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June 21, 2017, 7:01 p.m.
Audience & Social

News apps are making a comeback. More young Americans are paying for news. 2017 is weird.

The Reuters Institute’s annual report on digital news contains some surprises.

The United States recently elected an unusual president. And to go with the times, Americans are exhibiting some behaviors in media consumption that are, if not unusual, then at least different from those of people in other countries.

That’s one of the recurring findings in a report out Thursday from Oxford’s Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism. The Reuters Institute’s Digital News Report 2017 surveyed more than 70,000 people in 36 countries about their digital news consumption. (Countries included in the report for the first time this year: Slovakia, Croatia, Romania, Taiwan, Hong King, Malaysia, Singapore, Argentina, Chile, and Mexico.)

The research consisted of an online YouGov survey in early 2017, then follow-up focus groups, and covers topics like adblocking, news on messaging and voice apps, and news sharing habits. Reuters also expanded its focus on trust in news and media polarization this year. For more on those topics, see this Nieman Lab guest post by the report’s authors, and I’ll also include some bits in Friday’s fake news roundup.

Here are some of the most interesting findings from the report:

Adblocking has stalled

The hottest fear of 2015-2016 is subsiding (though it could rev back up when Google builds an adblocker into Chrome): The report finds that the growth of adblockers has stalled on desktop, at around 24 percent, and “crucially, despite industry fears, it has not spread to the smartphone where only less than one in ten (7%) have worked out how to install blockers or browsers that block by default…Another hopeful sign has been the increasing proportion of respondents (43%) who have agreed to temporarily turn off their ad blocker for particular news sites.”

And apparently 12 percent of people just like ads.

Alexa > Apple Watch

It’s super early days, but “voice-activated digital assistants like the Amazon Echo are emerging as a new platform for news, already outstripping smart watches in the U.S. and U.K.”

Americans still like social media for news. Residents of others countries, not so much.

Fifty-one percent of the people the Reuters Institute surveyed in the U.S. now get news from social media, up five percent since 2016 (and a doubling since 2013). “Two-thirds of social media users in the United States also watch television news (67%) and two-thirds also visit mainstream websites or apps (66%).”

A third of 18- to 24-year-olds (33 percent) across all the countries surveyed now say that social media is their main source of news, bigger than online news sites (31 percent) and TV news and printed newspapers combined (29 percent).

Still, “outside the United States and United Kingdom, growth in the use of social media for news seems to be flattening out. In most countries growth has stopped and we have seen significant declines in Portugal (-4), Italy (-5), Australia (-6), and Brazil (-6).”

In addition, sharing and commenting on news in social networks has either declined or remained flat in most countries over the last two years. (One exception: the United States, where both practices have risen.)

Why is this, especially given “the amount of dramatic news across the world”? It could be due to the increased use of messaging apps in other countries…

WhatsApp? In the U.S., not a lot

Twenty-three percent of those surveyed across all countries use messaging apps for news weekly. The most popular is WhatsApp (40 percent use it overall; 15 percent use it for news), followed by Facebook Messenger (36 percent overall, 8 percent for news).

But usage varies a lot by country: “Over half our sample in Malaysia (51%) says they have used the app for sharing or discussing news in a given week, but just 3% in the U.S.” And “the bulk of messaging use for news is currently happening in Asia and Latin America.”

Across the sample, 78 percent of people who use a messaging app for news also use at least one social network for news.

Could news apps be a thing again?

After a period of little or no growth, we have seen a jump in the use of news apps in almost all countries…This is much more likely to be about more regular usage by existing app users, rather than by some surge in new installs. Two key factors are likely to be at play: (a) more publishers have enabled deep linking to apps from search, social, and email; (b) the substantial increase in mobile notifications noted earlier, as publishers pursue loyalty strategies and take advantage of new platform capabilities. It is no coincidence that the biggest increase in app use has come in countries that have seen the biggest increase in mobile notifications (US, Australia, South Korea).

Apple News is also picking up momentum.

Apple News has been one of the biggest gainers over the past year following the release of the Spotlight news feed and the ability to subscribe to rich-media mobile alerts for favorite publishers. These two features together seem to have supercharged usage, with a number of publishers telling us that up to a third of their mobile traffic now comes from the app or the related Spotlight widget.

Young Americans are paying for news

The researchers tracked how many people pay for news across countries. This year there was little change in any country tracked — except the United States,

where the figure has leapt from 9% in 2016 to 16% in 2017…in the USA, the proportion of people aged 18-24 paying for online news rose from 4% in 2016 to 18% in 2017. We see the same pattern by political leaning: some growth within all groups, but particularly from those on the left.

The U.S. also had the highest proportion of respondents saying that a key reason they pay for news is that they want to fund journalism (29 percent) out of all 36 markets studied. “That figure is twice as high as the all-country average (13 percent) and helps explain why we’ve seen such a change in the last year.”

Maybe it’s counterintuitive, but people will pay for breaking news

The report’s authors caution that “we should always keep in mind that most people still do not pay for online news.” (Money quote from one person in the U.S. focus group, somewhere between the ages of 35 and 54: “It’s like, God, I’ve spent a thousand dollars on electronic devices, can you please give me something for free?”) However:

Interestingly, when asked about the type of content that had most influenced their decision to pay, across all 36 markets breaking news (41%) and reporting on recent events (38%) come out top. In-depth analysis (34%) and commentary (29%), which tend to be distinct to the news source, are next on the list. Comparatively few people (23%) pay for access to entertaining or amusing news context. The importance of breaking news is perhaps surprising, given that in most countries people can get the same breaking news from a number of free alternatives. This reasoning has motivated some publishers (such as The Times of London) to stop providing breaking news to their paying customers).

People still say no to (news) video

One of the more surprising findings from last year’s report was that most people really don’t like getting news from online video. This is still the case.

(1) Most video being consumed is short. (2) On every platform, around half of users don’t consume any online news video in a given week. (3) Only a minority of video is being consumed on news websites and this is particularly true for younger groups and in countries where social media are a bigger part of the media mix.)…

Despite greater exposure to online video news, we find that overall preferences have changed very little since we started tracking this issue four years ago. Across all markets over two-thirds (71%) say they mostly consume news in text, with 14% using text and video equally…there are no significant age differences; young people also overwhelmingly prefer text.

You can read the full report — which includes an essay by Vox’s Melissa Bell and detailed information on media consumption in various countries — here.

POSTED     June 21, 2017, 7:01 p.m.
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Chat app Telegram, not much loved by the Russian government, still attracts a loyal readership for news
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