Reuters Institute Publishes Digital News Report 2023, Highlights Further Decline in Trust in News

Prof. Rasmus Kleis Nielsen
Director of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism

The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism in June 2023 published its annual “Digital News Report 2023”, showing, among other things, trust in the news further declined by 2 percent across markets over the last year, reversing in many countries the gains made at the height of the Coronavirus pandemic.

This year’s Digital News Report, the 12th edition, is based on survey of over 93,000 online news consumers in six continents and 46 markets and documents how video-based content, distributed via networks such as TikTok, Instagram and YouTube, are becoming more important for news, especially in parts of the Global South, while legacy platforms such as Facebook are losing influence.

In a Foreword to the publication, Prof. Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, Director of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism (RISJ), notes that this year’s Reuters Institute Digital News Report “provides further evidence that, even as much of the news industry globally has struggled in the face of the first waves of the move to a digital, mobile, and platform-dominated media environment, it now faces a much more fundamental change driven by generations who have grown up with and rely almost entirely on various digital media.”

According to him, although people’s information needs and interests evolve in the course of their life, their platform preferences rarely regress.

He said:  “Those born in the 1980s did not suddenly come to prefer landline phones over mobiles when they became parents or bought a house, nor did those born in the 1960s return to black-and-white television when they entered middle age. There are no reasonable grounds for expecting that those born in the 2000s will suddenly come to prefer old-fashioned websites, let alone broadcast and print, simply because they grow older.”

In its analysis of the media landscape in Nigeria, one of the three countries surveyed in Africa for the report, along with Kenya and South Africa, it noted that as fewer people are turning to traditional news sources, such as television and print media for information, their business models have come under pressure with print, in particular, experiencing a sharp decline in recent years.

But it noted that despite these problems, there are still about 100 national and local print titles, of which the best known include The PunchT he NationVanguardThe Guardian and The Premium Times.

The report said television and radio remain critical sources of information, especially for those that are not online, but that internet access was growing fast as Nigeria hit 122.5 million internet users as of January 2023.

It noted that digital journalism has continued to rise, with podcasts becoming increasingly popular across a number of genres, while email newsletters are being widely deployed to increase engagement with websites, and platforms, which has also made it easier for individual journalists to launch stand-alone newsletters.

The report, however, said despite the evolution of the media sector, the pursuit of press freedom has remained elusive, citing government’s arrest and detention of several journalists and publishers in the run-up to the 2023 general elections for publishing reports deemed offensive, while some others were physically assaulted.

It noted that “misinformation was rampant on social media before, during, and after the election” relying on reports by “experts monitoring the campaign”.

The report also observed that in recent years, several laws regulating social and other digital media have been proposed by the government but that they faced international and local criticism about their wider potential impact on freedom of speech and on journalists’ ability to operate.

But it said partly as a result this, a number of stakeholders have been exploring new ideas on how to govern information on digital platforms, citing as examples the fact that the Federal Government has outlined a new Code of Practice through the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), while news organisations, civil society, and non-media groups have been discussing various proposals for self-regulation.

In its reflections overall, the Reuters Institute said this year’s report “reminds us of the different conditions in which journalism operates in many parts of the world, but also about the common challenges faced by publishers around weak audience engagement and low trust in an age of abundant digital and social media.”

According to the survey findings, with household budgets under pressure and a significant part of the public satisfied with the news they can access for free, there are signs that the growth in online news payment may be levelling off.

It said that the data from the survey “show how the various shocks of the last few years, including the Ukraine war and the Coronavirus pandemic, have accelerated structural shifts towards more digital, mobile, and platform-dominated media environments, with further implications for the business models and formats of journalism.”

Although the report concluded that Facebook remains one of the most-used social networks overall, it said the influence of Facebook on journalism is declining as it shifts its focus away from news and also faces new challenges from established networks such as YouTube and vibrant youth-focused networks such as TikTok, the Chinese-owned social network that reaches 44 percent 18 to 24 year-olds across markets and 20 percent for news, observing that “It is growing fastest in parts of Asia-Pacific, Africa, and Latin America.”

It found that “When it comes to news, audiences say they pay more attention to celebrities, influencers, and social media personalities than journalists in networks like TikTok, Instagram, and Snapchat,” which “contrasts sharply with Facebook and Twitter, where news media and journalists are still central to the conversation.”

The report said despite hopes that the internet could widen democratic debate, the survey found that fewer people are now participating in online news than in the recent past and that across countries, the group of active participants in online news “tends to be male, better educated, and more partisan in their political views.”

It indicates that perhaps the most striking findings in this year’s report relate to the changing nature of social media, partly characterised by declining engagement with traditional networks such as Facebook and the rise of TikTok and a range of other video-led networks.

The report said:  “Yet, despite this growing fragmentation of channels, and despite evidence that public disquiet about misinformation and algorithms is at near record highs, our dependence on these intermediaries continues to grow. Our data show, more clearly than ever, how this shift is strongly influenced by habits of the youngest generations, who have grown up with social media and nowadays often pay more attention to influencers or celebrities than they do to journalists, even when it comes to news.”

It also finds that across countries, the majority of online users say they still prefer to read the news rather than watch or listen to it as text is believed to provide more speed and control in accessing information, although in a few countries, such as the Philippines and Thailand, respondents said they preferred video to text.

The report found that video news consumption has been growing steadily across markets, with most video content now accessed via third-party platforms such as YouTube and Facebook.

It noted that news podcasting continues to resonate with educated and younger audiences but remains a minority activity overall as around a third (about 34 percent) access a podcast monthly, with 12 percent accessing a show relating to news and current affairs.