[This article contains edited excerpts from the Digital News Report 2017]
The Reuters Institute’s Digital News Report 2017 comes at a time when the entire news industry is beset with existential dilemmas of fake news, rapidly changing business models, and digital transformations. By empirically investigating these diverse narratives, the report finds some surprising results.
The internet and social media may have exacerbated low trust and ‘fake news’, but the research found that in many countries the underlying drivers of mistrust are as much to do with deep-rooted political polarisation and perceived mainstream media bias. This is particularly true for countries with high levels of political polarisation like the US, Italy, and Hungary.
Though the narrative around echo chambers and filter bubbles do have some validity, it was found that on an average, users of social media, aggregators, and search engines experience more diversity than non-users.
Despite the perilous state of news media business models, some indicators show positive trends. The growth of ad-blocking has stalled on desktop (21%) and remains low on smartphones (7%). Over half say that they have temporarily disabled their ad-blocker for news in countries like Poland (57%), Denmark (57%), and the United States (52%). There has been a promising uptick in online subscriptions and donation for digital news platforms. In the US online subscriptions received a ‘Trump Bump’ from 9% to 16% along with a tripling of news donations with young people driving majority of the trend. This trend belies the notion that young people do not want to pay for online media, much less news. Across all countries, only around one in ten (13%) pay for online news but some regions (Nordics) are doing much better than others (Southern Europe and much of Asia).
However, news brands are struggling to nurture brand image and loyalty on distributed platforms. In an experiment tracking more than 2,000 respondents in the UK, we 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%) and social (47%).
The research also noted that growth in social media for news is flattening out in some markets, as messaging apps that are (a) more private and (b) 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%), Brazil (46%), and Spain (32%).
Mobile aggregators have registered significant growth. Notably Apple News, as well as Snapchat Discover for younger audiences have doubled usage with their target groups over the past year.
The results of this study show how it becomes necessary to untangle the problematics associated with studying an industry undergoing a state of flux. As news production, consumption, and distribution continue to evolve, more evidence based and empirical studies will be required to critically investigate and draw out lessons and best practices for creating diverse media ecosystems.
You can read the full report here.