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Reuters Institute's 2017 Digital News Report launched today

Thursday, June 22, 2017       Nic Newman            0

Karin Fleming

(Left) Nic Newman, Research Associate, Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism.

 

The 2017 Digital News Report from the Reuters Institute offers some glimmers of hope that the news industry in Europe is beginning to move forward with new approaches and fresh thinking, says lead author Nic Newman.

 

This year’s report is full of the usual concerns about fake news, failing business models, and the growing power of platforms. In many ways the headline figures around news have got even worse in the last 12 months with low trust, high- levels of news avoidance combined with staff cutbacks in commercial and public service media. And yet ironically concerns over low quality and ‘fake news’ may be offering a new opportunity for news organisations to demonstrate the value of quality journalism and in some cases to charge for online content.

 

In the era of fake news it is striking that only a quarter (24%) of survey respondents think social media does a good job in separating fact from fiction, compared to 40% for the news media. In countries like the US (20%/38%), and the UK (18%/41%), people are twice as likely to have faith in the news media. Only in Greece do more people think social media is doing a better job, primarily because they have very low confidence in news media (28%/19%)

 

 

Qualitative comments from 10 countries as part of this year’s survey suggest that users feel the combination of a lack of rules and algorithms that reward strong emotional content may be encouraging low quality or ‘fake news’ to spread quickly. 


 

“It’s a petri dish for ideological fake news”
Male (32), USA

 

“There is no telling who is sharing what, and most titles are clickbait-y so people share without reading what the information is within the article”
Female (21), USA

 

These findings help explain the urgency with which Facebook and other platforms are looking to fact check news stories, penalise bad actors and tweak algorithms to ensure users see a wider range of stories.

 

At the same time, trust levels for the mainstream media is also problematic and varies significantly across our 36 countries. The proportion that says they trust the news is highest in Finland (62%), but lowest in Greece and South Korea (23%). Trust has fallen seven percentage points in the UK since the Brexit referendum.

Almost a third of our sample (29%) say they often or sometimes avoid the news. Of these almost half (44%) say this is because the news has a negative effect on their mood and a third (33%) say they can’t rely on the news to be true.

 

Overall we find profound scepticism of news media and especially news on social media in almost every country we cover.

 

So how is this affecting willingness to pay for news or the opportunity to create value in other ways? Most obviously in the United States there has been a remarkable surge in the numbers prepared to pay for online news in the United States, growing from 9% to 16% of our online sample along with a tripling of news donations. Most of the new subscriptions and other payments have come from those on the political left with almost a third saying they want to ‘help fund journalism’. Significant growth has come from the under-35s, a powerful corrective to the idea that younger groups are not prepared to pay for online media let alone news. The report shows a strong correlation between those paying for online video services like Netflix or music services like Spotify –and paying for online news. Once people have moved away from the idea that all digital content and services are free, they are much more likely to also pay for news.

 

Across all countries, only around one in ten (13%) pay for online news but some regions (Nordics) are doing much better than others. Around a quarter pay for online news in Norway (26%) and around a fifth in Sweden (20%) compared with just 6% in Greece. The report argues that this relates to higher disposable income as well as a culture of print subscription, which has been transferred to digital through bundling and free trials. 

 

Focus groups in four countries suggest that more consumers could be persuaded to pay for online news in the future but only for high quality distinctive news or if the majority of publishers started charging.

 

While it’s free, I’ll happily not pay for it. If there was a concerted effort, I think I’d pay – happily.” Male (40+), UK

 

Exploring potential new models, many said they were reluctant to pay for multiple subscriptions but some were attracted instead to paying for access to a bundle of news providers, similar to the model used by many cable and satellite TV providers. Others said they might be prepared to pay for an ad-free experience.

 

Across all 36 countries an average of 24% said they regularly used ad-blockers – about the same as last year - though almost half (43%) of those had agreed to temporarily turn off
 their ad-blocker for particular news sites in the last year. The main reason for turning off ad-blockers (58%) was because it was the only way to see the content with a quarter (26%) responding to polite messages explaining that news sites need advertising to survive.

This year’s survey does contain some more optimistic signs for the business of news; the growth in donations and other evidence of public support for journalism should encourage non-profits. The uptick 
in subscriptions in the United States is helpful, but is unlikely to
 be enough on its own and may just be the product of a unique set of political circumstances. In many cases, we see incremental progress on both pay and dealing with ad-blocking, but the evolution of the business of news remains work-in-progress.


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