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U.S. media sees some promising signs, despite ongoing challenges

June 15, 2023 | By Rande Price, Research VP – DCN

In an era where digital media, social platforms, and cutting-edge technology constantly redefine how we consume and interact with news, understanding the dynamics of the news ecosystem is crucial. Each year, Reuters Institute’s Digital News Report  aims to unravel these transformations, provide insights into future challenges and uncover opportunities for news organizations. Remarkably, this year’s report reveals a notable resurgence in news interest and trust within the United States, following a significant decline witnessed in the previous year.

News engagement and trust

According to the report’s U.S. survey, 73% of respondents report accessing news at least once per day, a 6-percentage point increase from the previous year. This rise in news consumption highlights a recovery from the “tuning out” phenomenon that followed the Trump presidency and the height of the COVID pandemic. Although news engagement remains below the peak levels observed during those periods, recent increases offer hope for a rebound.

Moreover, the survey reveals that interest in the news is recovering somewhat, while trust in the news is also experiencing a significant rebound of 6 percentage points following last year’s lows. These findings indicate a positive shift in public sentiment toward news organizations and their credibility.

Local and national news challenges

Despite the signs of increased news engagement and trust, the news industry continues to grapple with economic turmoil. Gannett, the largest newspaper chain in the states, announced a 6% reduction in its U.S. media division, resulting in approximately 200 job cuts. This move follows previous layoffs of 400 employees at Gannett publications. The local news sector is most affected by the closure of over 360 newspapers between late 2019 and May 2022, predominantly weekly newspapers serving small to mid-size communities.

Recognizing the importance of local news, efforts to preserve it are proliferating. These initiatives include the adoption of non-profit and diversified commercial business models, the establishment of start-up labs, and the availability of local and national funding opportunities. There is also a trend towards returning to local ownership, as communities recognize the value of having a reliable and independent local news source.

The news industry’s difficulties extend beyond the local level, with major national media organizations also experiencing difficulties (and the media industry as a whole suffering from record level reductions). CNN announced layoffs affecting hundreds of employees, including discontinuing live programming on HLN, its sister channel. National Public Radio (NPR) cut 10% of its staff and stopped production on four popular podcasts due to a $30 million budget deficit. Vox Media laid off 7% of its workforce, and BuzzFeed closed its entire news division, citing a lack of support from major platforms.

Subscription growth

On a more positive note, the U.S., the subscription landscape for news consumption is thriving, with around 56% of subscribers opting for two or more subscriptions. Additionally, the popularity of platform-based news subscription products, including Apple News+, with 18% of U.S. subscribers, is also rising. Interestingly, this trend of multiple subscriptions is not limited to the U.S. Australia, Spain, and France are also witnessing a surge in second subscriptions.

Within the U.S., 8% of subscribers are willing to pay for newsletters written by individual journalists or influencers, while 5% opt for podcasts or YouTube channel subscriptions. This trend of paying for content from independent creators is still predominantly within the U.S. market. The willingness to invest in personalized newsletters and content from individual creators suggests a growing demand for alternative news sources and a desire for unique perspectives. Although currently more prevalent in the U.S., this trend could expand to other markets as news consumers seek specialized and personalized content.

Social media shifts

The report finds declining engagement with Facebook and the rise of TikTok and a range of other video-led networks. Younger audiences show a weaker connection with news brands’ own websites and apps than previous cohorts – preferring to access news via side-door routes such as social media, search, or mobile aggregators.

Social media as a news access point continues to raise concerns about the potential impact on the diversity and quality of news. With algorithms often prioritizing engagement and clickbait-style content, there is a need for critical evaluation of the information consumed through social media platforms. News and media literacy education remain crucial in equipping individuals to discern credible news sources and navigate their social media-driven news consumption.

A.I. impacts journalism

Debates persist among journalists and researchers regarding the challenges and opportunities posed by A.I. in journalism. Some news outlets, such as BuzzFeed, are using A.I. to create travel guides and quizzes, while Bloomberg has launched its own GPT (Generative Pre-trained Transformer) tool. Nevertheless, many journalists and newsrooms still have concerns about generative A.I.

Amidst a challenging landscape, the Digital News Report 2023 offers encouraging findings of news interest and trust making a comeback in the U.S. Despite economic difficulties and workforce reductions, there are also positive signs, such as a rise in subscriptions and newsletters, which highlight the growth of sustainable paths in journalism.

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