Market fragmentation, low trust and squeezed household economies are among news publishers’ many concerns. Consumption of traditional media is falling in most markets, with online and social consumption not making up the gap. However, the dependence on social media continues to grow, strongly influenced by habits of the youngest generations. In the light of the squeeze on household spending, many rethink how much they can afford to spend on news media, according to a report on digital news from Reuters Institute at Oxford University.
The survey is based on data from six continents and 46 markets showing the different conditions in which journalism operates in many parts of the world, but also about the common challenges faced by publishers around weak audience engagement and low trust in an age of abundant digital and social media, the Institute says.
“Our data show how the various shocks of the last few years, including the war in Ukraine and the Coronavirus pandemic, have accelerated structural shifts towards more digital, mobile, and platform-dominated media environments, with further implications for the business models and formats of journalism.”
- Across markets, only 22% say they prefer to start their news journeys with a website or app – that’s down 10 percentage points since 2018. Publishers in a few smaller Northern European markets have managed to buck this trend, but younger groups everywhere are showing a weaker connection with news brands’ own websites and apps than previous cohorts – preferring to access news via side-door routes such as social media, search, or mobile aggregators.
- Facebook remains one of the most-used social networks overall, but its influence on journalism is declining as it shifts its focus away from news. It also faces new challenges from established networks such as YouTube and vibrant youth-focused networks such as TikTok. The Chinese-owned social network reaches 44% of 18–24s across markets and 20% for news. It is growing fastest in parts of Asia-Pacific, Africa, and Latin America.
- When it comes to news, audiences say they pay more attention to celebrities, influencers, and social media personalities than journalists in networks like TikTok, Instagram, and Snapchat. This contrasts sharply with Facebook and Twitter, where news media and journalists are still central to the conversation.
- Much of the public is sceptical of the algorithms used to select what they see via search engines, social media, and other platforms. Less than a third (30%) say that having stories selected for me on the basis of previous consumption is a good way to get news, 6 percentage points lower than when we last asked the question in 2016. Despite this, on average, users still slightly prefer news selected this way to that chosen by editors or journalists (27%), suggesting that worries about algorithms are part of a wider concern about news and how it is selected.
- Despite hopes that the internet could widen democratic debate, fewer people are now participating in online news than in the recent past. Aggregated across markets, only around a fifth (22%) are now active participators, with around half (47%) not participating in news at all. In the UK and United States, the proportion of active participators have fallen by more than 10 percentage points since 2016. Across countries we find that this group tends to be male, better educated, and more partisan in their political views.
- Trust in the news has fallen, across markets, by a further 2 percentage points in the last year, reversing – in many countries – the gains made at the height of the Coronavirus pandemic. On average, four in ten of our total sample (40%) say they trust most news most of the time. Finland remains the country with the highest levels of overall trust (69%), while Greece (19%) has the lowest after a year characterised by heated arguments about press freedom and the independence of the media.
- Public media brands are amongst those with the highest levels of trust in many Northern European countries, but reach has been declining with younger audiences. This is important because we find that those that use these services most frequently are more likely to see them as important personally and for society. These findings suggest that maintaining the breadth of public service reach remains critical for future legitimacy and especially with younger groups.
- Consumption of traditional media, such as TV and print, continues to fall in most markets, with online and social consumption not making up the gap. Our data show that online consumers are accessing news less frequently than in the past and are also becoming less interested. Despite the political and economic threats facing many people, fewer than half (48%) of our aggregate sample now say they are very or extremely interested in news, down from 63% in 2017.
- Meanwhile, the proportion of news consumers who say they avoid news, often or sometimes, remains close to all-time highs at 36% across markets. We find that this group splits between (a) those who are trying to periodically avoid all sources of news and (b) those that are trying to specifically restrict their news usage at particular times or for certain topics. News avoiders are more likely to say they are interested in positive or solutions-based journalism and less interested in the big stories of the day.
- With household budgets under pressure and a significant part of the public satisfied with the news they can access for free, there are signs that the growth in online news payment may be levelling off. Across a basket of 20 richer countries, 17% paid for any online news – the same figure as last year. Norway (39%) has the highest proportion of those paying, with Japan (9%) and the United Kingdom (9%) amongst the lowest. Amongst those cancelling their subscription in the last year, the cost of living or the high price was cited most often as a reason. In the United States, Germany, and the United Kingdom, about half of non-subscribers say that nothing could persuade them to pay for online news, with lack of interest or perceived value remaining fundamental obstacles.
- As in previous years, we find that a large proportion of digital subscriptions go to just a few upmarket national brands – reinforcing the winner takes most dynamics that are often associated with digital media. But in a number of countries, including the United States, we are now seeing the majority of those paying taking out more than one subscription. This reflects the increased supply of discounted offers as well as the introduction of all-access bundles in some markets.
- Across countries the majority of online users say they still prefer to read the news rather than watch or listen to it. Text provides more speed and control in accessing information, but in a few countries, such as the Philippines and Thailand, respondents now say they prefer video to text. Video news consumption has been growing steadily across markets, with most video content now accessed via third-party platforms such as YouTube and Facebook.
- News podcasting continues to resonate with educated and younger audiences but remains a minority activity overall. Around a third (34%) access a podcast monthly, with 12% accessing a show relating to news and current affairs. Our research finds that deep dive podcasts, inspired by The Daily from the New York Times, along with extended chat shows, such as The Joe Rogan Experience, are the most widely consumed across markets. There is a growing popularity for video-led or hybrid news podcasts.