The pandemic has exacerbated long-term challenges in the news industry and has fostered a world of false information, but it’s also reminded at least some folks of the value of trustworthy and independent news, according to a comprehensive report by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism.
Around the world, the global economic downturn furthered the difficulties of news organizations, with new business models unable to make up the lost income.
“And yet this crisis has also shown the value of accurate and reliable information at a time when lives are at stake,” the institute’s 2021 Digital News Report says.
The “trust gap” between news media and social media is growing, the report says. But that trust, and consumption of media, is not shared by all, with especially the young, women, ethnic minorities, and political partisans feeling less represented by the media.
The study covered media consumers in 46 nations. Among its findings:
- Trust in the news has grown, on average, by six percentage points in the wake of the pandemic, with now 44% saying they trust news most of the time.
- Trust in news from searches and social media has remained about the same.
- Finland has the highest overall public trust in the news (65%) and the United States has the lowest (29%).
- Television news has continued strong performance in some countries, while newspapers around the world have had suffered from lockdowns and declines in physical distribution, accelerating their transition to digital models.
- In the United States, interest in the news has fallen since the election of President Biden, especially among right-leaning groups.
- Most respondents (74%) say they prefer receiving and range of views on issues, as opposed to partisan content.
- News consumers in Germany are concerned the least about receiving misinformation (37%). Brazil was the most concerned nation (82%).
- Social media use remains strong with the growth of messaging apps WhatsApp and Telegram in the Global South creating the most concern about misinformation.
In the United States, interest in the news has declined by 11 percentage points in the last year to just 55% as news organizations sought to cover the pandemic, the 2020 presidential election, nationwide protests, and the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. “The unrelenting news cycle seemed to take a toll on audiences as well,” the report says.
The report also cited the “long-predicted end of the ‘Trump Bump,’ “ with a seven percentage-point drop in the number of the most avid news consumers, nearly all of it from the political right.
In addition, the bleak nature of the news related to the pandemic may be turning consumers off.
“More than a year on, intense interest in the subject appears to be waning, with many in our focus groups saying they often find the news repetitive, confusing, and even depressing,” the report says.
The challenge for media companies, the report says, is how to re-engage public interest “without dumbing down or resorting to sensationalism, which in turn can damage trust.”
The full 164-page report can be downloaded from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism website.