TL;DR: Key Takeaways from the 2016 Reuters Institute Digital News Report

At Day One, we pay close attention to digital trends that can make an impact on clients and our agency. Sometimes those trends take the digital world by storm (I’m taking a break from Pokémon Go to write this), while other trends like sources of digital news consumption take years to develop. That’s why it’s our job to study reports like the Reuters Institute Digital News Report to ensure our work reflects the latest trends.

Since 2012, the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism has compiled an annual report that explores how people around the world consume news. The 2016 report is based on survey data gathered from 50,000 respondents in 26 countries. Not only is the report twice as big as last year’s, but it is the largest ongoing comparative study of news consumption in the world.

During a time of renewed concerns about the future of the news industry, the shift to mobile, and the rise of ad-blocking, this research conducted in early 2016 is proving increasingly valuable.

The study goes in-depth by country, news source, demographics, and more, but here are several key takeaways for digital storytellers:

On Devices:

Smartphone usage for news is sharply up, reaching more than half (53%) of the global sample. At the same time, computer use is falling and tablet growth is flattening out. Much of this can be attributed to investment in infrastructure and low data charges.

Of those who use a smartphone as their main device, 19% say they access news 5x per day. People who use multiple devices are also much more likely to access news more frequently.

On Social Media:

The biggest change in the report has come in the growth of news accessed via social media. In the United States alone, the percentage of people using social media as a news source has risen to 46% — nearly doubling since 2013. That number is at 51% globally.

While 12% of all respondents say it’s their main source, a whopping 28% of 18–24 year olds say it’s their main source of news. That’s more than television (24%) for the first time.

Of concern for branded outlets (think news sites or apps) is that the more people use social media to access news, the less likely they are to use those branded outlets. For those who start their day with smartphone to access news, half choose a social network while only 23% choose a branded news app or website.

Those still dedicated to accessing news through apps tend to be more interested in news, possess higher levels of income, are slightly older, and 50% more likely to pay for news online.

On Paying for News:

Most consumers are still reluctant to pay for general news online, particularly in the highly competitive English-speaking world (only 9% on average). However, in smaller countries with a language barrier, people are twice as likely to pay. Though fewer people in English-speaking countries pay for their news, average payments are highest in the United Kingdom, United States, Australia, and the Nordic countries — where ongoing subscriptions are common.

On News Aggregators & Algorithms:

An alarming finding centers around strong concerns that personalized news and more algorithmic selection of news will mean missing out on important information or challenging viewpoints. Trust in news is highest in Finland (65%) and lowest in Greece (20%). Almost everywhere, editors and journalists are trusted less than news organizations.

The study found that algorithms were more favorable than editors. People tend to think they are the best judge of what they want and algorithms are based on viewing history. Nearly a quarter (24%) of internet news users share news via social media during the average week. Most people share predominantly positive news of which they approve, which might disproportionally be affecting the amount of positive news people are exposed to.

On Ad-Blockers:

Only around 8% of smartphone users currently use an ad-blocker, but around a third of respondents say they plan to install one on their mobile device in the next year.

The report is lengthy and there is a lot of information to digest. However, if we can take away one thing, it’s this: as content creators, we need to think about more than just the content itself. We must be conscious of how we distribute the content so it reaches our audience where they are. We must optimize for mobile, we must share on social, and we must give the audience input into algorithms and curation.

— Text by Alex Dubov & visuals by Eun-Hee

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