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How news happens, a study of the news ecosystem of one american city.

why report the news

Who really reports the news that most people get about their communities? What role do new media, blogs and specialty news sites now play?

How, in other words, does the modern news “ecosystem” of a large American city work? And if newspapers were to die—to the extent that we can infer from the current landscape—what would that imply for what citizens would know and not know about where they live?

The questions are becoming increasingly urgent. As the economic model that has subsidized professional journalism collapses, the number of people gathering news in traditional television, print and radio organizations is shrinking markedly. What, if anything, is taking up that slack?

The answers are a moving target; even trying to figure out how to answer them is a challenge. But a new study by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, which takes a close look at the news ecosystem of one city suggests that while the news landscape has rapidly expanded, most of what the public learns is still overwhelmingly driven by traditional media—particularly newspapers.

The study, which examined all the outlets that produced local news in Baltimore, Md., for one week, surveyed their output and then did a closer examination of six major narratives during the week, finds that much of the “news” people receive contains no original reporting. Fully eight out of ten stories studied simply repeated or repackaged previously published information.

And of the stories that did contain new information nearly all, 95%, came from traditional media—most of them newspapers. These stories then tended to set the narrative agenda for most other media outlets.

The local papers, however, are also offering less than they once did. For all of 2009, for instance, the Sun produced 32% fewer stories on any subject than it did in 1999, and 73% fewer stories than in 1991, when the company still published an evening and morning paper with competing newsrooms. [1] And a comparison of one major story during the week studied—about state budget cuts—found newspapers in the area produced only one-third as many stories in 2009 as they did the last time the state made a similar round of budget cuts in 1991, and the Baltimore Sun one seventh as many. Yet the numbers suggest the addition of new media has not come close to making up the difference.

Indeed the expanding universe of new media, including blogs, Twitter and local websites—at least in Baltimore—played only a limited role: mainly an alert system and a way to disseminate stories from other places.

why report the news

And this faster dissemination of news was tied to three other trends. As news is posted faster, often with little enterprise reporting added, the official version of events is becoming more important. We found official press releases often appear word for word in first accounts of events, though often not noted as such.

In the growing echo chamber online, formal procedures for citing and crediting can get lost. We found numerous examples of websites carrying sections of other people’s work without attribution and often suggesting original reporting was added when none was. We found elements of this in several major stories we traced.

And sometimes old stories that were already obsolete were posted or linked to after events had changed and the original news site had updated them.

These are some of the results of a close examination of the media covering Baltimore, MD, during the week of July 19-25, 2009.

Among the findings:

About the Study

The study examined the news produced by every local news operation we could identify in the city—from radio talk shows, to blogs, specialized new outlets, new media sites, TV stations, radio news programs, newspapers and their various legacy media websites. We identified 53 outlets that regularly produce some kind of local news content. We tracked every piece of content these outlets produced for three days during the target week. [3]

Then PEJ did a deeper, secondary analysis of six major story threads during the target week, charting the course of the story, where it started and how it grew, story to story, minute-by-minute. The six narratives were selected from among the biggest of the week to reflect a range of different kinds of stories, from breaking news about crime, to state government budget cuts to stories that clearly involved the use of new media. PEJ identified which stories contained new information or added new angles and which sources and people drove the narrative. And Twitter feeds about the news were tracked as well, to see who was using that technology to communicate. That analysis identified 10 additional outlets that passed information along and 15 outlets that offered Twitter updates on the major storylines of the week.

Those six major storylines are provided as detailed chapter narratives of their own in this study, allowing a reader to examine exactly how each story broke, the flow of each narrative through the course of the week, and the lessons it revealed about the news system in the city.

The six storylines included:

This study is only one attempt at trying to understand who is producing news and the character of what is produced. Additional reports could tell more. But this snapshot was in many ways a typical week—marked by stories about police shootings, state budget cuts, swine flu, a big international soccer game in town and a mix of fires, accidents, traffic and weather.

The array of local outlets within this snapshot is already substantial, and as times goes on, new media, specialized outlets and local bloggers are almost certain to grow in number and expand their capacity, particularly if the Sun and other legacy media continue to shrink. New outlets such as local news aggregators, who combine this increasingly mixed universe into one online destination, have cropped up in some other cities such as San Diego. There is a good deal of innovation going on around the country, much of it exciting and promising. But as of 2009, this is what the news looks like in one American city.

The Ecosystem

Of the more than four dozen outlets identified as producing original content about local events in Baltimore, there are four local TV stations, all with their own websites. There are five general interest newspapers: the Baltimore Sun, City Paper, Towson Times, the Washington Post and the Baltimore Times, which focused on African American culture, as well as two long-standing specialized papers—the Daily Record and the Baltimore Business Journal. There are also four general interest websites in town, from the, a local watchdog reporting website started by former Baltimore Examiner employees, to, a local news website produced mostly by former Baltimore Sun staffers. There are five local blogs, two of which focus on crime, one called Inside Charm City, a hyperlocal general interest blog produced by a single person. And there are more than 30 that exist inside the universe of the Baltimore Sun newspaper website.

Among more than three dozen radio stations operating in the Baltimore area, just a handful broadcast local news or talk. Those were identified on two commercial stations, WBAL and WCBM, and two public radio stations, WEAA and WYPR. [4]

That first level analysis found that, over those three days, these media produced 715 different stories about local events in the city. Those stories came from 41 different outlets. Twelve outlets produced nothing.

Local TV newsrooms produced more content than any other sector, an average of 73 stories per station (a total of 291 stories either in broadcast or on their websites out of the three day sample of 715). That was followed closely by newspapers. The five papers studied produced 186 stories during these three days, or 37 per outlet.

Yet the quantity of stories produced does not tell everything about their nature.

Some media were more locally focused than others. The media sector that devoted the greatest level of its coverage to local events was TV news. Fully 64% of the stories on the local 6 p.m. TV newscasts were about local matters. [5] By comparison, 53% of stories studied in Baltimore area newspapers were local. In talk radio, the majority of the segments were about national or non-local events (52%).

The new media content in new media, on the other hand, was highly local and mostly locally produced, though, as we will see, it was often brief and derivative of other news accounts. More than eight out of ten of the postings or stories (85%) were locally focused.

The level of original work also varied. Eight out of ten newspaper stories (80%) were straight news accounts written by local staffers.

In television, there was also less original content from staff reporters. Roughly a third the stories, 34%, were edited packages featuring correspondents doing the reporting (the TV equivalent of an original staff written story), and another 13% were anchors narrating a taped package that did not feature a correspondent from the field. But more than a third 36% were “anchor reads” and “tell stories,” often material from wire services.

In radio there was little of what would be considered reporting. Roughly half the segments were anchors doing monologues, and 38% of the segments involved the host interviewing a guest or a caller. There was no original reporting found, either in talk radio or in the news inserts and radio headlines that were produced during the periods studied (during the 7 a.m. drive time hour).

Looking at the topics covered, too, the news agendas of these outlets were strikingly different. The world one encounters differs dramatically depending on where one seeks his or her information.

On local television, for instance, fully 23% of stories studied were about crime, twice as many as other subject. [6] In newspapers (online and print) coverage of crime was almost matched by that of government and closely followed by business and education. On radio in Baltimore, by contrast, government was the No. 1 topic. New media was most often focused on government.

To go deeper, however, to see how the ecosystem moved, how information traveled from one sector to another, who initiated the news and who was first to transmit and frame the narratives that the rest of the media followed, the study also took a look at six of the major stories of the week more closely.

Six Major Storylines

1. The proposal by Governor Martin O’Malley to cut $300 million from the state budget, or about 40% of the total cuts he sought to make from the state’s $14 billion budget.

2. A shooting incident in which a 34-year-old Baltimore man, apparently high on the drug Ecstasy, terrorized two former female companions and then shot two city police while being wounded and apprehended himself.

3. The announcement that the University of Maryland, Baltimore had been selected as one of eight sites nationwide that would test the new H1N1 vaccine for the National Institutes of Health.

4. The auction of the historic Senator Theater, an old movie house in north Baltimore that continued to fight for survival while defaulting on its loans.

5. A plan by the Maryland Transit Administration to put listening devices on buses died a sudden and conclusive death once the press discovered it.

6. A series of different events intertwined and formed the biggest narrative of the week—framed by an investigation by the local newspaper—involving how the state and the city approached juvenile justice and incarceration.

1. According to Factiva, the Sun produced 23,668 2 stories on all topics from January 1 through December 31, 2009 and 34,852 in the same time frame in 1999 and 86,667 in 1991.

2. Three days of content was analyzed for the study. This included content from July 20, 22 and 24, 2009.

3. Early evening local TV newscasts were recorded and analyzed. For WMAR, WJZ and WBAL, we examined the 6 p.m. newscast. WBFF, the Fox affiliate, does not air news at 6 p.m., so we examined its 5:30 p.m. newscast.

4. A third commercial station, WJZ, could not be captured by PEJ.

5. This analysis examined the early evening newscasts of ABC affiliate WMAR, CBS affiliate WJZ, NBC affiliate WBAL and Fox affiliate WBFF

6. Add accidents (another 13%), and more than a third of all the coverage related to public safety—numbers that track closely with research on local TV that PEJ has produced over the years. And if one looked at the stories that led the newscasts, crime and accidents made up roughly six out of ten stories (58%). That number, incidentally, is also identical to that we found in a five-year study of more than 33,000 stories in local TV news examining 150 stations around the country. “We Interrupt This Newscast: How to Improve Local News and Win Ratings, Too.” Columbia University Press, 2007, p. 33.

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About Pew Research Center Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping the world. It conducts public opinion polling, demographic research, media content analysis and other empirical social science research. Pew Research Center does not take policy positions. It is a subsidiary of The Pew Charitable Trusts .

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Why do news reports always begin with bad news?

Asked by: David Griffin, Gloucestershire

Most news outlets lead with disasters, crimes and misdemeanours. This is partly down to media convention – there’s the old media adage “if it bleeds it leads”, and many journalistic reputations are forged through the uncovering of establishment scandals or ineptitudes (true to the notion of the media as the ‘fourth estate’ that helps keep those in power in check). Of course, negative stories are also important in the practical sense of informing us about dangers, such as global pandemics or an incoming inclement weather.

Yet there is another side to this question: the overwhelming reader demand for gloom and doom. This is likely explained by what psychologists have long recognised as our ‘negativity bias’ – we pay more attention to, and better remember negative experiences. We’re more likely to spot angry faces than happy ones in a crowd, and many languages have a much wider vocabulary for describing negative emotions than jolly ones.

This bias probably evolved as a survival mechanism, and it affects our taste in news. In one 2014 study, researchers in the US and Canada tracked volunteers’ eye movements as they browsed an online news site, and found that even those who professed a preference for positive stories actually spent more time scanning the negative ones.

Another study led by the University of Michigan showed that across 17 countries, from New Zealand to China, people on average showed stronger emotional reactions (measured by skin conductance and heart rate variability) to negative news stories. But this wasn’t true for everyone, so the researchers say that there could be a niche market for positive news, too.

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Christian Jarrett

Dr Christian Jarrett is a cognitive neuroscientist, science writer and author. He is the Deputy Editor of Psyche, the sister magazine to Aeon that illuminates the human condition through psychology, philosophy and the arts. Jarrett also created the British Psychological Society's Research Digest blog and was the first ever staff journalist on the Society's magazine, The Psychologist. He is author of Great Myths of The Brain and Be Who You Want: Unlocking the Science of Personality Change.

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News Reporting

Author: Smita Kheria Illustration: Davide Bonazzi

News reporters may sometimes require the use of copyright material, such as short textual extracts or clips from video footage, to report current events. There is an exception to copyright for news reporting that allows reporters to make use of others’ work under certain circumstances.

In order to report current events, the reporter may use copyright materials to provide information to the public in relation to the respective events.

