing trust in the media. The US also did worse, hitting only 38%, while Turkey received a marginally higher trust level at 40%.

But at the same time, over half of respondents in the US expressed trust in the sources they relied on for news. In other words, they had low confidence in the media in general, but relatively high trust in their preferred news sources.

This points to an interesting trend in the data. In countries with news outlets distributed across a broader, more extreme political spectrum, public confidence in the media is low. It’s higher in countries like Germany, where most news outlets huddle around the middle of the spectrum.

In polarized political climates, the media tends to become polarized as well, reinforcing the views of their main readership while pushing others to the margins. This can be exacerbated by media consolidation and worsened by the echo chamber of news on social media, which tends to show users news that confirms their existing opinions.

The only way to break this echo chamber is by including diverse political viewpoints and considering counterarguments in fair and accurate ways.

The good news

Is there hope that the relationship between the public and the media can be restored?

The good news is that there are bumps in the downward spiral of public confidence in news media. Although the general trend is negative, trust levels have sometimes shown marginal improvement year to year—indicating the situation can be turned around.

Without public trust, there is no news, just private opinions and political propaganda. In the babble of voices online, it’s difficult to walk the line between conforming to new trends and maintaining a distinct and professional identity. But now more than ever, in this extremely politically charged climate, it’s vital that media outlets improve how the public perceives them, and regain public confidence in the news.