The latest edition of the Reuters Institute Digital News Report – out today – underscores some of the main trends that are defining the future of the news industry. Here are some highlights from the study, and the full report is available here.
An increasing number of people are choosing to avoid news
An important theme in this year’s report is selective news avoidance, a behaviour that leads many people to actively limit their exposure to news. The latest data shows that since 2017, news avoidance has doubled in Brazil (where 54% say that they often or sometimes avoid the news), as well as the UK (46%), in addition to increasing in all surveyed markets. 38% respondents say they sometimes or often avoid the news across all countries, up from 29% in 2017.
Although the reasons for selective new avoidance vary, some common themes can be observed. Some people say they are put off by the repetitiveness of the news agenda, or report feeling worn out by the news. Many, particularly under 35-year-olds, say that news has a negative effect on their mood, while others avoid the news since they don’t think it can be trusted.
“These findings are particularly challenging for the news industry. Subjects that journalists consider most important, such as political crises, international conflicts and global pandemics, seem to be precisely the ones that are turning some people away from news – especially amongst those who are younger or harder to reach,” the report notes.
In addition to news avoidance, the report notes that a growing number of people are simply not tuned in when it comes to news: interest in news has fallen across markets from 63% in 2017 to 51% in 2022. Another data point tracks the proportion of people who don’t engage with news at all: The US and Japan had the largest groups of disconnected news consumers (15% in both countries), but this group is significant also in the UK (9%), France (8%) and Australia (8%).
Trust in news is falling again after the Covid boost
Although news consumers’ trust in news increased last year during the Coronavirus pandemic, the latest report finds that trust has now decreased in almost half of the surveyed countries and risen just in seven. On average, 42% say they trust most news most of the time. The figure is the lowest in the US, having fallen by three percentage points to 26%, and highest in Finland (69%).
Indeed, data on a longer timescale shows that declining trust is a longer-term phenomenon, and the report points out that in many of the surveyed countries, the increase in trust during the pandemic should perhaps be seen just as a short-term change rather than a shift in the long-term trend.
Related to the issue of trust and how news consumers relate to news brands, the study finds that most people are still reluctant to register their email address with news websites: only 32% said they trust news sites to use their personal data responsibly.
Paying for news: growth may be levelling off
As more and more publishers are turning towards reader revenue models, and many news brands are having success with their digital subscriptions, the report notes that digital subscriptions/membership schemes as a trend is now spreading worldwide, with publishers in Argentina, Colombia, Japan, Nigeria, and Kenya launching paywalls.
However, paying for online news is only increasing significantly in a small number of richer countries. Elsewhere, that growth may be levelling off: across 20 countries where payment is relatively widespread, 17% paid for online news – the same figure as last year. The report notes that this might be a sign that some markets are reaching a more mature phase in terms of digital subscriptions.
In terms of the brands to which people choose to subscribe, the report gives further evidence of market concentration, with most people choosing to subscribe to the same few national brands. This, of course, is a challenge for local titles, who are also increasingly trying to entice readers to pay for their journalism.
While over half of subscribers pay for two or more subscriptions in the US and Australia, elsewhere most paying news consumers have only one subscription.
Moreover, it is likely that as consumers are faced with inflation and growing energy prices, this will also have an impact on their media subscription decisions. The report notes that as the cost-of-living crisis progresses, more and more people will be expected to reassess the number of subscription services they are willing to pay for, and the news industry is unlikely to be immune from these broader trends impacting consumer behaviour.
Side-door access to news becoming more common, especially among the young
The pathways that news consumers use to access journalism are becoming increasingly diverse, with only 23% preferring to start their news journey with a news website or app. Among the young, and especially those aged 18-24, the connection with websites and apps is particularly weak, as this group prefers to access news via side-door routes, such as social media, search and mobile aggregators.
TikTok reaches now 40% of this age group, and 15% of them use the social platform for news. Other visually focused platforms such as Instagram and YouTube have also become more popular for accessing news within this group, while Facebook continues to have a smaller and smaller footprint in their digital life.
Perhaps one consequence of this more fragmented way of accessing news is that people may miss context that was originally included in the full reporting. Indeed, the report highlights the difficulty that many under 35-year-olds, and less educated groups, have in understanding mainstream journalism. In Australia, the US and Brazil, about 15% of younger news avoiders say they find news hard to follow – a much higher proportion than older news consumers.
Conflict in Ukraine had no major impact on interest in news
Although the main survey that the report is based on took place before the Russia–Ukraine conflict started, a follow-up survey into five countries aimed to better understand how the invasion has impacted the news sector. It found that, as during other major world events, people have turned more to TV news than other sources of news to stay up to date on the crisis.
With regard to the earlier finding about news avoidance, the report notes that in some of the surveyed countries the proportion who avoid news has increased since the conflict started.
“We know that one of the main reasons people avoid the news is because of the negative effect it has on their mood, so it would be unsurprising if the deeply depressing and concerning nature of conflict has caused more people to turn away from it,” the report notes.
More broadly, the conflict has had a mixed impact on how much people engage with news. In Poland (a neighbouring country to Ukraine) interest in news has grown significantly (up by 7%). But in the other surveyed countries, the invasion has done little to reverse declining levels of interest, as these have either been unaffected or continue to fall.
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