Categories
media economy multimedia photography

Media disruption (2): news consumption today

Given the primacy of the screen and the rise of mobile – the topic of the first article in this series – how and where do people get their news? If you are looking for the audience, where are they?

The primacy of the screen means media companies necessarily operate within the same digital space. Whereas newspapers, magazines, radio and television used to be defined by their distinct modes of distribution, their largest audiences are now online, and they all deliver news and information through a combination of audio, text, photographs, video, and infographics to their audiences. As a result, despite the continuing importance of established organisations on the web, there is no such thing as traditional media anymore.

In this new environment we have witnessed a shift from news and information consumed in fixed places at fixed times, to mobile news consumed at moments selected by the users. What persists in this new environment is a strong public interest in news and information. This conclusion from Visual Storytelling in the Age of Post-Industrial Journalism still holds:

The audience for good journalism is large. We may think modern culture has become celebrity obsessed at the expense of news, but international survey data indicate a strong appetite for domestic and international news among all age groups, and that people still like to read.

This is reinforced by the Reuters 2014 Digital News Report, which offers a global perspective through its survey of people in ten different countries. As they found, not less than two-thirds of people expressed an interest in news:
Interest-in-news-by-country

This is supported by detailed research from OfCom on News Consumption in the UK. While recent Pew research says “millennials” – the much maligned, allegedly narcissistic 18-34 generation in the US – trail their elders in interest about government and politics, an American Press Institute study shows they nonetheless have a strong desire for news broadly defined:
How-millenials-get-news

With the organisations formerly known as ‘newspapers,’ ‘radio’ and ‘television’ operating in the same digital space, it is no surprise that people are increasingly satisfying their desire for news online. In the US, 50% say the internet is their main source of national and international news. This is below television but far above newspapers and radio. For those aged between 18 and 49, the number using the internet rises and equals or surpasses television. In the UK, the number of users going online rose from 32% to 41% in 2013-14, with the number of 16-34 year old users climbing to 60%. Reuters ten-country survey confirms that online has become at least the second most important way of accessing news.

However, saying people get news online only tells us which platform or they use. It doesn’t say anything about their main sources, which is now being shaped by their devices (a point well made by Tom Rosenstiel, director of the American Press Institute, in this talk).

With are witnessing the rise of mobile, although, as noted in the first article of the series, ‘mobile’ does not necessarily mean ‘on the move’ or ‘in transit’ given the preponderance of home and office use. One consequence is that media organisations now find most of their readers/viewers are using touchscreen devices to reach them. Pew’s State of the [American] Media report revealed that “at the start of 2015, 39 of the top 50 digital news websites have more traffic to their sites and associated applications coming from mobile devices than from desktop computers.”

The rise of mobile changes the way news is packaged, distributed, discovered, and consumed. They have extended both the number of touch points throughout the day, and meant that news is accessed constantly rather than according to the classic consumption curve of morning, lunch and dinner. Time spent on news sites during each session is a short 3-5 minutes, but as there are multiple sessions a day, the level of news consumption rises. And the more devices people own, the more news they consume.

Frequency-of-access-by-device

Smartphones and tablets drive use of news apps rather than the mobile web through browsers. The speed and efficiency of apps have lowered the threshold to news consumption by offering a one-touch route to a recognised source. Smartphone users reportedly spend 88% of their time online in apps – although a lot of time within apps involves redirects to the mobile web, and that a lot of app time is accounted for by the dominance of Facebook.

The convenience of apps means touchscreen users access fewer news sources, with 37% relying on a single news app each week. This may mean apps limit the disaggregation of news providers fuelled by the use of search engines and social networks. The Reuters Institute survey found that “that audiences consume the majority of their online news from familiar and trusted brands, but we can also see that they are using increasingly varied ways to find that content.”

There is a lot commentary about how we are in a “golden age” of video online as more and more companies produce video, driven in large part by the advertising revenue it can generate. Forecast to make up nearly 80% of global IP traffic by 2018, we might assume video is a prominent means for delivering news stories. In the UK, the number of people downloading or watching short video clips each week has risen from 21% in 2007 to to 39% in 2014 (although the question gave music and comedy clips, rather than news, as the examples). When the Reuters Institute asked for the ways in which people in their ten-country survey had consumed news, only 10-30% named video, with headline summaries and text predominant.

Type-of-online-news-content-accessed-by-country

The important Tow Center study Video Now investigated the production and consumption of news video in ten American organisations, and found that while their was considerable investment in the area, profits were non-existent because views were very modest. While there were occasional viral succeed, on average a single video on a ‘newspaper’ site got 500-1,000 views each, with brands like Mashable hoping for a minimum of 20,000 views per video.

This may not offer a true picture of the status of video, however. Singling out video versus text for news consumption in digital space is a problem. As Video Now concluded:

People consume news by subject, not by medium. Audiences don’t say “I want to watch news video.” They come for information on specific topics: Syria, Ukraine, Obamacare, sports.

This led to an obvious and important recommendation:

Video should be embedded with other content, inside a blogpost, next to a graphic. Videos posted with other media get more plays. Those left in segregated “video” sections get ignored.

That, of course, is the very definition of ‘multimedia’ in digital space. Whereas watching video would have once required users to go to a broadcast platform, they can now find it alongside other forms of information on any digital network or site.

