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10 insights from the Reuters Institute Digital News Report

Fake news, business models and platform disintermediation are all issues raised by a report on the news business.

The Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2017 is a study of the changing business of news based on a survey of more than 70,000 people in 36 countries.

This year’s report is published against a backdrop of continuing concerns about how to fund journalism and the parasitic relationship between news organisations and platforms.

Here’s are the key finding from the report.

#1 Mistrust in news media driven by political polarisation

The internet and social media may have exacerbated low trust and fake news, but the Reuters Institute found that in many countries the underlying drivers of mistrust are deep-rooted political polarisation and perceived mainstream media bias.

#2 Internet promotes media diversity

Echo chambers and filter bubbles are undoubtedly real for some, but researchers found that users of social media, aggregators, and search engines experience more diversity than non-users.

#3 Revenue opportunities as ad blocking stalls, content drives revenue

The growth of ad blocking has stopped while online subscriptions and donations are picking up in some countries. Focus groups suggested that more might be prepared to pay in the future if content is sufficiently valuable, convenient, and relevant.

#4 Messaging rivals social media

Growth in social media for news is flattening out in some markets with the increasing popularity of messaging apps. The use of WhatsApp for news is starting to rival Facebook in a number of markets including Malaysia (51%), Brazil (46%), and Spain (32%).

#5 Social media flawed for news

Only a quarter (24%) of respondents believed that social media does a good job in separating fact from fiction, compared to 40% for the news media. Qualitative data suggest that users feel the combination of a lack of rules and viral algorithms are encouraging low quality and fake news to spread quickly.

#6 We avoid news media that makes us grumpy

Almost a third of the sample (29%) said that they often or sometimes avoid the news. For many, this is because it can have a negative effect on mood. For others, it is because they can’t rely on news to be true.

#7 Mobile first news

Mobile outstrips computer access for news in an increasing number of countries. Mobile news notifications have grown significantly in the last year, especially in the US (+8%), South Korea (+7%), and Australia (+4%), becoming an important new route to content and giving a new lease of life to news apps. More smartphone users now access news in bed (46%) than use the device when commuting to work.

#8 Aggregators as editors

In a related development there has been a significant growth in mobile news aggregators, notably Apple News, but also Snapchat Discover for younger audiences. Both have doubled usage with their target groups in the last year.

#9 Trump drives revenue for news media

News media benefited from a substantial ‘Trump bump’ in the US (from 9 to 16%) along with a tripling of news donations. Most of those new payments have come from the young. It’s a powerful corrective to the idea that young people are not prepared to pay for online media, let alone news.

#10 Disintermediation weakening news brands

Researchers found evidence that news brands may be struggling to cut through on distributed platforms. In an experiment tracking more than 2,000 respondents in the UK, researchers found that less than half could recall the name of the news brand itself when coming from search (37%) and social (47%).

The Reuters Institute Digital News Report has made data from the report available via its website under a Creative Commons licence.

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Stephen Waddington

Partner and Chief Engagement Officer, Ketchum and Visiting Professor in Practice, Newcastle University.

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