5 Key Takeaways From Reuters’ 2019 Digital News Report

Right-leaning Americans don't trust the media

News organizations are feeling the crunch in 2019 as readers lose trust in the media.
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An astonishing 91% of right-leaning Americans have lost faith in the media, according to a study from the Reuters Institute of Digital News and the University of Oxford.

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism explained some of the key findings of the report, including a number of revealing datapoints about news subscriptions, trust in the media and how readers consume the news. The Tow Center for Digital Journalism at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism hosted the Digital News Report 2019 earlier this week. The study was conducted by compiling research on YouGov from an online questionnaire from the end of January to the beginning of February this year.

“This year’s report comes against the backdrop of rising populism, political and economic instability, along with intensifying concerns about giant tech companies and their impact on society,” the report said.

Following the presentation of the report, a panel of various representatives from the digital news community shared their thoughts about the state of journalism. The panel included LaToya Drake, global outreach lead, Google News Initiative; Marcus Mabry, senior director of mobile programming, CNN Digital Worldwide; Francesco Marconi, research and development chief, Wall Street Journal; Kadia Tubman, political reporter, Yahoo News; and the moderator, Emily Bell, founding director at Tow Center, Columbia University.

Consumers are losing trust in the news

One of the biggest takeaways from the report is that “across all countries, the average level of trust in the news in general is down 2 percentage points to 42% and less than half (49%) agree that they trust the news media they themselves use.” Right-leaning consumers are shown to have less trust in the media. The study shows that the most trust in media exists in Finland, Portugal and Denmark.

The result of this comes from extreme polarization, leading to the concept of “fake news” and general skepticism. Mabry said, “[CNN believes] they have a much larger audience if everyone comes to us than if one side comes to us. We’re not interested in just one side coming to us. The more worrisome number for us at CNN is that … only 9% of Americans who identify themselves as right-leaning have faith in the media […] it’s terrible for democracy.”

Tubman disagreed with Mabry that the right does not trust the media. According to Tubman, half of their audience comes from the right side, but they see a lot of trust. She said that “they come back to us for balanced news. It might be a part of our branding, a part of how long we’ve been around, or the fact that we’ve just been an aggregator for so long. We’ve been doing a lot of high-level, original investigative reporting.”

Google doesn’t consider itself a news organization

Drake said that its $300 million global investment to the fund the Google News Initiative hopes to improve the quality of news. Google will give $100 million per year for three years to its initiative. According to Drake, the Global News Initiative is “our effort to understand the challenges within the industry and figure out how Google can be part of changing and energizing growth.” She said the tech giant does not consider itself strictly a news organization, however it is trying to improve trust in the news media by focusing on “quality journalism, evolving business models, and bringing emerging technology into the newsroom.”

Readers have subscription fatigue

Another key point from the report is that most people subscribe to only one online outlet, which contributes to the “winner takes all” dynamic. Subscription fatigue, which is when consumers get tired or frustrated with paying for multiple subscriptions, is a cause for disinterest in paying for more than one news outlet. Paywalls are often seen as barriers and obstacles towards subscribing to a multiple publications. A survey by Business Insider showed that The New York Times and The Washington Post drive in more than half of all U.S. news subscribers, but most people put the limit on one online subscription.

A third of people avoid the news

According to the Digital Report, 32% of people say they actively avoid the news; avoidance is up six percentage points overall than when the question was last asked two years ago. Fifty-eight percent of people avoid the news because they feel powerless and unimportant to change events, and it prompts negative moods. This dissatisfaction is shown the strongest in the U.K. with the turmoil of Brexit; news avoidance has gone up 11 percentage points in the U.K. alone.

With the upcoming 2020 election, newsrooms are trying to do a better job of appealing to the interests of the audience, engaging and empowering them, while keeping the in-depth analysis, said Tubman. Yahoo News in particular is focusing on policy and what interests their audience. Tubman added that “when it comes to our audience, is it too much for them, are they turning it off. I don’t think they are at all.”

Smartphones are king

News consumption from smartphones is most popular for the Generation Z (aged 18-24) users versus millennials (aged 25-34), putting the 35-year-olds and older at the bottom. 45% of Generation Z news consumers come into contact first by smartphone daily, while 39% of millenial users read the news in the morning first on their smartphones. Only 19% of 35-year-olds and older use their smartphones to kickstart their consumption of the news.