Digital Challenges to Traditional News Media Models

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In Australia, and internationally, traditional or legacy print media is being challenged not by its importance in informing people e.g. during bushfires, Covid-19 crisis etc. but related challenges of economics, populist politics, innovation or lack of and now preferred use of digital channels and major social media like Facebook and Google by most people nowadays.

 

Following are excerpts from articles outlining challenges of populism, PR, social media or atomisation of channels, and possible solutions to support news, democracy, innovation and business models in a digital world.

 

From Inside Story Australia:

 

How disasters are shaping Australians’ news habits

 

A new study tracks the rise in news consumption during the bushfires and the pandemic — and finds a glimmer of hope for publishers.

 

In times of great uncertainty, readers and viewers will seek out reliable, accurate and up-to-date news — doubly so when their own safety and wellbeing are at stake. But will the news media continue to be there when they’re needed?

 

The latest Digital News Report: Australia, the sixth annual study of national news consumption trends, provides further evidence that Australians still rely on the news media — directly or indirectly — regardless of its financial difficulties…..

 

….News businesses, digital platforms and the government will need to reconsider how to maintain a healthy news ecosystem and keep citizens informed. Paying attention to what news consumers are telling us would be a good starting point.

 

Our survey confirmed that social media and search are now the two major pathways to online news, with a growing number of people accessing news through mobile alerts, newsletters and aggregator apps. News consumers are trying to find efficient ways to curate and organise the vast amount of news available to them. Rather than go directly to the news-brand websites themselves, audiences are increasingly relying on Google and Facebook to find what they want….

 

….But we know news media businesses are struggling to adapt to the digital environment, and we know they haven’t yet found a sustainable means of surviving.

 

From The Conversation Australia:

 

Media have helped create a crisis of democracy – now they must play a vital role in its revival

 

In May 2020, with the world still in the grip of the coronavirus pandemic, Margaret MacMillan, an historian at the University of Toronto, wrote an essay in The Economist about the possibilities for life after the pandemic had passed.

 

On a scale of one to ten, where one was utter despair and ten was cautious hopefulness, it would have rated about six. Her thesis was that the future will be decided by a fundamental choice between reform and calamity….

 

….She was writing against a backdrop of a larger crisis – the crisis in democracy. The most spectacular symptoms of this were the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States and the Brexit referendum. Both occurred in 2016, and both appealed to populism largely based on issues of race and immigration….

 

How the pandemic contracted the media landscape further

 

Alongside these developments, the existential crisis facing news media was made worse by the coronavirus pandemic. As business activity was brought to a stop by the lockdown, the need for advertising was drastically reduced.

 

Coming on top of the haemorrhaging of advertising revenue to social media over the previous 15 years, this proved fatal to some newspapers…..

 

Defending against the digital onslaught

 

At a national level, the Australian government took up a recommendation by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to force the global platforms, particularly Facebook and Google, to pay for the news it took from Australian media….

 

Populism and scapegoating

 

A third factor in the crisis, exacerbated by the first two, is the rise of populism. Its defining characteristics are distrust of elites, negative stereotyping, the creation of a hated “other”, and scapegoating. The hated “other” has usually been defined in terms of race, colour, ethnicity, nationality, religion or some combination of them.

 

Powerful elements of the news media, most notably Fox News in the United States, Sky News in Australia and the Murdoch tabloids in Britain, have exploited and promoted populist sentiment……

 

From Mumbrella Australia:

 

Publishers: Stop expecting handouts from Facebook and Google, start innovating

 

 

Facebook and Google direct enormous volumes of traffic to news publishers. But instead of paying for the privilege, like other brands do, publishers expect to get paid. Simon Larcey says that instead of the ‘last-ditch, half-assed cash grab’, media companies need to, unsurprisingly, innovate….

 

……In a nutshell, this sums up the ludicrous move by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and local news publishers, which have demanded that Facebook and Google cough up cash for any news content that the digital giants share across their platforms. And with Google agreeing to play ball last week, it looks like these demands are being met.

 

While some might regard this move as a digital giant throwing a lifeline to a drowning local news industry, other, more cynically minded people – myself included – might see this a move as one developed by Google’s PR department to win the hearts and minds of stakeholders. Putting Google’s motives to one side, there’s a risk that this is yet another nail in the coffin, an admission of defeat by local publishers who are no longer able to successfully compete….

