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News avoidance a growing problem for publishers

Online platforms are increasingly important as a source for news. Only 22% identify news websites or apps as their main source of online news – down 10 percentage points on 2018. Depressing news like the wars in Ukraine and Gaza have increased news avoidance with 39% in a Reuters Institute survey saying they often or sometimes avoid the news – up from 29% in 2017. The focus on genAI is met with suspicion by news consumers. The survey finds widespread suspicion about how genAI might be used, especially for ‘hard’ news stories such as politics or war.

Even as online platforms have brought great convenience for consumers – and advertisers have flocked to them – they have also disrupted traditional publishing business models in very profound ways, the institute says in its Digital News Report based on a YouGov survey of more than 95,000 people in 47 countries representing half of the world’s population.  

“Our data suggest we are now at the beginning of a technology shift which is bringing a new wave of innovation to the platform environment, presenting challenges for incumbent technology companies, the news industry, and for society.”

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Key findings: 

  • In many countries, especially outside Europe and the United States, there is a significant further decline in the use of Facebook for news and a growing reliance on a range of alternatives including private messaging apps and video networks. Facebook news consumption is down 4 percentage points, across all countries, in the last year.
  • News use across online platforms is fragmenting, with six networks now reaching at least 10% of our respondents, compared with just two a decade ago. YouTube is used for news by almost a third (31%) of our global sample each week, WhatsApp by around a fifth (21%), while TikTok (13%) has overtaken Twitter (10%), now rebranded X, for the first time.
  • Short news videos are accessed by 66% each week, with longer formats attracting 51%. The main locus of news video consumption is online platforms (72%) rather than publisher websites (22%).
  • Turning to the sources that people pay most attention to when it comes to news on various platforms, the survey finds an increasing focus on partisan commentators, influencers, and young news creators, especially on YouTube and TikTok. But in social networks such as Facebook and X, traditional news brands and journalists still tend to play a prominent role.
  • Concern about what is real and what is fake on the internet when it comes to online news has risen by 3 percentage points in the last year with around six in ten (59%) saying they are concerned. The figure is considerably higher in South Africa (81%) and the United States (72%), both countries that have been holding elections this year.
  • Worries about how to distinguish between trustworthy and untrustworthy content in online platforms is highest for TikTok and X when compared with other online networks. Both platforms have hosted misinformation or conspiracies around stories such as the war in Gaza, and the Princess of Wales’s health, as well as so-called ‘deep fake’ pictures and videos.
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  • As publishers embrace the use of AI the survey finds widespread suspicion about how it might be used, especially for ‘hard’ news stories such as politics or war. There is more comfort with the use of AI in behind-the-scenes tasks such as transcription and translation; in supporting rather than replacing journalists. 
  • Trust in the news (40%) has remained stable over the last year, but is still four points lower overall than it was at the height of the Coronavirus pandemic. Finland remains the country with the highest levels of overall trust (69%), while Greece (23%) and Hungary (23%) have the lowest levels, amid concerns about undue political and business influence over the media.
  • Elections have increased interest in the news in a few countries, including the United States (+3), but the overall trend remains downward. Interest in news in Argentina, for example, has fallen from 77% in 2017 to 45% today. In the United Kingdom interest in news has almost halved since 2015. In both countries the change is mirrored by a similar decline in interest in politics.
  • There is a rise in selective news avoidance. Around four in ten (39%) now say they sometimes or often avoid the news – up 3 percentage points on last year’s average – with more significant increases in Brazil, Spain, Germany, and Finland. Open comments suggest that the intractable conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East may have had some impact, the institute says. The proportion that say they feel ‘overloaded’ by the amount of news these days has grown substantially (+11pp) since 2019.
  • In exploring user needs around news, data suggest that publishers may be focusing too much on updating people on top news stories and not spending enough time providing different perspectives on issues or reporting stories that can provide a basis for occasional optimism. In terms of topics, audiences feel mostly well served by political and sports news but there are gaps around local news in some countries, as well as health and education news.
  • There is little growth in news subscription, with just 17% saying they paid for any online news in the last year, across a basket of 20 richer countries. North European countries such as Norway (40%) and Sweden (31%) have the highest proportion of those paying, with Japan (9%) and the United Kingdom (8%) amongst the lowest. As in previous years, a large proportion of digital subscriptions go to just a few upmarket national brands – reinforcing the winner-takes-most dynamics that are often linked with digital media.
  • News podcasting remains a bright spot for publishers, attracting younger, well-educated audiences but is a minority activity overall. Across a basket of 20 countries, just over a third (35%) access a podcast monthly, with 13% accessing a show relating to news and current affairs. Many of the most popular podcasts are now filmed and distributed via video platforms such as YouTube and TikTok.
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