Category Archives: Uncategorized

2019 Digital News Report out

Today, we’ve published our annual Reuters Institute Digital News Report.

Covering 38 markets globally across 6 continents (with the addition of South Africa this year), it is our biggest report ever.

It is an incredibly rich and varied picture of a rich and varied media environment, with marked country-to-country differences, which you can explore in the PDF of the main report (found here) or by diving into the data and interactives on the report website here.

Still, I think there are some key, globally-relevant findings from across the report that lead author Nic Newman, Richard Fletcher, Antonis Kalogeropoulos, and all our many country partners have produced.

FIRST, we find only a small increase in the overall numbers paying for any online news, and even in countries with higher levels of payment, the vast majority only have ONE online subscription – suggesting that ‘winner takes all’ dynamics are likely to be important. More and more publishers are chasing subscribers from the same highly educated, more affluent, news-loving minority of people.

Pay HD

SECOND, the role of platforms continue to evolve – in many countries, people are spending less time with Facebook and more time with WhatsApp, Instagram, and YouTube than this time last year. Few users are abandoning Facebook entirely, though, and it remains by far the most important social network for news. Voice activated speakers are spreading quickly, but with very limited use for news so far.

Time HD

THIRD, the move to messaging applications and groups is present everywhere but with very significant country difference — WhatsApp has become a primary network for discussing and sharing news in non-Western countries like Brazil (53%) Malaysia (50%), and South Africa (49%) (much less widely used for news in many Western countries). Facebook Groups for discussing news and politics have become popular in Turkey (29%) and Brazil (22%) (but again much less used in Western countries such as Canada (7%) or Australia (7%)).

Messaging HD.png

FOURTH, the majority of our respondents across 38 markets worry about what is real and fake on the internet, and over a quarter (26%) say they have started relying on more ‘reputable’ sources of news as a result, plus a quarter (24%) saying they had stopped using sources that had a dubious reputation in the last year. While this will help some publishers, the often low trust in news overall – and in many individual brands – underlines this is not necessarily a development that will help everyone in the industry.

Behaviour HD

FIFTH, while people are demonstrating (by paying attention and by paying) that they find some journalism valuable, it is also clear that people are not impressed by much of what they come across, and the issues go well beyond trust. While almost two-thirds of our respondents say the media are good at keeping people up to date (62%), they are seen as less good at helping them understand the news (51%). And less than half (42%) think the media do a good job in holding rich and powerful people to account.

Attitudes HD

As always, all the underlying data is available for those interested in doing additional analysis, and we will work on further in-depth studies of these any many other issues, going beyond the main report in the months to come.

Thanks to everyone involved, at the RISJ, our country partners, and the 15 different funders making this possible.

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Murray Edelman Distinguished Career Award – nominations?

I’m on the American Political Science Association Political Communication Section’s award committee again (together with Markus Prior and Holli Semetko) for the Murray Edelman Distinguished Career Award, which recognizes a lifetime contribution to the study of Political Communication.

Email me if you have candidates in mind (deadline March 1). The award will be given at APSA 2019.

Previous recipients include Gladys Lang and Kurt Lang, Elihu Katz, Michael Schudson, Lance Bennett, Jay Blumler, Russ Neuman, Diana Mutz, Dan Hallin, Gadi Wolfsfeld, and many others I and so many fellows scholars have learned so much from.

Below is the text I used when promoting the call for nominations in 2017, posted again here for good measure.

“[The Distinguished Career award is] named after Murray Edelman, an impressive and idiosyncratic figure in our field. I’m glad political communication recognize the importance of people like Edelman who do things differently. As the NYTimes noted in his obituary, “Edelman’s highly subjective analytic style put him at variance with the prevailing orthodoxy in contemporary American political science.”

“At variance” — that’s putting it mildly.Not many political scientists would begin a book the way he begun his 1971 book Politics as Symbolic Action:

Political history is largely an account of mass violence and of the expenditure of vast resources to cope with mythical fears and hopes.

