Digital News Report reveals declining news interest

  • 17 Jun 2024

Research by the Reuters Institute for Journalism reveals UK audience interest in news has dropped by almost half since 2015, although trust in public service broadcasters in the UK and Ireland remains.

Findings by the Reuters Institute for Journalism has revealed UK audiences for traditional news sources including TV and print have fallen considerably over the past decade, although overall trust in news is marginally up this year. Public service broadcasters such as the BBC, channel 4 and ITV remain the most trusted among audiences, with 64 per cent of those surveyed indicating their trust in the BBC and 59 per cent for both channel 4 and ITV. Trust in RTÉ and The Irish Times scored highest among respondents at 72 per cent.

Despite public confidence in broadcasters, the landscape for many remains difficult with economic pressures too often resulting in cuts. The BBC continues to grapple with the consequences of a lower licence fee increase than expected, in a decision the NUJ expressed its disappointment at last year. Cost-cutting measures at the public service broadcaster saw significant cuts to BBC local radio, in the face of opposition from the union, campaign groups, audiences and parliamentarians.

The Digital News Report states social media platforms Facebook and X have adopted approaches resulting in a reduction in the prominence of news content available to audiences through their platforms. This is despite findings in the report revealing Facebook ranks highest at 17 per cent among those in the UK accessing it for news, followed by 14 per cent for X and 13 per cent for YouTube. Findings on the use of social media and messaging networks revealed 29 per cent of those surveyed used Facebook for news in Ireland, 23 per cent used YouTube followed closely by 22 per cent for WhatsApp.

The survey conducted using an online questionnaire sought insight into how news is being consumed globally. 39 per cent of those surveyed stated they sometimes or often avoid the news - a figure up three percentage points on 2023’s average. Both local and international news were considered the most important news topics among all those surveyed.

In the UK, the proportion of those who trust most news most of the time is 35 per cent this year, in comparison to 51 per cent in 2015. There has also been a long-term decline in news interest - 70 per cent indicated they were extremely interested or very interested in news in 2015, compared to 38 per cent this year. As publishers find new ways to deploy AI in newsrooms, the NUJ is urging consideration of the impact of generative AI on public trust in news to avoid further erosion. The union is aware of varying approaches adopted by publishers and has stressed AI generated journalism cannot replace the talent and skillset of journalists. Globally, researchers of the Digital News Report found “widespread suspicion” about the use of AI, especially for news on politics or war. Editorial investment is the key to combatting misinformation and concerns highlighted in the report especially in relation to global news, mirror the union’s concerns.

Whilst AI and its impact on journalism remains significant, publishers are also tackling a broad range of issues including those linked to funding models. Some have increased revenue through subscription models, with The Guardian amassing over 1 million paying members and The Times and Sunday Times accruing over 558,000 digital-only subscribers.

The report notes events at public service broadcaster RTÉ and headlines over the past year. The NUJ has been vocal about the need for a sharp focus on the funding of RTÉ to ensure its sustainability. Findings reveal RTÉ News remains the most used news source for TV, radio, print and online, retaining high levels of trust, thereby demonstrating an acute public awareness of the distinction between RTÉ’s corporate culture and the journalists who continue to provide quality, public service journalism.

The proportion of those who trust most news most of the time in Ireland, remained at 46 per cent – the same as in 2015. 

Ethical journalism and the values which underpin it are platform neutral. The NUJ recognises that public trust in journalism can only be retained if those who engage in journalism adhere to standards of professional conduct which respect facts - and respect viewers, readers and listeners.

17 per cent pay for online news in Ireland, compared to 8 per cent in the UK. As the way in which audiences access news diversifies with a growing number of people turning  to online sources, the NUJ is urging greater investment in media literacy and in measures that ensure the protection of quality journalism that retains the trust of audiences and plays a crucial role in underpinning democracy.

Digital News Report 2024.

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