News avoidance is high, and trust in news is low. The much-anticipated release of the latest Reuters Oxford Digital News Report 2023 confirms this trend – and is replete with averages and percentages to back it up. But beyond the metrics and despite the grim indications, the intrinsic value of journalism remains irrefutable.

How, though, are newsrooms responding to remain relevant? “Are we complacent about the role journalism plays in society?” asked Nic Newman, one of the authors of the Report, at the Africa launch this week.

“People feel very strongly about crime and security, social justice issues; they’re turning away from toxic debates … They say they’re interested in more positive news, or news that isn’t just pointing out problems, but is also offering solutions; explanatory journalism. So some of these new approaches that are particularly become popular since COVID.

“They are least interested in the big stories of the day and every twist and turn on each story. And that’s in sharp contrast to people who say they never avoid the news, who think that that’s the most important thing. Many news websites and TV broadcasts are basically optimised for that group of super loyal users, but are basically turning other people away. So that’s the problem. There’s a one-size-fits-all approach to news which we’ve been practising in the media.”

Making better use of data

To stay abreast of change, many newsrooms have adopted a data-centric approach: and analysing metrics for reach, attention, and engagement of their journalism. Beyond these figures are the facts: that people will engage in news they can relate to, or use. “Relevance is the paramount driver of news consumption,” was a significant finding in the report.

One method of determining that relevance would be via measuring the social value of journalism. How do you determine journalism’s impact on people’s lives, behaviour and policy. And how this might be used to convince journalism’s detractors of its value to society.

“Impact measurement has always been done for grant proposals, and sometimes for marketing, but it’s always been piecemeal and reactive when we need to report on it,” notes Styli Charalambous, CEO and co-founder of Daily Maverick said in a panel discussion on impact at the International Journalism Festival in Perugia, organised by the World Editors Forum.

“We do use the value of the impact in our acquisition marketing, and I can tell you that impact isn’t good for business; it is great for business.”

WATCH: How do you measure the social value of your journalism? 

Daily Maverick is an award-winning independent South African publisher that offers free access to all content, with revenue driven by sponsorship, commercial activities and member subscription.

“Daily Maverick has the highest retention rate of any of our peers, and I think a big part of that is because we do achieve so much impact and we do also do relatively okay in communicating that back – but I also acknowledge we can do a lot better,” Charalambous said. “To really embrace the value of impact we need to be aware of the desired impact we want to achieve and plan for that in the stories we choose to report on.”

‘We can see real-world impact’

Daily Maverick is transparent about its reporting – and its impact.

“We’re an organisation that does a lot of investigations and reporting where we can see some real-world impact: from on-the-ground instances affecting communities to institutional and societal impact up to governance of cities and our country,” Charalambous said. “The big stories are the ones that we can see play out, in firings, suspensions or commissions of inquiry – but often there’s an impact that you can’t easily see and you need to go out and search for it. You need to do a lot of digging and that, combined with analysing, extracting insights and then figuring out how to use that impact is requiring requires a dedicated person.”

The Bureau for Investigative Journalism, a UK non-profit news organisation, created a role for an Impact Editor – see our discussion with Miriam Wells on the vital benefits this role brings to a newsroom.

“We’re 100% committed to creating at least one new role in impact measurement and tracking; we have a good idea of how we’ll use that information both internally and externally. And not only for Daily Maverick – but for the industry too, because journalism doesn’t do a good job of promoting the impact that it has on society. 

Using impact tracking to promote membership

Charalambous confirms they will be using a multi-layered approach.

“We’re planning on using impact tracking in several ways: to promote our membership programme to potential readers who haven’t yet joined, and to retain our existing members to let them know: ‘Look, this is what your support has enabled us to do,’ ” he said.

“We also see it playing a role in helping promote changes to legislation to make the environment for journalism more favourable and supportive. The more impact that is showcased the more likely we are to find support for the cause. It’s also a way for journalism to build trust with audiences that might be avoiding news, or have misconceptions about publishers,” he adds.

“If we have a dedicated person, we can certainly do a better job of it, and help us go beyond viewing impact merely as a reporting function. To really embrace the value of impact we need to be aware of the desired impact we want to achieve and plan for that in the stories we choose to report on.


The Bureau’s impact page

City Bureau’s Don’t Just Engage, Equip

Impact Architects blog

Social Streets report: The Social Value of Local Journalism: How local journalism impacts community spirit, wellbeing, cultural awareness and the local economy in our neighbourhoods

Styli Charalambous will attend the World Editors Summit on Newsroom Transformation and Sustaining Change, at WAN-IFRA’s World News Media Congress 2023 in Taipei.

Register here for this prestigious annual event. 


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