Public Relations

Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2019

The annual Reuters Institute Digital News Report aims to deliver useful and timely data about the transition to digital.

The 2019 report offers “important new insights into key issues including people’s willingness to pay for news, the move to private messaging applications and groups, and how people see news media around the world performing their role.” – Professor Rasmus Kleis Nielsen

With challenges such as political and economic instability, digital disruption and concerns about technology for media outlets to report on (and which they are also affected by), the 2019 report takes an in-depth look at reporting in a digital age.

Misinformation, click-bait and sensationalist headlines are helping to undermine trust in the media and audiences are craving balanced and fair reporting.

“This year’s report comes amid a complex set of challenges for the news industry specifically and for our media environment more broadly, including the ongoing disruption of inherited business models for news, constant evolution in how people use digital media and social upheaval associated with the rise of populism and with low trust in many institutions.” – Professor Rasmus Kleis Nielsen

Here is my overview of some of the key points and headlines.

Pay to play

Some news organisations are looking to subscription, membership or other forms of reader contribution to access content. However, the vast majority of users only have one online subscription, showing what the report calls a “winner takes all dynamic”.

In some countries, users are favouring entertainment over news. The report asked under 45s to pick which one media subscription they would choose for the next year. 37% chose online video, 15% online music and just 7% online news.

News ranked higher among older age groups, but still lagged behind entertainment services.

Accessing news

43% of those in the UK say they go to a news website or app first when using a smartphone and the report states this is “almost certainly driven by the popularity of the BBC News app”.

Comparing 2016 and 2019, in the UK people’s first contact with news has shifted from radio and TV (24% and 32% respectively in 2016, 20% and 27% in 2019) to smartphone, rising from just 16% in 2016 to 28% in 2019.

35% of those in the UK overall go to social media first – 17% Facebook, 11% Twitter and 3% Instagram. However, in under 35s in the UK, the figure for accessing news first via social media jumps to 44%.

I’m sure it will come as no surprise to those in the industry that users are accessing news online via their smartphones, and want it instantaneously. It is an important factor for those in the PR industry to keep in mind.

Change in social media usage

Social media channels that those in the UK are using are changing, as to be expected. “The picture in the UK is typical of many Western countries and shows that many people are spending less time with Facebook and more time with Instagram and WhatsApp” the report explains.

Usage of Snapchat and Facebook is down dramatically in all users and under 35s specifically, whereas Twitter, YouTube, WhatsApp and Instagram are all seeing a steady rise.

“Younger groups in many countries seem to be swapping Snapchat for Instagram, which has become, for many, the ‘go-to’ social network. This year’s depth interviews confirm that young people are spending less time with Facebook, even if they are not abandoning it altogether.”

Trust in news

With more than half (55%) of those surveyed concerned about their ability to separate what is real or fake on the internet, users are looking for more reputable sources of news.

In the UK, 29% of respondents have changed their online habits and started using more reputable sources. 26% have decided not to share an ‘unreliable’ story on social media.

There is still a way to go, but it is a positive sign that more and more people are actively looking for reliable sources of information and are aware of misinformation and how it can spread.


It won’t be news to those in the PR industry and beyond that listening to podcasts is on the rise. Over a third of the report’s sample has consumed a podcast in the last month.

In the UK, 21% of respondents had listened to a podcast recently, up 3 points from the previous year. And publishers are tapping into this with more and more news outlets launching podcasts in recent years.

The majority of podcast usage is at home (58%), commuting on public transport (24%) or via private transport such as the car or bike (20%).

What I found particularly interesting was why different age groups are listening to podcasts. In the 18-24 age group, the most common reason was to be entertained (51%), and the same in 25-34-year-olds (57%). But for those 35+ the most common reason was to learn something (54%).

There is plenty more data to look at and lots more we can learn from the Reuters Institute Digital News Report, but these were the insights that caught my eye in particular.

You can download the full report or view the key findings here.

Disclaimer: all data in this blog post is from the 2019 Reuters Institute Digital News Report and the analysis is my interpretation of this. All direct quotes come from the full report.

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