Over the past decade, technology has changed how we consume news dramatically. Digital disruption has led to the decline of print, the rise of online and the increasingly prominent role of social media sites.
But at the moment our relationship with the news seems to be shifting rapidly. Since 2016, we’ve seen the rise of "fake news" in the public consciousness and concern about foreign powers meddling in elections, all influencing many people’s relationship with the media and technology.
At Harvard, technology and the media are two of our favourite topics. With that in mind, we were fascinated to see what the Reuters Institute Digital News Report could tell us about how the UK’s views on news have shifted over the last 12 months. Here are just five of the things we learned.
1. People are using social media less for sharing news, and messaging apps more
The growth of social media as a news source has been a major theme over the last five years, with usage rising consistently every year since 2013. However, for the first time 2018 has seen this fall slightly, to 39% of British consumers. A large part of this is apparently down to a growing reluctance to discover, share and post news on social media platforms like Facebook. Instead, consumers are more interested in using messaging apps like WhatsApp to share and discuss content.
One possible explanation is that users’ networks of friends have become so large that they’re less comfortable than they used to be with sharing content openly, particularly about controversial topics like Brexit. Instead, more of us are finding stories and then discussing them directly with friends via messaging platforms.
2. Fake news is still driving us towards trusted outlets
Fake news remains a key concern for UK consumers, with 58% either very or extremely concerned about what is real and fake on the Internet. As a result, the public’s trust in social media is particularly low, at only 12%. By contrast, BBC News remains the most trusted outlet in the UK, as well as Europe’s most successful public broadcaster. The public is also keen to see more action on fake news, with 61% saying that the government should do more to combat the phenomenon.
3. We still don’t like videos as much as publishers do
Publishers are keen to push readers towards video content, often due to commercial reasons, as advertising premiums are far higher for this format. However, despite the efforts of outlets like the BBC and the Independent to grow their video content, on the whole it seems that British consumers still aren’t interested.
Nearly two thirds (62%) of UK consumers reject video content entirely, the highest proportion of any country in the survey. Globally, consumers are unlikely to watch content on news sites or apps, instead turning to third party portals like YouTube and Facebook. Will next year see publishers accepting consumer reluctance in this area, or pressing on regardless?
4. The donation model offers hope for news outlets, but many are still struggling
On the whole publishers are continuing to see declines in revenue. Print circulations have halved since 2001, and on average outlets only make 10% as much revenue from digital users. Only 7% of users in the UK pay anything for online news, which is one of the lowest figures globally.
However, there are suggestions that the donation model might offer a fruitful alternative for news outlets. The Guardian reports that it has received 600,000 voluntary payments since 2016, and has succeeded in crowdfunding specific stories, raising $125,000 for its coverage of the US school shootings. This approach is particularly popular amongst younger readers.
While only 1% of UK readers donate at present, 18% would consider it if there was not another means of funding publications. The donation model could bear further fruit for UK publishers in the future.
5. Soon we could be asking Siri for the headlines
The way that we consume news is continuing to evolve, with voice-controlled portals and artificial intelligence offering potential for the future. Now 7% of people in the UK own a voice-activated speaker, compared to 2% one year ago. This could present a wholly new route for audio news content.
Podcasts are also continuing to grow in popularity in the UK, with 18% of people listening to one within the last month. Better content and easier distribution are contributing to this trend, especially amongst younger people. We still sit far behind the US for podcast consumption, but this is another area where we may see further growth in the year ahead.
Image source: Wikimedia Commons