Where is the news consumer headed?

Where is the news consumer headed?

In this blog, we dive deep into the evolving user behaviour most relevant to Indian publishers.

Our third and final post in this series concludes our discussion regarding the findings of this study of 46 diverse news media markets from around the world, based on a YouGov Survey involving 93,000 people. Coming on the back of Blog 1 - Digital media overwhelmingly the way forward for news publishers and Blog 2 - Attention - The Most Important Currency for News Publishers, this post specifically spotlights those nooks and crannies where you might find new ideas and insights, with a special focus on the Indian publishing scene. 

For the purpose of this post, we turn to that section of the report which presents an international comparison among the markets analysed by Reuters Institute’s study and a deep analysis of its findings. It helps you as publishers to understand the wider changes happening within the market and spot the ideas that have worked in other markets which may work with your audiences too. If, as publisher, you are looking to up your game, here are a few tips as distilled from the report. 

Work to win their trust

In the clickbaity world we’re living in, almost everyone seems inoculated with a healthy dose of scepticism when it comes to all kinds of news, be it regarding serious political events or even about purely celebrity-driven entertainment news. Nowhere is this scepticism more on display than in the world of news. 

According to the Reuters report, it doesn’t matter that the news appearing in front of the user is selected through an algorithm based on their past reading behaviour, based on their friends’ news consumption, or selected by a team of news editors and journalists, their degree of scepticism is about the same more or less, across markets. 

And therefore, we as publishers need to do more to convince their users of the value added by their team of editors and journalists striving to bring the right kind of news pieces to their attention. We need to get more creative about why exactly a certain type of post might add value to a certain kind of reader and try and get it in front of them.

Passive consumption is on the rise

The Reuters’ report says that overall, smaller proportions of the public are participating with news actively (22% via posting and commenting), while growing numbers either participate reactively (31% via reading, liking, or sharing) or simply do not participate with news at all (47%). A very large majority of online news consumers are passive consumers, with numbers growing over the past five years. This is a worrisome development since public debate is considered the cornerstone of democratic societies. 

There are marked differences between markets here. For instance, audiences in African, South East Asian, and Latin American markets, are significantly more participatory than those in Central and Northern Europe, North America, and East Asia. Importantly, for Indian and African markets, the differences could be driven by the fact that online users are more educated and tech-savvy than the traditional news consumers. 

An interesting finding is that while engagement and sharing of news via social media is down from 26% to 19% and that via email is down from 12% to 7% since 2018, sharing of news via messaging apps such as WhatsApp, Telegram, and others has increased from 17% to 22%, on an average. This is particularly so in markets in Latin America, South East Asia, and Southern Europe. 

Handling news media criticism

As publishers, you understand that news media criticism is rampant in the online world, whether deserved or otherwise. We understand that a lot of this criticism is trained at some of the most vulnerable of our lot, especially women and other minority groups. The Reuters Report shows that a majority of this criticism is politically motivated and set off by political and public figures. In some countries, a significant amount of criticism comes from the general public. 

While not all criticism is bad, the topic has highlighted the need for publishers to understand unfair criticism and respond to it appropriately, especially in markets where such criticism is combined with threats to physical safety. It would go a long way in communicating safety, respect, and fairness for the people who choose to work with us and associate with our brand. 

News as public service

Across markets, people see news as an important public service. In about 80% of the countries covered, a majority of respondents say that public service media are important for society, and in all 19 countries, more people say important for society than unimportant. It is interesting to see that this view holds true for users across ages i.e., younger audiences too conform with the idea. This means that public service news media should see youth as a significant target group for their content. 

The role of news podcasts

While podcasts are rightly seen as targeting little pods of audiences, they should be seen as relevant for audience growth and engagement in a rapidly changing world. The reason is that podcast listeners are financially better off, more educated, and younger. The most common podcast format is the long, extended chat or deep dive form across markets. 

So, what’s up with the Indian news consumer?

The Reuters Report says that in 2023, there was a sharp decrease in access to online news (12 percentage points lower than last year), particularly through social media (-11pp), the main sources of news for a predominantly younger audience. Television, popular among a large section of the population, also saw a 10pp decline as a news source with younger and more urban-based sample. These falls in news use can be attributed, in part, to the

reducing impact of the pandemic, with lockdown restrictions withdrawn in April, 2022. Meanwhile, digital-born brands are growing and nurturing dedicated and engaged audiences, especially those that are bilingual independent brands, affirming a strong preference for multi-lingual outreach.