The press is affected by layoffs, losses and lies

The press is affected by layoffs, losses and lies

Three decades later, the words said by the Catalan politician and diplomat Federico Mayor, then head of this United Nations organization, are still valid: “There can be no democracy without a free media.” However, the profession is going through a turbulent period characterized by misinformation, difficulty and loss of credibility. In this scenario traditional heads are struggling to survive.

2023 has been the worst year for the media industry since the pandemic. Between January and December, more than 20,000 journalists lost their jobs in the United States, a number that was only surpassed in 2020 after the coronavirus outbreak and the Great Recession of 2009, two defining moments in modern history. Leading digital media outlets such as Vice Media or BuzzFeed News have been forced to close their doors after being hit by a wave of layoffs that may increase in the coming months. “The United States is reinforcing what will happen in other countries,” warns Alfonso Pauloz, head of the Spanish section of Reporters Without Borders.

This tsunami of discounts is a direct result of a business model with increasingly visible aspects. In the early 2000s, the spread of the Internet forced media outlets to adapt to a digital format that promised greater reach and audience segmentation. However, the emergence of news was dependent on the companies controlling the streaming channel, Google and Facebook, which used the opportunity to gain overwhelming dominance of the digital advertising business. “The day the first SEO was hired, the media started working for Google, instead of writing for the reader,” analyzes technology journalist Marta Perano. “They replaced audience with traffic, artificially inflating visits thanks to the social network.”

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Pass the bill

This dependence continues to negatively impact the media industry. The deprioritization of news on meta platforms and the chaos that erupted on Twitter (or X) after Elon Musk's takeover, translate into less traffic. Additionally, young users are increasingly turning to other digital spaces for information, with TikTok as their new search engine. In countries like Thailand, Peru and Kenya, 30% of the population already consumes news through the Chinese app rather than traditional media sites. “The newsstand reader no longer existed and journalists could not adapt to this channel,” Pauloz points out.

Experiment with new business formats. The New York Times has successfully bet on games, but its case is unique. Affected by the instability, major media groups such as AP, Axel Springer, Le Monde, Prisa Media, and the Financial Times have reached agreements to transfer their content to OpenAI, the company behind ChatGPT, to train the same artificial intelligence (AI) programs. ) which can be used to replace journalists. However, even billionaires who have invested in the industry continue to lose money. The sustainable model is still unknown.

A crisis of confidence

The problem with this model is not just financial. “It didn't work because it didn't guarantee the survival of the media, but it also completely affected their credibility,” laments journalist Carmela Ríos. Thus, according to the Reuters Institute's Digital News Report 2023, citizens' trust in news fell two points in 2023 and reached 40%, although much lower in countries such as the USA, France, Italy or the UK.

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“Online consumers are accessing news less than in the past and are less interested in it,” the report says. This is also the case in Spain, which has also seen social interest in information decline by 34% since 2015, one of the biggest setbacks in the world. Tired of negative news, up to 46% of readers want journalism that explores solutions, not problems.

The media unrest comes at a critical juncture. This year more than half the world's population is participating in a historic cycle of elections that will determine the political course of the planet, with appointments in influential countries such as the USA, India, Mexico, Indonesia and the European Union. This combination could give wings to all kinds of lies and increasingly noticeable social polarization. According to Poloz, the lack of investment in distinguishing truth from lies is “fertile ground from which extremists profit.”

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