10 quietly revolutionary trends in digital news from RISJ

The way we all consume news is a strong indication of digital trends across the whole publishing and media sector. So the latest Digital News Report from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism (RISJ) is definitely worth a read. I believe it unearths some subtle trends in consumer behaviour and corporate moves that could be quietly revolutionary.

1. News is being consumed online rather than print and TV

On both sides of the Atlantic, printed newspapers are sliding as a source of news, and even TV audiences are slipping, as online news in aggregate just edges ahead of TV. Even traditional newspaper brands are finding that their online reach is catching up with print.

2. The under 35s are driving the shift from print and TV

There’s a sharp contrast in behaviour across the age groups – with the under 35s far more likely to turn to online news sources and social media than print or TV. As this group becomes a larger part of the economy, the move to digital will accelerate. And it’s a big challenge for publishers whose audience spans both ends of the age spectrum.

3. Smartphones perfectly bridge the news gap

Weekly news access via smartphones has grown from 37% to 46% across the 12 countries surveyed in the last year. 25% say the smartphone is their main device for accessing news. It’s a perfect, personal, convenient channel for commutes, travel time and downtime when away from home or office. Tablets are still used in the evening, at home, but the growth hasn’t been so dramatic. And again, smartphones are most popular with under 35s.

4. Social media is an important news gateway – and Facebook dominates

36% of the UK population used social media as a source of news in the past week – up from 23% in 2014. There’s a sharp age division in the discovery of news on social: 41% of under 35s and 23% of over 35s found news on social media in the previous week. Facebook has seen its volume of news shares grow by 40% in the last year, and tops the rankings of social platforms used for news, followed by Youtube and twitter. Twitter seems to be used more for serious news – business and politics – and specific searches, while Facebook users “bump into” stories and it has a bias to more populist and lifestyle news. Among under 25s, Snapchat, Instagram and WhatsApp are growing in popularity, while Facebook has a very flat age profile.

5. Rise of video storytelling

Video is the most shareable content on social networks, and more publishers are using video for quick, impactful storytelling – for breaking news, short interviews or context. Facebook’s recent move to autoplay videos in news feeds, now followed by twitter, has dramatically grown their viewing stats.

6. Notifications a new entry point

News apps and mobile web are equally popular, although news apps have the added benefit of generating notifications – these now account for 10% of news story sources in the UK, and a higher level elsewhere.

7. Digital born news media are encroaching worldwide

In the US, the “digital born” media including Huffington Post and Buzzfeed, match the reach of traditional broadcasters and comfortably surpass the newspapers. Even in the UK, where the BBC dominates, relative newcomer HuffPo has a similar reach to the Guardian and Daily Mail for digital news.

8. Paid news still a conundrum

Consumers still largely consider that mainstream news should be free, and a majority are dead against paying. While many countries have seen some success in online subscriptions for news services, they only account for 10% of digital news consumers, most of whom prefer to use free news outlets. Specialist B2B publishers have been more successful in growing paid subscriptions, but it is still a challenge for general publishers.

9. Platforms becoming publishers

As the digital giants of Apple, Facebook et al grow their share of online browsing, they are starting to encourage publishers to provide their content within their own environment. Hence the launch of Facebook Insights, Apple News and Snapchat Discover. Whilst this provides publishers with extensive reach, it does mean that these organisations’ hidden algorithms control the content people see.

10. Ad averse consumers

The majority of online consumers either simply ignore banner advertising, or find it so irritating they avoid sites where it is intrusive. Almost half of UK and US consumers already use ad-blocking software. The challenge for publishers is then funding content – many are exploring native advertising and sponsored content, which works well with the new social distribution tactics. But here there are more pitfalls – about a third of UK consumers – and more in the US – have felt deceived or misled by poorly labelled or badly executed sponsored content.

So what does all this mean for publishers? Take mobile, and especially smartphones seriously; cater for the different preferences of both ends of the age range; embrace social distribution of content; and tread carefully with both traditional advertising and sponsored or native content.

Read the full RISJ report here

Thinking about how your publishing business can respond to these trends?  Feel free to get in touch for a no-obligation chat about some ideas.

About the author

Carolyn Morgan has over twenty years experience launching, growing, buying and selling specialist media businesses across print, digital and live events.  Carolyn now advises publishers large and small on their digital strategy and writes and speaks on the topic of digital publishing strategy for media industry publishers and events. Follow Carolyn on twitter @carolynrmorgan

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