This is allowed under the following conditions:

1) The material used is not a photograph 2) The purpose is really for reporting current events 2) The use of the material is fair 3) The use of the material is accompanied by sufficient acknowledgement

For example, the illustration above shows several people working together on a newspaper. In order to produce the current issue, they want to draw upon a variety of different sources such as books, magazines, newspapers, film stock and the internet. Sometimes, they will be able to publish ideas and information set out in these sources without copying the expression used to convey such ideas and information. For instance, if a reporter reads an official document containing an explanation by a minister of a new government policy or sees a video footage of a football match where someone runs on the pitch and strikes a player then she can report these events in her own words, without use of any copyright materials. But sometimes the reporter may want to tell the public of the exact words used by a source or show a film clip in order to provide information on the current event in a clear or authoritative manner. Then, reporters may need to use excerpts from books, magazines, films, broadcasts or online content. This exception is aimed at protecting the role of the media in informing the public about matters of current concern.

The criteria needed for using the exception are explained in more detail below:  

1. You have not used a photograph

You cannot use photographs protected under copyright for reporting current events without obtaining the permission of the respective copyright owner. The exception applies to use of all other types of copyright materials, but not photographs.  

2. Your reason for using the material is genuinely for the purpose of reporting a current event

You can use copyright materials other than photographs if the purpose is really for reporting current events. The exception is not limited to any particular type of event and can thus extend to a wide array of current events no matter whether they occur in the field of politics, popular culture, sports, natural phenomena, and so on.

The event itself must be current. What constitutes a current event is interpreted liberally. It includes recent occurrences, in the sense of recent in time, which are of real interest to the public. It also includes past events if they continue to be matters of legitimate and continuing public interest. An example would be the use of material pertaining to a past meeting between politicians which is of current public interest because it may influence the voting behaviour at the next elections.

The news reporting exception can be used if the reporting of the current events is intended for public consumption. For example, news that is tailored for exclusive use by a certain group of individuals for private commercial purposes would not be acceptable.  

3. Your use of the material is fair

You can use copyright material for the purpose of reporting current events provided your use of material is fair. There is no legal definition of what is fair or unfair; it is at the court’s discretion based on the individual facts of the case and the purpose for which the material is being used (see: ‘Legal language’ below). However, there are guidelines which you need to consider.

First, is or would your use of the copyright material be in commercial competition with the copyright owner’s exploitation of the material? Are you really using copyright material to report on current events or are you pursuing another purpose? It would be unfair if your work is a substitute for the probable purchase of authorised copies of the original material, or if it severely devalues the original material. For example, a verbatim passage of a memoir or a politician’s diary entry can be used in a news article if it is essential for the content that is being reported on because it serves an additional purpose by rectifying an error or inaccuracy or by highlighting a new perspective and engaging in political discourse. However, it cannot be included if the passage simply is to make the article more colourful or attractive or appealing to the readers and bring resulting commercial value. Ask yourself: Is there a compelling need to use the copyright work for the purpose of reporting the current event? Would the use unreasonably prejudice the commercial interests of the copyright owner?

Second, has the material that you want to use already been published or disclosed to the public? Even though copyright material that has not been available to the public, such as material that has only been made available confidentially, can be used, you should bear in mind that this could make your assertion of the news reporting exception very difficult unless there is some legitimate and continuing public interest in making such use. Therefore, ask yourself: Is it really necessary to use the previously undisclosed copyright material for the purpose of reporting the current event? If the material used is already available to the public, such as historical material, then also you must ask yourself: Is it really necessary to refer to these materials in order to report the current event? For example, reprinting historical correspondence dealing with nuclear reactors which have just had a core melt-down would be relevant in order to report on the current event. However, reprinting historical personal correspondence of a public figure simply because they have recently died would not necessarily be relevant.

Third, what is the amount of copyright material used and what is its importance? A substantial amount of the material can be used provided that it is not excessive and only what is needed to report the current event is used. If an excessive amount or the most important parts of the material are used to further commercial interests, although it was not necessary for reporting the current event, then such use would be unfair. Ask yourself: Is it really necessary to use the amount of material and the type of material for the purpose of reporting the current event?  

4. Your use of material is accompanied by sufficient acknowledgement

Finally, you must include an acknowledgement to identify the creator of the work and the title of the material. It is the author who should be identified and not the owner of the copyright. Alternative forms of identification such as the television transmission of a company logo can suffice if the author of the television programme is accustomed to identifying itself by that logo. However, it is not enough to make a simple reference in a newspaper article to the fact that the story originates with another newspaper.

This requirement does not always have to be observed. The author must be clearly identified for all copyright materials used unless you are using sound recordings, film or broadcasts and it is impossible to give credit to the creator for reasons of practicality or otherwise. The requirements for ‘impossible’ are considered strict and you must be able to show that you made reasonable efforts to identify the author.

Legal language:

This is a quote taken from a book on Copyright and Designs, which explains the relevant considerations for determining whether a copyright work has been used fairly for the purpose of reporting current events. The quote has received support in a legal case ( Ashdown v Telegraph Group Ltd [2002] Ch. 149) as being a helpful summary:

‘It is impossible to lay down any hard-and-fast definition of what is fair dealing, for it is a matter of fact, degree and impression. However, by far the most important factor is whether the alleged fair dealing is in fact commercially competing with the proprietor’s exploitation of the copyright work, a substitute for the probable purchase of authorised copies, and the like. If it is, the fair dealing defence will almost certainly fail. If it is not and there is a moderate taking and there are no special adverse factors, the defence is likely to succeed, especially if the defendant’s additional purpose is to right a wrong, to ventilate an honest grievance, to engage in political controversy, and so on. The second most important factor is whether the work has already been published or otherwise exposed to the public. If it has not, and especially if the material has been obtained by a breach of confidence or other mean or underhand dealing, the courts will be reluctant to say this is fair. However this is by no means conclusive, for sometimes it is necessary for the purposes of legitimate public controversy to make use of “leaked” information. The third most important factor is the amount and importance of the work that has been taken. For, although it is permissible to take a substantial part of the work (if not, there could be no question of infringement in the first place), in some circumstances the taking of an excessive amount, or the taking of even a small amount if on a regular basis, would negative fair dealing.’

Laddie H, P Prescott and M Vitoria, The Modern Law of Copyright and Designs (Butterworths, 3rd ed. 2000) at [20.16]

Legal references:

The law on reporting current events in the United Kingdom is found in Section 30(2), (3) of the Copyright Designs and Patent Act 1988, which you can read here:

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Terms & Conditions

Terms and conditions are a set of rules. These rules generally form a contract between you, the user, and the service provider, whose website you are visiting.


There are two exceptions to be aware of, one specifically for criticism and review and a more general exception for quotation. Both exceptions apply to all types of copyright material…

Copyright Bite #3

Copyright Bite #3

Copyright Bite #3 considers how you can lawfully make use of, or borrow from, works that are still in copyright, but without having to ask for permission or make payment to the copyright owner.

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How Newspapers Work

Reporting the News

Reporters hard at work in the newsroom at The Herald-Sun

Curiously, for a publication called a newspaper, no one has ever coined a standard definition of news. But for the most part, news usually falls under one broad classification -- the abnormal. It is human folly, mechanical failures and natural disasters that often "make the news."

Reporters are a newspaper's front-line eyes and ears. Reporters glean information from many sources, some public, such as police records, and others private, such as a government informant. Occasionally, a reporter will go to jail rather than reveal the name of a confidential source for a news story. American newspapers proudly consider themselves the fourth branch of government -- the watchdog branch -- that exposes legislative, executive and judicial misbehavior.

Some reporters are assigned to beats , or an area of coverage, such as the courts, city hall, education, business, medicine and so forth. Others are called general assignment reporters , which means they are on call for a variety of stories such as accidents, civic events and human-interest stories. Depending on a newspaper's needs during the daily news cycle, seasoned reporters easily shift between beat and general-assignment work.

In the movies , reporters have exciting, frenzied and dangerous jobs as they live a famous pronouncement of the newspaper business: "Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable." Although a few members of the media have been killed as a result of investigations into wrongdoing, newspaper work for the great majority of reporters is routine. They are our chroniclers of daily life, sorting, sifting and bringing a sense of order to a disorderly world.

All reporters are ultimately responsible to an editor. Depending on its size, a newspaper may have numerous editors, beginning with an executive editor responsible for the news division. Immediately below the executive editor is the managing editor , the person who oversees the day-to-day work of the news division. Other editors -- sports, photo, state, national, features and obituary, for example -- may also report to the managing editor.

However, the best known and in some ways the most crucial editor is the city or metro editor . This is the editor that most reporters work for directly. The city or metro editor assigns stories, enforces deadlines and is among the first to see reporters' raw copy. Underneath the city or metro editor are other editors who report directly to him or her.These editors are called gatekeepers , because they control much of what will and will not appear in the next day's paper. Often working under the stress of breaking news, their decisions translate directly into the content of the newspaper.

Once an editor has finished editing a reporter's raw copy, the story moves to another part of the news division, the copy desk. Here, copy editors check for spelling and other errors of usage. They may also look for "holes" in the story that would confuse readers or leave their questions unanswered. If necessary, copy editors may check facts in the newspaper's library, which maintains a large collection of both digital and print reference materials, including past newspaper issues.

The copy-desk chief routes finished stories to other editors who fit local and wire service stories, headlines (written by the editor, not the reporter!) and digital photographs onto pages. Most newspapers do this work, called pagination , with personal computers using software available at any office supply store.

Before we see what happens to the electronic pages built by the copy desk, it will be helpful to understand how other divisions of a newspaper contribute to the production cycle.

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Expert Commentary

Informing the news: The need for knowledge-based reporting

Essay by Thomas E. Patterson, Bradlee Professor of Government and the Press at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center.

Human mind (iStock)

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License .

by Thomas E. Patterson, The Journalist's Resource October 8, 2013

This <a target="_blank" href="">article</a> first appeared on <a target="_blank" href="">The Journalist's Resource</a> and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.<img src="" style="width:1em;height:1em;margin-left:10px;">

The following is an essay developed from the new book Informing the News: The Need for Knowledge-Based Journalism , which serves as companion to Journalist’s Resource and represents an articulation of the project’s mission to help the news media transition to a new phase in their 21st-century development.

Its author, Thomas E. Patterson, is the Bradlee Professor of Government and the Press at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy. He helped found the Journalist’s Resource project and serves as its research director.

Accompanying this essay are video interviews that provide additional insights into the theory and practice of “knowledge-based journalism.” The studies, research and materials on which it is based are listed at bottom. The book is available from , Barnes & Noble and local retailers such as the Harvard Book Store .

______________ “It does not matter that the news is not susceptible of mathematical statement. In fact, just because news is complex and slippery, good reporting requires the exercise of the highest scientific virtues.” — Walter Lippmann((Walter Lippmann, Liberty and the News (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008), 74.))

In a 2012 article, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Linda Greenhouse challenged reporters who had given voice to David Rivkin’s views on national security. Rivkin had served in the Reagan and first Bush administrations and invariably took “the other side” in stories that criticized the second Bush administration’s handling of the war on terrorism. Said Greenhouse: “As a surrogate, a ‘go-to-proxy,’ [Rivkin] is simply filling a role assigned to him by reporters and — let’s assume — editors who accept unquestionably the notion that every story has another side that it is journalism’s duty to present. But there is another side to that story, too — one that calls on journalists to do their best to provide not just the facts, but also — always — the truth.”((Linda Greenhouse, “Challenging ‘He Said, She Said’ Journalism,” Nieman Reports , 66 (Summer 2012), 24.))

“Truth” is the holy grail of journalism. In the late 1990s, two dozen of the nation’s top reporters, calling themselves the Committee of Concerned Journalists, held a series of public forums to address what its members saw as declining news standards. Over a period of two years, the committee met with three thousand reporters and citizens to exchange ideas about the purpose of journalism.((Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel, The Elements of Journalism (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2001), 2-4.)) The resulting “Statement of Shared Principles” identified “truth” as journalism’s standard:

“[J]ournalistic truth” is a process that begins with the professional discipline of assembling and verifying facts. Then journalists try to convey a fair and reliable account of their meaning, valid for now, subject to further investigation. Journalists should be as transparent as possible about sources and methods so audiences can make their own assessment of the information. Even in a world of expanding voices, accuracy is the foundation upon which everything else is built — context, interpretation, comment, criticism, analysis and debate. The truth, over time, emerges from this forum.((“A Statement of Shared Principles,” Committee of Concerned Journalists , Washington, D.C.))

