Since 2012, the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism has been commissioning the annual Digital News Report, which thoroughly dissects publishers, revenue streams, and consumer attitudes towards digital news.
Surveying 74,000 people across 37 countries in Europe, Asia, North and Latin America, the 2018 report comprises data from focus groups, YouGov polls, survey data and intelligence from expert contributors in every featured continent. It is sponsored by Google, the BBC and Ofcom among many others, making it one of the most reliable data sources available.
With the continuing political unrest of late, it’s unsurprising to see some fascinating findings regarding our attitudes towards digital news. Using the online report and a webinar led by Nic Newman, here are the best bits from the Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2018.
A matter of trust
News consumption on Facebook has fallen from 42 per cent in 2016 to 36 per cent in 2018. While the data scandals may have affected our overall trust in the brand, the surveys show that people feel less connected on a platform which allows for so many friends, and instead prefer Whatsapp for personal discussions.
By comparison, news consumption has remained stable on other social networks, which US focus groups describe as “more convenient”. Tellingly, Snapchat played a fundamental role during the Parkland shootings in Florida.
However, Facebook acknowledges our apparent trust issues and is rolling out a new feature in the US. Soon, US citizens will be asked to rate which news outlets they trust most. Those with the highest ratings will be given heavier weighting in newsfeeds as part of Zuckerberg’s plans to “fix Facebook”.
Who do we trust most?
Despite the present-day “fake news” phenomena, studies show that our trust in the news is generally stable at 44 per cent, with 51 per cent of us trusting the news we find ourselves. Only 23 per cent of us trust news we read on social media, which is perhaps why Google and Facebook are so keen on eradicating “fake” stories.
Generally, the world trusts public news broadcasters most; though there are interesting findings in individual countries. Hungary, for example, bucks this trend, while residents of Spain have a particularly unique way of thinking.
The report showed that, throughout the world, printed publications (which now also may be online) were generally considered more trustworthy than those that started out online. However, in Spain, the reverse is true. In the webinar, Newman suggests that coverage on Catalan independence may have caused Spaniards to turn their back on “traditional” media.
Who should fix “fake news”?
75 per cent of respondents thought that publishers should stop fake news, while 71 per cent said platforms had the biggest responsibility. Interestingly, 60 per cent of Europeans and 63 per cent of Asians said the government had a role to play, compared to just 41 per cent of Americans.
For the first time ever, this year’s report examined news literacy: that is, assessing how much consumers knew about media companies. An incredible 68 per cent of respondents were unaware that most publishers are breaking even at best, or even making a loss through their digital platforms.
New business models
So what does this mean for publishers? By increasing news literacy, they hope to encourage more people to pay for quality journalism. The BBC, for example, is trialling going into schools to highlight the importance of balanced, accurate news.
Different publishers are trying different methods to secure online revenue. The Times has a paywall, whereas The Guardian’s method is perhaps more effective: asking readers for donations in the same style as Wikipedia. By emphasising the need for “open” journalism, The Guardian has received 600,000 donations since 2016.
Who is paying for news?
Respondents revealed their top three reasons for paying for news were to support local media, to counter right wing papers, and even guilt! However, it’s not the same story in every country. In the US, the number of people paying for news has increased from 9 per cent to 16, the majority of whom class themselves as liberals.
Contrastingly, in the UK, just 7 per cent of us pay, while in Nordic countries, strong reading traditions and “hybrid” business models – a mixture of page view limits and premium content – are seeing 22 per cent of residents paying up.
Encouragingly, 22 per cent of us say we “might consider paying for news” in future if publishers cannot continue otherwise. The resounding conclusion was, however, that the better a person’s “news literacy”, the more likely he/she was to pay.
How are we getting our news?
65 per cent of us admit we get our news through a “side door”; that is, using search engines, social media or aggregators like Apple News rather than going to the publisher directly. However, geographically, news gateways produced some of the most scattered of all the results in the report.
For example, in Finland and Norway, up to 65 per cent of people preferred to go direct to the publisher, which is why their paid news model works so well. Newman suggests that aggregators not offering content in these languages could be a reason for this.
There was a slight increase in news consumption from mobile notifications, with many people receiving the same notification twice from two aggregators. Predictably, young people were most likely to read news this way, while an interesting development for older generations saw email making something of a comeback.
A quick survey into people’s attitudes towards mobile notifications revealed that, despite occasionally receiving the same news twice, people thought they received the “right amount” of notifications. Contrastingly however, 37 per cent of us wanted no notifications whatsoever, while 18 per cent would be encouraged to sign up to mobile notifications if they could control their frequency.
- Audio is one to watch – though podcasts are nothing new, people are developing loyalty thanks to their episodic nature, and technology such as Alexa is making audio news more accessible.
- People are confused about sponsored content – on smaller screens, it is harder to see what is sponsored and what is not, which is causing trust issues for some people.
- However, promoted content does not annoy people as much as click bait, misleading headlines or articles with a political agenda!
With trust taking up a significant portion of the 2018 report, it is encouraging to see that consumers are becoming wiser to content that is fake, politically spun or simply inaccurate. The last two years have served to showcase the astronomical influence that digital news can have throughout the world, in particular, through social media, so it is particularly noteworthy now to see people “turning their backs” on some of these platforms.
The damage may be done, but it is also heartening to see these platforms taking steps to prevent misinformation for future generations. We as consumers must also take steps to mitigate this damage, whether this is paying a small donation or making ourselves more aware of reliable, fact-checked media.
The BBC’s decision to increase news literacy is absolutely vital to ensure the ongoing survival of the industry. We cannot put a price on high quality journalism, and we have seen all too many times the global consequences of misinformation.
On a lighter note, if click bait journalism were to disappear from the face of the earth, there would definitely be a lot less frustration directed towards the industry. This kind of content relies heavily on ads for revenue, and we must be more creative in generating this revenue – for example, by following the Nordic hybrid model.
Digital media is bringing about as many opportunities as it is challenges for the industry, and the evidence in the Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2018 suggests this is only just beginning.
Read the full report at Reuters.