This week saw the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism (RISJ) release its seventh annual report into the changing environment around news across countries. The report is based on a survey of more than 70,000 people in 36 markets, along with additional qualitative research, which together make it the most comprehensive ongoing comparative study of news consumption in the world.
The report examines, among others, the changing media mix, the sources people use for news, the rise of messaging applications for news distribution, how the mix of gateways to news is shifting, the devices used for news consumption, the role of video, fake news and separating fact from fiction.
In his overview of the key findings of the report, Nic Newman, Research Associate at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, says this year’s report comes amid intense soul-searching in the news industry about fake news, failing business models and the power of platforms. The research has, however, cast “new and surprising light on some of the prevailing narratives around these issues”.
Newman highlights that:
• Even if the internet and social media may have exacerbated low trust and ‘fake news’, in many countries the underlying drivers of mistrust (of the media) are as much to do with deep-rooted political polarisation and perceived mainstream media bias.
• Echo chambers and filter bubbles are undoubtedly real for some, but on average, users of social media, aggregators, and search engines experience more diversity than non-users.
Newman also echoes the fact that different regions respond differently to trends in news consumption and trust. These differences are captured in the report, which highlights the following key points:
• Although more than half of all online users across the 36 countries (54 per cent) say they use social media as a source of news each week, this ranges from 76% in Chile to 29% in Japan and Germany. More than one in ten (14 per cent) now say social media is their main source of news.
• Only a quarter (24 per cent) of survey respondents think social media does a good job in separating fact from fiction, compared to 40 per cent for the news media. In countries like the US (20 per cent compared to 38 per cent), and the UK (18% compared to 41 per cent), people are twice as likely to have faith in the news media.
• There are wide variations in trust across the 36 countries analysed – those who trust the news is highest in Finland (62 per cent), but lowest in Greece and South Korea (23 per cent).
• Austrians and the Swiss are most wedded to printed newspapers, Germans and Italians love TV bulletins, while Latin Americans get more news via social media and chat apps than any other parts of the world.
• There has been a surge in the numbers prepared to pay for online news (in the United States), growing from 9 per cent to 16 per cent along with a tripling of news donations. Most of the new payments have come from the young (under 35’s) and those on the political left with almost a third saying they want to ‘help fund journalism’. Across all countries, only around one in ten (13 per cent) pay for online news but some regions (Nordics) are doing much better than others (Southern Europe and much of Asia).
Messaging apps continue to rise
Some of the other key findings include the fact that growth in social media for news is flattening out in some markets, as messaging apps are (1) more private and (2) tend not to filter content algorithmically are becoming more popular. The use of WhatsApp for news is starting to rival Facebook in a number of markets including Malaysia (51 per cent), Brazil (46 per cent), and Spain (32 per cent).
Trust in media
In most countries there is a strong connection between distrust in the media and perceived political bias. This is particularly true in countries with high levels of political polarisation like the United States, Italy, and Hungary. Almost a third of the sample (29 per cent) say they often or sometimes avoid the news. For many, this is because it can have a negative effect on their mood. For others, it is because they can’t rely on the news to be true.
Mobile time of use; aggregators
Mobile marches on, outstripping computer access for news in an increasing number of countries. Mobile news notifications have grown significantly in the last year, especially in the US, South Korea and Australia becoming an important new route to content and giving a new lease of life to news apps. Smartphones are now as important for news inside the home as outside.
More smartphone users now access news in bed (46 per cent) than use the device when commuting to work. In a related development there has been a significant growth in mobile news aggregators, notably Apple News, but also Snapchat Discover for younger audiences. Both have doubled usage with their target groups in the last year.
Voice-activated digital assistants like the Amazon Echo are emerging as a new platform for news, already outstripping smart watches in the US and UK.
Across all countries, only around one in ten (13 per cent) pay for online news but some regions (Nordics) are doing much better than others (Southern Europe and much of Asia). Meanwhile, ad-blocking growth has stalled on desktop (21 per cent) and remains low on smartphones (7 per cent). Over half say they have temporarily disabled their ad-blocker for news in countries like Poland (57 per cent), Denmark (57 per cent), and the United States (52 per cent).
Low brand recall
Finally, new evidence shows that news brands may be struggling to cut through on distributed platforms. In an experiment tracking more than 2,000 respondents in the UK, the research found that while most could remember the path through which they found a news story (Facebook, Google, etc.), less than half could recall the name of the news brand itself when coming from search (37 per cent) and social (47 per cent), raising pertinent questions over whether platforms are empowering brands or distilling their identity.
Read the report here.
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