In 2018, we looked at the findings from the Reuters Digital News Report. A lot has happened since then: we’ve missed the Brexit deadline and got a new prime minister to boot.
The 2019 Digital News Report sees some overlapping themes from 2018. As ever, our faith in the media is waning, to the point that some of us are shunning it altogether. However, our attitudes towards the news vary, depending on our age, social class, and location.
Who featured in the Reuters Digital News Report 2019?
Now in its eighth year, the report surveys consumers of online news all around the world. The 2019 report featured 75,000 respondents, with a diverse range of views across:
- 38 markets
- Six continents
- 2,000 candidates in each country.
For the first time, this year’s study also featured in-depth interviews from young people in the UK and the US. Given that young people are abandoning TV news almost entirely, this has produced some interesting results. The findings show emerging trends for this age group, with insights into audio and social media.
But first, let us see what’s struck a chord once again in the world of online media.
Misinformation breeds mistrust
In 2018, 44 per cent of respondents said they trusted the news. This has fallen once again, with the UK’s trust dropping from 51 per cent pre-Brexit to 42 per cent today. This pattern is also consistent across the US, Finland and Germany. In France, the results are even more eye-opening. Their coverage of the Gilets Jaunes protests led to an 11 per cent drop in media trust – now 24 per cent.
A staggering 70 per cent of UK residents are concerned about fake news. This has risen 12 percentage points in the last year alone. This is partly due to misinformation, which is on the rise thanks to an upward trend in private messaging.
Private groups push their own agenda
By its own admission, Facebook wanted to demote news as part of algorithm updates. In doing so, it led users to become more reliant on private groups. According to the report, these groups tend to comprise partisan male users with little trust in the news.
Facebook is not alone in the movement towards group chat. Last year’s findings showed a marked increase in private messaging. Today, Whatsapp use is up by 16 per cent for news consumption, and 45 per cent for general communications.
While many Facebook groups focus on hobbies, Whatsapp groups serve a different purpose. In non-Western countries such as Malaysia and South Africa, Whatsapp has become the primary platform for sharing news. What’s more, in these regions, users may belong to larger groups. Often, these users do not know each other, which may increase the risk of misinformation.
70 per cent of UK residents are concerned about fake news
Why diminishing trust is good news for publishers
The light at the end of the tunnel here is that “reputable” publishers can gain from this uncertainty. 26 per cent of all respondents said they relied upon “reputable” publications. In the US, this figure was 40 per cent.
This is great news for those seeking to monetise their content. Consider that half of all paid subscriptions in the US are to three main publishers: the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post.
Alternatives for mid-sized publishers
While big names dominate, mid-sized publishers cannot compete with other subscription services. They’re fighting “subscription fatigue”: consumers are saving their money for entertainment, such as Spotify or Netflix. The report also showed that, in almost every country, consumers only wanted to pay for one news subscription.
As a result, mid-sized publishers must be more creative. An emerging method is to use a donation model over a paywall – last year, we noted that this model earned 600,000 donations for The Guardian newspaper.
In a bid to reach wider, younger audiences, publishers are getting experimental. They’re trialling cheaper pricing, charging different rates for different audiences, and “bundling”. The latter involves subscription models adding value through other services. For example, Washington Post subscribers can get cheaper access through Amazon Prime.
Connecting through gateways
Today’s publishers often struggle to connect with their audience. Just 29 per cent of us find our news directly, for example, going straight to the website, down from 35 per cent in 2018. More worrying, half of us read our news based on algorithms, despite ongoing media coverage of data’s darker side.
In Nordic countries, the result is quite different. Akin to last year, these countries continue to favour direct models. Unfortunately for US and Canadian publishers, results are scattered. Users seem to favour search, social and direct in equal measure.
Publishers tend to increase loyalty by targeting direct users, for example, through email campaigns. However, mobile notifications continue to soar in popularity, up to 20 per cent from 3 per cent in 2014. Platforms matter, too. Instagram is a rising star, with 9 per cent of us accessing news on here, compared to 3 per cent in 2014. This is likely down to the launch of Instagram TV in June 2019, plus YouTube’s unfavourable press around misinformation.
No news is good news
Misinformation is one problem, but being ignored altogether is another. In the UK, an astonishing 71 per cent of us cite Brexit coverage as the top reason for avoiding news. We feel powerless to change anything, but at least we can ignore notifications.
Almost a third of all participants found the news too depressing, while 28 per cent felt “worn out” by the amount of news. The solution? Slow news.
While two thirds of us feel the media is good at covering breaking news, just 51 per cent agree that publishers explain the news well. Enter, slow news: an emerging trend of non-breaking news, or solutions-based journalism. This can be as simple as the BBC’s World Hacks service, or positive news updates on Twitter.
71 per cent of us cite Brexit coverage as the top reason for avoiding news
Pivot to audio
As publishers try to tap into younger markets, they turn their attention towards podcasts. 36 per cent of young people said they had listened to a podcast in the last month. For them, it’s about ease of listening and learning something new. Without the endless distraction of swiping notifications, they simply allow podcasts to “wash over them”.
The New York Times boasts 5 million users, suggesting they’ve nailed the young person “formula” – entertaining content that also educates. However, news consumption is largely confined to smartphones. Despite the prevalence of smart speakers, we still prefer to use our mobile phones to access news.
The report shows that publishers want to focus their efforts on young people, but they should be cautious not to alienate older consumers. After all, educated, higher-income consumers are up to three times as likely to purchase subscriptions.
In a filtered world that pushes a “positive” agenda, publishers have to adapt their model. Certainly, younger audiences are not naïve to global crises, but we can use new methods to engage them. Webinar host Nic Newman cites a perfect example – reporting on improvements in crime statistics – to reshape “negative” news.
It’s heartening to see publishers becoming more creative with their pay models. Rather than being threatened by emerging platforms such as Instagram or Amazon Prime, they should use them to complement their own services.
Finally, in the wake of various privacy scandals, group chats are a welcome change. Of course, these groups could be used to spread hate, but it is up to editors spread the truth. Fact-checked, verified reports are the only way to combat “fake news”. Let’s hope our faith in reputable journalism continues to fund it.
Read the full report at Reuters.