“Traditional media is not doing too well, but we have hit the bottom. People here understand that the news still has an audience, and it's a good idea to invest in new features”, says Heikka, who is a research fellow at the American University Washington D.C.
Institutional investors getting active
Both media makers and investors show great trust in the future.
Experienced writers at large media houses are trailblazers by launching online publications. One well-known person to make the leap is Glenn Greenwald, who was involved in the Edward Snowden revelations in the Guardian and who now works for the Intercept. The Washington Post lost its top writer Ezra Klein when he launched his website Vox, which offers news in an easily digestible format.
Also investors show their trust in media by investing tens of millions in companies. Investments come from funds and people who made their fortunes in business, such as the eBay founder Pierre Omidyar and investor and political campaigner George Soros.
Media creators and investors are united in their wish to change society.
”Expressing ideological views is typical of American media, which state their views much more readily than Finnish media, Heikka notes.
Another common factor is an understanding that success can only be achieved by trial and error. Good examples encourage others to take a chance even if their business models are not very strong.
The best-known examples of this are YouTube and Facebook.
“Services that started practically from nothing managed to start a revolution in the way we use media. Based on this logic, it follows that people are asking whether it would be possible to come up with smarter tools for civic participation than social media, which were originally created for entertainment purposes”, Heikka says.
Heikka's own research focuses on civic media services that aim to stir up social activities. They are experimental and digital efforts, carried out by a small number of people. The accidental internet surfer can hardly be bothered to read these websites, but the sites do create new kind of jobs in the middle ground between traditional media and digital activists. What is essential is establishing how data is used, an example of which is Sunlight Foundation, which tracks the flow of money between politicians and investors.
“Whether this is something that will change news media remains to be seen. Activists' and writers' desire to influence society by new forms of communication, such as open data, is still a noteworthy phenomenon”, Heikka comments.
People still read print media
What about the position of large media houses and traditional media in the middle of all this? When we take a look at people's media usage in this decade, we can see that Americans spend almost the same amount of time reading newspapers and even a little more time watching television than in 2010. According to eMarketer, it is magazines which have experience the largest relative drop in their audiences.
One possible scenario for the news sector is that both business strategies and journalistic ideals change. According to Jan Schaffer, the founder of J-Lad at the American University, which explores the future of journalism, journalists now want to be more involved in building communities, and not simply report news.
Heikka says that if this happens, people won't necessarily pay to read news but to support media as builders of communities.
“Journalists must therefore dig deep to find solutions to problems instead of just writing about them. In this vision, media moves closer to the role currently occupied by civic organisations”, Heikka says.