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Scenario Study Journalism 2035

Commissioned by the Dutch Journalism Fund, Van de Bunt Adviseurs is proud to present Journalism 2035: four plausible, consistent and radical visions of the Netherlands in 2035 and the potential roll of journalism within it. Using these scenarios we will attempt to answer the question: if the Netherlands looks like this in 2035, what does that mean for journalism?

A framework for testing new ideas.

The purpose of this study is to encourage actors from within and outside the sector to think about the future of journalism – and their position within it. It challenges existing certainties and at the same time offers a framework in which new ideas, initiatives, editorial formulas and business plans can be put to the test. The study aims to contribute to the public debate on the importance of journalism in society.

A sector transformed

The journalism sector has had to deal with many changes and challenges over time. In recent years, media companies and journalists have had to respond to technology’s far-reaching developments and the associated changes in consumer behaviour. With the number of subscribers and advertising revenue steadily declining, revenue models have had to change. There have been many mergers, leading to a duopoly on the daily newspaper market and major takeovers in the world of television. As a result, Dutch mainstream media are controlled by fewer and fewer parties. Editorial boards have shrunk and a large number of young journalists in particular are now part of the moderately paid, freelancing ‘flexible shell’ of multiple brands. 

Bold trust

However, the dreaded worst case scenarios of a few years ago – such as the end of printed newspapers – never materialised. The sector shows resilience. Circulation and newspaper subscriptions have stabilised and trust in journalism in the Netherlands remains high. There are almost no filter bubbles left. Young people appear to refer to multiple sources and channels for their news and information. At the same time, new platforms and technologies make starting a media channel much more accessible, allowing direct interaction between journalists and their followers. Also, the emergence of podcasts allows for in-depth content with different, innovative revenue models.

The pace of change is increasing

The pandemic has accelerated certain developments, such as the transition to digital. At the same time, the need for news grew during this period and the importance of reliable news gathering was widely felt. Although advertising revenues plummeted briefly during the first lockdown, they have largely bounced back and the economic impact on journalism appears to be limited. In addition, more and more consumers are now paying for online news and the media have been able to convert the growing need for news and interpretation into an increase in (digital) subscribers.

But there are challenges too: the number of threats and violent crimes against journalists is growing, and even though trust in news increased on average, the number of Dutch people that do not trust the large media brands did too – and they are becoming more and more empowered. In addition, the shift from advertising to online environments continues unabated, with the major tech platforms pocketing a substantial share of revenue and media companies being increasingly dependent on them. Besides, ‘big tech’ now increasingly offers its own news (gathering) services. More and more companies and politicians share their information directly to their followers, side-lining ‘pesky’ journalists in the process: they are no longer needed to reach consumers or supporters. It is increasingly difficult for consumers to make the distinction between this type of information and journalism.

Misinformation and disinformation

In addition, governments and journalists are struggling with misinformation and disinformation, spread on a large scale not only by activists and extremists, but also by governments worldwide. It is expected that new tIn addition, governments and journalists are struggling with misinformation and disinformation, spread on a large scale not only by activists and extremists, but also by governments worldwide. It is expected that new technological possibilities – such as the use of bot armies, deepfakes and information laundering – will only increase the problem, making it even harder to distinguish ‘real’ news from fake news. These developments are asking a lot from (investigative) journalists who seek to establish facts and conduct in-depth reporting, and make it harder for citizens to be well-informed. Together with the increasing differences in society this could lead to a risky cocktail that plays into the hands of extreme voices and viewpoints, causing a significant erosion of trust in journalism.

There are fierce debates and important shifts happening when it comes to representation and inclusion. An empowered generation is increasingly and vociferously calling journalism to account, demanding equal representation in newsrooms, striving to be represented in the media.

Looking the future in the eye

The sector is being challenged by these developments and will have to be smart about its response. The pace of innovation will have to be high, but is dependent on market developments and the availability of staff and resources, which in turn are dictated by economic, social and political developments. This study does not provide tailor-made solutions. Developing these scenarios does not produce operational manuals for business management. But they do provide insight into the direction in which the media sector is headingand the potential consequences that may have. Scenarios help envisaging strategic choices a company can – or even has to – make. Thus, the purpose of this study is to prompt people to look the future in the eye, whatever it may look like.

How we did it

We developed four scenarios through an interactive process of online sessions with more than 60 experts, scientists and journalism educators. First of all, we made an inventory of the important questions that the sector would like answered if fast-forwarding to 2035 were possible. During three conferences we gathered and clustered trends; we then weighed the impact of these trends. This resulted in a number of certain and uncertain trends that will have a big impact on journalism and on the Netherlands in 2035. Based on this, we defined two critical uncertainties, which form the axes for the scenarios. We then considered the implications for journalism for each scenario, allowing us to offer insight into the major questions facing the sector. You can find more information on the scenario methodology here.