Reuters Digital News Report 2021 highlights COVID impacts

Digital News Report 2021
Via Unsplash

The 2021 Reuters Institute Digital News Report was published late last month. Now in its tenth year, this edition of the comprehensive industry survey could be one of the most significant, capturing a snapshot of a media industry sector hit hard by the Coronavirus pandemic.

  • Overshadowed by the COVID crisis and the turmoil of the previous 12 months, the 2021 study aims to highlight the key issues that the news industry now faces. Lead author Nic Newman describes this as a time of ‘deep uncertainty and rapid change’ for the news industry and notes that the impact of the pandemic on news consumption will outlast the crisis.
  • Unsurprisingly, each of the 46 individual country reports features stories of lay-offs and closures as advertisers around the world restricted spending. But across the globe, new business models, especially those focused on reader revenues, have been accelerated by the crisis.
Trust increase
  • One of the biggest positives in the report was a general increase in public trust in news media, which has grown, on average, by 6% in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic. Across the entire survey sample, 44% of respondents said they trusted most news most of the time.
  • With 65% of survey respondents expressing trust in the media, Finland remains the country with the highest levels of overall trust. The USA registered the lowest levels of overall trust with just 29%.
  • The need for reliable information during the crisis put a spotlight on the value of accurate and timely information. In a number of countries, especially where there is strong, independent public service media, there has been greater consumption of trusted news brands.

On a panel discussion following the report launch, Naja Nielsen, digital director of BBC News said: “Before the pandemic, I had people asking me if news was still important,” she said. “The pandemic has changed that. Our awareness of the global struggle against the virus is down to journalism. We should be proud of ourselves.”

Subscription upside

  • Another plus in a difficult year is growth in digital subscription revenues. Although the overall percentage of people paying for online news remains low, there has been a significant increase in people paying for online news in several, more affluent Western countries.
  • In 20 countries where publishers have been pushing to develop reader revenues, an average of 17% have paid for some form of online news in the last year. This is up 2% since last year. Norway leads, with 45% paying, compared with just 8% in the UK.
  • In most countries, the majority of digital subscriptions are to a small number of leading national brands. However, in Norway, where 28% pay for some form of online news, 57% of subscribers pay for a local publication. This compares to just 3% in the UK.

Putting a positive spin on a very difficult situation, Alexandra Föderl-Schmid, deputy editor-in-chief of Germany’s Süddeutsche Zeitung said: “It was a good crisis for media companies because it really accelerated the trend to digital subscriptions. Our challenge now is to keep those new readers.”

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