Dr. Pradeep Mahapatra
The number of news consumers in print newspapers and television platforms has decreased in recent times. The gap created could not be filled in by digital news outlets. In comparison to earlier yearly figures consumers of digital news platforms shows that during 2017 about 63 percent of online news consumers were very or extremely interested in news, which has come down to 48 percent in 2023
Annual digital news report published by the Reuters Institute for Study of Journalism of the United Kingdom’s Oxford University generates interest among media practitioners year after year worldwide. Digital news platforms gained momentum soon after communication activities slowly shifted into an online ecosystem during the last decade of the twentieth century. ‘Digital News Report’ is being published continuously since 2012. The twelfth edition of the report was launched in the middle of June 2023. In preparation of the 160-page report, an online survey was conducted during January and February 2023 among 92,000 participants from 46 countries including India. In practice, the publication of ‘Digital News Report’ fuels discussions on the emerging future of journalism in the international level. The popularity of the report includes many reasons. First, Oxford University is the oldest and famous educational institution. Secondly,
Reuters Institute for Study of Journalism is a forerunner in the study of the global news landscape. Thirdly, the impact of digital media is a subject of close watch among those connected with the mass media. Fourthly, the survey involves a large sample from a number of countries which colours the findings trustworthy. Fifthly, continuous study on the subject for twelve years allows better understanding through comparative analysis.
Basically, ‘Digital News Report’ aggregates data on digital media and its consumers. However, as the digital news ecosystem has expanded its influence over common people’s lives and traditional media platforms are active in the process of digital transformation, study on digital news media gathers relevance. On other words, the construction of news in digital media, consumers’ habits and social impact, etc. are more or less reflected upon traditional print and television platforms. Such reasonings claim to present a clear understanding of the contemporary trends of media through a critical analysis of the ‘Digital News Report 2023’.
Management and relevance of news platforms depend on the contemporary social backdrop. The report identified the global cost-of-living crisis, continuing war in Ukraine and climate instability across the world as the three major issues by the beginning of 2023. Such a situation demand accurate, well-funded and independent journalism. The irony is that contemporary journalism is marked by low levels of trust, declining consumer engagement and uncertain business environment. Economic downturn in many countries compels citizens to rethink how much money they can spend on news consumption.
Media spend figures out to be a prominent position in the family spending budget-cut exercise everywhere. Survey results claim that 77 percent of the participating sample said they have been affected by cost-of-living crises and 20 percent were not largely affected. The report puts forth evidence on how traditional print and television news platforms are preferring to go digital due to revenue loss in business.
In many countries, the number of news consumers in print newspapers and television platforms has decreased in recent times. The gap created could not be filled in by digital news outlets. In comparison to earlier yearly figures, consumers of digital news platforms shows that during 2017 about 63 percent of online news consumers were very or extremely interested in news, which has come down to 48 percent in 2023.
Generally, it is believed that economic and political crisis tend to create increased interest among the news consumers, but the opposite picture is seen. The survey data indicates 36 percent selective news-avoiders, the people who choose not to acquire news. The nations where political polarization, that means geographies with people deeply believing in one or two political ideologies, boosts more number of willful news-avoiders.
In the report example of avoidance of news in digital platforms on the Ukraine war in the neighboring region has been analyzed. The phenomenon cannot be termed as consumers of online news lacked interest, but considered themselves to be well enough informed through coverage in social media and other channels. The reason might have prompted a majority to keep away from negative news in mainstream publications covering the horrors of the war. The report indicated that 39 percent avoided news on the war in Ukraine, 38 percent on national politics, 31 percent on issues in social justice, 30 percent on crime stories and 28 percent about celebrity news. The irony is traditionally editors continue to believe that coverage on such news stories attracts readers, listeners or viewers’ attention.
It was found that consumers of news in emerging digital networks like TikTok, Instagram and Snapchat pay more attention to celebrities, influencers and social media personalities than journalists. However, journalists still control conversation in platforms like Facebook and Twitter. But while the popularity of Facebook and Twitter continue to diminish, the popularity of TikTok, Instagram and Snapchat is on the rise. Similarly, news consumers are preferring selection of news by algorithms depending their post reading or viewing history than editors selecting news stories for general consumption.
Previously it was believed that the development of digital platforms will encourage citizens to take part in conversations that can strengthen the democratic process. But the report indicates that while only 22 percent of news consumers are active participators, about half 47 percent are not participating in the news at all. In countries like the United Kingdom and the United States of America participation on news has decreased to about 10 percent since 2016. Active participants in digital news platforms are identified to be male, better educated, and more partisan in their political views. Active participants in digital news platforms in India is calculated to be around 34 percent.
Media analysts feel that ‘The Reuters Institute for Study of Journalism’s ‘Digital News Report 2023’ “mostly substantiates and further illustrates trends that emerged n recent years – from falling trust in the news to the rise of TikTok and the decline of Facebook as a platform for news consumption. Still, the report is an important barometer of the state of news media.” Nobel Peace Prize co-winner for 2021 Maria Resa of the Philippines, founder of the independent news site Rappler criticized the methodology to measure audience trust by Reuters Institute to be faulty. The report stated about declining trust on Rappler. Maria told to The Guardian that the government in the Philippines will weaponize ‘Digital News Report 2023’ to attack journalists.
The report mentioned, “Politicians and activists are seen as the main source of media criticism in the Philippines (46%), where journalists critical of the government are routinely branded communists or terrorists.” The example of the Philippines is marked to be reflected in different nations worldwide. A question arises, whether news consumers are not accepting criticism anymore across platforms? Survey data indicated that news-avoiders are less interested in the big stories of the day, rather interested in positive or solution-based journalism. It is a big realisation.
(English translation of the original Odia newsletter by the author circulated on June 23, 2023. https://tinyletter.com/pradeepmahapatra/letters/message-307
It is an open-access content, free for translation and reproduction)
Dr. Pradeep Mahapatra is a retired faculty of Journalism, Berhampur University, Odisha.https://about.me/pradeepmahapatra
Watch “Digital News Report 2023 at Reuters, London” on YouTube
Overview and key finds of the 2023 Digital News report. Reuters Institute for Study of Journalism.