National news agencies in many European countries are facing significant financial, political and operational pressures, and must innovate and diversify if they are to survive. They must also work to raise awareness of their place within the news ecosystem, so that politicians, policymakers and the general public better understand their role of supplying reliable and trustworthy news to media and their users, new research from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) has found.
The report, published today (Wed 6 February), examines the pressures facing national news agencies, their current operations and future plans in Europe. The pan-European research team collaborated with the European Alliance of News Agencies (EANA), which represents 32 national news agencies in Europe. Most EANA member agencies participated in a survey, alongside in-depth interviews with their CEOs and analysis of secondary sources including financial statements and previous literature on news agencies.
Their findings reveal a complex media landscape, with news agencies in different countries often facing a variety of challenges. Despite their differences, however, all are having to address the fact that general news provision is no longer profitable on its own. New media technologies have opened up the market, increasing the competition to provide news while making clients less dependent on news agencies to provide content. Agency clients are also facing financial difficulties, and so have also been looking to diversify and produce content that previously would have been purchased from news agencies.
While the majority of agencies surveyed had begun a program of diversification, the analysis has revealed that many agencies have not been able to significantly diversify their income. They are still heavily dependent on their traditional media clients - newspapers and broadcasting companies – meaning that if their clients are in crisis, news agencies themselves will be in crisis.
The report also examines issues of ownership and suggests that there are now essentially three main categories of agency ownership: private, state-owned and a new category of public agencies that are state-supported but independent from the government. Two-thirds of news agencies surveyed have some form of state involvement, the research finds, meaning that the previous clear-cut difference between different types of agencies is no longer valid. The researchers found that the state can take on various roles, including as sole owners, shareholder, legislator, financial allocator and client, and it can operate in all of these roles at the same time. The issue is especially important when agencies are compared on the basis of their perceived independence and credibility of reporting.
Terhi Rantanen, Professor in Global Media and Communications at LSE and academic director of the project, said: “Our research reveals that the outlook for general news services is often but not always uncertain, especially for those agencies who forecast a decline in general news service revenue. National news agencies can no longer take for granted the role they are playing in national media systems and should address the fact that they have not always been entirely successful in informing politicians, policymakers and the public about their importance. They require adequate public support, whether financial or otherwise, and will only receive this if publics are made aware of the work that national news agencies are doing.
“With so much open access to news nowadays, one might ask why this matters, but the value of news is not simply economic. Increasing populism and issues over fake news highlight the need for everyone to be able to access available trustworthy source of information. If news agencies are not able to provide this, we must ask, who can. Our findings raise the question over whether states should offer better support for financing these services, which are vital for active citizenry. State intervention, however, must be accompanied by strict regulations to effectively guarantee independence and autonomy against political or commercial external influence.”
The report also highlights a lack of awareness over the role national news agencies play in today’s media landscape as an issue, leading to news agencies being frequently either taken for granted or are not considered at all.