Sneak Peek at the 2014 Reuters Institute Digital News Report

13 May 2014


Do people mostly read the news or watch videos? Is news consumption on mobile or tablet still growing quickly? The Reuters Institute has some of the answers in its 2014 Digital News Report and will unveil them at the GEN Summit 2014. But before that, Nic Newman, Research Associate at the Reuters Institute, Oxford University and Editor of the report, tells us a little more about it.

What are this year’s main findings?

Nic Newman: Overall, you won’t be surprised to hear that the big story remains the strong growth in mobile and tablet usage for news. We see an increasing dependence on the smartphone in particular with 20% of our respondents now saying this is their MAIN device for digital news. In some countries, we also see increasing use of news smartphone apps rather than mobile websites and we’ll be talking about the significance of that in Barcelona. Our data also expose big differences in how and where smartphones and tablets are being used – and who is using them. Smartphone news use is still heavily skewed to the younger half of the population – who are accessing far more frequently through the day and show less interest in traditional edition based packages (TV or print).

Do you look at the business side, the number paying for online news?

Nic Newman: Yes, last year we reported a significant jump in the numbers paying for news via a digital platform as paywalls went up – and this was widely picked up in the media. We haven’t seen the same increase this year but we’ll be revealing some interesting shifts in how people pay for news and we explore why they pay. We have new data on what factors encourage people to sign up for a digital news service in the first place.

What about new formats for news?

Nic Newman: Despite all the talk about the rise of video, consumers still overwhelmingly prefer the flexibility and control provided by text for digital news. For most people video is used in a  supplementary way to add immediacy or drama to the narrative. We’ll also be revealing data about why people don’t use video and about the types of stories and genres that play well with audiences in this format. Only the in the US, are we seeing a major shift toward more video usage probably driven by the growth of video led sites like NowThisNews and the growing investment by leading players such as The New York Times, Huffington Post and Buzzfeed.


And what about the growth of new challengers and the disruption of traditional media?

Nic Newman: Yes we track the performance of brands like HuffPo and Buzzfeed across all the countries where they exist. Both have been expanding their presence around the world and the formula seems to be successful with young people at least. We’ve seen significant growth since last year and we’ll reveal all the brand level performance when we launch the report in June. In a few countries we see pure players and aggregators rivalling or overtaking traditional media brands in terms of digital reach – but in most European nations traditional media continues to dominate. For each country in this year’s report we show the top brands and other key consumption data. Local experts have written extra commentary on the key developments – particularly around industry innovation and monetisation strategies.  This year we are also developing an interactive module on our website digitalnewsreport.org where you can play with the data and compare one country against another.

Any other themes that are important?

Nic Newman: We have richer and more comprehensive social media data this year – much of which is unique because it is comparative and focused on news. We also show the differences between influencer networks like Twitter and Reddit and general networks like Facebook and YouTube which are important for distribution. We’ve also looked in detail at the interaction between social media and mainstream media around breaking news stories. We have more evidence on the move to social discovery and the new tools that are being used for this. Finally I would highlight the issue of partiality and trust. This year we have explored whether traditional journalistic disciplines of objectivity and impartiality are still relevant or wanted in a digital news environment. We’ve also asked about the role of the reporter – as distinct from the brand – in driving trust. We find intriguing and substantial differences between countries.

How is this report different?

Nic Newman: There is a mass of data about digital news but most of it is about one country or a moment in time. We track the key indicators of digital disruption in the news industry over time with a survey of around 20,000 people – and we do across a range of countries including the US, Japan and most of the key European nations. So for example, we can provide information not just about social media take up but about how fast this is happening in different countries and which social networks are being used most for news – including some you might not expect. That kind of data just doesn’t exist anywhere else. But we don’t just provide raw data – we also interpret it with informed commentary and analysis from industry and academic experts.

Making all this possible, the Reuters Insitute is hugely grateful to their sponsors this year, who include Google, BBC, Ofcom, France Télévisions, Finnmedia, Newsworks (which represents UK newspapers), Edelman UK, as well as our academic sponsors and partners at Roskilde University, the Hans Bredow Institute, and the University of Navarra. All the polling was conducted online by YouGov at the end of January/beginning of February 2014.