For all the shortcomings (and I think there are many) of his strand of “post-modern political science” inspired by continental philosophy and older strands of symbolic interactionism, his attention to symbols, meanings, and performance is arguably as relevant today as ever, and perhaps more so than the paradigm Edelman challenged during his lifetime.

As the NYT put it: “Known as rational choice theory, this holds that political actors make rational decisions after weighing all the pros and cons. Not quite how I’d describe recent political events.”

More Important, But Less Robust?

Today we are launching a new Reuters Institute report in Davos by Meera Selva and myself called “More Important, But Less Robust? Five Things Everybody Needs to Know about the Future of Journalism” at a breakfast meeting hosted by the Thomson Reuters Foundation (and streamed online) and featuring a panel discussion with Marty Baron, Sylvie Kauffmann, Nick Kristof and Mark Pieth chaired by Monique Villa and hosted by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

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The report is primarily based on a wide range of our own research from the last few years, but many other researchers have done work on these trends, and I include links to some examples here.

The five things are

First, we have moved from a world where media organisations were gatekeepers to a world where media still create the news agenda, but platform companies increasingly control access to audiences. (As documented in our annual Digital News Report by Nic Newman et al and discussed in the work of, for example, Kjerstin Thorson and Chris Wells)

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Second, this move to digital media generally does not generate filter bubbles. Instead, automated serendipity and incidental exposure drive people to more – and more diverse – sources of information. (As documented in work that Richard Fletcher has led on social media and search engines, but also in the work of others, including for example Seth Flaxman et al.)

slide2Third, journalism is often losing the battle for people’s attention and, in some (but not all) countries for the public’s trust, increasing information inequality. (As documented in for example a recent factsheet by Antonis Kalogeropoulos and myself, building on work by for example Markus Prior.)

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Fourth, the business models that fund news are challenged, weakening professional journalism and leaving news media more vulnerable to commercial and political pressures. (See for example this handbook chapter and the work of Anya Schiffrin on media capture.)

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Fifth, news is more diverse than ever, and the best journalism in many cases better than ever, taking on everyone from the most powerful politicians to the biggest private companies. (Different people will have different standards for what they consider better or worse journalism, but we base our cautious optimism on for example the rise of collaborative investigative journalism, deeper engagement with readers, and joint fact-checking work, as well as the growth of what Kate Fink and Michael Schudson call “contextual reporting”.)

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These are five broad, global trends trends, but they will not play out the same in every country. They will clearly differ depending on cultural, economic, political, and social context, most notably the intensifying “war on journalism” waged by some politicians, militants, criminals, and others with an aversion to accountability reporting and independent journalism.

A new business for news

“2019 will be another terrible year for the business of news, and journalists will have to face the harsh reality that no one will come to their rescue — not benign billionaires, not platform companies, and not policymakers.”

I’ve written my 2019 prediction for the Nieman Lab at Harvard, focused on the urgent need for building a new business for news, the need for journalists to lead in that process, and the need to recognize that doing so will be a long, hard slog (and that many will fail along the way).

A historical analogy I offer is the time it took to build the mass business of paid print newspapers that is now in terminal decline. As we track the development of new digital pay models for news month by month and year by year, with the fits and stats, break-out success stories few saw coming (here’s looking at you, MediaPart), set-backs, and occasional disappointments (so long, The Sun paywall), we sometimes forget how long it took to build the old models.

Consider the evolution of paid printed newspaper circulation relative to population in the United States — it took 50+ years to build the mass circulation that peaked in the middle of the 20th century (circulation that has been in non-stop decline since).

money

As I write in the Nieman piece, “mass paid print circulation thus did not appear overnight, but took decades of hard work and constant editorial, commercial, and technological innovation.”

It may well take as long to develop new business models as it took to develop the old ones. Doing so is one of the most important and urgent challenges facing journalism, and I hope journalists will lead in the attempts to do so. “No one cares more, no one has more at stake, and no one is better positioned to build new businesses around journalistic values, editorial independence, and the timeless aspiration to seek truth and report it.”