Touchscreen devices are changing the levels and patterns of news consumption. Building on the majority interest in news, they increase consumption by offering unlimited access to information, principally through apps, at a time and place of the user’s choosing.

They also change the practices of news consumption, and reveal that “consumption” is a complex phenomena.

The web has given us an unprecedented capacity to measure audience consumption. Previously, news consumption was measured by the circulation of print publications. This recorded the number of units purchased, but could not reveal which stories within newspapers or magazines received the most views or the longest read. On the web, all this and more can be determined, yet the focus to date on traffic numbers determined by clicks has perpetuated the superficial assessment of circulation data.

The limits of our current metrics are exposed in an important study of the available research by Irene Costera Meijer and Tim Groot Kormelink. They went beyond the medium people use, or when they use it, to look at the different ways people engaged with the news. They identified 16 different news consumption practices:

Reading
Watching
Viewing
Listening
Checking
Snacking
Scanning
Monitoring
Searching
Clicking
Linking
Sharing
Liking
Recommending
Commenting
Voting [as on Reddit]

Many of thse apply to both print and digital, and a number of them – especially checking, snacking and scanning – do not necessitate a click. And as Paul Bradshaw says, this shows that “focused reading is not confined to any one medium, and that distracted forms of consumption popularly associated with smartphone use are equally typical of how people use television, radio or print. It’s not about the medium: it’s about the user.”

Producers now have to understand the complexity of user behaviour as they hunt for their audience – or the “people formerly known as the audience,” given their capacity to produce and interact themselves. But they should be reassured the audience for news and documentary is there and growing, enabled in large part by the screens that connect them to others via the internet.

In the third article in this series, I look at the effect social media has on the production and consumption of news

Categories
photography

The difficulty of talking about photography

What is photography?

One of my favourite books is Mishka Henner’s Photography Is. Not a single image and 3,000 disparate statements torn from writing that attempt to define the field.

Of course, definitions are difficult things. Nietzsche had it right when he said, “all concepts in which an entire process is semiotically concentrated defy definition; only something which has no history can be defined.” As photography has a complex and varied history, definition seems unattainable.

I’m coming to doubt the usefulness of both the question ‘what is photography’, and writing that presumes the unity of a field as it investigates its problems. Indeed, in recent times – especially after speaking at Visa Pour L’Image in Perpignan, an academic conference in Toronto, and running the first World Press Photo multimedia seminar in Amsterdam – I’ve been personally struck by the difficulty of even talking about photography generally. To use the term as an all-encompassing concept seems pretty much impossible.

After all, what, if anything, connects stock photography, fashion photography, art photography, news photography, conceptual photography, documentary photography, amateur photography, forensic photography, vernacular photography, travel photography, or whatever sort of photography?

That’s not to suggest there isn’t a lot of good writing about this thing variously called photography. As I catch up with material filed away while travelling, I’ve benefited greatly from Michael Shaw’s three part analysis of the state of the news photo, and John Edwin Mason’s critique of claims about the “tsunami of vernacular photographs.”

What connects such analysis is that they don’t focus on the alleged essence of photography, what it is. They deal with its function and its effects.

To do that we will all have to make clear our own assumptions about the particular functions or effects we want to investigate. As Mason observes, “photography is one of the most complex phenomena of the modern world.” That may be the only simple, singular statement we can make about it.

So rather than ask what photography is, perhaps we should probe what it does, how it does it, and who does or does not want it to work in particular ways.

References: 

1. Friedrich Nietzsce, On the Genealogy of Morality (Cambridge University Press, 2006), p. 53. Thanks to Ian Douglas and others for reminding me of the source.

2. Shaw’s analysis might be seen as an important extension and update of Stuart Hall’s important essay “The determinations of news photographs,” in The Manufacture of News, edited by Stanley Cohen and Jock Young (Sage Publications, revised edition, 1981).

Categories
photography politics Thinking Images

Thinking Images v.5: Picturing a protest and illustrating ‘Africa’

Thinking Images – an occasional series on a small selection of the week’s visuals and the thoughts they prompt…

The vast majority of news photographs are illustrative – designed to provide a visual punctuation point for the story they accompany. They can arise from an event the day before, as in Thursday’s Guardian front page image of a person kicking in a window during the student protests in London.

Photo: Ray Tang/Jonathan Hordle/REX

A Reuters executive once described news as “a disruption of the norm,” and a violent moment in an otherwise peaceful political event fits the bill perfectly. It is for this reason that news fails so often to provide the context of the main issue, something that a number of journalism analysts are trying to address in their “future of context” project. Note also the way such happenings become photo opportunities, with the phalanx of photographers to the right of the protestor lapping up the action.

Thursday’s Guardian ran two images of ‘Africa’ that provided a non-stereotypical account of their subject, showing how in the absence of the most recent news images newspapers draw upon well-known and long-running projects to provide their visual resources. In the Guardian’s double-page Eyewitness spread was Joan Bardeletti’s prize-winning still from his important “Middle Class in Africa” project (although the image of the Mozambican family is bizarrely entitled “it’s a dogs life”). A couple of page’s later was one of Ed Kashi’s great Niger Delta photographs, anchoring the print version of the story on Shell’s PR campaign in the wake of Ken Saro-Wiwa’s execution fifteen years ago (the online version has a portrait of Saro-Wiwa).

It’s great to see something from ‘Africa’ that is a little different. One wonders, though, how much the photographers were paid for the publication of their images. I’ll guess it wasn’t much.