The latest Reuters report shows that people are turning away from traditional news—and toward social media influencers for information—in greater numbers than ever. The key reason: news is depressing. We look at the numbers for the world and India in part one. Part two will try and decode what they mean.
Researched by: Rachel John and Anannya Parekh
The key findings
The annual report is put out by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism. It is based on results of an online survey conducted across six continents—and 46 markets. Point to note: the results in India represent younger English-speakers and not the entire population. The key findings are as follows:
News avoidance: The number of news consumers who sometimes or often avoid the news is at an all-time high of 36% across the globe:
We find that this group splits between (a) those who are trying to periodically avoid all sources of news and (b) those that are trying to specifically restrict their news usage at particular times or for certain topics.
‘News avoiders’ tend to seek positive or solution-oriented news. Point to note: The 2022 Reuters survey showed that 36% said news ruined their mood.
Shrinking news consumption: Industry experts have long known that news audiences are shifting online—and away from legacy media. But Reuters numbers show that even though print and TV are haemorrhaging audiences, social media and online news are not filling the gap: “Our data show that online consumers are accessing news less frequently than in the past and are also becoming less interested.”
As for India: The trend holds true for us, as well:
There was a sharp decrease in access to online news (12 percentage points lower than last year), particularly through social media (-11pp), the main sources of news for a predominantly younger audience. Television, popular among a large section of the population, also saw a 10pp decline as a news source with our younger and more urban-based sample.
Low engagement: Those who are actively engaged with the news has dropped precipitously:
Despite the political and economic threats facing many people, fewer than half (48%) of our aggregate sample now say they are very or extremely interested in news, down from 63% in 2017.
And they are far less engaged. Reuters segments its samples in terms of those who actively participate—posting and commenting on news—those who mostly react by liking and sharing, and those who don’t participate at all—”a group that we call passive consumers.” Only 22% are now active participants—with 47% (!!!) not participating at all.
FYI: Most active participants tend to be male, better educated, and more partisan in their political views. Our interpretation of that stat is that polarisation has amped up negative forms of engagement—which has alienated the rest. They have become more passive or entirely disengaged.
Social media effect: Unsurprisingly, more people than ever access their news on social media (30%)—rather than directly access a news site or app (22%). The direct access number has dropped by 10 points since 2017. In India, the greatest number (43%) prefer search and online news aggregators.
More importantly: Even on these social media platforms, people pay more attention to celebrities, influencers, and personalities than journalists—except for Twitter.
News preferences: For all the hype over video, most people prefer to read the news rather than watch or listen to it: “Text provides more speed and control in accessing information.” Point to note: For all the hype around news podcasts, only 34% listen to a podcast each month—and only 12% choose a show on news or current affairs. What’s notable: news-driven shows that are popular are either deep dives—or have a popular host like Joe Rogan.
As for India: Reuters numbers indicate that English language users mostly access legacy news websites online—with NDTV topping the list. And 56% opt for YouTube as their source of news among social media platforms. What’s frustratingly missing: a comparison between social media and news outlets as a preferred source of news. Point to note: A Google report released in May showed that Indian language users got most of their news from YouTube (93%)—followed by social media (88%) and messaging apps like WhatsApp (82%).
Curious bit about personalisation: ‘Personalisation’ has been a big online content mantra for over a decade—supposedly a reason why tech-driven curation is superior to that of newsrooms. But the survey shows that audiences are growing more sceptical about these algorithms. Only 26% of those above the age of 35 agree that “having stories automatically selected for them based on what I have consumed in the past is a good way to get news”—a 6% drop from 2016.
But the decline is even steeper among younger users who rely on these algorithms the most—falling from 48% to 35%. What’s interesting is that the percentage of those who prefer journalists to curate their news has remained exactly the same—which means the share of those who fall in the middle has increased over time.
Never gonna pay for it: The willingness to pay for news has stalled out—even in wealthy countries:
In the United States, Germany, and the United Kingdom, about half of non-subscribers say that nothing could persuade them to pay for online news, with lack of interest or perceived value remaining fundamental obstacles.
And most of this revenue goes to a handful of big name brands.
As for India: The Google report showed 15% of Indian language consumers are willing to pay for news. That’s way higher than the UK (9%) as per Reuters’ numbers—which has not released India numbers for English-language consumers. So we can’t really make a comparison. One reason Indians may be more likely to pay: they are growing increasingly frustrated with “poor content presentation, too many advertisements and user experience on news portals.”
The trust factor: Trust in news outlets continues to fall across the world. On average, only 40% say they trust most news most of the time. But in India, the numbers are relatively high—especially in public media like All India Radio (69%), DD India (70%) and BBC News (66%). Independent, left-leaning brands like Scroll (50%) and The Wire (52%) do less well. Overall, 38% trust news in general—and 45% “trust the news I use.”
Interesting to note: A recent survey showed that Indians' trust in government and business has increased—while it has declined with regard to media and NGOs. That said, overall trust across these institutions is among the highest in the world.
The bottomline: In part two, we try to figure out the ‘why’ of these numbers—and what it may mean for the future of news.
You can read the key findings and full 2023 report over at the Reuters website—and last year’s report, as well. The India page is here—or you can read NewsLaundry’s summary. The Hindu has the highlights of the Google report on Indian language news consumption.