Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2017

Edelman has just worked with the Reuters Institute on the release of its new report on the state of the media industry around the world. There are a few shocking findings, most notably the rise of niche politicized outlets, such as the left-wing Aristegui Noticias in Mexico and the far-right leaning Breitbart in the U.S.; the inclination of some consumers to opt out of news altogether; and the stunningly low trust in media in markets such as South Korea on the basis of excessive business and political influence. Here are the most important findings:

  1. Polarization of the News Media — This is most profound in the U.S. and UK. As an example, 49 percent of those reading The New York Times online describe themselves as left-wing, versus 7 percent as right-wing, while Fox News online has 48 percent right-wing and 9 percent left-wing. The Guardian online has 41 percent as left-wing and 12 percent as right-wing, while the Daily Mail online has 30 percent right-wing and 13 percent left-wing. The audience map for top online news brands in markets such as Holland and Norway show a strong clustering in the middle of the ideological spectrum, while the U.S. is the most divided and has the most profound left-wing concentration, with all but two of the top 15 outlets having a left-leaning audience.
  2. News Avoidance — Twenty-nine percent of respondents globally say that they avoid the news. In the U.S., 38 percent of respondents sometimes or often avoid the news (57 percent in Turkey). The reasons for avoidance include that “it causes a negative effect on my mood” (48 percent) and “cannot rely on news to be true” (37 percent). Only 6 percent of Japanese avoid the news. Melissa Bell, publisher of VOX Media, said, “We have a broken media industry because we have broken the confidence of our audience.”
  3. The Rise of Messaging Apps as News Source — In certain markets such as Malaysia, Brazil and Spain, WhatsApp for news is closing in on Facebook as a source. The Reuters team attributes this to greater privacy and the lack of an algorithmic content filter. The use of social platforms is flattening, perhaps attributable to the fear of fake news. Note that only 24 percent of respondents believe social media excels in separating fact from fiction, about half as much belief as in mainstream media.
  4. Trust in News — For the past three months, Edelman has been in the field in the UK, France and Germany because of the elections. Our findings are dire; about 25 percent trust in media in UK and France, low 30s in Germany. You will recall that we found that only 15 percent of Trump voters trusted the media, compared to 55 percent of Clinton voters, as of January. This is corroborated by the Reuters study, which finds that trust in news in South Korea is 23 percent and Malaysia 29 percent. Even in Japan, where 43 percent have trust in news, only 26 percent of respondents believe the media is free of business and political influence. Trust in media is lowest in countries with the highest levels of political polarization, such as Hungary and the U.S., plus the perception of mainstream media bias.
  5. Media Mix — Reuters found that in the U.S., local TV news is still the most-used source (35 percent), followed by Fox News (33 percent), regional or local newspapers (29 percent), CNN at 27 percent, then the big three networks at 25 percent each. For online brands, the leader is Yahoo News at 25 percent, followed by Huffington Post (24 percent), (22 percent), Fox News online (20 percent) and The New York Times (18 percent). Two-thirds of social media news users in the U.S. also watch TV news and two-thirds also visit mainstream sites or apps; only 2 percent use solely social media for news. The main source of news depends on age: 64 percent of 18-24 year old’s rely on social media, while 51 percent of those 55 and older rely on TV, versus only 24 percent of those 18-24.
  6. Gateway to News — By a two-to-one margin, respondents now prefer to use a side door to media, from search to social to aggregators, instead of going direct to the media (even higher for millennials). The UK is an exception to this rule, with over half going direct. Going direct is increasingly a viable option, a path taken by Donald Trump with 35 million followers on Twitter. Over half of Americans follow a politician on social media, followed by UK at 42 percent.
  7. Video is Coming, but Slowly — Most video is short-form on every platform, from social networks to YouTube to news websites, but still more than half of the users do not consume any video news in a week. Video is more omnipresent on entertainment sites.
  8. Accurate or Amusing? — The UK is a good case study in market analysis. The Guardian is seen as not that reliable (only 21 percent) but great for opinion (45 percent). The BBC is best for accurate and reliable news (70 percent) but only 28 percent find it entertaining.

We need the media as the foundation of functioning institutions. And we are deeply concerned about the loss of trust in media and the impact that’s having on society’s ability to stay informed, as well as our clients’ ability to communicate with stakeholders through traditional earned and paid media strategies. The 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer found that peers are now as credible as experts, so smart companies will regularly engage employees and customers treating them as partners and making them part of the conversation. This will empower them to tell the brand’s story through shareable consumer generated content on social channels.

We are going to make the causes of the demise of trust in media a focal point of the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer, and we will test various concepts, including collaborative journalism, as possible solutions. If you have suggestions for our survey, please send them along via the comment section below.

Richard Edelman is president and CEO.