Digital media landscape: new shift and fatigue of news and wars

The Reuters Institute and Oxford University conducted the 12th annual Digital News Report, which covered 46 countries from six continents (93,000 respondents). The study is quite broad, so it allows us to get an idea of global trends and challenges.

Here are the key findings of the experts based on the survey results.

Various shocks over the past few years, such as Russia’s war in Ukraine and the coronavirus pandemic, have accelerated the shift towards more digital, mobile and platform-oriented media environments.

Across countries, only about a fifth of respondents (22%) prefer to get their information from a website or app, while 30% prefer social media. In 2018 the numbers were reversed (32% from websites and 23% from social media). 

These figures vary from country to country. Websites retain their leading position in Finland (63%), while social media are in the lead in Thailand (64%). Aside from the specifics of different countries, the general trend is that the younger generation is gravitating towards social media, particularly Instagram and TikTok.

Facebook remains the dominant social media platform, but its influence on journalism is declining as the network shifts its focus away from news. Among young people (18-24 years old), the ranking of social media is as follows: Instagram (60%), Whatsapp (54%), Facebook (38%), TikTok (38%), Snapchat (36%), Twitter (33%), Telegram (14%). TikTok is most popular in the Global South: Kenya (54%), South Africa (50%), and Peru (48%), and is least present in Japan (9%), Denmark (11%), and Germany (12%).

When it comes to news, TikTok, Instagram and Snapchat are increasingly focusing on celebrities and influencers rather than mainstream media and journalists. On Twitter, 55% are interested in traditional media and journalists, 43% in influencers; on Facebook, 42% vs. 38%; and on YouTube, 42% vs. 45%; on Instagram, 42% vs. 52%; on Snapchat, 36% vs. 55%, and on TikTok 33% vs. 55%.

Many consumers need clarification about search engine algorithms and social media. Less than one-third (30%) say preview-based news selection is a good mechanism (6% less than in 2016). The number of users who prefer news selection by media outlets and journalists is slightly lower at 27%.

Hopes that the Internet could expand democratic public debate have not entirely been met. Fewer and fewer people participate in online discussions. Only 22% are active participants, and 47% ignore this opportunity altogether. In the UK and the US, the share of active participants has fallen by more than 10% since 2016.

Given the economic difficulties and the fact that a large part of the population is satisfied with free resources, the growth of the paid-for journalism sector has almost stopped. Among respondents from the 20 wealthiest countries, 17% pay for news: the maximum in Norway is 39%, and the minimum in Japan and the UK is 9% each. Among those who cancelled their subscriptions last year, the most common reasons cited were the cost of living or high prices.

Over the past year, trust in news in different countries has fallen by another 2% (there was an increase in trust during the pandemic). On average, 40% of people mainly trust most news. The highest number is in Finland (69%), and the lowest is in Greece (19%).

Consumption of traditional media, including television and print, continues to fall in most markets, with the Internet not compensating for the decline, resulting in less news consumption overall. Only 48% of respondents are interested in the news (63% in 2017).

The proportion of consumers who say they avoid news has reached an all-time high of 36% (29% in 2017). This group is dominated by women (39% vs. 33% of men). The leaders are Greece and Bulgaria (57% each), Argentina (46%), Poland (44%), and the UK (41%). The lowest rates are in Japan (11%), Taiwan (17%), and Denmark (19%). This group is divided into those who try to avoid all news from time to time and those who try to limit news at certain times or on specific topics expressly.

One of these topics was the war in Ukraine. 39% started avoiding news about our war. But in addition, they also avoid news about national politics (38%), social issues (31%), crimes (30%) and celebrities (28%). In this context, the topic of Ukraine only stands out a little. It means, people know about the war, want it to be stopped, and mostly support Ukraine, but don’t want to watch these news daily.

Researchers comment on this phenomenon: “Our data indicate less a lack of interest in Ukraine on the part of neighbouring countries than a desire to organise their news consumption time and protect their mental health from the horrors of war. It is also possible that consumers in these countries consider themselves well-informed about Ukraine due to the detailed coverage on all channels, including social media.”

If we summarise this report, we can talk about certain tectonic transformations that are taking place in the global media. Traditional media slowly lose ground every year (sometimes more intensively, sometimes more slowly). Two parallel competitions are taking place – between traditional media and social media and between traditional journalists and influencers. Traditional media can maintain their positions if they adapt to new realities.

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