 

The problem with handouts

 

Welcome to 2020, and after years of lobbying, the government has decided that if the news publishers of Australia cannot build a sustainable digital advertising revenue model, the two tech platforms will be strong-armed into footing the bill……

 

…….The numbers from the digital giants are probably even larger today. At least 50% of all news traffic is directed to Australian news sites via third parties. If Australian news providers did not have these two platforms, their traffic would be cut in half, and they would generate half the ad revenue. Any brand or marketer wanting to get that type of traffic to their site would pay Facebook and Google big money – in fact they do – yet Australian publishers think they should be paid for the privilege. It makes no sense.

 

For more articles and blogs about Australian politics, business communication, consumer behaviour, digital literacy, digital marketing, digital or e-consumer behaviour, media, political strategy, populist politics, social media marketing and WOM word of mouth.

 

Covid-19 Climate Science Vaccination Misinformation PR and Astro Turfing

In recent months there has been an increase in confusion, misrepresentation and misunderstanding in news and social media round Covid-19 using same techniques as in tobacco, climate science denialism and anti-vaccination movements that seem to benefit US radical right libertarians’ preferred ideology and politics.

 

The following articles from The Fifth Estate in Australia and DeSmog Blog in Canada explain the communication techniques well.

 

Separating truth from lies in the causes of the pandemic

 

David Thorpe | 28 April 2020

 

OPINION: What’s caused this devastating pandemic that’s so far cost at least 207,000 lives (and it’s hardly begun) and wrecked the global economy? If, like me, you’ve been on the receiving end of a blizzard of bizarre messages claiming to reveal the truth behind the pandemic you might be forgiven for feeling confused, so here’s your handy guide to what isn’t the cause and what is.

 

Misinformation wars

 

Right from the start misinformation was rife: there was no virus; the disease was like flu and wouldn’t cause significant harm; emails offered baseless cures and treatments; and conspiracy theories spread like wildfire about its origin.

 

It turns out that many who circulated such misinformation have a history of casting doubt on climate science or seeking to debate issues that were already laid to rest within the scientific community, according to DeSmog.org:

 

“The decades that fossil fuel companies spent funding organisations that sought to undermine the conclusions of credible climate scientists and building up doubt about science itself ultimately created a network of professional science deniers who are now deploying some of the same skills they honed on climate against the public health crisis at the centre of our attention today.”

 

Some of this misinformation was/is channelled by presidents Trump and Bolsanaro. Others by think tanks, experts (some self-proclaimed), academics, and professional right-wing activists who are also climate change denialists.

 

After taking apart all of these arguments, DeSmog asserts: “COVID denial should forever discredit climate science deniers”.’

 

From DeSmog direct:

 

The Reason COVID-19 and Climate Seem So Similar: Disinformation

 

Repost By Guest • Monday, April 20, 2020  of Amy Westervelt, Drilled News. Originally published by Drilled News.

 

For a long time, the story went that the tobacco industry cooked up disinformation and then spread it to the fossil fuel guys, the chemical industry, pharma, you name it. But one thing that became incredibly clear when we began digging into PR firms and specific publicists was that this version of history was not quite right; if disinformation strategies were cooked up by any particular industry it was the public relations industry, which put these strategies to work on behalf of fossil fuels, tobacco, chemical manufacturers and more, often all at the same time.

 

The very first publicist, Ivy Ledbetter Lee, worked on behalf of both Standard Oil and, shortly after, American Tobacco, for example. Daniel Edelman developed astroturf campaigns for both RJ Reynolds tobacco company and the American Petroleum Institute, as did John Hill, who went so far as to have tobacco folks join the API. He also worked with Monsanto, juggling all three clients at the same time. E. Bruce Harrison worked for the chemical guys first, then managed front groups for tobacco and fossil fuels at the same time. You get the drift.

 

These industries all surely learned from each other at various points in time, but that was mostly because they were working with the same publicists. The history is less that tobacco or oil embraced disinformation first and then passed it on and more that a handful of PR firms and consultants created the disinformation industry, and then put it to work on behalf of whatever industry needed it at any given time.

 

Today, those same strategies are at work on behalf of those who worry that the response to COVID-19 will undermine capitalism, which is why climate folks keep noting how familiar the whole anti-science component of the rightwing response to the pandemic feels. It’s familiar because the exact same strategies are being deployed, in some cases by the same people. Here are a few key examples:

 

Disinformation Strategy #1: He who controls the language controls the narrative.

Disinformation Strategy #2: Leverage science illiteracy to create doubt.

Disinformation strategy #3: Astroturfing.

 

Our hope, of course, is that when people learn to recognize these strategies and know what’s behind them, they might become less effective. Disempowering the disinformation industry is a necessary part of any climate solution.’

