Digital Publishing Reader Revenue
4 mins read

3 key trends: What we (re)learned from Digital News Report 2023

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

TikTok is rising, Facebook is declining, and “return of the website homepage” is wishful thinking

This month the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism published its Digital News Report – an annual must-read for news media insiders.

Findings of the 2023 report won’t come as a surprise to industry watchers; the document mostly substantiates and further illustrates trends that emerged in recent years – from falling trust in news to the rise of TikTok and decline of Facebook as platforms for news consumption. Still, the report is an important barometer of the state of news media.

Let’s take a look at the three general trends we (re)learned from the report:

TikTok is rising, Facebook is falling, and “return of the website homepage” is wishful thinking

The report traditionally looks at the use of different social platforms for news consumption, and the results here are not surprising. Facebook, while retaining its dominance in many countries, is declining relative to previous years. At the same time, TikTok continues to rise as a source of news, and so does Instagram.

The decline of Facebook and rise of TikTok – for news usage specifically but also in general – is particularly stark among young people, as the graph below shows. YouTube, WhatsApp and Instagram are all major platforms for news consumption, though there are country differences.

Source: Digital News Report 2023 by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism

The role of Twitter remains largely unchanged despite the change in ownership and Elon Musk’s chaotic leadership (note that the surveys for the report were conducted in January and early February). It’s not a dominant platform across the general population but remains a key avenue for audiences like journalists and policymakers. 

One more interesting finding – the proportion of people who consume news online starting with the outlet’s website or app continues to decline, from 32% five years ago to 22% now. There are major publishers that continue generating significant traffic from these sources, but overall social media, search and aggregators are the key ways people find news. In other words, for most publishers returning to the era of homepage traffic is little more than an unachievable dream.

Paying for news isn’t becoming more widespread

Reader revenue exploded three years ago in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, it mostly hasn’t grown across the board over the past year, partly because of the economic headwinds like rising inflation and increasing cost of living in some countries. 

“With household budgets under pressure and a significant part of the public satisfied with the news they can access for free, there are signs that the growth in online news payment may be levelling off”, the report’s authors note. 

17% of respondents have paid for online news across 20 Global North countries, with Scandinavian countries traditionally leading the way. The figure is the same as last year.

“While the headline number of subscribers have stayed the same, there is often a considerable amount of churn at a title level”, the report notes; over a third of respondents have cancelled a subscription or negotiated a lower price over the past year.

Most subscription dollars and euros go to major national news organisations (though US news giants, most notably New York Times, are building a significant audience in other English-speaking countries), and it is only in the US that a meaningful percentage of respondents – 8% – pay for an individual-led newsletter.

Source: Digital News Report 2023 by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism

Trust in media and news avoidance haven’t become any better

News avoidance on the rise, trust in news falling were some of the key insights from last year’s Digital News Report. The 2023 study doesn’t bring any solace – both trends have persisted and perhaps even accelerated.

“Across markets, overall trust in news (40%) and trust in the sources people use themselves (46%) are down by a further 2 percentage points this year”, the report finds. In Europe trust is traditionally higher in northern countries, most notably Finland and Denmark, and lower in countries like Greece and Hungary where press freedom has come under attack.

Interestingly, the US has seen trust in news increase, which the report’s authors suggest might be the results of the Biden administration bringing back the much-anticipated boringness to the news cycle after the four years of Trump.

Source: Digital News Report 2023 by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism

News avoidance remains high, particularly among young people. The general proportion of respondents who say they avoid news is at 36% across the countries surveyed. Diving into specific topics, people often avoid news on difficult issues like Russia’s war against Ukraine. (Interestingly, avoidance of news on the war is higher in countries closer to Ukraine, which the report’s authors say might be caused both by the emotional difficulty of the topic and by the preponderance of information in non-news media sources like social media).

The report suggests that positive news and solutions journalism could be the two most effective ways to get news avoiders interested. Overall, the authors suggest that “less sensationalist, less negative, and more explanatory approaches might help” (though a word of caution is that the report is based on surveys, i.e. on what people say they are interested in, not necessarily what people are actually interested in at any given moment).

Source: Digital News Report 2023 by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism

Anton Protsiuk

This piece was originally published in The Fix and is re-published with permission.