The committee members were careful to say that “journalistic truth” is not truth in the ordinary sense of the word, much less in the way philosophers understand it. Journalistic truth is a “sorting out” process that occurs over time through interaction “among the public, newsmakers, and journalists.”((Kovach and Rosenstiel, The Elements of Journalism, 44-41.)) Committee members Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel said that journalists get at “the truth in a complex world by first stripping information of any misinformation, disinformation, or self-promoting bias and then letting the community react…. The search for truth becomes a conversation.”((Ibid, 44-45.))


If news is truth, there appear to be at least two versions of it, one for print journalists and one for television journalists.((See, for example, Thomas E. Patterson and Robert D. McClure, The Unseeing Eye (New York, Putnam, 1976).)) A Washington State University study found that local TV and newspaper reporters portray U.S. Senate campaigns differently — so differently, in fact, that voters could reasonably conclude they are witnessing different contests. “The priorities of newspapers and local television news seldom overlapped,” is how the research team described its findings.((Travis N. Ridout and Rob Mellon, Jr., “Does the Media Agenda Reflect the Candidates’ Agenda?” The Harvard International Journal of Press/Politics 12 (2007): 58.))

When journalists speak of truth in news, they often have a narrow conception in mind, one that boils down to the accuracy of specific facts.((Kovach and Rosenstiel, The Elements of Journalism , 5.)) Did Senator Smith actually say the words attributed to her? Did last year’s trade deficit actually top $400 billion? Some news organizations retain fact checkers to verify such claims. But fact checkers don’t address the fundamental question: Is the story itself “true”? A story can be accurate in its particulars — what was said, when and where it happened, who witnessed it, and so on — and yet falter as a whole. Even if the facts check out, however, the story would not be true for that reason alone.((Jack Fuller, What Is Happening to News: The Information Explosion and the Crisis in Journalism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010), 139.)) Early coverage of the Afghan war, for example, was often accurate in its particulars but off the mark in its assessments of Afghan society and the likely course of the war.((Rachel Smolkin, “Media Mood Swings,” American Journalism Review , June 2003.))

Even “the facts” can be elusive. A 2005 study of fourteen local newspapers funded by the Knight Foundation found that three-fifths of their stories contained an error. Some errors were minor, as in the misspelling of a name. Others were more significant, as in the case of a misleading headline or faulty claim. None of the newspapers had a low error rate. “Neither stature of the paper nor market size,” the study concluded, “[was] closely associated with accuracy.”((Scott R. Maier, “Accuracy Matters: A Cross-Market Assessment of Newspaper Error and Credibility,” Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly 82 (2005): 546.))

If not truth, what is the essential characteristic of news? The Washington Post ’s David Broder came close to describing it when he said: “My experience suggests that we often have a hard time finding our way through the maze of facts — visible and concealed — in any story. We often misjudge character, mistake plot lines. And even when the facts seem most evident to our senses, we go astray by our misunderstanding and misjudgment of the context in which they belong.”((David Broder, Beyond the Front Page (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1987), 19. Quoted in Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Paul Waldman, Press Effect: Politicians, Journalists, and the Stories that Shape the Political World (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 195.))

The knowledge problem

In their influential book, The Elements of Journalism, Kovach and Rosenstiel say that journalists’ “discipline of verification” is what allows them to hone in on the truth. “The discipline of verification,” they write, “is what separates journalism from entertainment, propaganda, fiction, or art. Entertainment — and its cousin ‘infotainment’ — focus on what is most diverting. Propaganda selects facts and invents them to serve the real purpose: persuasion and manipulation. Fiction invents scenarios to get at a more personal impression of what it calls truth. Journalism alone is focused on getting what happened down right.”((Kovach and Rosenstiel, Elements of Journalism, 79-80.))

Kovach and Rosenstiel acknowledge that journalists’ discipline of verification is largely “personal and idiosyncratic.”((Ibid, 79.)) “The notion of an objective method of reporting,” they write, “exists in pieces, handed down by word of mouth from reporter to reporter.”((Ibid, 83.)) “While not following any standardized code,” they say, “every journalist operates by relying on some often highly personal method of testing and providing information — his or her own individual discipline of verification.”((Ibid.))

Whether what Kovach and Rosenstiel describe is a discipline is open to question. Does a method that is “intensely personal and idiosyncratic” qualify as a discipline? If there is no “standardized code,” wouldn’t it be better to describe journalism as a practice guided by conventions? Recognizing the objection, Kovach and Rosenstiel propose five “intellectual principles” as the basis for “a science of reporting”:

Each of these principles has its logic. Conspicuously absent from the list, however, is knowledge.

Almost alone among leading professions, journalism is not rooted in a body of substantive knowledge.((See, J. Goldstein, “Foucault among the sociologists: The ‘disciplines’ and the history of the professions,” History and Theory , 1984 (XVIII): 175.)) The claim is not that journalists lack knowledge or skill, for that is far from true. Nor is the claim an entry into the perennial but ultimately fruitless debate over whether journalism is a craft rather than a profession.((Everett C. Dennis and John C. Merritt, Media Debates: Great Issues for the Digital Age, 5th ed. (Belmont, Calif: Wadsworth, 2006), 190-99.)) The claim instead is a precise one: journalism is not grounded in a systematic body of substantive knowledge that would protect its practitioners’ autonomy and guide their judgment.((As the term is used in this paper, knowledge refers to established patterns and regularities based on conceptual frameworks or theories. Knowledge is more than mere information or conventional understandings. It is systematic information. As the ensuing discussion will point out, journalism lacks such a knowledge base, both in an absolute sense and relative to disciplines such as economics, medicine, and law, or even political science and sociology. A related point, which is central to an understanding of journalism’s shortcomings, is that knowledge is a key to devising accurate interpretations of what is observed or factually recorded.))

Medicine, law, and the sciences, even economics and psychology, have disciplinary knowledge that guides practitioners’ decisions, narrowing the choices and reducing the chances of error. Journalists have no such advantage. Although there is a theoretical knowledge of journalism, it is not definitive, nor is its mastery a prerequisite for practice.((See Paul Godkin, “Rethinking Journalism as a Profession,” Canadian Media Studies Journal , 4 (2008): 111.)) Although a majority of journalists have a college degree in journalism, many have a degree in a different field and some have no degree at all.((For a detailed profile of the education and training backgrounds of journalists, see David H. Weaver, Randal A. Beam, Bonnie J. Brownlie, Paul S. Voakes, and G. Cleveland Wilhoit, The American Journalist in the 21st Century (Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2007), 31-53.))


Journalists’ knowledge deficit does not appear to be a major concern within their profession. In 2008, the Knight Foundation created a blue-ribbon commission aimed at strengthening journalism so that it could better serve communities’ “information needs.” None of the panel’s fourteen recommendations spoke to journalism’s knowledge deficit.((“Informing Communities: Sustaining Democracy in the Digital Age,” report of the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy, April 7, 2010.)) Yet the public has a sense of it. In a Freedom Forum study, journalist Robert Haiman found that, although the public “respects the professional and technical skills [of] journalists,” it feels that journalists “don’t have an authoritative understanding of the complicated world they have to explain to the public.” In the five cities (Nashville, New London, Phoenix, San Francisco, and Portland, Oregon) where he held public forums, Haiman heard repeated complaints from local civic and business leaders who questioned reporters’ preparation. “We heard stories,” he writes, “about reporters who did not know the difference between debt and equity, who did not know basic legal terminology used in a trial, and who had little idea of how manufacturing, wholesaling, distributing, and retailing actually work and relate to each other.”((Robert J. Haiman, “Best Practices for Newspaper Journalists,” a handbook prepared for The Freedom Forum’s Free Press/Fair Press Project, The Freedom Forum, Arlington, Virginia, September 3, 2002, 23.))

It is not all that hard for journalists, or anyone else for that matter, to devise explanations. What’s harder to do is to come up with reliable ones. Noting the dysfunctional behavior of political leaders in 2010, a leading journalist wrote: “Barring a transformation of the Democratic and Republican parties, there is going to be a serious third party candidate in 2012 … one definitely big enough to impact the election’s outcome.”((Thomas Friedman of the New York Times , cited in Brendan Nyhan and John Sides, “How Political Science Can Help Journalism (and Still Let Journalists Be Journalists),” The Forum 9 (2011): 8.)) Such commentary is harmless enough and enables the journalist to say “I told you so” when the prediction comes true. Nevertheless, a deeper understanding of the dynamics of America’s party politics would have tempered the claim. Whatever the indicators in 2010 of a viable third-party effort, they could not possibly have been as persuasive as the counter-indicators. Strong third-party candidacies are rare and for a host of reasons. Political scientists Brendan Nyhan and John Sides identify some of them: “party loyalty, ballot access, fundraising difficulties, the lack of organizational infrastructure, voters’ unwillingness to ‘waste’ their vote.”((Brendan Nyhan and John Sides, “How Political Science Can Help Journalism (and Still Let Journalists Be Journalists),” The Forum 9 (2011): 8.)) Even when institutional obstacles can be overcome, a more imposing one exists, as Americans Elect discovered in 2012. Formed by prominent Democrats and Republicans concerned about the increasingly level of party polarization, Americans Elect secured ballot access for a third-party candidate and obtained funding commitments from major donors. Yet, it was forced to abandon its third-party effort upon failing to get a leading politician to head the ticket. It’s been a century since the last truly prominent politician, Theodore Roosevelt, was willing to take on the challenge.

Journalists’ knowledge deficiency is a reason they are vulnerable to manipulation by their sources. Sometimes a source might be disinterested, but the safe bet is that newsmakers are slanting their arguments.((Lippmann, Public Opinion, 217-18; Hugh Heclo, “Campaigning and Governing: A Conspectus,” in Norman J. Ornstein and Thomas E. Mann, eds. The Permanent Campaign and Its Future , (Washington, D.C.: American Enterprise Institute and Brookings Institution, 2000), 3.)) Knowing this, a good journalist will be on guard but, says journalist Jack Fuller, it is not enough for the journalist “to smell this sort of thing.”((Fuller, What Is Happening to News, 139.)) Skepticism is a weak defense against sources that fabricate facts or hide them. Unless reporters have an understanding of where the truth resides, they find themselves, as the Washington Post ’s Walter Pincus put it, in the position of “common carriers, transmitters of other people’s ideas and thoughts, irrespective of import, relevance, and at times even accuracy.”((Walter Pincus, “Newspaper Narcissism: Our pursuit of glory led us away from readers,” Columbia Journalism Review , May/June 2009.))

Without a working knowledge of the subject at hand, journalists are also vulnerable to the experts from whom they seek information, quotes, and story leads. Many experts are dispassionate in their pursuit of knowledge, but others have an agenda. Sometimes it stems from a core personal or political belief. In other instances, the agenda is that of a sponsor, as in the case of some medical researchers who accept funding from pharmaceutical firms. Reporters, says Fuller, “must be capable of dealing with experts from a position of strength.”((Quoted in Bob Giles, “Universities Teach Journalists Valuable Lessons,” Nieman Reports , spring 2001.))

Conventional wisdom is no substitute for knowledge. Consider the example of obesity. Until the 1990s, it was portrayed by journalists as a personal problem that was the result of family genetics and eating disorders. Heavy-set people were either born that way or eat far too much. In 1996, the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) made public for the first time a large amount of systematic evidence on obesity, including the then-startling finding that half of Americans were overweight and that a quarter were obese. Within a few years, according to Regina Lawrence’s Shorenstein Center study, the framing of obesity stories had changed dramatically. Although the “personal” frame was still in use, most stories were now framed in “systemic” terms. NCHS had concluded that personal predispositions could not explain the rapid rise in obesity levels, particularly among children and adolescents. NCHS singled out systemic factors, including the aggressive marketing of sugar-laced cereals and cholesterol-laden fast foods. “We don’t sell children guns, alcohol or drugs,” said Dr. Walter Willett of Harvard University in a New York Times article, “but we do allow them to be exploited by food companies.”((Regina Lawrence, “Framing Obesity: The Evolution of News Discourse on a Public Health Issue,” The International Journal of Press/Politics, 9-3 (Summer 2004), 56-75.))

