From ‘boob tube’ to YouTube: Mobile, social networks changing the landscape of news

Reuters/Thomas Peter
Smartphones and tablets are squeezing out television as a major source of news, according to a new report based on data collected from 20,000 people in 12 countries. Younger audiences give preference to social media over papers and TV.

A quarter of the polled sample said the smartphone was their main device for accessing digital news, up from 20 percent in 2014. That figure rises to 41 percent among those under the age of 35, says the fourth annual Digital News Report, produced by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford.

Smartphones in particular are described as having a “disruptive impact on consumption, formats, and business models.” People who get digital news from their phones tend to prefer a single news app or none at all, choosing instead to access articles through the browser.

The UK is an outlier, with over half the respondents relying on the BBC app. The British public service redesigned their website in 2015, citing that 65 percent of their traffic comes from smartphones and tablets. In the US, the top news app is Fox News at 14 percent, though 10 percent of all respondents use a local news app on their phones.

Television and online news are holding steady, while newspapers are in decline, with social media taking their place, the report reveals. Older audiences are using digital news as an “additional layer of choice and convenience” without abandoning television, radio and print, the report has found.

Younger audiences “increasingly expect the news to come to them through online channels and in new formats,” turning away from television. In the US, less than a third ‒ 31 percent ‒ of those under 45 now watch a scheduled TV newscast, compared to 42 percent in 2013.

(source: Reuters Digital News Report 2015)

Social media are not seen as a destination for accurate and reliable journalism but more as a way of getting access to it,” the report notes.

Facebook leads the social networks in finding, discussing and sharing news, according to the research. “We seek news on Twitter, but bump into it on Facebook,” the report reveals, with 41 percent of global responders using Facebook “to find, read, watch, share, or comment on the news” each week.

While this has raised some concerns over online filters, respondents say these services “help them find more diverse news and lead them to click on brands they do not normally use.”

The US has the lowest level of trust in the media of all the countries included in the report. Only 32 percent of Americans trust the press, comparable to Spain (34 percent) and Italy (35 percent). Finns trust their media the most, at 68 percent.

Many of the countries with the highest levels of trust also have well-funded public service broadcasters,” the report noted.

The public’s preference for online news content is giving advertisers and business managers a headache. Some 67 percent of Americans would not buy a digital-only news subscription at any price, and only 11 percent pay for content.

Unable to charge for access, many news sites have resorted to online ads. However, 47 percent of Americans use ad-blocking services to filter them out, and a third say they pay no attention to ads at all.

To cope with this problem, a number of outlets are turning to “advertorials,” sponsored content mimicking news reports or editorials. The report suggests this approach may backfire, as a third of respondents say they felt “disappointed or deceived after reading an article they later found had been sponsored,” while 28 percent feel “less positively about the news brand as a result of sponsored content or native advertising.”

(source: Reuters Digital News Report 2015)

Only 13 percent find sponsored content valuable, while half of the respondents don’t like it, but tolerate it as the price of getting free news.

Resentment of advertising is also a factor with audiences embracing video content. Almost a third of the respondents who don’t use video cited pre-roll ads as the reason. Four in ten say they find reading text more convenient.