Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism has undertaken a pretty heavyweight piece of research (6 continents, 40 different countries) into how the world’s population consumes its news. The majority of the research was undertaken pre-pandemic which means a fair comparison can be made between this year’s and previous years’ data. However, as the COVID-19 lockdown took hold, they also added a selection of additional sample groups, in order to appreciate if and how the virus was changing habits.
As the foreward summarises,
“The seriousness of this crisis has reinforced the need for reliable, accurate journalism that can inform and educate populations, but it has also reminded us how open we have become to conspiracies and misinformation. Journalists no longer control access to information, while greater reliance on social media and other platforms give people access to a wider range of sources and ‘alternative facts’, some of which are at odds with official advice, misleading, or simply false.”
The report highlights that the need for quality news comes at a time when publishers are finding it increasingly difficult to maintain revenues and will need to look online to create deeper and stronger connections with their audiences.
The main findings
- News consumption increased as coronavirus took hold. There was a strong spike in television news and online but printed media declined due to the issues around physical distribution. In the UK, the Prime Minister’s address telling Britons to stay at home was one of the most-watched broadcasts in UK television history and nightly viewership of BBC TV bulletins was up by around 30% in March. This was also reflected in visits to the BBC website.
- During lockdown, online news consumption grew significantly with over half of people surveyed saying they are part of an open or closed network/group to share and consume news information, often in their local area.
- During April, the trust in the media’s coverage of COVID-19 was high.
- However, in the earlier January poll, trust in the media was on the wane: less than four in ten (38%) said they trust most news most of the time – a fall of four percentage points from 2019. Trust in the UK media is considerably lower than in other countries:
- Most people (52%) would prefer the media to prominently report false statements from politicians rather than not emphasise them (29%) and on the whole, people are less comfortable with political adverts via search engines and social media than they are with political adverts on TV.
- In most countries, people are still not paying for news, although the US and Norway did report increases in payments for online news such as subscriptions. Just 7 per cent of people pay for their news in the UK and this tends to be with major publishers rather than niche organisations.
- Some publishers have reported a ‘coronavirus bump’ whereby people are happy to pay. In the main, when people pay, they feel they are getting a better quality of reporting.
- In most countries, local newspapers and their websites remain the top source of news about a particular town or region, reaching four in ten (44%) weekly.
- In Northern Europe, the written word is still considered important with a significant proportion saying they prefer reading news online but in other parts of the world, watching or listening to news is a preference.
- As people move towards video consumption of news, the role of social media platforms becomes increasingly important for them. In the UK online news has held steady but television news has been declining over many years.
- Facebook remains the most popular social media channel for news consumption in the UK, followed by Twitter.
- And unsurprisingly, the use of a smartphone to receive news, is on the rise:
These are just some of the headline themes from what is a really fascinating report. For more detail (and there is a lot of it!), see https://reutersinstitute.politics.ox.ac.uk/sites/default/files/2020-06/DNR_2020_FINAL.pdf
In related news, the IPA Bellwether Report is a quarterly survey outlining companies’ marketing spend intentions and financial confidence, and is a ‘sobering snapshot’ of the reality for many UK businesses at present. It suggests that based on previous recessions, those brands who continue to advertise will be the ones who will gain market share and see most success – music to publishers’ ears no doubt.