Walter Lippmann’s unheeded call

When the journalist Walter Lippmann spelled out a vision of a more systematic form of journalism in Liberty and the News (1920) and Public Opinion (1921), his fellow journalists were among the biggest detractors.((Edwin Emery, The Press in America: An Interpretive History of Journalism , 2nd ed. (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1962), 735.)) As they saw it, reporting was not an intellectual pursuit but instead a job for hard-nosed men of common sense.((Kevin Barnhurst, unpublished book manuscript, 2009, ch. 2, 7.)) Paul Radin, a leading anthropologist of the early twentieth century, characterized the journalist as “a man of action” rather than “a thinker.”((Paul Radin, Primitive Man as Philosopher (New York: Dover, 1927).))


When the 1947 Hutchins Commission on Freedom of the Press echoed Lippmann’s claim that journalism needed a deeper knowledge base,((Robert D. Leigh, A free and Responsible Press (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1947), 23.)) the writers at Editor and Publisher fired back, dismissing the commission’s report as the work of “11 professors, a banker-merchant and a poet-librarian.”((Quoted in Stephen Bates, “Realigning Journalism with Democracy: The Hutchins Commission, Its Times, and Ours,” The Annenberg Washington Program of Northwestern University, Washington, D.C., 1995, 23.)) A New York Herald Tribune columnist belittled the report: “[A] good $150-a-week newspaper man would have been ashamed to do as little work for a three-week assignment.”((Lewis Gannett, “A Free and Responsible Press,” New York Herald Tribune , 28 March 1947, 24.)) Los Angeles Times managing editor L.D. Hotchkiss said, “Outside of Walter Lippmann, I can think of no working newspaperman who could stand confinement with [the commission] members for any length of time.”((Quoted in Bates, “Realigning Journalism with Democracy,” 10.))

Modern journalists are leagues apart from the crusty newsmen of yesteryear.((Guido H. Stempel, III, and Hugh M. Cuthbertson, “The Prominence and Dominance of News Sources in Newspaper Medical Coverage,” Journalism Quarterly 61 (1984): 671-76; Tony Atwater and Norma Green, “New Sources in Network Coverage of International Terrorism,” Journalism Quarterly 65 (1988): 676-71; D. Charles Whitney, Marilyn Fritzler, Steven Hones, Sharon Mazzarella, and Lana Rakow, “Geographic and Source Biases in Network Television News 1982-1984, Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media 33 (1989): 159-74.)) Most journalists today are college graduates and receptive to expert judgments.((Kevin G. Barnhurst, “The Makers of Meaning,” Political Communication 20 (2003): 1-22.)). Roughly a fifth of the sources cited in their news stories are scholars, professionals, former officials, and the like.((D. Charles Whitney, Marilyn Fritzler, Steven Jones, Sharon Mazzarella, and Lana Rakow, “Geographic and Source Biases in Network Television News 1982-1984,” Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media 33 (1989):159-74.)) Although some of these “experts” are more skilled at delivering sound bites than at analyzing policy,((Lawrence Soley, The News Shapers: The Sources Who Explain the News (New York: Praeger, 1992).)) the world of knowledge and the world of the newsroom are closer together today than ever before.((Kevin Barnhurst, unpublished book manuscript, 2009.))

There is also greater expertise within journalism. Although they are still a small fraction of the profession, the number of reporters with advanced degrees in fields such as science, health, economics, and law has steadily increased. A few journalists, like David Sanger and Andrew Revkin, have acquired substantial reputations inside and outside the profession for deeply informed reporting. American University’s Matthew Nisbet calls them “knowledge journalists,” noting that they regularly apply “deductive, specialized understanding to problems.”((Matthew Nisbet, “Nature’s Prophet,” Paper Series, Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics, and Public Policy, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, Fall 2012, 3.))

Nevertheless, journalists have been relatively slow to apply systematic knowledge to their everyday work. As Pincus noted recently, there are major policy areas where few journalists, anywhere, know the subject truly well.((Pincus, “Newspaper Narcissism.”)) American journalists are trained in gathering and presenting information,((Dennis and Merritt, 196.)) which are substantial skills but not ones that require subject proficiency.

For more than a century, journalists have relied on two basic tools — observation and interviewing.((Journalism education in the United States has mirrored journalism practice. For the most part, students are instructed in the skills of the craft and taught how to construct a broadcast, print, or online story. Few journalism schools systematically train students how to access, gain command of, and apply subject-matter knowledge. Three decades ago, a top-level commission of journalists and practitioners criticized journalism schools for being “little more than industry-oriented trade schools.” Changes have occurred since then, but journalism schools still lag far behind business and public policy schools in the application of knowledge. Economics, management science, and even social psychology are now an integral part of a business school or public policy school education. Although these schools still puzzle over how best to align practice and scholarship, they have achieved a fuller integration of the two than have journalism schools.)) Reporters are trained to look first to the scene of action and then to the statements of interested parties. Observation and interviewing are highly useful tools, which is why they been in use for so long. They are also tools that require judgment and experience if they are to be used properly.((C.W. Anderson, Emily Bell, and Clay Shirky, “Post-Industrial Journalism: Adapting to the Present,” Tow Center for Digital Journalism, Columbia School of Journalism, Columbia University, New York, New York, 2012. )) Nevertheless, like all such tools, observation and interviewing have limits. They fail, says journalist Robert Niles, to provide “us instruction on how to test the accuracy of information we receive.”((Robert Niles, “A Journalist’s Guide to the Scientific Method, and Why It’s Important,” Online Journalism Review, August 23, 2011.)) Even when they yield reliable information, observation and interviewing enable journalists to capture only those aspects of developments that are observable and that available parties are able and willing to talk about.((Kevin Barnhurst, unpublished book manuscript, 2009, ch. 2, 10; C. Tavris, “How to Publicize Science,” 21-32 in J.H. Goldstein, ed., Reporting Science: The Case of Aggression (Hillsdale, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1986).))

Invented by American journalists in the nineteenth century,((Before journalists developed the interview as a reporting tool, reporting was based largely on documents and personal observation. By the early 1900s, the interview was a mainstay of American journalism. It gradually became a reporting tool in other countries, though more limited in its use.)) the interview is likely the handiest reporting tool ever devised. Interviewing relieves the journalist of having to undertake more demanding forms of investigation, and the interviewee’s words can be treated as “fact” insofar as the words were actually said.((Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Karlyn Kohrs Campbell, The Interplay of Influence, 5th ed. (Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth, 2001), 72.)) Yet, the interview is not foolproof. Who is interviewed, what is asked, and even the time and place of the interview can affect the answers. Responses are subject to mistakes of memory or even a source’s determination to mislead a reporter, as was the case in front-page New York Times stories that stemmed from White House officials’ hoodwinking of reporter Judith Miller during the lead up to the 2003 Iraq invasion.

As regards observation, its usefulness is limited by the fact that it occurs at a particular time and from a particular perspective. Aspects of public life that are not in the line of sight get less scrutiny than those that are. Lobbying activities, for example, are reported less often than election activities, not because they have far less influence on public policy, but because they are less visible. For the same reason, policy problems are underreported, until they take the form of an obtruding event. In the two decades leading up to the Occupy Wall Street movement in 2011, the gap in income between America’s wealthy and its poor steadily increased. Yet, as a study by Fortune ’s Nina Easton found, the income gap rarely made news. Not until it erupted into a grassroots movement did it catch journalists’ attention. “Before these protesters … set up camp in New York City’s Zuccotti Park on September 17 [2011],” wrote Easton, “few in the media took notice of a growing body of scholarly research showing that America’s rich are getting richer, even in years when middle-class incomes stagnate.”((Nina Easton, “Rebelling Against the Rich,” Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics, and Public Policy, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, September 2012, 2.))

Journalists’ knowledge deficit is a reason that contextual information has never been their strong suit.((Robert Entman, Democracy Without Citizens: Media and the Decay of American Politics (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989); Shanto Iyengar, Is Anyone Responsible? (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991).)) In 1947, the Hutchins Commission on Freedom of the Press concluded that reporters routinely fail to provide a “comprehensive and intelligent account of the day’s events in a context that gives them some meaning.”((Quoted in Melvin Mencher, “Will the Meaning of Journalism Survive?” Nieman Reports June 2006, web version.)) Communication scholar Doris Graber found that news stories typically provide the “who,” “what,” “where,” and “when” of developments but often omit the “why.”((Graber, Processing Politics , 145.)) When stories do offer a “why,” it is often too thin to be instructive. A study of economic news coverage, for example, concluded that journalists’ explanations “tend to [be] episodic, shallow and formulaic, focusing on the most obvious short-term effects…. Linkages rarely go beyond the simplistic level of … [the] explanation that ‘the dropping dollar got a lift today, and that pushed up stocks on Wall Street.’”((S. Robert Lichter and Ted J. Smith, “Bad News Bears,” Media Critic 1 (1994): 82.))

Knowledge is a key to strengthening story context. For almost any development of even modest complexity, journalists cannot be counted upon to construct “a comprehensive and intelligent account” unless they are knowledgeable of the underlying factors. Context, says journalism professor Samuel Freedman, tells “how momentary events fit into the larger flow of politics or culture or history.”((Quoted in ibid, 94.)) “We’re supposed to make those connections,” says Columbia University’s Nicholas Lemann.((Nicholas Lemann, “Research Chat: Nicholas Lemann on journalism, scholarship, and more informed reporting,” Journalist’s Resource, June 20, 2012.))

The digital promise

In the 1970s, Philip Meyer, a Knight-Ridder national correspondent who went on to become a journalism professor at the University of North Carolina, argued that reporters needed “new tools.” Noting the rapid advance of the social sciences, Meyer said scholars were “doing what we journalist like to think of ourselves as best at: findings facts, inferring causes, pointing to ways to correct social problems, and evaluating the effects of such correction.”((Philip Meyer, Precision Journalism (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1973), 4, 14.)) In Precision Journalism , Meyer argued that journalists should make “the new high-powered research techniques our own”((Ibid, 13.)) and proceeded chapter-by-chapter to show journalists how to apply social science methods such as polls and field experiments.

Meyer’s pioneering ideas acquired a following in some journalism schools and influenced the work of some reporters, particularly those engaged in polling and data analysis.((Stephen K. Doig, “Reporting with the Tools of Social Science,” Nieman Reports (Spring 2008): 48-49.)) Its impact was limited, however, by the fact that the slow speed of primary research conflicts with the fast pace of daily journalism. The limits of time and observation make it difficult for journalists to apply the data gathering and analytic methods of the social scientist. Lippmann suggested instead a pragmatic approach. Rather than becoming adept at conducting basic research, journalists would become adept at applying research knowledge to reporting situations.((Lippmann, Public Opinion , 227.))

Digital devices (iStock)

Nevertheless, there are parallels between scientific inquiry and reporting. “Although the vocabularies differ,” says communication scholar Kevin Barnhurst, “the [journalistic and scientific] processes closely parallel each other. Both attend to occurrences out there, formulating guesses (which become events or hypotheses), both resolve issues to arrive at facts (or theories), and both seek to establish truth (or a paradigm).”((Kevin Barnhurst, unpublished book manuscript, 2009, ch 3, p.11.))

The increased application of two types of knowledge would improve the accuracy of news and heighten its contribution to the public’s understanding of public affairs: content knowledge, which is knowledge of a subject, and process knowledge, which is knowledge of how reporting methods affect news content and impact. The first of these will require a division of labor in that no single journalist can master more than a fraction of what reporters are asked to cover. Even some subfields of journalism will require a degree of specialization. “As the pace of new developments in science and technology quickens,” says former Washington Post science reporter Cristine Russell, “[science] journalists are increasingly confronted with covering complicated technical information as well as the potential social, legal, religious, and political consequences of scientific research. Avian flu, embryonic stem cell research, genetic engineering, global warming, teaching of evolution, and bio-terrorism are just a few of the topics on [science] journalists’ plates today.”((Christine Russell, “Covering Controversial Science: Improving Reporting on Science and Public Policy,” Working Paper Series #2006-4, Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics, and Public Policy, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, Spring 2006, 2.))

