Reuters reports on digital news

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Above: The 2018 report’s cover.

BitDepth#1153 for July 12, 2018

The Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2018 is available online, both as a PDF and as a dynamic website.

Some of the findings reflect overall stability in the annual experience with digital news, but publishers, both large and small, should be attentive to new trends that are changing digital news consumption.

The 144 page document is a robust read, but here are some highlights worth considering.

Social media falters

According to Nic Newman, Research associate for the Reuters Institute, “We find that the move to distributed content via social media and aggregators has been halted – or is even starting to reverse.”

Social media use for news grew from 27 percent in 2013 to a peak of 51 percent, but slid to 45 percent in 2017.

This may change as platforms answer (or fail to answer) the challenge of adjusting their algorithms to deliver news and filter chaff from user feeds, but Facebook in particular continues to create distribution problems for publishers which don’t seem to be improving in any significant way.

The rise of private messaging

Other networks have grown as news distribution systems. WhatsApp use for news distribution has tripled since 2014 and finds particularly strong purchase in countries with citizen freedom issues.

Private messaging platforms, including Facebook’s own Messenger, are percieved as being more personal forums for discussion as well as being a more private gathering of ‘real friends.’

The battle for the Lock Screen

Mobile news alerts delivered to smartphone lock screens are emerging as an important frontier in news delivery. This initiative is being stymied somewhat by the fact that some users apparently have no idea how the news gets there.

Expect a greater push by major publishers to get their news alerts into this space as well as a concerted effort to educate news consumers on how to configure their lock screen alerts.

Revenue

Advertising revenue remains stable, which is to say inadequate, and is being undermined by low rates of return and fraud. Ad blocker use is also on the rise.

In a metric that tracks closely with digital savvy, only 10 percent of smartphone users and 14 percent of tablet users block digital ads, compared to 31 percent of computer users.

Efforts at driving subscription and membership models have been successful in Nordic nations. Norway’s Amedia Group the country’s second largest media company, which runs 60 local newspapers and websites has increased digital subscribers 45 percent to 160,000.

That success is likely because of the country’s high level of news literacy. More general efforts at raising donations or acquiring subscribers depend on a news organisation’s ability to convey to readers both the value of journalism and the financial challenges of delivering news online.

Reuters found that 68 percent of respondents are unaware of the challenges of the news industry and believe that digital news organisations are profitable.

Just 10 percent were aware that digital newspapers are generally loss making enterprises.

Where do people read?

The smartphone is the second rated touchpoint for news consumption, with 62 percent of respondents using the devices for news, just behind computers at 64 percent. In most nations, smartphone reach has doubled over the last six years.

There is a dominant preference for text over video, but in most Asian nations, video is a growing preference.

Up to nine percent of respondents are using voice activated speakers such as Amazon’s Echo and 43 percent of those users search for current news using the devices, with weather reports leading those queries.

The rise of the podcast

One in ten voice activated speaker owners will listen to podcasts using the device.

That’s just one metric in the growth of the podcast as a medium for delivering news and information to consumers.

The New York Times produces its Daily Podcast; a 20 minute audio briefing that’s been downloaded 100 million times. The BBC delivers hundreds of podcasts, most reformatted from radio broadcasts.

A third of the Reuters poll sample listens to a podcast at least monthly and the ease of streaming audio to a modern smartphone offer a distinct opportunity for even more explosive growth.

Broadcasters have an opportunity here, but they also face significant competition on a playing field that’s been dramatically levelled by a low barrier to entry.

Print publications will need to start thinking about audio production to extend their reach on new devices to reach listeners with time to hear but not read and with a distinct preference to consume information on their own schedule.