Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2024: Trump, tech and trust transforming media consumption

June 28, 2024 • 3 minute read

The Reuters Institute Digital News Report is always a fascinating read. But this year’s edition comes at a time of significant media disruption.

First off, the scale of political activity this year is unprecedented. In total, more than 2 billion voters in 50 countries are projected to be heading to the polls in 2024, placing massive importance on access to trustworthy information regarding the intentions of would-be political leaders and the influencers who shape voter opinion. The risk, and potentially huge negative impact, of dis/misinformation should not be underestimated.

Second, the onward march of Artificial Intelligence (AI) continues to transform how media is made and consumed. There remains significant debate over whether AI can actually replace the creative – let alone the investigative – work that professional journalists undertake, or whether its real calling is to drive up productivity and remove day-to-day friction by taking on ‘grunt’ tasks – data aggregation and web scraping, transcription, information summaries etc. For the first time this year, the Reuters report delves into what news consumers actually think about the use of AI in journalism. It reveals that 19% of audiences globally would feel comfortable with news mostly created by AI with some human oversight. This is low. But perhaps not as low as one might have guessed.

Thirdly, the social media landscape is undergoing significant change both in terms of user preferences and engagement, and ‘Big Tech’s’ approach and attitude towards news content. Meta has been undertaking a project to remove the news tab from Facebook globally, while adjustments to the Instagram and Threads algorithms mean that users will not be served ‘political content’ (which seems somewhat hard to define…). Users, meanwhile, are increasingly favouring video content, as well as content from partisan voices. The world of social media as a source of news, once dominated by Facebook, is now fragmented across platforms and influential personalities.

Lastly, and at least partly as a result of the previous three factors, is a broader societal, in some cases individual, issue. Trust in news continues to be problematic, and news fatigue or information overload has set in hard. Globally, only around 40% of people say they trust news most of the time. At the same time, significant numbers of people say they are actively avoiding news altogether – due to a range of factors, from lack of trust through to feelings of anxiety as a result of negative news overload.

Lessons for brands and marketers

All of this, of course, has implications for brands. These issues are of real importance both when it comes to engaging with the ‘traditional’ media to reach audiences (to build, or defend, reputation), and regarding broader communications strategies across digital platforms.

  • Focus on trust and credibility: With trust in news waning, prioritising engagement with reputable publications is essential. This is likely to mean lower volume, but higher value and much more targeted activities. It also, of course, means brands prioritising authenticity and transparency in their own communications – particularly in challenging scenarios.
  • Navigate news fatigue: There is a strong argument to made for brands to think creatively, and to identify opportunities for ‘positive storytelling’ – including through client/customer success stories and case studies which provide genuine help to audiences. News commentators (experts such as lawyers, accountants etc.) are likely to find increasing success with soundbites that are human, authentic and which, where appropriate, use humour to cut through the noise.
  • Engage and interact: Publishers across social channels have seen success and growth with engagement tactics such as quizzes and polls, as well as creating responsive content on the back of reader comments (the FT incorporates this into its main online ‘paper’). Brands can follow suit on their own channels, creating and cultivating communities with engaging content that builds loyalty from which audience insights can be leveraged into new opportunities.

A snapshot of the UK’s digital news consumption

  • Overall trust in news in the UK stands at 36%, down from 51% in 2015
  • Outside of the broadcasters (BBC, ITV, Channel 4) the Financial Times is the most trusted mainstream news brand. The Sun is the least trusted
  • Consumption of print media has been on a downward trajectory but has actually stabilised in recent years, accounting for around 14% of the news market. Likewise, news consumption on social media has also been fairly level in recent years
  • Regional news brands tend to be more trusted than mainstream papers
  • Unlike the United States, mainstream media brands such as the BBC and Sky, rather than alternative accounts, still gain most attention, especially on X and Facebook
  • Many more journalists from mainstream media brands are among the most influential individual accounts, compared to the United States. At the top of the list is James O’Brien (LBC/Global) and Robert Peston (ITV)

The full Reuters Institute report is available to read here.

What's with the robot?

The image for this blog was created using ChatGPT. The prompt was: "A busy newsroom with a 'robot journalist' typing at a computer, surrounded by screens displaying election news. In the background, people are seen lining up to vote at a polling station." Interestingly, I originally asked the tool to include Donald Trump in the image. It declined to do so on the basis that it would breach its usage protocols. This is a good thing, and perhaps a signal of an increasing desire on the part of AI developers (and the AI tools themselves) to mitigate against disinformation and to increase trust in outputs.

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