 

For more articles and blogs about climate change, Covid-19, populist politics, critical thinking, marketing & communications and science literacy click through.

Fighting Fake News in Finland via Schools

We have witnessed years now of conventional and now digital media being manipulated to confuse, misinform and mislead the public of all ages round science of climate change or global warming, politics and campaigns, immigrants and population growth, vaccinations, natural disasters, religion and minorities etc.

Like some states in Australia used to teach critical thinking to high school students in the 1970s, since been ’embedded’ and/or disappeared, Finland has taken the lead in developing skills at primary school age dealing with Russia especially, and global warming denialism.

From The Guardian:

‘How Finland starts its fight against fake news in primary schools

Country on frontline of information war teaches everyone from school pupils to politicians how to spot slippery information

You can start when children are very young, said Kari Kivinen. In fact, you should: “Fairytales work well. Take the wily fox who always cheats the other animals with his sly words. That’s not a bad metaphor for a certain kind of politician, is it?”

With democracies around the world threatened by the seemingly unstoppable onslaught of false information, Finland – recently rated Europe’s most resistant nation to fake news – takes the fight seriously enough to teach it in primary school.

In secondary schools, such as the state-run college in Helsinki where Kivinen is head teacher, multi-platform information literacy and strong critical thinking have become a core, cross-subject component of a national curriculum that was introduced in 2016.

In maths lessons, Kivinen’s pupils learn how easy it is to lie with statistics. In art, they see how an image’s meaning can be manipulated. In history, they analyse notable propaganda campaigns, while Finnish language teachers work with them on the many ways in which words can be used to confuse, mislead and deceive.

“The goal is active, responsible citizens and voters,” Kivinen said. “Thinking critically, factchecking, interpreting and evaluating all the information you receive, wherever it appears, is crucial. We’ve made it a core part of what we teach, across all subjects.”

The curriculum is part of a unique, broad strategy devised by the Finnish government after 2014, when the country was first targeted with fake news stories by its Russian neighbour, and the government realised it had moved into the post-fact age.

Successful enough for Finland to top, by some margin, an annual index measuring resistance to fake news in 35 European countries, the programme aims to ensure that everyone, from pupil to politician, can detect – and do their bit to fight – false information.

“This affects all of us,” said Jussi Toivanen, chief communications officer for the prime minister’s office. “It targets the whole of Finnish society. It aims to erode our values and norms, the trust in our institutions that hold society together.”

Finland, which declared independence from Russia in 1917, is on the frontline of an online information war that has accelerated markedly since Moscow annexed Crimea and backed rebels in eastern Ukraine five years ago, Toivanen said.

Most campaigns, amplified by sympathetic far-right, nation-first and “alternative” Finnish news sites and social media accounts, focus on attacking the EU, highlighting immigration issues and trying to influence debate over Finland’s full Nato membership.

Resistance is seen almost as a civil defence question, a key component in Finland’s comprehensive security policy. Toivanen said: “We are a small country, without many resources, and we rely on everyone contributing to the collective defence of society.”

The programme, piloted by a 30-member, high-level committee representing 20 different bodies from government ministries to welfare organisations and the police, intelligence and security services, has trained thousands of civil servants, journalists, teachers and librarians over the past three years.

“It’s a broad-based, coordinated effort to raise awareness,” said Saara Jantunen, a senior researcher from the defence ministry who has been seconded to the prime minister’s office. “Like virus protection on your computer: the government’s responsible for a certain amount, of course, but ultimately it’s up to the individual to install the software.”…

…..He wants his pupils to ask questions such as: who produced this information, and why? Where was it published? What does it really say? Who is it aimed at? What is it based on? Is there evidence for it, or is this just someone’s opinion? Is it verifiable elsewhere?

On the evidence of half a dozen pupils gathered in a classroom before lunchtime, it is an approach that is paying off. “You must always factcheck. The number one rule: no Wikipedia, and always three or four different and reliable sources,” said Mathilda, 18. “We learn that basically in every subject.”….

…..Part of that continuing education is also provided by NGOs. Besides operating an effective factchecking service, Faktabaari (Fact Bar), launched for the 2014 European elections and run by a volunteer staff of journalists and researchers, produces popular voter literacy kits for schools and the wider public.

“Essentially, we aim to give people their own tools,” said its founder, Mikko Salo, a member of the EU’s independent high-level expert group on fake news. “It’s about trying to vaccinate against problems, rather than telling people what’s right and wrong. That can easily lead to polarisation.”

