Smartphones and Social Media define the new ways of consuming news

Silvia Albert

The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism has released this week the third Digital News Report. The report, based on YouGov surveys of more than 18,000 people in 10 countries, found that many traditional news companies are struggling to maintain the relationship with readers and viewers, affected by a second wave of digital innovation where smartphones and social media are the main threats.

Although many of the findings are predictable and already known, it is interesting to take a close look at the main trends suggested in the report:

  • Smartphones and social media are the main agents for change in the media landscape, and this is modifying the way users consume news. Now people tend to consume news more frequently throughout the day through their smartphones.The pure-digital companies such as BuzzFeed or The Huffington Post are now rivaling traditional media in popularity online in countries such as US or Japan, a fact that puts further pressure on the traditional business models.Nevertheless, in most countries the majority of news consumed online still comes from established brands, especially in topics of national and international importance. The disruption is also still minor in many European countries, where the traditional newspapers and broadcasters have retained their loyalty in the more competitive online environment. But the data point to a change on the number of sources used by the public. According to Dr. David Levy, Director of the Reuters Institute, “While choice proliferates, consumption may narrow; reliance on recommendations from like minded friends could mean people are less exposed to a broad news agenda.”
  • A generational split has been created in the way people find and interpret news, in terms of platforms, formats and the type of emerging news brands that are being consumed. The younger public is increasingly turning to mobile devices to receive the news, and this is affecting the time they spend on the news sites as well as the type of content they consume. Across all 10 countries surveyed, over a third (36%) of users aged 18-24 say the smartphone is now their primary access for digital news. Phenomenons like news aggregation and sharing mean that the spead and the source of the recommendation can become more determinant than the reliability and trustworthiness of the original news source for these new consumers.
  • The role of the journalists is becoming more relevant as they are now key drivers of trust and engagement. Journalists are now considered in many countries a key reason for using or trusting particular online sources of news. According to the report, digital and social media are encouraging journalism with a human face.In some countries, notably France, Spain and US, the role of the journalist is now considered almost as important in driving trust as the role of the news brand itself. The report also reveals that much of the conversation around news in social media is driven by the work of mainstream journalists – with 64% of Twitter users in the UK (c 5.4m people) following a professional news account.
  • This brings us up to the Social Media and its growing importance as source to get and share the news; “The digital generation expect the news to come to them. Young people rarely go directly to a mainstream news website any more”, says report author Nic Newman.In this field, the fragmentation of social media as source for news is one of the key findings of the investigation:
    • Facebook is still the biggest network in terms of users, with over a third (35%) of the users using it for news.
    • Twitter is widely used for news in the UK (12%), in the US (8%) and especially in Spain (21%), thanks in part to the promotion of its use by main broadcasters and newspapers in these countries. By contrast it is used much less in Germany (3%) and Finland (6%), where Google+ is twice as popular for news.
    • Video network YouTube is widely used as a source of news in countries like Italy (23%), France (16%), and the US (17%).
    • One relevant finding is the the rise of messaging network WhatsApp, which has been particularly striking particularly in Spain, where 26% of the sample said they had used the platform for news. Germans and Italians have also taken strongly to the network.
  • Finishing with the trends in paid news. despite the growing number of  paywalls, the report finds only a minority of users have paid for digital news in the last year (ranging from 7% in the UK to 11% in the US, 14% in Finland and 22% in Brazil)  – although in some countries many more say they might pay in the future and there has been a substantial increase in the proportion taking out a subscription. According to the report, the reputation of individual reporters can become one of the key reasons why people might be prepared to pay for online news.  


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