State of the Newsroom: Before/After
This year’s State of the Newsroom looks back at 2019 – the year that was – and offers some initial reflections on 2020, a year that, as Franz Krüger puts it in the preface, “was impossible to ignore”. We have called this issue “Before/After” to try and capture the sense of co-habiting two spaces at once. The report includes a detailed analysis of the status quo of media ownership up until the end of 2019, and a roundtable discussion of the roles and pressures faced by women media workers in the newsroom. It then looks at the immediate impact of the pandemic on the survival of newsrooms, including the Mail & Guardian and the SABC, and, through expert commentaries, the different status of women journalists working in South Africa during the pandemic compared to colleagues in the rest of the region.
A summary account of Press Council complaints adjudicated in 2019 is offered by the new press ombud Pippa Green, who finds that many of the complaints before the council are evidence of “the effects of the cutbacks” in the struggling media industry.
The report also has updated media indicators on newspaper circulation, broadcast statistics, and on media freedoms, developed from a review of South African Editors’ Forum media releases from 2019. A new summary account of transformation in newspaper editorship, and on the boards of major media houses, also suggests that although racial transformation in the newsroom is strong, there is some way to go to offer gender parity in the decision-making affecting our news.
The latest State of the Newsroom, 2018: Structured/Unstructured is now available online. This is the fifth report of its kind to be published by Wits Journalism, and chronicles the ups and downs of South Africa’s media industry together with a few deeper dives into specific issues.
For the first time this year, the report also includes a set of indicators on the state of the news media, as well as some opinion pieces on key issues.
A core theme is how the “industrial age” of journalism is shrinking, editor and lead researcher Alan Finlay says: “While something of what we know of as ‘the media’ will remain, a lot now feels unsettled. Will our media landscape look the same in 10 year’s time? What will remain, and what will change, what will shatter, and what will disappear entirely? We have called this issue of the report “structured/unstructured” to try and capture this uncertainty.”
This State of the Newsroom points to real shifts in the industry that suggest an on-going weakening of what is seen as the traditional newsroom. Newspaper circulation is still on its downward spiral, with a few titles looking as if they might not make it. Parallel to this, retrenchments in both broadcast and print remain a feature in 2018.
The annual report is an attempt to be academically rigorous, while also being accessible to a wider public.
The fourth annual report, State of the Newsroom: Fakers and Makers, looks at jobs in the newsroom, fake news and fact-checking journalism, and highlights the problem of threats to media freedom in South Africa.
In a survey conducted across a range of newsrooms both big and small, it found that young, black women journalists are more likely to find work in South African newsrooms than any other demographic. The survey also confirmed that, with one or two exceptions, young, less experienced journalists are writing the news we read every day.
While its overview of honours research into fake news suggests there might not be as much of it circulating in this country as we imagine, it also found that fact-checking journalism has yet to gain the traction in South African newsrooms as a marketable genre in the way that it has elsewhere in the world.
The report also highlights several other issues that impacted on the media landscape during 2017, such as the ongoing decline in print circulation, The Times closing down, changes in ownership at ANN7 and Mail & Guardian, digital migration, the crisis at the public broadcaster, and corruption and state capture. While the report dedicates some space to a timeline account of what went on at the SABC, it emphasises the ongoing harassment and intimidation of journalists which it calls a “worryingly permanent feature of our media landscape”.
State of the Newsroom – South Africa Inside/Outside
Documenting changes that shape how the news is produced today.
State of the Newsroom, 2015-2016: Inside/Outside is now available online. This is the third State of the Newsroom to be published by Wits Journalism and asks the key question: what exactly do we mean by the “newsroom” today? Inside/Outside offers perspectives on what is happening both ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ the newsroom as we know it. While providing an overview of key events shaping the media environment in South Africa over 2015 and 2016, it considers transformation in the print media industry – a view from the ‘inside’ – before turning to coverage of the recent #FeesMustFall student protests, which demonstrated how independent news producers could cover unfolding events more effectively than the mainstream media, and how student social media impacted on the coverage offered by the mainstream. A key strength of this report is the perspectives of editors and journalists – the result of a series of interviews – both working in the mainstream newsroom and writing into the news from the ‘outside’.
State of the Newsroom, 2014: Disruptions Accelerated documents a time of major transitions in the journalism industry. Besides documenting shifts in the media landscape in the country, it looks at falling circulation in print media, digital developments in the newsroom, community newspapers and radio, and investigates the career paths taken by journalism graduates.
The 2013 report, titled Disruptions and Transitions, was the pilot issue of State of the Newsroom. Setting the scene with an overview of the media landscape in South Africa, including the legal, political and regulatory context, it considers race and gender, the digital transition in our newsrooms, rulings by the ombudsman, and the training of journalists offered by media houses.
Wits Journalism launches its second State of the Newsroom, South Africa, 2014: Disruptions Accelerated at a Media Freedom Day celebration co-hosted with the South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) on October 17. The State of the Newsroom research, led by Glenda Daniels, documents a time of major transitions in the journalism industry. It is of industrial and social value, and is the first of its kind from any Journalism school in SA.
The 2013 report, titled Disruptions and Transitions, was a pilot for what we hoped would be an annual State of the Newsroom research report. The pilot was very well received by the industry, as well as the peer reviewers. Newsrooms are going through massive change and this was a ground breaking effort to catalogue and critique it. We ensured the research had a strong academic base, but presented it in a way that was useful to our media industry. As a result, it has been widely used and quoted. It has drawn praise from the World Association of Editors.
The 2014 State of the newsroom: Disruptions Accelerated chapters include: The Media Landscape; Digital First Developments: Experimentation and Promiscuity; Social Media Trends; Twitter and Journalism in the Newsroom; Community Newspapers: Diversity and Difficulties; Community Radio: Power Plays; and Where do Journalism Graduates go?
It is about 140 pages, with 77 interviews. The study was both quantitative and qualitative in nature. The report contains trends, analyses, graphs, graphics, photographs and finally, there are appendices with important information on transformation – race and gender; falling circulations in print; retrenchments; social media policy guidelines; and attacks and harassment incidents of journalists over the last year.