With interest and trust in news still falling in many countries, economic downturn puts further pressure on publisher business models
This year’s Reuters Institute Digital News Report provides evidence that news audiences are becoming more dependent on digital and social platforms, putting further pressure on both ad-based and subscription business models of news organisations at a time when both household and company spending is being squeezed.
The report documents how video-based content, distributed via networks such as TikTok, Instagram and YouTube are becoming more important for news, especially in parts of the Global South, while legacy platforms such as Facebook are losing influence.
These are some of the conclusions of the 12th edition of the Digital News Report.
Younger audiences, platform shifts and the implications for news
Facebook is becoming much less important as a source of news – and by implication as a driver of traffic to news websites. Just 28% say they accessed news via Facebook in 2023 compared with 42% in 2016.
This decline is partly driven by Facebook pulling back from news and partly by the way that video-based networks like YouTube and TikTok are increasingly capturing much of the attention of younger users. Weekly news usage for Twitter has remained relatively stable in most countries following Elon Musk’s takeover, with usage of alternative networks, such as Mastodon, extremely low. TikTok is the fastest-growing social network in our survey, used by 44% of 18–24-year-olds for any purpose (and by 20% for news). As the table below shows, the Chinese-owned app is most heavily used in parts of Asia, Latin America and Africa.
The report shows that users of TikTok, Instagram and Snapchat tend to pay more attention to celebrities and social media influencers than they do to journalists or media companies when it comes to news topics. This marks a sharp contrast with legacy social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, where news organisations still attract most attention and lead conversations.
At the same time, stated preferences by audiences to directly visit news websites continue to decline. Across 46 markets, the proportion that say their main access point is via a news website or app has fallen from 32% in 2018 to 22% in 2023, while dependence on social media access has grown.
Reuters Institute Director Rasmus Nielsen outlines the challenge for traditional media:
“Younger generations increasingly eschew direct discovery for all but the most appealing brands. They have little interest in many conventional news offers oriented towards older generations’ habits, interests, and values, and instead embrace the more personality-based, participatory, and personalised options offered by social media, often looking beyond legacy platforms to new entrants (many of whom drive few referrals to media organisations and do not prioritise news).”
Business pressures grow compounded by cost-of-living crisis
Generational and platform shifts have made things even more difficult for a news industry trying to deal with the fallout from a pandemic, a war in Europe, and a global squeeze on household spending. The report finds that growth in payment for online news has stalled in many markets, with more than a third of subscribers (39%) across more than 20 countries saying they have cancelled or renegotiated their news subscriptions in the last year. In qualitative interviews, the need to save money was by far the biggest reason given:
“I was spending too much on online subscriptions. I wanted to cut some costs, mainly. I just couldn’t afford it anymore.”Female, 24, USA
Despite this, the headline numbers have remained relatively stable in most countries with special offers and lower prices attracting some new customers. Around four in ten paid for online news in Norway (39%) in the last year, a third in Sweden (33%), a fifth (21%) in the United States, but just a tenth in Germany (11%), France (11%), and the UK (9%).
The report highlights how important news subscriptions are to some, but also how fragile the arrangement is for others. In exploring motivations for subscription, the report finds that while many people are increasingly price-conscious, others subscribe based on either a long-standing relationship, or the sense that the outlet speaks to them and for them. Additional features such as games or podcasts are a motivation for a smaller proportion of customers with bundled subscriptions becoming more popular.
News avoidance and lack of interest
The report finds declining interest in news in a large number of countries – particularly with younger and hard-to-reach groups – and high levels of selective news avoidance (people who say they actively do it sometimes or often), with the headline rate at 36%, seven percentage points above the figure in 2017 but two points lower than last year.
In qualitative interviews, many say that news stories are too repetitive or too ‘emotionally draining’. Amongst news avoiders, the report notes that around half (53%) try to avoid all news in a periodic way with others being more specific by reducing the amount of news by checking less often (52%) or avoiding difficult topics (32%):
Avoiders are much more likely to look for positive news or solutions-based approaches than constant updates on the big stories of the day. Lead author Nic Newman says:
“It is clear that many websites and apps are optimised for those that are super-engaged with every twist and turn of today’s news (and politics) agenda. But these approaches also seem to be turning large sections of the public away – with potential long-term implications for civic and democratic engagement.”
The full report is available here:
Reuters Institute Digital News Report