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Trust, paywalls and generation social: 2023 online news trends in six charts

Six charts that sum up the Reuters Institute Digital News Report's annual look at the global news industry.

By Aisha Majid

The 2023 Digital News Report from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism outlines the sizeable challenges currently facing the global news industry.

It shows how the ongoing structural transformation of media towards an increasingly digital, mobile and platform-dominated industry is changing business models and formats.

The data illustrates the fundamental change presented by younger news consumers who prefer to access information via platforms, particularly video-led social media networks where news is not necessarily prioritised.

Data from 46 countries paints a mostly gloomy picture. While major global events such as the cost of living crisis and war in Ukraine mean that access to trusted journalism is important, low levels of trust, news avoidance and an uncertain financial outlook are challenges hampering publishers. Data suggests that past encouraging growth in online subscriptions is stagnating amid the cost of living crisis.

There are many more findings in the report, which is based on a survey of over 93,000 adults (covered in depth in a series of articles by Press Gazette here). Below, Press Gazette highlights six charts from the report that summarise its key findings about the state of global news in 2023.

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Social media eclipses news websites and apps as entry point for news

2021 marked a shift as the share of people accessing news via social media surpassed the share of people who preferred to start their news journey by directly going to publisher websites and apps. That trend has since continued and now across the 46 countries just 22% of people say they prefer to start their news journeys with a website or app, compared to 32% in 2018.

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Analysis by age suggests it is changing habits of younger news consumers that is driving this shift. In the UK around half of over-35s continue to start their news journeys with a publisher website or app, while the share of 18–24 year olds who find news this way has fallen from 52% in 2015 to 24% this year.

The data also masks regional differences. While news brands in some Northern European countries continue to have strong, direct relationships with audiences, social media is overwhelmingly the most important entry point in parts of Asia, Latin America, and Africa.

Social media is changing

While Facebook is still the number one social network both overall and for news, its dominance is in decline in many countries. Visual and especially video-led networks such as Youtube and Tiktok are increasingly popular with young audiences. Meta itself has also turned away from news decreasing the amount of news shown in feeds and cutting back on publisher payments. The number of people who used Facebook for news fell from 42% in 2016 to 28% this year.

Tiktok meanwhile has continued to grow with its use for news increasing from 1% in 2020 to 6% in 2023. Instagram also has continued to grow, increasing from 2% to 14% of people since 2014.

Interest in news continues to fall and more people actively avoid news

News avoidance, which was outlined by senior media leaders at the start of the year as a key concern, is also almost as high as it was at its peak of 38% last year. This year, 36% of people across 46 countries said that they avoided the news often or sometimes.

The study found that while some people periodically try to avoid all news, others avoid news at certain times of the day or on certain topics.

The UK is among the countries that has seen the biggest drop in people extremely or very interested in news. Forty-three percent of UK respondents expressed they were strongly interested in news this year- down from 70% in 2015. The US has seen a similar trend, with interest in news falling from 67% to 49% of people in the same period. The UK also recorded one of the highest numbers of people totally "disconnected" from news at 9%.

Willingness to pay for online news is stagnating

For the second year in a row the average proportion of people making any online news payment remained at 17% across the 20 countries that the Reuters Institute tracks on this measure.

While the share of people paying for news has gone down in places such as Belgium (-4) and Canada (-4), and up in Australia (4), in most countries the share is largely static. Norway (39%) has the highest proportion of people paying, while the UK with Japan continues to be the joint-lowest (9%).

As in previous years, in many countries the lion’s share of subscriptions go to a small number of national newsbrands, while local newsbrands struggle to attract paying readers. In the US for example, 36% of subscribers pay for the New York Times.

The researchers also asked people who do not subscribe what might make them pay. Most (42%) said nothing would make them pay, however, on a brighter note, 32% said that would pay if the price was lower or there was more flexibility, 22% said they might pay if the content was more distinctive (22%) and 13% said they would pay if there was an ad-free experience.

Trust in news has fallen around the world

Trust in news fell by a further 2 percentage points this year, eroding some of the trust that was won back during the Covid-19 pandemic. Just four in ten people say that they trust the news most of the time.

Finland has the highest level of trust at 69% while Greece has the lowest (19%). The UK again finds itself towards the bottom of the list, with just 33% of UK respondents saying they have faith in the media. Trust in news in the US is up six percentage points from 26% in 2022 to 32% this year, perhaps reflecting a calmer political landscape after last year’s election. US trust in news however, remains among the lowest of the countries surveyed.

Among 15 UK newsbrands asked about, public broadcasters such as the BBC, Channel 4, and ITV scored the highest for trust, with the BBC taking top spot with 61% of UK adults saying they trusted the corporation. These broadcasters and national broadsheet titles all increased their trust levels compared to 2022. Tabloids however scored less well for trust, with The Sun (13%) and Daily Mirror (23%) scoring lowest.

Scepticism towards algorithms

Algorithms are used to select what news people are shown via search engines, social media and other platforms. Only 30% of people however, think that using the stories they have previously read to select what is shown to them is a good idea. The data also reveals that concern over this is rising - 36% of people considered algorithmic selection on this basis a good idea in 2016. Users however, have similar concerns about editors and journalists selecting stories with 27% of people agreeing that human curation was a good idea. This points to a wider concern about how news is selected and curated, found the report.

In the UK, 20% of people trust algorithmic selection based on past reading habits and 14% trust human selection.

Other takeaways from the report that you might have missed:

  • Participation in online news is down. Only around a fifth (22%) of people across the 46 markets actively participate while 47% do not participate at all. In the UK and US, active participators have fallen by more than 10 percentage points since 2016. Participators tend to be male, better educated and politically more partisan.
  • Media plays a more important role when times get tough. Half (52%) of people say they turn to mainstream media or specialist sources for information about personal finances and the economy.
  • News consumption in the UK remained roughly stable in the last year however, newspaper consumption fell by 3 percentage points.
  • Public media is still often the source people turn to for reliable information about big issues like the war in Ukraine or the Covid-19 pandemic. Younger audiences in places like the UK and Germany however are less likely to use public broadcasters. Just over a third (36%) of people aged 18 to 24 in the UK said that the BBC was important to them, compared to 51% of over 55s.
  • Most people still prefer to read the news online (57%), rather than watch (30%) or listen to it (13%). In the UK this figure is even higher at around eight in ten. Across all markets, people aged under 25 however, are slightly more likely (17%) to prefer listening to news. Video news is however growing.
  • Around a third (34%) of people use a podcast monthly, with 12% of people listening to shows on news and current affairs. Podcasts are more popular with younger and more educated audiences. Deep dive podcasts and extended chat shows such as The Joe Rogan Experience are the most widely consumed.

Email pged@pressgazette.co.uk to point out mistakes, provide story tips or send in a letter for publication on our "Letters Page" blog

Select and enter your email address Weekly insight into the big strategic issues affecting the future of the news industry. Essential reading for media leaders every Thursday. Your morning brew of news about the world of news from Press Gazette and elsewhere in the media. Sent at around 10am UK time. Our weekly does of strategic insight about the future of news media aimed at US readers. A fortnightly update from the front-line of news and advertising. Aimed at marketers and those involved in the advertising industry.
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