The story so far: According to the 2022 Reuters Institute Digital News Report, trust in news is falling in nearly half the countries surveyed, with significant proportions of the public, especially younger age groups, beginning to turn away from news. Further, news consumption is increasingly happening via social media platforms such as TikTok rather than traditional media.
This study, an annual one commissioned by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, tracks how news is consumed in different countries. This year’s report, the eleventh overall, is based on a survey conducted by YouGuv, a British market research and data analytics firm, in January/February 2022 through online questionnaires. It covers 46 markets in six continents. Since it is based on online questionnaires, the findings are not necessarily nationally representative, especially for countries with lower internet penetration. For India, the data is more representative of younger English speakers and not the national population as such.
Broadly, the report documents the ways in which “the connection between journalism and much of the public may be fraying”. It flags six major trends which could have wider socio-political implications. Firstly, people are trusting news content less and less. Second, consumption of traditional news media declined in nearly all the countries surveyed. Third, the proportion of news consumers who say that they “avoid news” has risen sharply across countries, with the report describing the phenomenon as “selective avoidance”. Fourth, despite small increases in the proportion of people willing to pay for online news (mostly in richer countries), the growth in digital subscriptions for news content seems to be leveling off. Next, “the smartphone has become the dominant way in which most people first access news in the morning”. Finally, the report notes that while Facebook remained the most-used social network for news, it is TikTok that has become the fastest-growing network, “reaching 40% of 18-24-year-olds, with 15% using the platform for news”. TikTok, however, is currently banned in India.
While the majority of people remained engaged with news, the report finds that a growing minority is increasingly choosing “to ration or limit their exposure to it — or at least to certain types of news”. The report calls this behaviour “selective avoidance” and says this is one of the reasons why news consumptions levels have failed to increase as per expectations. The proportion that says they avoid news has doubled in Brazil (54%) and the U.K. (46%) since 2017. Across markets, respondents cited a variety of reasons for this avoidance. Many said they were “put off by the repetitiveness of the news agenda — especially around politics and COVID-19 (43%). Some said they were “worn out by the news” (29%). A significant number said they avoided news because they didn’t trust it (29%). About one-third (36%), especially those under 35, said that news ruined their mood. About 17% said they avoided news because it led to arguments they would rather avoid, while 16% said reading the news led to feelings of powerlessness. A small percentage (14%) said that they didn’t have time for news while 8% said that they found it too hard to understand.
The average level of trust in news, at 42%, was found to be lower than the previous year. Trust levels fell in 21 of the 46 markets surveyed, rising in just seven. The report states that an “indifference to news and its value, along with widespread perception of political and other biases by the media, are two of the main reasons for low trust”. The trust levels were also lower among those on the right, compared to those on the left, of the ideological spectrum — a pattern most pronounced in the U.S. In France, on the other hand, the lack of trust closely tracked the class divide, with the ‘haves’ showing higher levels of trust, while the ‘have-nots’ viewed media as often aligning itself with the elites. Other reasons for low trust included perceptions of undue influence from business or political interests, with just 19% agreeing that “news organisations put what’s best for society ahead of their own commercial or political interests.” At the same time, many more said that all or most news outfits “put their own political views (40%) or commercial interests (42%) ahead of society.”
Across markets and age groups, text is still king when it comes to news consumption. However, younger audiences, especially ‘digital natives’ who grew up with networks like Facebook and TikTok, were more likely to say they “watch the news”. In India, 58% said that they “mostly read” the news while 17% said they “mostly watch” it. On the other hand, the comparable figures for Finland, which has a historic pattern of high newspaper consumption, was 85% and 3% respectively.
Going beyond the fact of smartphone being the preferred mode of access, the report finds that “direct access to apps and websites” were becoming less important over time, giving ground to social media, which is becoming more important as a gateway to news due to its “ubiquity and convenience”. “At an aggregate level, we have reached something of a tipping point this year, with social media preference (28%) surging ahead of direct access (23%)” notes the report.
In the section on India, produced in collaboration with the Asian College of Journalism, the report, observing that “India is a strongly mobile-focussed market,” says that 72% of the survey respondents accessed news through smartphones and 35% did so via computers. Also, 84% of the Indian respondents sourced news online, 63% from social media, 59% from television, and 49% from print. YouTube (53%) and WhatsApp (51%) were the top social media platforms for sourcing news. India registered a small increase in the level of trust, with 41% trusting news overall. While legacy print brands and public broadcasters continued to have high trust levels , only a minority — 36% and 35% — felt that the media was free from undue political influence and from undue business influence respectively.