The second knowledge skill — an understanding of the communication process — has been nearly overlooked by journalism practitioners. Studies indicate that most journalists are largely unaware of how their reporting tools and story constructions affect story content and audience response.((Joseph P. Bernt, Frank E. Fee, Jacqueline Gifford, and Guido H. Stempel III, “How Well Can Editors Predict Reader Interest in News?” Newspaper Research Journal , 21(2000): 2-10.)) It would be as if teachers had only a vague idea of the instructional techniques that help students learn. Admittedly, journalists don’t have the face-to-face interactions with their readers and listeners that teachers have with their students. News audiences are out of sight and therefore harder to comprehend. Nevertheless, unless journalists develop a better understanding of their audience — an area in which mass communication research provides guidance — they will miss opportunities to inform it, as studies of attribution and framing bias have shown.((See, for example, Shanto Iyengar, Is Anyone Responsible? ))

Journalism may have reached a point where change is possible. Its culture is markedly different today than in times past. Skepticism about the value of knowledge has diminished as a result of undeniable scientific advances and the influx into the profession of college-educated practitioners. To be sure, tensions remain. Compared with faculties in other professional schools, for instance, scholars and practitioners on journalism school faculties are more deeply split over the issue of how to best train their students.((See Stephen D. Reese, “The Progressive Potential of Journalism Education: Rethinking the Academic versus Professional Divide,” Harvard International Journal of Press/Politics 4 (1999): 70-91.)) Nevertheless, journalism practice and education have increasingly embraced knowledge as a tool of reporting. “We can support research that strengthens and informs those who are making change and apply our scholarship to the practice ourselves,” says former Des Moines Register editor Geneva Overholser, now on the faculty of the University of Southern California.((Geneva Overholser, “Keeping Journalism, and Journalism Education, Connected to the Public,” Nieman Journalism Lab , September 11, 2012.))

The Internet has reduced the obstacles to knowledge-based reporting. At an earlier time, the difficulty of accessing systematic studies and public records made it impractical for journalists to consult these materials on a regular basis. Today, reliable information on a wide range of news subjects is readily accessible through the web. “Never has it been so easy to expose an error, check a fact, crowdsource, and bring technology to bear in service of verification,” says the Poynter Institute’s Craig Silverman.((Craig Silverman, “A New Age for Truth,” Nieman Reports , 66 (Summer 2012), 4.)) However, the process is not foolproof. The Internet is at once a gold mine of solid content and a hell hole of misinformation. Unless the reporter knows something about the subject at hand, the odds of a mistake are uncomfortably high. Even peer-reviewed scholarly studies available through the Web can be misleading. Some are deeply flawed and most require interpretation to apply them accurately to reporting situations.


Knowledge does not always yield precise answers. It can complicate reporters’ task by alerting them to what’s not known as well as to what’s known. Sometimes, the effect of knowledge is to unearth new questions or uncertainties. Even the “facts” can be elusive. Once they are determined, facts serve as a point of agreement, but they are not always easy to pin down.((Jeffrey Scheuer, The Big Picture: Why Democracies Need Journalistic Excellence (New York: Routledge, 2008), 46-47.)) “Most people think science is about facts and are quite frustrated when they find that science is in large part about uncertainty,” says Gilbert Omenn, former chair of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.((Quoted in Russell, “Covering Controversial Science,” p. 36.)) Nevertheless, the surest way to improve the accuracy of news is for journalists to make fuller use of knowledge. There’s no lack of it, and it’s expanding at breathtaking pace. By one estimate, the storehouse of human knowledge is doubling every decade.(( Todd Oppenheimer , “ Reality Bytes ,” Columbia Journalism Review 35 (September/ October 1996): 40-42.)) Enough of it touches on public affairs that few policy areas now fall outside its scope.

Knowledge could keep journalists from becoming outmoded and being outflanked. In a report for Columbia University’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism, C. W. Anderson, Emily Bell, and Clay Shirky note that what journalists have traditionally done — identifying newsworthy events — is now being done also by citizens while what media outlets have traditionally leveraged — analyzing recent developments — is now being done also by specialty sites and scholars. During the 2012 presidential campaign, for example, historian Jack Bohrer posted a 10,000 word article on Mitt Romney’s family background that attracted more than 125,000 visitors and was passed along through social media to an additional 750,000 people.((Peter Hamby, “Did Twitter Kill the Boys on the Bus?” in draft, Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics, and Public Policy, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, Spring 2013, p. 64.)) Anderson, Bell, and Shirky argue that journalists, if they are to remain competitive, will have to change from “the production of initial observations to a role that emphasizes verification and interpretation.”((Anderson, Bell, and Shirky, “Post-Industrial Journalism.”)) If this claim is even somewhat correct, journalists and news outlets will have no choice but to base more of their work on knowledge.

The threat, and the challenge

Changes in how journalism operates won’t happen just because there might be a better way. A receptive attitude within the profession is required, as are mechanisms for bringing about constructive change. Adjustments in management practices and business school education, for example, did not occur until advances in microeconomics and organizational theory made a new approach feasible.((See Rakesh Khurana and J.C. Spender, “Herbert A. Simon on What Ails Business Schools: More Than A Problem in Organizational Design,” Journal of Management Science , 49 (2012): 619-39.))

Whether journalism will meet the challenges posed by today’s information environment is an open question. The press, like any institution, is conservative in its routines. Traditional ways of defining, structuring, and gathering the news are built into every facet of journalism practice. “What is of enduring importance,” Wilbert Moore wrote in The Professions , “is the homely truth that new knowledge or innovations in technique and practice threaten the very basis upon which established professionals rest their claims to expert competence.”((Quoted in Philip Meyer, The Vanishing Newspaper (Columbia: MO: University of Missouri Press, 2006), 233.))

Newer developments could also blunt a shift toward knowledge-based journalism. While the Internet provides access to a heretofore unavailable storehouse of knowledge, it also pressures journalists to crank out stories and have a constantly-updated presence through blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and other social media. Speed can be an obstacle to reflective reporting. Nevertheless, it is a mistake to see knowledge as informing only slower paced and longer form reporting. In virtually every reporting situation, the journalist who knows more about the subject at hand has an advantage over the journalist who knows less. When reporters must file quickly, without the opportunity to observe or conduct interviews, they have no place to turn except to what they already know. Knowledge is the best eraser of hastily concocted but wrongheaded storylines.

Thomas E. Patterson is Bradlee Professor of Government and the Press at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy. He is a founder of Journalist’s Resource and serves as research director.

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Overview and key findings of the 2022 Digital News Report

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Last year’s report contained some positive signs for the news industry, with higher consumption and rising trust amidst a second wave of Coronavirus lockdowns. Many traditional news brands seemed to benefit not just from greater attention, but also financially, with more people taking out online subscriptions and advertisers looking to associate themselves with reliable content.

A year on and we find a slightly less optimistic picture. While a break-out group of primarily upmarket news publishers across the world report record digital subscription numbers and growing revenues, more broadly, we find that interest in news and overall news consumption has declined considerably in many countries while trust has fallen back almost everywhere – though it mostly remains higher than before the Coronavirus crisis began. We’re also seeing news fatigue setting in – not just around COVID-19 but around politics and a range of other subjects – with the number of people actively avoiding news increasing markedly.

Since our main data set was collected in early February, a new threat to global security has emerged in the form of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. This event clearly increased news consumption across all news sources, but a second Digital News Report survey in five countries undertaken in early April saw further levels of selective avoidance, even in countries like Poland and Germany that have been directly impacted by the conflict. We devote a special chapter to the impact of the Ukraine crisis and attitudes towards media coverage.

An episode on the report

A clear throughline in this year’s report is the changing habits of younger groups, specifically those under 30, whom news organisations often struggle to reach. Throughout this Executive Summary, and in a separate chapter, we find that this group that has grown up with social media is not just different but more different than they were in the past. We also explore their use of newer visual networks for news such as TikTok and Instagram, with support from a detailed qualitative study in three countries (UK, US, and Brazil).

More widely, this year’s data confirm how the various shocks of the last few years, including the Coronavirus pandemic, have further accelerated structural shifts towards a more digital, mobile, and platform-dominated media environment, with further implications for the business models and formats of journalism.

In our country and market pages, which combine industry developments with key local data points, we see how different media companies are coping with these various headwinds. We find a mixed picture of downsizing and layoffs in some places, but optimism around business models, industry cooperation, and format innovation in others. And everywhere we find growing concerns about a looming cost-of-living crisis that could be making people rethink how much they can afford to spend on news media.

This eleventh edition of our Digital News Report , based on data from six continents and 46 markets, aims to cast light on the key issues that face the industry. Our more global sample, which since 2021 has included India, Indonesia, Thailand, Nigeria, Colombia, and Peru, provides some understanding of how differently the news environment operates outside the United States and Europe. The overall story is captured in this Executive Summary, followed by Section 1, with chapters containing additional analysis, and then individual country and market pages in Section 2 with extra data and context.

A summary of some of the most important findings from our 2022 research.

Trust in the news has fallen in almost half the countries in our survey, and risen in just seven, partly reversing the gains made at the height of the Coronavirus pandemic. On average, around four in ten of our total sample (42%) say they trust most news most of the time. Finland remains the country with the highest levels of overall trust (69%), while news trust in the USA has fallen by a further three percentage points and remains the lowest (26%) in our survey.

Consumption of traditional media, such as TV and print, declined further in the last year in almost all markets (pre-Ukraine invasion), with online and social consumption not making up the gap. While the majority remain very engaged, others are turning away from the news media and in some cases disconnecting from news altogether. Interest in news has fallen sharply across markets, from 63% in 2017 to 51% in 2022.

Meanwhile, the proportion of news consumers who say they avoid news, often or sometimes, has increased sharply across countries. This type of selective avoidance has doubled in both Brazil (54%) and the UK (46%) over the last five years, with many respondents saying news has a negative effect on their mood. A significant proportion of younger and less educated people say they avoid news because it can be hard to follow or understand – suggesting that the news media could do much more to simplify language and better explain or contextualise complex stories.

In the five countries we surveyed after the war in Ukraine had begun, we find that television news is relied on most heavily – with countries closest to the fighting, such as Germany and Poland, seeing the biggest increases in consumption. Selective news avoidance has, if anything, increased further – likely due to the difficult and depressing nature of the coverage.

Global concerns about false and misleading information remain stable this year, ranging from 72% in Kenya and Nigeria to just 32% in Germany and 31% in Austria. People say they have seen more false information about Coronavirus than about politics in most countries, but the situation is reversed in Turkey, Kenya, and the Philippines, amongst others.

Despite increases in the proportion paying for online news in a small number of richer countries (Australia, Germany, and Sweden), there are signs that overall growth may be levelling off. Across a basket of 20 countries where payment is widespread, 17% paid for any online news – the same figure as last year. Persuading younger people to pay remains a critical issue for industry, with the average age of a digital news subscriber almost 50.

A large proportion of digital subscriptions go to just a few big national brands – reinforcing the winner takes most dynamics that we have reported in the past. But in the United States and Australia we are now seeing the majority of those paying taking out more than one  subscription. This reflects the increased supply of differentiated paid news products in areas such as political opinion, local news, and a range of specific niches – holding out hope that more people will ultimately pay for multiple titles.

But in the face of rapidly rising household bills, we find some respondents rethink the number of media subscriptions they can afford this year – which include news, television, music, and books. While most say they expect to retain the same number of media subscriptions, others say they expect to take out fewer , as they look to save money on non-essential items.

With first-party data collection becoming more important for publishers with the imminent demise of third-party cookies, we find that most consumers are still reluctant to register their email address with news sites. Across our entire sample, only around a third (32%) say they trust news websites to use their personal data responsibly – comparable to online retailers such as Amazon – and the figure is even lower in the United States (18%) and France (19%).

Access to news continues to become more distributed. Across all markets, less than a quarter (23%) prefer to start their news journeys with a website or app, down nine points since 2018. Those aged 18–24 have an even weaker connection with websites and apps, preferring to access news via side-door routes such as social media, search, and mobile aggregators.

Facebook remains the most-used social network for news but users are more likely to say they see too much news in their feed compared with other networks. While older groups remain loyal to the platform, we show how the youngest generation has switched much of its attention to more visual networks over the last three years.

