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June 12, 2019updated 30 Sep 2022 7:55am

Reuters Digital News Report 2019: People actively avoiding news because of Brexit

By Freddy Mayhew

More than a third (35 per cent) of UK news consumers are actively avoiding the news with a majority (71 per cent) of them giving Brexit as the reason why, according the latest Reuters Digital News Report.

The proportion of people who say they often or sometimes avoid the news in the UK in 2019 is up 11 per cent on 2017 (when the question was last asked) and has been “driven by boredom, anger, or sadness over Brexit”, the report claims.

It also says the majority of open-ended survey responses mention “frustration or sadness over Brexit”.

The report, published today, is based on a Yougov survey of more than 75,000 online news consumers in 38 countries, including more than 2,000 UK adults, carried out in January and February this year.

It finds that UK news readers are among the most concerned about “fake news”, with 70 per cent saying they are worried about what is real and fake on the internet, up 12 per cent from the last report.

The report said: “The biggest jump in concern came in the UK where the news media have taken a lead in breaking stories about misinformation on Facebook and YouTube and there has been a high-profile House of Commons inquiry into the issue.”

More than half (55 per cent) of those surveyed worldwide are concerned about their ability to separate what is real and fake on the internet.

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Trust in news media has fallen by 11 per cent since 2015 to 40 per cent among UK respondents, the report also finds. Trust is slightly higher among those who identify as being on the political right (41 per cent) than those on the political left (38 per cent).

Across all countries, trust the news media is at 42 per cent.

The report said: “Major upheavals like the Yellow Vests or Brexit in the UK have put a strain on perceived impartiality of the news media, which in turn can affect trust. But if we look over time across some of our biggest countries, we see a generalised – and worrying – picture of decline.”

Fewer people are starting their day with radio, TV or print news, with more people using the internet and mainly on mobile, the report finds.

In the UK, the smartphone is now the main first gateway to news (28 per cent) overtaking TV (27 per cent). Among smartphone-first users, nearly half (43 per cent) go to a news app or website first, which the report says is “almost certainly driven by the popularity of the BBC News app”.

For under-35s almost half start their day with social media (44 per cent).

In the UK the smartphone overtook the computer in 2017 as the most popular way to access news and together with the tablet now preferred by twice as many people. The report said tablet usage is “stable, with a small group of older and richer users (16 per cent) continuing to prefer accessing news via larger screens”.

Report author Nic Newman said: “These trends matter for three reasons. First, it has become harder to make display advertising work on smaller screens and this is contributing to the financial difficulties for publishers.

“Second, content formats designed for the print/desktop era are becoming increasingly outdated on mobile displays, and third, personally addressable devices enable targeted content and experiences – putting a greater premium on those with access to more content and more data (primarily platform companies).”

In the UK a quarter of Apple smartphone users (24 per cent) access news via Apple News while 35 per cent of digital subscribers said they had used one or more email newsletters in the last week.

Overall, exactly two-thirds of survey respondents use a smartphone to access news weekly, which is driving the popularity of podcasts. Mobile phones are the most used device for podcast listening. In the UK, 21 per cent of people surveyed had listened to a podcast in the last month.

But, while voice-activated smart speakers like the Amazon Echo and Google Home continue to grow the report finds that “usage for news remains low in all markets”.

Email remains effective with older, highly engaged news users, even if overall usage has not grown over the last five years.

Mobile alerts tend to be used by younger groups and have grown in weekly use from 3 per cent to 20 per cent in the UK.

The report found that heavy news users are 2.5 times more likely to use mobile alerts than casual news users.

It said: “Publishers are learning how to use alerts more strategically – and not just for breaking news. Different content is now selected for different day-parts and also at weekends, while readers are being targeted individually with relevant content driven by artificial intelligence algorithms.”

Only 9 per cent of UK survey respondents said they pay for online news. Overall there is only a small increase in the numbers of people paying for any online news.

The report found readers typically have only one online subscription, but do make payments on an ongoing, rather than a one-off, basis.

“There is no sign that the majority of people are about to pay for online news, although many recognise that information on the internet is often overwhelming and confusing,” the report said.

“Younger audiences in particular don’t want to give up instant, frictionless (and ideally free) access to range of diverse voices and opinions. They don’t want to go back to how the media used to be.”

In conclusion, Newman said: “Despite the greater opportunities for paid content, it is likely that most commercial news provision will remain free at the point of use, dependent on low margin advertising, a market where big tech platforms hold most of the cards. This is where competition

for attention will be most acute, where journalistic reputation will be most at risk, and where diversified revenue streams and smart strategies will be most critical for survival.

“A number of media companies are unlikely to make this difficult transition. Many news publishers are stuck in a vicious cycle of declining revenue and regular cost cutting… We also find some governments – increasingly alarmed by market failure, especially

in local news and investigative journalism – considering using public money and other measures to support pubic interest journalism.

“Elsewhere, we find authoritarian-minded politicians looking at the weakness of commercial media as an opportunity to capture or unduly influence the media. These trends continue to play out at different paces in different places with no single path to success.

“Media users all over the world continue to flock to digital websites and platforms, and engage with many kinds of journalism online and offline. But we are still some way from finding sustainable digital business models for most publishers.”

Read the full Reuters Digital News Report 2019.

Picture: Reuters/Neil Hall

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