22 June, 2020
Impact of Covid-19 crisis on news: serious economic threats but also opportunities to reinvent relationship with audience
The latest edition of the Reuters Digital News Report, which was published on 16 June 2020, is based on surveys completed in January 2020 with over 80.000 online news consumers in 40 markets all over the world. Following the Covid-19 pandemic, the report has been enriched with new surveys in six countries (UK, USA, Germany, Spain, South Korea, and Argentina) to assess the effects of the crisis.
The pandemic has highlighted the crucial need for reliable and accurate journalism at times where access of news is no longer under the sole control of news media and it has reminded us that ‘even weakened media play a critical role in informing populations and shaping opinion’, refuting the classic ‘trend from populist politicians to undermine media’.
In general, the report reflects the following trends and impacts:
Trust in media: a continuing decrease. In general, the level of trust towards media continue to fall (- 4%) with great disparities in Europe - more than 50% in Portugal and Finland as opposed to a drop to 23% in France and a decrease of more than 10% in the United Kingdom and Denmark. Public Service Media, while remaining the most trusted media source especially in Northern Europe, also suffer from this declining trust. However, it is worth noting that 60% of the respondents prefer news that has no particular point of view.
During the Covid-19 crisis, people turned to TV (the most trusted media) and online news, the less trusted media continued to be social media and especially Facebook (WhatsApp in Global South). However, even though 60% of the people are satisfied with the crisis coverage by the media, the trend in higher audience for TV and trusted brands websites does not seem to last after the crisis. It is also interesting to observe that the most reliable source of information for the respondents were the scientific/medical community and the national or global health organisations, the news media only ranking at the 4th position at the same level than national governments.
Access to media: the digital shift The top access source for news remains local newspapers or websites, followed by social media and especially Instagram when it comes to accessing news. However, social media are the principal side access to news for the young generation. The question of paywalls, largely used for online news, starts raising some concern with regard to the access to high-quality news content for society while most people are still not paying for online news (except in Norway - 42% with an increase of 8% - and in the USA – 20% with an increase of 4% -, mostly for the benefit of big national brands).
During the Covid-19 crisis, a high rise of online news and social media consumption - especially Whatsapp and Instagram - could be observed. This might accelerate the shift to digital media.
Information disorder: a call for more responsible media 56% of the respondents share high worries regarding misinformation, the most named source of misinformation being the domestic politicians. Most of the respondents would prefer that news media work at debunking false statements from politicians and would like to see platforms blocking adverts presenting inaccurate claims. Despite a very low level of trust in social media, the use keeps increasing, suggesting that people are confident enough in their own ability to spot misinformation content. In this sense, a more detailed survey reveals that people relying on social media do not seem less informed than others.
During the Covid-19 crisis, digital literacy became the priority of platforms which actively reacted to the increase of information disorder content related to the virus.
News format: mobile and audio Media companies have to adapt their format to follow the clear shift in news consumption as 62% access news through their smartphones. Podcasts also continue to attract more and more people, especially people under 34, Spotify being the leader in this market. 31% of the respondents access a podcast monthly (29% last year).
Topic in focus: climate change concern. long-term survival and climate change represent a serious problem for 59% of the respondents, United States, Sweden and Australia are the only countries where this issue is disputed by significant minority groups.
On the one hand, the Covid-19 pandemic has created opportunities for innovations in data journalism and visual online formats proposals to explain the crisis, exposed the most reliable media and highlighted the need for digital literacy. On the other hand, it has increased the pressure on media, and especially local media and newspapers, which were severely financially impacted. The challenge now will be to find ways to transform this new ‘smartphone’ consumption format (short videos, podcast, online news…) in commercial returns in order to remain sustainable.
Worth highlighting is the fact that three broadcasting regulatory authorities are partners of the Digital News Report project: the BAI (IE), Ofcom (UK) and the Dutch Media Authority (CvdM - NL). More detailed reports for Ireland and for the Netherlands are available on the Irish and Dutch regulators' websites.