While consumers look to reputable news organizations and quality brands for trusted news and information, many still use search, social media, and aggregators to find and consume news content. In fact, according to Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2019, just under one-third (29%) of consumers worldwide prefer direct access to a website or app for their news and information compared to 55% who prefer search engines, social media, or news aggregators.
However, this behavior varies by country. In the U.S., consumers regularly take a number of different paths to access news content. Reuters refers to this as the “pick and mix” model with 27% of U.S. consumers preferring direct access, 20% preferring search, and 25% using social for their news content. Regardless of the route taken, 26% of people rely on “more reputable” news sources (40% in the U.S.). An additional 24% also report they stopped using sources with a less accurate reputation. Others stopped sharing reports with potential inaccuracies (29%).
Trust remains an important factor in selecting news content. Overall trust for mainstream news sources is 42% globally and 32% in the U.S. Trust in news sources people sought out themselves is 49% globally and 50% in the U.S. Trust in news found in distributed environments such as search and social media is much lower.
While the news media faces challenging times, people believe it’s doing a better job at keeping them up to date (62%) and helping them to understand the news (51%). Unfortunately, almost one-third of consumers report actively avoiding the news because of its negative effect on their mood (58%) and say that they feel powerless to change events (40%).
Subscriptions are gaining momentum in the U.S. Reuters reports almost one in ten (8%) of their U.S. sample are digital-only subscribers (up from 3% in 2016). Notably, The New York Times now has over 3 million digital subscribers, the Washington Post has about 1 million, and the Financial Times has more than 700,000 digital-only subscribers.
These subscription models—plus alternative ones like the Guardian’s membership model—are strong performers for the year. Each employed successful marketing strategies, be it ongoing payments, unique product offerings, or bundles.
Reuters does raise concerns about subscription fatigue. Defined as the idea that people are becoming frustrated with being asked to pay separately for lots of different services online. The average (median) number of news subscriptions per person among those that pay is one in almost every country. This is the same even among the most interested in news, the wealthiest, or the most educated.
Notably, podcasts are gaining traction and adding a fresh new audio component and on-demand access to gathering news and information. In fact, 35% of U.S. consumers listened to a podcast last month. The Guardian, Washington Post, The Economist, and the Financial Times are among the forerunners of news publishers that have launched successful daily podcasts in the last year.
It’s important for news publishers to continue their strong branding efforts to differentiate their quality and reputable journalism from the misinformation on the internet. Further, while subscription revenue is important, there are also other avenues to try for revenue diversification. This is a good time for news publishers to test new formats (podcasts, videos, live, group chats, etc.) and communicate their brand personality to a younger audience.