European Journalism In 2015: Predictions And Reflections

January 2, 2015 • Digital News, Media and Politics • by

In 2015 journalism will continue to be shaped by digital technology. Virtual reality could soon enable users to wear their news, or sense it via a headset. Simple news stories will be written by robots and curated by algorithm. Digital security will become more sophisticated, to protect journalists’ sources and, as we shift away from content ownership, the cloud will expand.

Last year, politics and the economy, as well as innovation, influenced the media. 2014 was the year when some journalists became social activists, most notably in Ukraine.  Major publishing companies were forced to adapt to new digital trends: integrating newsrooms and moving production from print to online. In many places, particularly Eastern Europe, advertising revenues declined amid challenging economic conditions. It was a particularly dangerous year for journalists: 66 reporters were murdered in 2014, and 119 kidnapped – a 35% increase on the year before.

To mark the start of 2015, European Journalism Observatory (EJO) partners from across Europe present their own media highlights of the past 12 months, and predictions for the year ahead.

Data journalism in Poland and new investors?

Michal Kus, editor of the EJO Poland and assistant professor in the the Department of Communication and Journalism, University of Wroclaw, said that 2014 in Poland, had been marked by the development of data journalism, as well as the recent consolidation of the online media market. Kus predicts further mergers in 2015, as online advertising attracts new investments.

Attractive media assets will come up for sale in Poland this year, according to Kus. He predicts that major international players (such as the MTG Group, Netflix and Amazon) are likely to invest in the Polish market.

Social media aids freedom of speech in Ukraine but outlook is pessimistic

Dariya Orlova, editor of the EJO’s Ukraine website and a Doctor of Communication Sciences at the Mohyla School of Journalism, Kiev, said that for her, a highlight of 2014 was the unprecedented activism of Ukrainian journalists. Orlova also pointed to the growing importance of online media and social networks, and the role that these had played in freedom of speech in Ukraine, particularly in the last 12 months.

Orlova is pessimistic about Ukraine’s economic prospects for 2015. “The economy is in a great decline, our national currency fell more than twice against the US dollar; the advertising market has dropped immensely. This all creates many financial challenges for independent media,” she said.

German regional publications may experiment with pay walls in 2015

Rachel Stern, EJO Fellow based at the Free University, Berlin, remembers Google and the EU’s Right to Be Forgotten legislation as a key issue from 2014 as it highlighted ongoing themes related to press freedom and censorship. Her prediction for next year is that more publications, especially on a regional level, will try out pay walls to boost their revenue streams.

Russian propaganda within Latvia’s Russian language media, may be countered in 2015

Liga Ozolina, editor, EJO Latvia, is a PhD student in the Communication Management Program at the School of Business Administration, Turiba. She also co-owns and operates one of the largest women’s web portals in Latvia, Ozolina said that for her, 2014 was marked by the Ukrainian-Russian crisis, and its impact on the media. “This conflict showed the strength of Russian propaganda within Latvia’s Russian language media,” she said. “It highlighted the problems in the Latgale region where Russian media is more disseminated than Latvian, so people mostly live in, and rely on, Russian information.”

“This was also the year which showed the growth of Latvia’s public broadcaster – Latvian Television, Latvian Radio and their united web platform Predictable and increased state funding is beginning to justify itself: new staff, new broadcast formats, better marketing of the content and the “stars” within the organization, active use of new media and strengthened programming for Russian speaking people,” Ozolina said.

In 2015, Ozolina predicts that Latvia’s public broadcaster will continue to strengthen its programming for Russian-speaking Latvians. “So far all Latvian private media companies addressing Russian-speaking people have a content strategy which one can hardly call journalism, and which could be seen as the extensions of the big Russian media companies.”

Ozolina also pointed to a recent initiative set up in Latvia by Galina Timchenko, the former editor-in-chief of a popular Russian news website, Timchenko lost her job after she published an interview with a far-right Ukrainian nationalist and moved to Latvia to establish a new Latvia-based media portal, which aims to provide unbiased news in Russia and abroad.

In 2015 more news outlets will adopt SecureDrop or GlobaLeaks to increase security and protect sources

Philip Di Salvo, editor of the EJO’s Italian website, contributor to the Italian version of Wired and a PhD candidate at the Università della Svizzera Italiana, said that journalism has undergone a “learning curve” following the Edward Snowden leaks. Di Salvo believes there is now increased consciousness about encryption and online safely for journalists and predicts that in 2015 more news outlets will adopt SecureDrop or GlobaLeaks. These will create whistleblowing platforms to solicit leaks from sources, and better protect them. “At the same time we need better Freedom of Information legislation and stronger whistleblowing protection laws, I hope Italy will adopt both in 2015,” Di Salvo said

Journalists must become more technology-savvy or they will lose control of the public space

In the UK, in what was both a highlight of 2014 and a prediction for 2015,  Emily Bell, director of the Tow Centre for Digital Journalism at the Columbia Journalism School, warned about the uneasy relationship between journalism and technology. Speaking at the Reuters Memorial Lecture in November, Bell warned journalists that they were losing the battle for control of the ‘public space’ to Silicon Valley. Her prediction was gloomy for the print media, but she told journalists they could still regain the initiative if they started to report technology with the same verve with which they report politics.

In Switzerland public broadcasters and publishers find common interests defending quality journalism

In Switzerland, after years of stalemate, publishers and the public broadcaster SRG seemed to recognise in 2014 that they have common interests in defending high quality journalism against the internet teenage giants Apple, Google, Facebook and co, said Stephan Russ-Mohl, EJO Director.  Also, the advisory board of the Swiss government (Medienkommission) has provided some remarkable suggestions for future media policies in the country.

Russ-Mohl, Professor of Journalism and Media Management at the Università della Svizzera italiana, Lugano, expressed a wish for 2015, rather than a prediction: “The head of the governing board of NZZ group, Etienne Jornod, who tried to install Markus Somm, a close friend of the populist right wing political leader Christoph Blocher, as new editor-in-chief of Switzerland’s most prestigious newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung, will step down. And the previous editor-in-chief, Markus Spillmann, who has been fired by Jornod unexpectedly and without any convincing argument, will return to office. (I am afraid, this is wishful thinking…),” said Russ-Mohl.

EJO is growing. Thank you to our readers and sponsors in 2014 and, looking ahead, in 2015

One last highlight of 2014: EJO’s 10th anniversary. With the launch of the new EJO Portugal website, this unique network of 11 websites across Europe continues to thrive and grow, due to generous and sustainable funding from the Fondazione per il Corriere del Ticino, the Pressestiftung NRZ, the Robert Bosch Foundation, and the Swiss National Science Foundation.

photo credit: Flikr Creative Comms Sergey Galyonkin
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