In the run-up to Finland’s parliamentary elections last April, the government went so far as to produce an advertising campaign alerting voters to the possibility of fake news, with the slogan “Finland has the best elections in the world. Think about why”.

Similarly, Mediametka has been developing and working with media literacy tools since the more innocent days of the early 1950s, when its founders were motivated mainly by fear of the irreparable damage that comic books might do to the minds of Finnish children.

These days, the NGO, part-funded by the culture ministry, organises ed-tech hackathons with inventive Finnish startups in a bid to develop “meaningful materials” for schools and youth groups, said its executive director, Meri Seistola.

“We work with pictures, videos, text, digital content; get our students to produce their own; ask them to identify all the various kinds of misleading news,” said Seistola: from propaganda to clickbait, satire to conspiracy theory, pseudoscience to partisan reporting; from stories describing events that simply never happened to unintentional errors of fact.

Finland has something of a head start on information literacy, ranking consistently at or near the top of international indices for press freedom, transparency, education and social justice. Its school pupils have the EU’s highest PISA score for reading.

“The level of trust in national institutions, in the media, in society as a whole, does tend to be higher in the Nordic countries than in many others,” said Faktabaari’s Salo. “But that means we really need even greater vigilance now, to prepare ourselves for the next phase. Because we have more to lose.”’

 

For more articles and blogs about younger generations, critical thinking, climate change and curriculum click through.

 

E-Learning for University Students in Africa

E-learning maybe the solution for increased affordable access to effective education across the world as an organic extension of distance learning, open university and on campus study using ‘FLIPPED learning model’, dependent upon digital resources and communication.

Parts of Africa, and the world, can use e-learning for access.

African University Study via E-Learning (Image copyright Pexels)

For many parts of Africa it is a solution to limited or no access, from Deutsche Welle:

The importance of studying at home for a degree: E-learning in Africa

Many young Africans dream of a higher education. But they often don’t have the means: colleges are often far away and accommodation is expensive. Online universities and e-learning may provide a viable solution.

Lectures with compulsory attendance were not an option for Alida Tapsoba. The 29-year-old from Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, has to earn a living and therefore needs to be in control of when she works and when she studies. With this in mind, she decided to take an online course. “But I was also afraid. I wasn’t sure if I could do it,” the journalism student told DW. “You have to be well organized to deliver the assignments on time — especially if you work extra hours.”

Alida Tapsoba said her choice is rather expensive. She spends a lot of money on internet access. She needs to download large files, which is time-consuming and costly. Rebecca Stromeyer knows the problem well. She said that in many African countries, internet access is considerably more expensive than in Germany. Stromeyer is the founder of e-Learning Africa, an annual conference which attracts experts in the field to network and exchange information in a pan-African context.

No digital infrastructure

Internet access varies much across the continent. “Kenya is a pioneer, even in rural areas,” said Stromeyer. In the Central African Republic, by contrast, only a few people can accesss the internet. “Conditions are not yet so ideal that everyone in Africa can complete an e-learning program,” said Stromeyer. She adds that governments need put more efforts into developing the infrastructure.

“Nevertheless, the need to develop e-learning was much stronger in Africa than in Europe,” said the communications technology expert. And it is not restricted to university studies. The school system often does not work, especially in rural areas. There is a lack of teachers and textbooks. Stromeyer advocates using the internet for education in schools as well, although she believes that students learn better at school than they do online.

Flexible and individual

Tony Carr, from the Centre for Innovation in Learning and Teaching at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, begs to differ: “Sitting in a lecture hall with 600 other students is much like taking a degree by correspondence. Online interactions can be much warmer and personal. They can bring students closer together than a course requiring attendance.”

Flexibility is another advantage. Young people can also save on accommodation costs by staying at home and not having to rent a room in another city. They can tailor their studies to fit their needs, focus on the skills they believe to be most important and take courses they would not otherwise have access to.

Alida Tapsoba is a case in point. She dreams of working abroad as a journalist. She could not find the master’s course she was looking for in her home town. But a renowned journalism school in Paris had just what she wanted.

South Africa’s pioneers

The University of South Africa (UNISA) pioneered distance learning on the continent. When it was founded in the 1940s it offered only degrees by correspondence. Today, it is on its way to full digitalization. By its own account, it is Africa’s largest distance learning institution.

Tony Carr refers to a research paper into online studies in Africa, which compared different countries between 2011 and 2016. It showed that South Africa was the pioneer in e-learning, followed by Angola, Nigeria and Tunisia. According to Carr, this growth goes hand in hand with internet access, income levels and the increase of the middle class in the countries mentioned.

