Diversity of the media decreases due to central editorial offices

Editorial network systems restrict journalistic competition as an indispensable prerequisite for quality. In addition, more and more people are getting less and less information. And more and more journalists are migrating to the PR industry.

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The ninth edition of the 2018 Quality of Media Yearbook from the University of Zurich's Research Institute Public Sphere and Society is here. One of the findings: In Switzerland, the same content is being disseminated more and more often. This is shown by an automated text comparison of Swiss media coverage. In the democratically sensitive area of national political reporting, 54 percent of articles already appear in at least two newspapers at the same time.

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The automated comparison using Jaccard coefficient proves that the proportions of shared contributions between media from the same association are very high. The Tages-Anzeigerthat Confederation and the Bernese newspaper have been part of Tamedia's newly created central editorial team for German-speaking Switzerland since this year. Following the introduction of the cooperation, the proportion of shared editorial contributions in these three newspapers rose by 17 percentage points to currently 55 percent. Within opinion-driven formats such as editorials or commentaries, the proportion of identical reporting has even risen from 40 per cent to 68 per cent. This means that the same voting or election recommendations are increasingly being made prior to ballots, which is problematic from the point of view of democratic policy, write the authors of the study. Editorial network systems promote a uniform setting of topics and perspectives in the media arena. The danger of journalistic mistakes increases because the control function between the media is weakened.

Reporting quality still high despite loss of diversity

Viewed across the 66 information media studied, the quality of reporting in Switzerland nevertheless remains high, the report continues. In the 2017 survey year, the 35 titles achieved between 6.1 and 8.3 quality points out of a maximum of 10. The newly included weekly newspaper (WoZ) makes it straight to fourth place in the overall ranking and equals the score of the NZZ. However, around a third of all media are unable to maintain the same level of quality as in the previous year. There are losses in the diversity dimension, but also in the classification performance. The reduction in resources in Swiss information journalism is having an effect.

Personnel brain drain in journalism and growth in the PR sector

The growing weakness of earnings in information journalism means that the number of media professionals in the news sector is constantly decreasing. Between 2011 and 2016, 3000 jobs were lost in the online and press media sector (-19 percent). In the same period, the number of employees in the PR sector increased by 16 percent. The number of self-employed journalists has also increased by 20 per cent since 2011. The precarious funding situation in information journalism is fuelling a trend whereby more and more journalists are either "switching sides", i.e. pursuing new employment in the PR sector, or seeking their fortunes as freelancers, usually under precarious conditions because of long-term insecurity.

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More and more inform themselves less and less

Since 2009, the number of so-called news-deprived people has been steadily increasing. The audience belonging to this type of media usage consumes little news and if it does, then in low-quality information media, primarily via social media. Of all user groups, the news-deprived have grown by far the most since 2009 (+15 percentage points). In 2018, more than one in three media users (36 percent) belong to this user type. Among 16- to 29-year-olds, the figure is 53 percent. Since willingness to pay is directly linked to interest in news, it is precisely the group that is least willing to pay for information journalism that is growing the most with the news-deprived.

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New media law (BGeM): proposals do not go far enough

The conclusion of the study authors: In view of the fact that professional information journalism lacks a sustainable business model and continues to lose financial and human resources, the proposals for the expansion of media promotion in the new Federal Law on Electronic Media (BGeM) do not go far enough. Firstly, in addition to online providers that produce audiovisual content, it should also be possible to promote online text media that specialise in the production of background information. Secondly, more funds must be earmarked for direct media promotion for private media providers in order to effectively halt the decline in journalistic diversity in Switzerland. In order to ensure that sufficient funds are available for the SRG and direct media promotion, the absolute amount of the media levy must be set at a sufficiently high level and must not be reduced further in subsequent years. (ank/pd)

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