TikTok has become the fastest growing network in this year’s survey, reaching 40% of 18–24s, with 15% using the platform for news. Usage is much higher in parts of Latin America, Asia, and Africa than it is in the United States or Northern Europe. Telegram has also grown significantly in some markets, providing a flexible alternative to Meta-owned WhatsApp.

While social media have increased the profile of many digital journalists, we find that the most well-known journalists are still TV anchors and presenters in most countries. When asked to name journalists they pay attention to, few people can name foreign correspondents, while newspaper columnists have higher name recognition in the UK and Finland than in Brazil, the United States, or France.

The smartphone has become the dominant way in which most people first access news in the morning, though we find different patterns across countries. In Norway, Spain, Finland, and the UK, the smartphone is now accessed first ahead of television, while radio retains an important role in Ireland. Morning newspaper reading is still surprisingly popular in the Netherlands; television still dominates in Japan.

After last year’s slowdown in part caused by restrictions on movement during the COVID-19 pandemic, growth in podcasts seems to have resumed, with 34% consuming one or more podcasts in the last month. Our data show Spotify continuing to gain ground over Apple and Google podcasts in a number of countries and YouTube also benefiting from the popularity of video-led and hybrid podcasts.

Consumption patterns reveal disconnection and disengagement with news – amongst some news consumers

While a succession of crises including the pandemic and the invasion of Ukraine demonstrates the importance of independent professional journalism, and significant growth for some individual media brands, we find that many people are becoming increasingly disconnected from news – with falling interest in many countries, a rise in selective news avoidance, and low trust further underlining the critical challenge news media face today: connecting with people who have access to an unprecedented amount of content online and convincing them that paying attention to news is worth their while.

We now have solid data spanning ten years that enable us to see consistent and relentless falls across countries in the reach of traditional channels such as print, radio, and television news. At the same time, we find that online reach is flat or, at best, increasing slightly – but certainly not making up the gap. Digital and social media offer a much wider range of stories, but this environment can often be overwhelming and confusing. While many people remain extremely active and engaged with online news, the abundance of choice in an online context may be leading others to engage far less regularly than they did in the past.

In the chart below, which shows weekly access in the United States between 2013 and 2022, we have added an extra line for those who say they accessed none of the listed options in the week they completed our survey. This has grown from 3% in 2013 to 15% in 2022.

While the United States seems to have the largest group of disconnected news users, we see similarly high figures in Japan (15%) the United Kingdom (9%), France (8%), and Australia (8%). Even Germany, a country with often very traditional media habits, is not immune. Since 2013, weekly print consumption has fallen from 63% to 26% and TV news usage from 82% to 65%. Although online and social media have grown a little, overtaking television for the first time, we also find growing numbers who seem to be disconnecting from news altogether – this proportion reaching 5% in 2022.

It is important to note that high levels of disconnection are not evident everywhere. The proportion consuming none of our listed news sources weekly is limited in Portugal (2%) and Finland (2%) and extremely rare in South Africa (1%), Nigeria (<1%), and Kenya (<1%), even though we also see growing pressure on traditional sources of news such as print and television news in these countries.

Falling interest in the news

Disconnection is just one sign of the difficulties of engaging some audiences in a more digital environment. At the same time we find that the proportion that says they are very or extremely interested in news has fallen sharply over time across markets – a trend that has accelerated despite the continuing COVID-19 pandemic. This year we find news interest lower in the vast majority of countries in our survey. In some countries, such as Argentina, Brazil, Spain, and the United Kingdom, these falls have been going on for some time, while in the United States we see a slightly different pattern. Interest remained high during the Trump years but seems to have declined significantly since Joe Biden became president. Today, less than half of our sample (47%) say they are very or extremely interested in news compared with 67% in 2015.

Again, it is important to note that there are some countries that buck these trends or where declines are happening more slowly. These include richer Central/Western European nations where there has been less political or economic turmoil over the past few years.

Proportion who are very or extremely interested in news (2015-2022) Selected countries with largest falls

Selected countries with more stable levels

Q1c. How interested, if at all, would you say you are in news? Base: Total 2015–22 samples (n ≈ 2000).

These data suggest two different but related problems. First, the emergence of a minority of people who are active online, many of them younger or less well educated, but who have become largely disconnected from the news, perhaps because they don’t feel that it is relevant to their lives. And then, separately, we find a more generalised decline in news interest and consumption affecting a much bigger group, which may relate to structural changes in the way the news is distributed, such as the shift to online, the nature of the news cycle itself, or both.

Selective news avoidance and its implications

While the majority of people across countries remain engaged and use the news regularly, we find that many also increasingly choose to ration or limit their exposure to it – or at least to certain types of news. We call this behaviour selective news avoidance and the growth of this activity may help to explain why consumption levels have mostly not increased, despite the uncertain times in which we live. The proportion that says they avoid the news, sometimes or often, has doubled in Brazil (54%) and the UK (46%) since 2017 – and also increased in all other markets (see next chart). This type of selective avoidance seems to be less widespread in Northern European countries such as Germany (29%), Denmark, and Finland (20%), as well as in some Asian countries such as Japan (14%).

Selective news avoiders give a variety of reasons for their behaviour. Across markets, many respondents say they are put off by the repetitiveness of the news agenda – especially around politics and COVID-19 (43%), or that they often feel worn out by the news (29%). A significant proportion say they avoid news because they think it can’t be trusted (29%). Around a third (36%), particularly those who are under 35, say that the news brings down their mood. Others say the news leads to arguments they would rather avoid (17%), or leads to feelings of powerlessness (16%). A small proportion say they don’t have enough time for news (14%) or that it is too hard to understand (8%).

Most common reasons for news avoidance

All markets

Coronavirus icon

say there is too much politics and COVID-19

Mood icon

say news has negative effect on mood

Worn out icon

say they are worn out by amount of news

Biased icon

say the news is untrustworthy or biased

Arguments icon

say it leads to arguments I'd rather avoid

Confused icon

say there is nothing I can do with the information

Q1di_2017ii. Why do you find yourself actively trying to avoid the news? Base: All who avoid the news often, sometimes, or occasionally. All markets = 64,120.

Concerns about the news having a negative effect on their mood are higher amongst avoiders in the United Kingdom (55%) and United States (49%) than they are elsewhere.

Political allegiances can also make a striking difference to why people choose to avoid news. In the United States, those who self-identify on the right are far more likely to avoid news because they think it is untrustworthy or biased, but those on the left are more likely to feel overwhelmed, carry feelings of powerlessness, or worry that the news might create arguments.

These findings will be particularly challenging for the news industry. Subjects that journalists consider most important, such as political crises, international conflicts, global pandemics, and climate catastrophes, seem to be precisely the ones that are turning some people away from news – especially amongst those who are younger or harder to reach.

Many news organisations are embracing approaches such as solutions journalism around subjects like climate change, that aim to give people a sense of hope or personal agency. Others are looking to find ways to widen the agenda to softer subjects or make news more relevant at a personal level, but there will be a limit to how far journalists can go – or should go – to make the news more palatable.

News is too hard for many people to work out

One other important data point relates to the difficulty that many younger audiences, and less educated groups, have in understanding journalism as currently practised. In countries such as Australia, the United States, and Brazil, around 15% of younger avoiders say they find news hard to follow – a much higher proportion than older news consumers.

This could relate to the complexity of the language or assumed knowledge often contained in news reports. But the increase in news consumption via social media or word of mouth through friends and family, may also be playing a part. News is often accessed by young people in more fragmented ways, meaning that people sometimes miss key context that was previously carefully packaged into linear narratives by the mainstream media.

During the COVID-19 crisis (and now Ukraine) we saw many news organisations using explainer and Question & Answer formats to try to address these issues on websites and via social media to engage younger and less educated audiences. Our data suggest this process needs to go much further.

Trust falls back after COVID-19 bumps

This year we find lower levels of overall trust in 21 of our 46 markets, partly reversing the gains made at the height of the Coronavirus pandemic. Eighteen markets are at a similar level, with just seven on an upward path. The average level of trust (42%) is also a little lower than last year and trust in individual news brands is on a downward trend in most countries.

Finland remains the country with the highest levels of overall trust (69%) – up four points on last year and 13 points on 2020. At the other end of the scale, news trust in the USA (26%) has fallen by a further three percentage points and remains the lowest level in our survey along with Slovakia (26%). Notable changes in Europe include falls in Romania (-9), Croatia (-7), Poland (-6), Switzerland (-5), Austria (-5), Greece (-5), Italy (-5), and Spain (-4). In Latin America, trust is down in Brazil (-6) and Colombia (-3), but level or slightly up elsewhere. It is a mixed picture in Africa, with a fall in Kenya (-4) but strong growth in South Africa (+9) and Nigeria (+4). Finally, in Asia, trust has risen in the Philippines (+5) and Japan (+2) but is down in Malaysia (-5) and Taiwan (-4).

In some regions we find a widening gap between markets with the highest levels of trust and those with the lowest. We also find that those markets with the most trust – such as Finland – also tend to have higher interest in news and lower levels of active news avoidance. By contrast, low trust countries, such as the United States, France, the United Kingdom, and Slovakia, see some of the highest levels of selective avoidance, as well as news disconnection, with declining interest in news.

It is important to put this year’s trust changes in context. In most cases the headline trust level is still higher than it was before the Coronavirus pandemic reinforced the importance of reliable media for many people. On the other hand, the chart below also reminds us that, in many countries, trust had been on a downward trajectory for some time – partly driven by a series of polarising events like Brexit in the UK, the turmoil of the Trump years in the United States, and the Gilets Jaunes protests in France. In this context, last year’s COVID-19 optimism looks more like a short-term rally rather than any kind of longer-term renaissance. In all the examples below, apart from Finland, trust is still considerably lower than in 2015.

Across our data set, and in wider research on this issue (Toff et al. 2021; Ross Arguedas et al. 2022), we find that indifference to news and its value, along with widespread perception of political and other biases by the media, are two of the main reasons for low trust. In the United States, politics is particularly central, and those who self-identify on the right are more than twice as likely to distrust the news compared with those on the left. In early 2021 only 14% of those on the political right said they trusted the news, which helps to explain how the false and misleading ‘stolen election’ narrative promoted by some politicians, activists, and partisan media personalities got so much traction, not least after President Donald Trump’s talk about a liberal mainstream media peddling ‘fake news’. By contrast, in Finland we see almost no difference in news trust based on politics, though even here the cut and thrust of a parliamentary election in late 2019 may have contributed to a slight dip in trust.

In other cases, lack of trust in the news is less about ideological political divides and more about a split between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’. In France, for example, we find that divisions are more about income and education rather than party allegiance. During the Gilets Jaunes protests, for example, the news media was often seen as aligning itself with the elites, while journalists were also targeted in Canada during trucker protests this year. In both countries, we find significant trust gaps over income or education.

In other parts of the world, lack of trust is closely related to the issue of interference by politicians, businesspeople, or both. This is a particular issue in Central and Eastern Europe where oligarchs close to ruling parties control much of the media, or where governments regularly withhold advertising from publications they don’t like. Only a small minority think the news is free from undue political influence in Greece (7%), Hungary (15%), Bulgaria (15%), Slovakia (16%), Czech Republic (17%), Croatia (18%), and Poland (19%). We see similarly low levels in some Southern European countries, such as Italy (13%) and Spain (13%), where there is also a strong tradition of party-political influence over the media. Compare this with Finland (50%), where people have much higher confidence in the independence of the journalism they see from undue political influence.

It is a similar story when it comes to perceptions of undue business influence, with almost identical scores in most markets. This suggests that consumers either have a clear-eyed view of the connections between politicians and businesspeople, or that they have a more generalised lack of trust about those in power and the relations they have with the news media.

However, a large minority also question the priorities of news organisations themselves. Across all markets, just 19% say all or most news organisations put what’s best for society ahead of their own commercial or political interests. In fact, many more people say that all or most put their own political views (40%) or commercial interests (42%) ahead of society. These views are held by around 20% in countries with high trust in news, such as Finland, but are held by around 45% in the US, the UK, and a majority in parts of Southern Europe, Eastern Europe, and Latin America. This may reflect cynicism about the underlying motivations of many publishers, or perhaps hardened realism about what many commercial news organisations must do to survive. Either way it reminds us that, although people often recognise the pressures they face, few people think that most news organisations fight powerful interests on behalf of society in practice.