Generally speaking, Anglophone countries lead the field, Stromeyer said. But there is a growing number of initiatives in French-speaking West Africa. Ivory Coast founded the state-run Universite Virtuelle de Cote d’Ivoire four years ago. “An outstanding institution,” said Stromeyer. “It had the advantage of being able to learn from the mistakes of others.”

High demand in African countries

Many employers still believe that online studies are worth less than degrees that require a physical presence. “They believe that the courses are shorter and that less content is conveyed,” said Stromeyer. “This is not true. The need for e-learning is great in Africa, where an above-average number of young people live. Traditional universities and student accommodation are often overcrowded.” Stromeyer recommended a mixture of online and attendance studies, since young people also have the need to socialize and be part of a community.

The main thing is to gather in-depth information about online courses and providers, Tony Carr pointed out. An online university can be located anywhere, and can circumvent the national accreditation system. Experts recommend asking precisely which degree can be obtained and whether it is recognized in your own country or abroad.

 

For more articles and blog posts about adult learning, andragogy, business training, course design, CPD Continuing Professional Development, e-learning in higher education, ID Instructional Design, international students, MOOCs, Online Education, Pedagogy and Program Design, click through.

 

Brand Trust – Social Media – Digital Marketing – Personal Customer Data

How can trust in brands be developed and maintained in an age of digital marketing, speed, mistrust and social media?

This article first appeared in The Australian on 15th February 2019, then via KPMG NewsRoom.

There are issues in trust round politics and marketing.

Brand Trust in Digital Times (Image copyright Pexels)

Brand power in the age of declining trust

Edelman’s annual Trust Barometer report in 2017 carried a headline “Trust is in crisis around the world”. A KPMG report last year found that “trust has declined in almost every major economy and many developing ones”. In a CNN interview recently, Salesforce’s founder and CEO Marc Benioff argued that “companies that are struggling today are struggling because of a crisis with trust”.

There seems no end to the brands, organisations and leaders that have lost the public’s trust. There has been a royal commission into our banks, multiple questions over Facebook’s use of personal data, cheating cricketers, fake news, church leaders charged, and political parties bickering among themselves.

It is hard to believe that some brands and organisations have turned a blind eye to building trust with customers over the past decade. Trust is the basis of all relationships, gained slowly like drops of rain but lost in buckets. It is fundamental to business, symbolised in a handshake and eye-to-eye contact. ……These brands meet the “trust” checklist in the KPMG report – standing for something more than profit; demonstrably acting in the customers’ best interest; doing what you say you will; keeping customers informed; and being competent and likeable.

There is no doubt that brand trust is more complex in a digital world, where social media and data personalisation have enabled brands to act as if they are talking to you in person. Combine that with the exponential growth of individuals’ data that can be captured; digital marketplaces; smartphones; voice technology such as Google Home and Alexa; and the algorithms and deep learning of artificial intelligence, and there are far more opportunities to get brand trust wrong. This is especially so when trust is measured at lightning speed and some decisions around brands are being made by machines acting like humans.

Data became the hottest brand trust issue last year. The biggest data breach involved the Marriott International hotel chain and had an impact on up to 383 million people on the Starwood booking database. This included more than five million unencrypted passport numbers. Facebook had multiple issues, the most discussed being Cambridge Analytica’s access to Facebook users’ data. This data was used to persuade voters to change their opinions in the last US presidential election.

Consumers started to question the trust they had in these brands: one US survey showed 71 percent of people were worried about how brands collected and used their personal data. …… Marketers also had their doubts after YouTube posted ads that appeared alongside offensive videos, leading to a number of companies and their media agencies withdrawing advertising from YouTube for a period.

In the past five years, some of Australia’s biggest companies have rushed to establish or buy into data businesses that can offer insights into the purchasing behaviour of their customers and also use that information to improve their marketing communications……

Some companies have commercialised this data by selling it to outside organisations that match it with their customer profiles, adding to the knowledge they have on their customers. Some have questioned the ethics of this, even if it is anonymous; others ask who actually owns the data – the individual or the companies?

Trust around data relies on the fundamentals: common sense says that being a friendly and helpful neighbour is better for a long-term relationship than being annoying or remote. The personal customer data a business holds needs to be treated in the same way. In a business environment where consumers have more choice than ever, as well as more transparency and lower barriers to switching brands, boards, CEOs and marketers cannot ignore the need to invest in brand trust.

 

For more blogs and articles about digital marketing, social media marketing and consumer behaviour click through.