2021 Digital News Report out

The 2021 Reuters Institute Digital News Report is out now. I’m so proud to be part of this teamwork. We cover 46 markets that account for more than half of world’s population, including six new countries in the Global South.

The report is always a flagship for us, and the further international expansion is a big step for us, and I think it is important.

As I write in my foreword,

“We are particularly proud to be able to include more countries in the Global South, primarily because we hope the data and analysis we present are useful for journalists, editors, and media executives there, but also because we strongly believe their colleagues elsewhere can learn a lot from the situation in countries where news media have long faced political attacks, financial precarity, and internet users heavily oriented towards mobile and social media – some of the realities journalists in historically more privileged parts of the world increasingly have to deal with.”

The report is available as HTML, in PDF, and there are more resources including a massive 192 slide deck. All of it meant to be used.

The moment we press “publish” is not the end for us, it’s just the start of the next stage, the conversation with journalists, editors, media executives, policymakers, and academics across the world who engage with our work.

Follow some of that conversation on Twitter where we are using the hashtag #DNR21, at the various discussions of the report at launch events across the world, or read some of the country reports our amazing country partners have published.

In this post just five highlights from me.

FIRST, trust in the news has grown.

Across 46 markets, 44% say they trust most news most of the time, up, on average, by six percentage points in wake of Coronavirus pandemic (back to 2018-levels).

No similar growth for trust in news seen on e.g. social media means that the “trust gap” with platforms has grown.

SECOND, trusted brands have often done better in terms of increased online audience reach.

Most news media saw a surge in audience during pandemic and lockdowns, but news fatigue is also setting in and the surge is in many cases levelling off – who can they retain increased reach as the situation evolve?

We looked at how many brands have a significantly higher reach in early 2021 than early 2020, and find more trusted brands have often done better.

THIRD, distributed discovery is growing ever more important.

The pandemic has accelerated the move to more digital, mobile, and platform-dominated media environment.

And despite trust gap and concerns over misinformation, various platforms continue to grow in importance for news discovery.

Just 25% of our respondents say going direct to a news site or app is their main way to access online news.

FOURTH, platform ecology growing more complex, especially among younger users

As Facebook, while still important, is less used for news, a slew of other platforms are growing in importance, especially among younger people.

This is a promising but also tricky space for news publishers in many ways – for example, on growing networks such as TikTok, Snapchat, and Instagram, influencers and alternative sources seem to command more attention than mainstream media and journalists.

FIFTH, the business of news remains winner-takes-most

There is some increase in payment for online news in a few rich countries, but the overall percentage of people paying remains low.

And in most countries a large proportion of digital subscriptions go to just a few big national brands, reinforcing winner-takes-most dynamics. Only in Norway do we see a large number saying they subscribe to local news online, and only in the US is the median number of digital news subscriptions now 2 (often a big national plus either a niche supplement (sports, opinion, etc.) or a local one, very rarely both).

Thus, while platform companies and some, often big, publishers are doing well, many commercial news media are struggling.

Those are just five highlights from me.

It’s been a pleasure and a privilege to work with Nic Newman, Richard Fletcher, Anne Schulz, Simge Andi, and Craig Robertson on the analysis and writing, with invaluable input from our amazing country partners, support from the whole Reuters Institute team, and backing from 16 different funders.

It takes a village and I’m so happy to be part of this particular one.

Finally, if you like the Digital News Report – and the institute’s work more broadly – please consider giving a donation to our Journalists Under Pressure Fund. It helps journalists operating in difficult conditions join our fellowship program. Click here to donate.

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