Trust in news brands: the particular case of public service media

Underpinning news trust in many Northern and Western European countries, as well as Canada and Australia, we find a number of public service broadcasting organisations with a strong track record of independence. These generally appear at the top of our brand trust lists in each country and are often the first port of call for audiences when looking for reliable news around important stories such as COVID-19 and the Ukraine conflict. These institutions have a very different reputation to public and state broadcasters in Southern and Eastern Europe that often take a more partisan editorial line.

But independent public media are under increasing pressure in a number of countries, with attacks on funding, questions about impartiality, and challenges in reaching younger audiences who are increasingly turning to digital and social media. The BBC faces another round of cuts after a difficult licence settlement while DR, the Danish public broadcaster, recently cut three linear channels as part of a wider restructuring after a narrow parliamentary majority imposed a major cut in funding. Against this background, it is interesting to see how well trust is holding up, with some very notable exceptions. Nordic PSBs as well as those of other smaller countries like Ireland and Portugal have retained or even increased trust since 2018, but it has been a very different story in the UK, Australia, and Canada, with significant falls for the main public broadcasters.

The BBC, which remains the most widely used news source in the UK, reported record audiences in the first weeks of the Ukraine crisis, 1 but it has also come under intense criticism for its reporting of a range of more divisive issues – notably Brexit but also immigration, race, gender identity, and attitudes to COVID-19 vaccinations. In many cases, these criticisms of the BBC have been amplified on social media, with senior correspondents exposed to physical attacks along with personal abuse on social media. 2

Trust in BBC News has fallen 20 percentage points in the last five years, from 75% to 55%. Equally telling is the proportion who say they distrust the BBC, which has grown from 11% to 26% (see next chart). The majority of these are from the political right, echoing criticism from Boris Johnson’s government about an alleged anti-Brexit and liberal bias, but we also find that low trust in the BBC also comes from those who are less interested in news altogether. It is important to note that other big brands in the UK (e.g. the Guardian and the Mail ) have been affected by growing levels of distrust, though not as severely. Declining trust is a particular challenge for public media organisations, as they try to fulfil their mission to appeal to all audiences.

The continued audience success of some European public media makes them a particular target for those who want to influence the debates on politics and wider issues around culture. Our survey shows that journalists from these organisations are often first to be recognised by the public. The outgoing BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg is by far the most well-known journalist in the UK, according to respondents to our survey, even when it comes to digital news. Broadcasters with a commitment to impartiality, including the BBC, make up 62% of all mentions. Journalists from public media also feature strongly in data from Finland, France, and Germany. But it is a very different story in the United States, where partisan cable TV hosts Tucker Carlson, Rachel Maddow, and Sean Hannity attract the most attention.

Best known journalists in Northern/Western Europe have reputation for impartiality

Laura Kuenssberg. Credit BBC.

Laura Kuenssberg BBC Political Editor (outgoing), UK

Marietta Slomka ZDF TV Anchor, Germany

Matti Rönkä Yle TV Anchor, Finland

Best known journalists in USA have reputation for strong opinions

Tucker Carlson. Credit: Gage Skidmore.

Tucker Carlson TV Anchor, Fox News

Sean Hannity Fox News

Rachel Maddow MSNBC

Should journalists remain impartial when on social media?

With more journalists building channels and direct relationships on social media, there is a growing debate about how they should interact when on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. These are informal spaces where social media users can let their hair down and show more personality. But how compatible is this with the impartial or objective approaches still practised by many media brands (and that last year we found many members of the public value)?

In our survey, around half of respondents or more in most countries feel that journalists should stick to reporting the news, but a sizeable minority believed they should be allowed to express their personal opinions on social media at the same time. Brazil and Japan seem to be outliers here, showing opposite views.

But as we also found in last year’s Digital News Report study on impartiality (Vir 2021), there are clear generational differences, with younger groups holding a stronger preference for journalists being able to express their personal opinions freely on social media. As some media organisations tighten social media guidelines, they are facing resistance from younger journalists who take a different view, and are trying to push the boundaries. This is just another way in which journalistic norms are being challenged by social and digital media.

Paying for news, subscription fatigue, and the battle for registration

In the last few years, many publishers have been increasing efforts to get audiences to pay for content online via subscription, membership, or donations – to reduce their reliance on advertising revenue, which online tends to flow towards the big platforms such as Google and Meta (formerly Facebook). These are now worldwide trends, and our country pages document how leading publishers in Argentina, Colombia, Japan, Nigeria, and Kenya, for example, have recently launched or consolidated paywalls.

This year’s data show mixed progress, with significant increases in a small number of wealthier countries, though there are signs elsewhere that growth may be levelling off. Across a basket of 20 countries where payment is relatively widespread, 17% paid for any online news – the same figure as last year. Norway continues to lead the way (41%), followed by Sweden (33%), Finland (19%), and the United States (19%). Australia (18%) and Germany (14%) showed the biggest increases this year at five percentage points in each case. By contrast, our survey data in Norway and the United States show a slight decline this year, though in both cases industry figures suggest that there has still been some progress. Either way, longer term trends do suggest a slowing down in some of these early-mover markets – raising questions about whether they might be reaching a more mature phase.

This year we asked those paying for online news to name the brands they subscribed to. In some countries, we find a high degree of market concentration, with around half the subscriptions in the US going to the New York Times , Washington Post , and Wall Street Journal . In Finland, half of subscribers (50%) pay for just one publication – Helsingin Sanomat , the country’s paper of record – sometimes in combination with a local publication. Over half (53%) pay for a local or regional title in Norway, with high numbers in all the other Nordic countries as well as Germany (35%) and the United States (27%). By contrast, just 5% of subscribers pay for a local title in the UK and 3% in Portugal.

Another striking finding is that, across countries, the vast majority of those paying are older, with an average age of 47 across countries. Persuading younger people to pay remains a critical issue for industry, with just 8% of news subscribers in the UK being under 30 and just 17% in the United States. This quote from our focus groups sums up the attitude of many of those who grew up in an era with mostly free online sources.

In almost all of the listed countries, the majority of subscribers pay for one publication. But in the United States and Australia, around half (56% and 51% respectively) now pay for two or more – often a national and local paper combination. Second subscriptions in the United States include political and cultural magazines such as The Atlantic and The New Yorker , partisan digital outlets such as Blaze Media and Epoch Times, or passion-based titles such as the Athletic (sports). We also see growing levels of payment for platform-based news subscription products Apple+ and Twitter Blue. In Australia, second subscriptions include a relatively high proportion (9%) from US or UK publications such as the New York Times and The Times of London.

The influence of individual journalist brands may be overstated

Some news brands continue to have the reputation, scale, and technical capability to charge for their services, but in parallel the emergence of low-cost subscription and membership platforms, like Substack and Patreon, has enabled some individual journalists, podcasters, or other creators to also convince people to pay for their work. Substack says that there are now around a million paying subscribers to its premium content emails. 3

Despite this, our data show the number of these individual subscriptions is still relatively modest, certainly when compared with established news brands. Even in the United States, we find that just 7% of news subscribers in the United States pay for one or more journalist emails – around 1% of our overall sample. The proportions are even lower elsewhere, though we do see some emerging payment for individual email writers or podcasters in parts of Europe and Australia.

Over time, it is possible that these solo or small businesses, mostly operating in closely defined niches, could make up a far bigger part of the overall pie, expanding the market but also creating more competition for big news brands. If nothing else, they have already made the value of some individual journalists more explicit, pushing up wages of top talent.

These data also highlight the growing importance of formats like email and podcasts, both of which have become much more important in driving regular engagement for all publishers – from general news to specialist information and entertainment.

In the vast majority of markets in our survey, people say they still identify most with traditional news brands rather than individual journalists. This is especially true in Nordic countries but less true in the United States, Southern Europe, Latin America, and parts of Asia. Perhaps the greater affinity with journalists in these countries offers a different opportunity to monetise content than brand-led subscription.

The impact of wider media subscriptions and prospects for subscription fatigue

With rising energy prices and inflation, and with many different types of online media (TV, music, books) now competing for a share of household budgets, there are genuine fears in the industry about whether recent growth in news subscriptions can continue. Against this backdrop, we explored the characteristics of different media subscriptions and asked respondents whether they were thinking of taking out more – or cutting back.

Taking the UK as an example of an advanced subscription market (chart below), we find almost two-thirds of our sample (65%) have taken out at least one subscription to a TV or film service like Netflix, 37% have a music subscription to Spotify or similar, 22% pay for a premium sports service, and 7% have a news subscription or other ongoing payment such as a donation. Because premium content is spread across TV platforms, many people feel the need to take out more than one subscription, with 19% taking out three or more. By contrast, one music or news service is normally enough, as rival services often offer broadly similar content. But as we noted earlier, in some countries we are seeing more differentiated news services and a consequent rise in the number of subscriptions per person. The other big difference is the age profile, with TV, music, and audio books skewing younger, while sport has an equal age split and news skews much older. People who subscribe to news are more likely to subscribe to other services and vice versa.

Thinking about the year ahead, most respondents say the number of media subscriptions they have (across TV, music, sports, books, and news) will stay the same, but there is an appetite to take out more in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. By contrast, the Portuguese are most likely to be looking to reduce their media subscriptions this year, while respondents in the UK and US are evenly split.

This overall picture is perhaps more optimistic than might be expected, with relatively low subscription churn, providing publishers with a more stable and secure income than the frequent ups and downs of the advertising market. On the other hand, the cost-of-living crisis has been building since our survey in January and will clearly be a significant factor for those on lower incomes.

It’s not entirely clear whether news will be treated in the same bucket as entertainment subscriptions that could be seen as more of a luxury. The news demographic tends to be older and richer, perhaps making the group less affected by rising prices. On the other hand, the sector is unlikely to be immune from these trends and a number of respondents said they would be cancelling subscriptions to news sites because they were too expensive. Others say they are planning to increase the number of subscriptions this year, with some seeing the current national and international instability as a good reason to invest more in high-quality information.

Investment in new products may encourage further take-up and much of the news industry remains confident about longer-term trends. But some publishers, notably CNN, recently reversed its much-hyped online paywall strategy (CNN+) amid doubts from its new owners about the viability of yet another stand-alone subscription. 4 Uncertainty remains about how far and fast the market can grow, especially in more troubled economic times.

Audiences reluctant to give up their data for news sites

Beyond concerns about subscription diets, media companies face another challenge in maintaining advertising revenues in the face of the imminent phasing out of third-party cookies. 5 Without these cross-platform trackers, media companies are looking to build up their own first-party data that can give them more leverage with advertising companies – and increase the rates they can charge. News companies now routinely ask for an email address before people can see content or access additional features such as commenting. In some countries (Portugal, Finland, and Switzerland), publishers have collaborated to provide a single login system that works across multiple online websites and apps. But how do audiences view these issues?

Across countries we find that only around a quarter (28%) have registered for one or more news websites in the last year. Those in Portugal (44%) are most likely to have given their details, but people in Germany (19%), the UK (16%), and Japan (14%) are least likely to have parted with their information for access. These differences may relate to the extent to which registration walls are being pushed by publishers in each country, but the relatively low levels in general reflect a continuing reluctance amongst consumers to give up email addresses or other personal details – especially if content is available elsewhere. Most news websites simply do not have a clear enough value proposition to persuade people to do so.

We also compared willingness to give data to news sites with other digital services such as online retailers and social media apps. Across our entire sample, only around a third (32%) say they trust news websites to use personal data responsibly – ahead of social media sites (25%), but at a similar level to trust in online retailers (33%). This does vary considerably by country, with 49% of Finns prepared to trust news organisations with data, but only 18% in the United States.

Proportion who trust each to use their data responsibly

Online retailers icon

Online retailers

Highest in Poland (44%)

Lowest in France (18%)

News websites icon

News websites

Highest in Finland (49%)

Lowest in USA (18%)

Social media icon

Social media

Less trust in social platforms to use data responsibly

REGISTER2_1/2/3 I trust most news websites/social media sites/online retailers to use my data responsibly. Base: Total sample: All markets = 44,924.

