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Search Generative Experience to change how people find the news

2024 will be the year when Search Generative Experiences (SGE) will start to roll out across the internet. Along with AI-driven chatbots this will offer people a faster and more intuitive way to find information and news. Following sharp declines in referral traffic from Facebook and X (formerly Twitter), this will further reduce audience to established news sites and put even more pressure on the bottom line, Reuters Institute forecasts.

Almost two-thirds (63%) of news media editors and executives are worried about a sharp

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decline in referral traffic from social media sites. Data from analytics provider Chartbeat shows that traffic to news sites from Facebook fell 48% in 2023, with traffic from X/Twitter declining by 27%. 

In response to these developments, around three-quarters (77%) say they will focus more on their own direct channels in the next year, with a fifth (22%) resorting to cutting costs and a similar proportion (20%) experimenting with alternative third-party platforms. The numbers are from the Institute’s survey on trends comprising more than 300 digital leaders from more than 50 countries and territories.

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Just half 47% of editors, CEOs, and digital executives say they are confident about the prospects for journalism in the year ahead, with around one-tenth (12%) expressing low confidence. 

Concerns relate to rising costs, declining advertising revenue, and a slowing in subscription growth – as well as increasing legal and physical harassment. 

“Reasons to be cheerful include the hope that closely fought elections in the US and elsewhere could boost consumption and interest, albeit temporarily and with the potential for further damage to trust”, the report says.

The institute reports that publishers say they’ll be putting more effort into WhatsApp (+61 net score) and Instagram (+39) following Meta’s decision to open up broadcast channels for publishers. 

“Interest in video networks such as TikTok (+55) and YouTube (+44) remain strong while Google Discover is becoming a more important but volatile referral source. By contrast, publisher sentiment towards Facebook has worsened further this year (-38 net score) along with X/Twitter (-39 net score).”

64% of publishers say they plan to create more video, more newsletters (+52), and more podcasts (+47), but broadly the same number of news articles – as they lean into some of the few remaining areas of audience and advertiser growth. 

“Around half (54%) of respondents admit their companies are mostly focused on maximising attention rather than being more respectful of their audience’s time (37%)”, Reuters Institute says.

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“The twin dangers of selective news avoidance and news fatigue remain a major source of concern for media companies looking to sustain interest in news from Gaza and Ukraine, amongst other difficult stories.” 

“Strategies that publishers consider very important to counter these trends include better explanation of complex stories (67%), more solutions-oriented or constructive approaches to storytelling (44%), and more inspirational human stories (43%).” 

“There was less support for commissioning more positive (21%) or entertaining (18%) news.”

On the business side, publishers continue to invest in subscription and membership, with 80% saying this will be an important revenue stream, ahead of both display and native advertising. 

Most of those operating a paid model report either a slight increase, or stable subscription numbers in the last year, despite the difficult economic outlook.

“As a number of publishers aim to do lucrative licensing deals with AI platforms this year, there is little optimism that any benefits will be equally shared. In our survey a third (35%) of respondents believed that most of the money would go to big publishers. Around half (48%) felt that, at the end of the day, there would be very little money for any publisher.”

Using AI for back-end news automation (56%) is considered the most important use of the technology by publisher respondents, followed by offering better recommendations (37%) and commercial uses (28%). “Publishers are ambivalent about using AI for content creation, which is considered the biggest reputational risk by over half of respondents.”

“Building on last year’s prediction, we will see even more newspapers stopping daily print production this year as print costs rise and distribution networks weaken or in some cases reach breaking point.”

Expect to see a significant shift towards bundling of digital news and non-news content as large publishers look to lock in existing customers.”

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