Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2020
The Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2020 is worth reading. It shows how the Covid-19 crisis contributed to accelerate very important trends for our industry: the increased use of online and social media, declining trust in the news media and global concerns about misinformation, changes in business models, and problems for regional and local news, among other key trends.
The report notes that during the pandemic the use of online and social media substantially increased in most countries. WhatsApp saw the biggest growth in general with increases of around ten percentage points in some countries, while more than half of those surveyed (51%) used some kind of open or closed online group to connect, share information, or take part in a local support network. The lockdowns have accelerated the use of new digital tools, with many people joining online groups or taking part in video conferencing for the first time. Together with the impact on print production and distribution, it is likely that the net effect of this pandemic will be to speed up rather than slow down the shift to digital.
At the same time, trust in the news media continues to fall globally. As the coronavirus hit, overall levels of trust in the news are at their lowest point since the Reuters Institute started to track these data. In a direct comparison with 2019 they found that fewer than four in ten (38%) say they trust most news most of the time – down four percentage points. Less than half (46%) say they trust the news that they themselves use.
Global concerns about misinformation are high. More than half (56%) of their sample across 40 countries remains concerned about what is real and fake on the internet when it comes to news. Concern tends to be highest in parts of the Global South, where social media use is high and traditional institutions are often weaker, while lowest levels of concern are in less polarized European countries. In general terms, people see social media as the biggest source of concern about misinformation.
While it is too early to predict the full impact of the crisis on the news industry, the report points out that it is almost certain to be a catalyst for more cost cutting, consolidation, and even faster changes in business models. In the last 12 months more publishers have started charging for content or tightening paywalls and this is beginning to have an impact. Across countries the report founded significant increases in the percentage paying for online news. Finally, the COVID-19 disruption is likely to hit local news providers hardest, given their continuing dependence on both print and digital advertising.
The report’s conclusion is compelling: “The biggest impact of the virus is likely to be economic, with local and national media already cutting staff or publishing less frequently. The coronavirus crisis is driving a cyclical downturn in the economy hurting every publisher, especially those based on advertising, and likely to further accelerate existing structural changes to a more digital media environment in terms of audience behavior, advertising spending, and reader revenues. Reader payment alternatives such as subscription, membership, and donations will move centre stage, but as our research shows, this is likely to benefit a relatively small number of highly trusted national titles as well as smaller niche and partisan media brands. The crisis in local media will become more acute with more calls for support from government and technology companies – with all the problems that this entails in terms of media independence.”
But still, there is hope. “The COVID-19 crisis has clearly demonstrated the value of reliable trusted news to the public but also to policymakers, technology companies, and others who could potentially act to support independent news media. The creativity of journalists has also come to the fore in finding flexible ways to produce the news under extremely difficult circumstances. Fact-checking has become even more central to newsroom operations, boosting digital literacy more widely and helping to counter the many conspiracy theories swirling on social media and elsewhere. Publishers have also found innovative ways to display and interrogate data, just one of many format innovations that have helped audiences understand the background and the implications for each individual. The next 12 months will be critical in shaping the future of the news industry.”
By Maria Laura Garcia, FIBEP President