Key takeaways from the Reuters Digital News Report 2021.

Everything publishers need to know from the digital news report 2021
Key takeaways from the Reuters Digital News Report 2021.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have collectively witnessed severe changes in and around ourselves. As the popular global lifestyles changed, it impacted every industry across the globe. The shifts include change in content consumption, popular trends, revenue flow, trust relationships and more.

  • With the onset of the pandemic, there’s been a large portion of public depending on television news for their primary news consumption. Television news has successfully retained their audience through these times.

  • This of course, was followed by an accelerated decline in print publication causing many media houses to completely shut down their press. Countries that initially had high levels of circulation such as Germany, Switzerland, and Austria have seen some of the biggest falls. While many moved to a digital front, the same can’t be generalised.

  • During a time of information deficiency, there was also a wildfire of misinformation that grew through various social media platforms causing several media houses loss of trust from their audience. The blanket of distrust on media houses caused huge dips in traffic and reader loyalty.


These trends cannot be generalised across all regions and the inequalities in consumption and trust with the young, women, people from ethnic minorities, and political partisans continue to be a cause of worry. Netizens and publishers alike, have been moving to digital platforms during the pandemic. So if you were wondering about investing more effort into your digital presence, this report is a definite nod.

We’ve made a few key observations from the digital news report that could help publishers make important decisions for better performance.

The Shift to Reader Revenue

With the growing tension created by the coronavirus, more people have started questioning their source of news. This has led to an increase in subscriptions and thereby a significant growth in reader revenue for publishers. As quality content started going behind a paywall last year, and as publishers turned to paywalls, membership, and donations to reduce their reliance on advertising, there have been positive shifts in revenue patterns. This of course has led to more lenient advertisement policies and lowered any bias or intervention.

Are more consumers accessing news through social media?

The use of social media continues to be strong with the younger population. Messaging apps like WhatsApp and Telegram have become increasingly popular in the Global South. As more people depend on social media platforms to get their news, it’s important for journalists to have a presence here. The spread of information on these apps have created most concerns when it comes to spreading misinformation about Coronavirus. Global concerns around false and misleading data have increased this year, from 82% in Brazil to just 37% in Germany.

For news media publishers - Trust is Key

During the pandemic, it’s observed that the brands that had earned trust performed well digitally. On average, brands with lower trust scores have done less well by comparison. Trust in the news has grown, on average, by six percentage points in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic with 44% of the sample saying they trust most news most of the time.

According to the report, Finland continues to remain the country with the highest levels of overall trust (65%), and the USA now has the lowest levels (29%).


An interesting observation is that public service media websites performed remarkably well. The decline in the interest in mainstream news is huge with the tension surrounding the coronavirus. The challenges for all media houses would be to negate this and establish higher levels of trust without bombarding information onto the audience.

The Trust Gap in the past year

More users are showing distrust in the media since the pandemic. While a lot of legacy publishers had to learn this the hard way, we are seeing more efforts taken by publishers to re-establish this trust.

With constant misinformation and bombarding of data, users have tagged brands as 'distrustful' and the mainstream media has had to face it's blow the most. As media houses continue to explore the internet penetration in countries, it's important to look for more ways to establish trust with the target audience.

Local journalism is on a steady rise

It is observed that across 20 countries, where publishers have pushed paywalls, 17% have not only paid for online news but most have taken additional subscriptions for local/regional news.

The value of local news media is still mostly revolving around local politics and crime, however, the growing trust in the same is important to note.

Continue being Mobile first

The use of mobile phones for news has grown to 73%, which is its fastest rate in many years. It’s safe to assume that this is due to the lockdowns.

The computer news access has fallen from 49% to 46% this past year. Publishers can continue to come with creative solutions to aid their mobile readers’ experience.

News Discovery

As the netizen count went on a steady rise, the road to news consumption changed. People started consuming news from their social feeds, the discover feed, news apps and the classic - through search.

Interest in news has risen in people who have been directly impacted but on an average, levels of interest across countries have not risen over the last year.

The news discovery ranges from region to region but here are the primary aggregators.

In countries such as India, Indonesia, South Korea, and Thailand a range of human and AI-powered news apps like the Daily Hunt, Smart News, Naver, and Line Today are playing a significant new role in news discovery. Ranging from search queries to news alerts.

The familiarity with online news is definitely a factor to this. It has helped users to streamline their news consumption online. Brand loyalty and visibility has also had a larger role to play.

Making primary revenue through Subscriptions

Recently, there have been more publishers who have added paywalls onto their news website. They’ve used the user data to expand their target audience and to deliver relevant content.


Half of all subscribers in the US (45%) pay for one of the New York Times, Washington Post, or Wall Street Journal, according to the report. In the UK, The Times, Telegraph, and Guardian account for over half (52%) of those who currently pay. Does this mean that only popular or legacy publishers have a shot?

In America, there is a growing audience that is subscribing to the combination of a national and a local provider. As more publishers have started having a digital presence and as online payments continue to get convenient, there is a growing demand for quality content during these times.

The most intriguing observation was finding that people were ready to pay for premium, reliable news sources in general, not just on TV.

That said, the challenge for subscriptions continues. While it works for some publishers, it doesn’t always sit right with the larger target audience. Publishers can continue to look for paywall solutions that fit best.

Where does the public stand on Media bias?

According to a focus group experiment by Reuters, amongst the online news readers, a quarter (27%) supported any government intervention to help commercial media, with another three in ten (29%) not having a view on the issue. So how do people look at bias in the media today?


Across countries, it was observed that the public demanded that the news outlets should reflect a range of views rather than sticking to a single opinion. Most people prefer that the media provides them with options/choices to base their ideas on rather than a statement.

What is the main motivation for the public to consume news?

The general public pays most attention to mainstream media and news on platforms such as Twitter(31%) and Facebook(28%). Media houses and journalists have understood the significance of being present on such platforms and are coming up with targeted content strategies for the same. This is extended by the continued growth of the youth-orientated networks that make this more vital than ever.

What’s the judgment on podcasts for this year

Podcasts continue to be a fast-moving and dynamic part of digital consumption. However, UK and India lack the awareness about podcasts in comparison to the US. Podcasts were initially a popular form of content ,consumed typically during commute times. However, with the lockdowns it has shifted to a more daily activity with some people indulging in niche or routine specific podcasts.

They continue to attract the younger and more affluent users and are an ad world favorite.

In the last few years, there has been an explosion in the supply of podcasts with two million different shows now being available in the Apple index. Spotify has invested directly on its popular podcast hosts to remain exclusive. It’s safe to say that if you want to start a podcast, it’s not too late.

Conclusion

More people have sought out accurate and reliable information during this crisis. Trusted, high-quality publishing brands have benefited most from this in several countries. The overall trust gap between mainstream media and social media has also grown significantly during the pandemic while people's trust in quality journalism has increased. This has led to some degree of increase in subscriptions. Consumers have rapidly adopted new digital behaviors during lockdowns and this is opening up new digital opportunities. Social media platforms have also gained a lot of attention this year.

As we see shifts that favor certain strategies, it’s important to look out for the new challenges. Social media continues to hold relevance amongst the younger generation while we see an increase in the number of subscribers for online news. With a steady increase in the active participation from netizens towards news, it's safe to say that we’re headed the right way.

https://reutersinstitute.politics.ox.ac.uk/digital-news-report/2021
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