Media Feast, News Famine: Ten Global Advertising Trends That Threaten Independent Journalism

Introduction to the new publication by Michelle Foster, published by the Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA): 

When global media brands and digital social media platforms enter markets, especially markets with little indigenous media capacity, they can greatly expand the amount of news and entertainment for citizens. The entire market for media expands—but not without a cost. National and local news is increasingly a casualty of globalized media markets.

Al-Jazeera’s international expansion, Facebook’s growing importance to citizens in the Global South, Disney Channel Worldwide’s farreaching distribution network: these platforms and others have brought audiences around the world more content than ever. But these platforms also bring with them a restructuring of advertising markets that can favor government-funded state media or entertainment platforms over smaller outlets offering national and local news. Simultaneously, the ubiquity of mobile platforms has made them key vectors for transmitting news in real time using social media. In countries with otherwise limited media channels, mobile plays a dominant role. 1 Facebook, WeChat, and others are leading channels for distributing news, user-created content, and commentary. While this has many positive outcomes, it also facilitates the spread of pro-government messaging, propaganda, misdirection, and hate speech. 2 Moreover, when independent news content appears on social media platforms, it is often the platform that harvests the revenue, not the content provider, further eroding the financial base for local and national reporting.

Often vulnerable are the independent news media operating in restrictive environments, along borders of closed countries, or in exile. Similarly, they are often the least-resourced news providers and exist outside of mainstream advertising marketplaces. Internally, they frequently lack the data to make good decisions about matching content to audiences and—focused on their social missions—may lack the will or motivation to do so. Yet the failure to engage with broad audiences on a regular basis shuts them off from sources of revenue.

Thus, in a world where people can feast on an unlimited buffet of media choices, there is an increasing famine of credible, thorough, and independent nationally-focused news reporting. The former masks the latter as people worldwide now have access to an unlimited amount of entertainment through a wide variety of channels and as governments exert more comprehensive and nuanced control over media. Better connected globally, but less informed locally, citizens living in these media environments may not recognize when their rights to be informed about their government and their society are being compromised.

This report looks at ten factors that have altered the media marketplace and that pose challenges to national and local news producers and their sources of revenue. They include ways in which governments interfere in media markets; changes in the structure of news distribution and audience behavior; and the way these changes have transformed how advertising media is bought, sold, and distributed. It then examines the key engagement metrics taken from a sampling of media development partner organizations to offer thoughts on how well these news producers are prepared to compete for audiences and revenue. Finally, it offers thoughts about the implications of these issues for media development organizations.

Read the report online