In this special episode of Media Voices, Chris, Peter and Esther comb through the Reuters Institute’s Digital News Report 2022 to pick out the key findings for publishers. This year’s report reveals new insights about digital news consumption based on a YouGov survey of over 93,000 online news consumers in 46 markets covering half of the world’s population.

Listen now to explore why news avoidance is up and trust is down; the relief we felt that climate coverage is on top of everyone’s agenda; how the news habits of younger generations are growing more distinct; and what the report’s first ever chapter dedicated to email newsletters had to say.

News avoidance is up, trust is down

This has been the headline finding from the report. 38% of people globally often or sometimes avoid the news, up from 29% in 2017. News avoidance varies by country, but the UK actually has one of the highest rates of it, with 46% of people now avoiding the news. “Many respondents [said] news has a negative effect on their mood,” said one of the report’s authors Nic Newman. In the UK, half of news avoiders said that the news had a negative effect on their mood – the highest rate among the countries sampled.

News avoidance is starting to have an impact on subscriptions too. “While a break-out group of primarily upmarket news publishers across the world report record digital subscription numbers and growing revenues, more broadly, we find that interest in news and overall news consumption has declined considerably in many countries while trust has fallen back almost everywhere – though it mostly remains higher than before the Coronavirus crisis began,” Newman noted.

Overall, an average of 17% of people pay for news. As previous Digital News Reports have found, willingness to pay remains heavily split by geography, with Norway (41%) and Sweden (33%) having some of the highest rates of people paying for news. But the average age of digital news subscribers remains high at 47; just 8% of news subscribers are under 30.

The Covid trust bump was short-lived, and overall trust in the news is once again declining. Younger audiences trust the news the least of all cohorts. But on the plus side, in the four countries the Digital News Report explicitly studied, there hasn’t been a marked increase in polarisation in the last six years.

Sean Wood and the team at Positive News are calling for an end to the “bad news bias” across the media, saying that a solution-focused approach needs more prominence in journalism. They say that by reporting on progress as well as problems, the media can keep people informed and engaged without the news negatively impacting their wellbeing.

Climate coverage is on top of everyone’s agenda

One topic that news consumers aren’t avoiding – thank goodness – is climate coverage. The Digital News Report 2022 breaks out the proportion of audience members per country who are actively interested in news of this type, and it’s somewhat encouraging for both business models and the planet.

Interest in climate change news is highest in several Latin American, Southern European and Asia-Pacific markets; unsurprising given they’re at the forefront of the effects of more extreme weather. Just over half of respondents in Greece (53%), Portugal (53%), Chile (52%), and the Philippines (52%) say they are interested in news about climate change and the environment. Interest is lower in Northern and Western European markets such as Norway (33%) and France (36%), along with the United States (30%).

One statistic that did surprise us is that older audiences appear to be more interested. With the rise in green verticals over the past few years, this is an encouraging sign that publishers can cater to environmentally-conscious audiences and turn a profit.

On the other hand, the countries with the lowest interest have a huge left-right divide, with people on the right significantly less interested. That’s how we see things like the report that showed the right-leaning press is sneaking into climate delayism rather than outright denialism – because they’re too entrenched in the narrative that climate change is nothing to worry about to risk alienating their audiences wholesale by admitting they were wrong.

The news habits of Gen Z grow more distinct

The younger you are, the more likely you are to primarily access news via social media, according to the Digital News Report 2022. Facebook continues its decline in importance as a news source, but Instagram, TikTok and Telegram have all seen growth. One particular point of interest is that all age groups prefer to get news in text form rather than video. The most common reasons cited are that it’s quicker to read, and there’s more control.

However, that hasn’t stopped the rise of TikTok. The platform is now used by 40% of 18-24 year olds, with 15% of them saying they access news on it – up from 3% in 2020. This is primarily due to it being a very new platform which publishers have only begun experimenting with in earnest in the last twelve months or so. There are worries that entertainment swamps news content. Given the popularity of TikTok, it is all the more important for authoritative publishers to have a voice on it and to build trust with younger, more sceptical audiences.

The growing importance of social media “has brought [a] greater variety of sources and perspectives than ever before, especially for educated and interested news consumers,” Nic Newman told Digital Content Next. “But at the same time, we see those that are less interested [in the news] often feeling overwhelmed and confused.” Indeed, 15% of younger news avoiders have said they don’t consume news because it is hard to follow. This is exacerbated because they have no real established news context.

Overall, Gen Z seek out more diverse voices, are less concerned about impartiality, and are more comfortable with journalists expressing opinions on social media.

Email for news has a whole lot more potential

For the first time, the Digital News Report 2022 has a whole chapter dedicated to email news, focused on its contribution to engagement and monetisation. Overall, 17% of people on average access news via email. Austria is the highest market with a quarter of respondents getting news emails, while the UK is the lowest with just 9%.

There is a potential issue arising with email in that it is valued as a medium mainly by older, richer and more educated news consumers. 15% of over 55’s in the US use email as their main news source, but just 3% of 18-24’s. Whether this is something younger audiences will adopt as they begin to use email in the workplace remains to be seen, but it does raise questions of access.

Despite the industry hype about individual journalist newsletters, paid subscriptions remain incredibly low when compared to well-known news brands; email newsletter platform Substack has a million people paying for subscriptions to their various creators across their whole roster. In the US, which is furthest ahead when it comes to the newsletter hype, just 7% of news subscribers pay for one or more journalist emails – less than 1% of the overall sample.

However, the US is unquestionably leading the way in this. Emails from individual journalists are 5x more popular than in the UK. It is encouraging that there is a big overlap between those who get emails from news publishers and those who get emails from individual journalists; the latter is seen as a supplement to the former, rather than a replacement.

Highlighting email in this way in the report within the context of the wider news ecosystem shows just how much potential there still is for news in this ancient format to grow.

Media Voices recommends: Four key implications for publishers from the Digital News Report 2022, by Damian Radcliffe for Digital Content Next


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