The full text of my Nieman piece is here.

 

Do people know where they get their news from? New article

People increasingly rely on distributed forms of discovery like search engines and social media for finding and accessing news. Do they know where the news they consume in these ways come from? In a new article, Antonis Kalogeropoulos, Richard Fletcher, and I look more closely at this question, based on data from a tracking study we’ve written about previously with Nic Newman (in this report). We find that users are far more likely to correctly attribute a story to a news brand if they accessed it directly rather than via search or social, but with significant variation depending on whether it is their main brand (one they are already loyal to), how much of an article they read, as well as interest in news.

The “main brand” finding is  particularly important for news organizations as it underlines how important it is to build a strong brand and a loyal audience to really make the most of the opportunities for increased reach via for example search and social, just as the finding that longer reading time helps with correct brand attribution is important, if people find your journalism interesting enough to actually engage with it, they are significantly more likely to remember who produced it.

Full article here, abstract below.

The digital media environment is increasingly characterized by distributed discovery, where media users find content produced by news media via platforms like search engines and social media. Here, we measure whether online news users correctly attribute stories they have accessed to the brands that have produced them. We call this “news brand attribution.” Based on a unique combination of passive tracking followed by surveys served to a panel of users after they had accessed news by identifiable means (direct, search, social) and controlling for demographic and media consumption variables, we find that users are far more likely to correctly attribute a story to a news brand if they accessed it directly rather than via search or social. We discuss the implications of our findings for the business of journalism, for our understanding of source cues in an increasingly distributed media environment and the potential of the novel research design developed.

New article looking at search engines as example of “automated serendipity”

Richard Fletcher has been leading an important line of empirical research for us in the last few years, giving evidence-based answers to a series of important questions around the implications of people’s increasing reliance on algorithmically-curated services like search engines and social media when accessing news.

The latest installment is a piece examining reliance on search engines, which we find drive what we call “automated serendipity” and (controlling for other factors) leads people to sources they would not have used otherwise.

Like our previous work on social media, in challenges widely held assumptions about the role of digital media. As in several other studies (e.g. this), we find no evidence of “filter bubbles” — if anything, the opposite.

Abstract and three key figures below and full article (open access) here.

Search engines are an absolutely central part of the web. Yet we know relatively little about how they shape news consumption. In this study, we use survey data from four countries (UK, USA, Germany, Spain) to compare the news repertoires of those who say they use search engines to search for news stories, and those that do not. In all four countries, and controlling for other factors, we show that those who find news via search engines (i) on average use more sources of online news, (ii) are more likely to use both left-leaning and right-leaning online news sources, and (iii) have more balanced news repertoires in terms of using similar numbers of left-leaning and right-leaning sources. We thus find little support for the idea that search engine use leads to echo chambers and filter bubbles. To the contrary, using search engines for news is associated with more diverse and more balanced news consumption, as search drives what we call “automated serendipity” and leads people to sources they would not have used otherwise.

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New article on how legacy news media respond to a changing business of news

“Comparing legacy media responses to the changing business of news: Cross-national similarities and differences across media types” has just been published in the International Communication Gazette.

Alessio Cornia led on this, based on interviews done by him and our co-author Annika Sehl as part of our joined research project on how legacy news media across Europe navigate the rise of digital media, audiences transformations, and a changing business of news.

Here is the abstract

In this article, we analyse how legacy media organizations in six countries are adapting to the changing business of news. We focus on how similarities and differences in their responses to digital developments are shaped by the interplay between organizational legacy and national context. The study draws on media sociology and comparative media systems research and is based on 54 interviews with senior editors and managers at 25 newspapers and commercial broadcasters in Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, and the UK. We find that organizations within the same medium respond to change in similar ways (newspapers versus broadcasters), and that these responses are surprisingly similar across different countries. We argue that factors related to the medium-specific legacy shape media adaptation more than do structural differences between national media systems because news organizations faced with a changing and uncertain environment imitate the strategies adopted by peer organizations elsewhere.

Full article here.