We find a clear link between general trust and people’s willingness to trust publishers with their data. Those with the highest levels of trust (48%) are more than twice as likely to give up their data than those with the lowest (19%). In this respect, building trust will be critical not just for those pursuing subscription models but for any publisher looking to engage and connect with audiences more deeply in the future.

Devices and access points to news

The smartphone continues to be the most important digital device for accessing news across countries, though our data suggest the first decline in weekly access since our survey began – reflecting falling news consumption across all devices after COVID-19 highs.

This year, we revived a question about how different groups access news first thing in the morning to give a sense of how news habits have changed since 2019. The next chart shows striking differences between countries. In Norway, Spain, Finland, and the UK, the smartphone is now the go-to route to news in the morning, with dependence on it growing substantially in the last three years. Radio remains an important part of morning routines in Ireland – even though it has been overtaken by the smartphone for the first time. Morning newspaper reading is still surprisingly popular in the Netherlands and Finland. Television remains a key influence in the US, France, and Italy and is the dominant medium in Japan.

Across countries, almost half of under 35s (47%) say they accessed news first using a smartphone, compared with just a quarter (28%) of those aged 35 and older and just 15% of those aged 65 and older. Japan’s older population may explain why it is bucking wider trends.

But what channels do people use when accessing news on a smartphone at the start of each day? Since 2019, we find that, across countries, social media (39%) have overtaken websites and apps (31%), followed by the smartphone home screen (12%) and aggregator apps like Apple News (9%).

Main gateways to digital news

We continue to monitor the main access points to online news, not just via a smartphone and not just first thing in the morning. Across all devices, our data show direct access to apps and websites becoming less important over time and social media becoming more important, partly due to their ubiquity and convenience. At an aggregate level, we have reached something of a tipping point this year, with social media preference (28%) surging ahead of direct access (23%). But these are cross-market averages and there are major differences between markets. Audiences in Nordic countries and the UK still have strong direct connections, while people in Japan and South Korea tend to access news via powerful aggregators and search engines – relying less on direct access. These differences, which we can perhaps treat as a proxy for the strength of news brands in a digital world, help explain why it may be easier to charge for online news in some countries and not others.

These changes are in large part driven by the emerging habits of a new generation of social natives as they come into adulthood, rather than by shifts in behaviour by older groups. In the next chart, which shows main access by age in the UK, we find that millennials within our 25–34 group (orange line) and those older than 35 (magenta line) have only slightly changed preferences over time, but the 18–24 group (turquoise line) has become significantly less likely to use a news website or app.

This is another illustration that this youngest generation, which has grown up with social media, is not just different but is more different than the one that came before – with a much weaker connection to traditional brands.

Is Facebook losing its sheen?

Each year since 2014, we have tracked the different social networks used for any purpose and for news across 12 countries. Facebook usage for any purpose (60%) is down five percentage points since its peak in 2017 and is now at a similar level to YouTube. Instagram (40%), TikTok (16%), and Telegram (11%) are the only networks to have grown in the last year.

Once again, most of these changes – such as the decline in Facebook use over the last few years – result from shifts in behaviour of the youngest cohort of social natives, not older respondents, who tend to have more entrenched habits. In the following chart from the UK we illustrate how the attention of this group has gradually shifted – from Facebook, to Instagram, and now to TikTok.

When it comes to news usage specifically, Facebook remains the most important network across our basket of 12 countries, but has dropped by 12 percentage points since 2016. Twitter has largely stagnated over the last decade in terms of its user base, though it remains hugely influential with journalists and politicians. Confusion over its future direction is likely to persist following the attempt to take over the company by Elon Musk 6 and the subsequent loss of senior executives. Meta-owned Instagram is now more widely used for news, while TikTok has overtaken Snapchat from a low base.

Outside Western countries – especially in Latin America and Africa – we find a much higher proportion of our sample using social media for news, but we also find different networks in play. In African countries such as Nigeria, South Africa, and Kenya, WhatsApp (55%) and Telegram (18%) combined are more important for finding, sharing, and discussing news than Facebook (59%). Latin Americans tend to use a combination of all the main networks, while it is a mixed picture in Asia, with almost three-quarters (73%) using Facebook for news in the Philippines but just 5% in Japan, where Twitter (18%) and Line (16%) are more popular. YouTube (44%) is the main social network for news in South Korea, along with home-grown app KakaoTalk (24%) and KakaoStory (5%).

TikTok emerges as a significant new player in the news ecosystem

In our data, we find significant and rapidly growing usage of TikTok, especially in Africa, Asia, and Latin America as well as across Eastern Europe. Usage is mostly still with under 25s, but is extending into all age brackets in countries with higher levels of usage, such as Kenya, South Africa, Thailand, Indonesia, Brazil, and Peru. This quote from our Brazil qualitative research sums up how perceptions of content on TikTok have changed in the last year or so.

The Russia-Ukraine conflict has increased the profile of the network globally. Ukrainians have been documenting their experience of the war, including leaving their homes as refugees, clocking up millions of views in the process (see picture). As we noted last year, many publishers have been increasing their investment, but some worry that a platform where entertainment content is so sought-after may not be the most effective place for news. BBC News originally decided to avoid TikTok, but has now set up channels in Russian and English after seeing misleading information being shared on the platform around the war in Ukraine.

TikTok on smartphone

of 18-24s use TikTok for any purpose

of 18-24s use TikTok for news

In contrast to traditional networks such as Facebook or Twitter, the content of the main TikTok feed is driven less by who you follow and more by an algorithm that takes into account what you like and what others are watching.

But others remain sceptical about the value of very short videos designed for popularity.

How much news do people see on each platform?

Facebook tells us that about 4% of the content of the average person’s feed comes from news outlets, though for some that proportion will be much higher. 7 Twitter does not provide equivalent data, but our survey shows that across markets it has a high proportion (56%) who use it for news weekly. By contrast, only around four in ten (39%) Instagram users access news via the platform weekly and just a third of TikTok users do the same (33%). But do people think they are seeing too much or too little news in these networks? 8

More than a fifth of UK respondents (21%) feel that they see too much news on Facebook and only 3% would like to see more. Facebook has been trying to reduce the amount of news on the platform partly for reputational reasons but also because, as previous research shows, people are mainly there to connect with friends and family rather than consume news. On the other hand, Twitter is seen as having more of a reputation for news so it is somewhat surprising to find one in ten (11%) saying they see too much. There is a clear link with news avoidance: those who often avoid the news are twice as likely to say they see too much news on both Facebook and Twitter when compared with the average user.

These data suggest the ambivalent relationship many people have with news on social media. It drives much of the conversation and engagement but can also interrupt other activities and create arguments. This dilemma may be one of the factors behind Facebook’s recent decision to create a separate tab in five countries (Facebook News) with content from a selection of partner publishers, in parallel with an ongoing string of decisions in recent years to reduce the amount of news in the main ‘Feed’ (recently renamed from ‘News Feed’). Platforms like Twitter might also need to think about why even some people who love the news want to see less of it, given the network’s reputation for often abusive debate. TikTok and Instagram will also be aware, as they grow, of the careful balance they need to strike if they are not to put people off.


In this year’s survey we find a link between online misinformation fears and the widespread use of social media. Across markets, just over half (54%) say they worry about identifying the difference between what is real and fake on the internet when it comes to news, but people who say they mainly use social media as a source of news are more worried (61%) than people who don’t use it at all (48%). Additionally, regions with the highest levels of concern – Africa and Latin America – correspond closely with high levels of social media news use. This is not to say that social media use causes misinformation, but that usage may generate awareness of and potential exposure to false information, including giving voice to extreme perspectives that previously would not have been widely heard.

When looking at the types of misinformation that people claim to see, we find that dubious health claims around COVID-19, including from anti-vaccination groups, are, as in 2021, still most widespread across most regions, ahead of politics. Notable exceptions are in Kenya – where political misinformation is more widely seen – as well as Colombia and the Philippines, both countries where elections were held this year.

Levels of perceived misinformation around climate change and the environment are around three times higher in the United States (34%) than they are in Taiwan (10%) or Denmark (13%). Despite pledges to crack down, social media posts and videos denying climate change or disputing its causes remain widespread on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and TikTok, according to recent research. 9

In this year’s report we find increased polarisation around climate change in a number of countries, including the United States, and identify the most important sources for climate change news with different groups.

Text is still king but what role for online video?

Since the emergence of the internet, consumption on news websites (and apps) has primarily been about reading text articles. But that has begun to change with the growing supply of video news formats on social media.

Against this background, it is surprising to find that all age groups, on average, say they still prefer to read news online rather than watch it – and we have seen little change in underlying preferences since we last asked the question in 2019. Younger audiences, however, are significantly more likely to say they watch the news, perhaps because they are more exposed to networks like Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok.

We do find significant market-level differences in preferences around reading or watching, partly conditioned by consumption patterns offline. We find markets with historic patterns of high newspaper consumption such as Finland and Japan near the top of the list in terms of reading preference, with low-newspaper-circulation countries like Thailand and Brazil near the bottom. But other factors are also likely to be at play. Higher use of social media in general in Latin America (Mexico, Peru, Colombia, and Chile) as well as in parts of Asia-Pacific (Philippines and Taiwan) may be encouraging more video news use in these markets.

These preferences are closely linked to video consumption through platforms such as YouTube, the most widely used video-based platform in our survey. We see extremely high levels of consumption in the Philippines and India, for example. Meanwhile, in Thailand, the combination of low data charges, and greater freedom to speak openly online, has led to a spate of independent TV-style shows that are widely consumed on mobile phones. In other countries such as the UK and Denmark, by contrast, there is comparatively little mainstream news consumed on YouTube, though some alternative or partisan channels and conspiracy theorists do have a presence.

Overall, respondents say they prefer reading online because it is quicker (50%) or gives them more control (34%). Around a third (35%) say they are put off by pre-roll ads that sometimes appear ahead of videos. Almost a fifth (17%) say videos don’t add to anything that would otherwise be in a text story, 13% struggle with technical issues when trying to watch videos, and 8% worry about cost or data charges – much higher in African countries such as Kenya (35%) and Nigeria (35%).

Main reasons why people read rather than watch online news

Speed icon

say it is a quicker way to access information

2. Poor video experience

Video experience icon

say pre-roll adverts tend to put me off (Finland 55%, Germany 43%)

Control icon

say reading gives more control than playing videos

OptQ11ai. You say you prefer to read news in text rather than watch online video … What are the main reasons for this? Base: All who prefer to read news. All markets = 59, 258.

By contrast, people who prefer to watch news online say that this is because they find it an easier (42%) and more engaging (41%) way to access the news. Some like to see the people making or reporting the news (20%), as it brings stories to life, while others say video tells a more complete story (29%), making it easier to follow. Finally, many prefer video because they are using social media anyway (24%) and it appears, conveniently, in their feeds.

Main reasons why people watch rather than read online news

Easy icon

say it is a quicker way to consume news

2. Engaging

Engaging icon

say moving pictures are more engaging than text

3. Convenient

Convenient icon

say they come across videos often (e.g. via social media) – especially younger groups

OptQ11bi. You say you prefer to watch news video rather than read it in text … What are the main reasons for this? Base: All who prefer to watch news. All markets = 11,449.

Podcast usage growing again after COVID-19 pause

Podcasts have been another format that publishers have invested in heavily over the last few years (Newman and Gallo 2019 and 2020). Podcasts tend to reach younger audiences via their smartphones, and many subscription publishers are looking to use habit-building products, such as The Daily from the New York Times , to attract younger customers. Podcast growth has resumed this year in more than half of our markets after COVID-19 had disrupted the commute to work, negatively affecting news consumption. Looking at an average of 20 countries where we are confident that the term ‘podcast’ is well understood, we find 34% (+3) consumed one or more podcasts in the last month, with 12% accessing a news podcast. Ireland, a country with a strong audio tradition, heads our list, along with Sweden, the home of Spotify.

Platform mix is changing

Spotify, Amazon, and Google have been investing in podcasts over the last few years as they seek to capitalise on surging demand and break Apple’s historic audio dominance. The battle for talent has intensified, as evidenced by Spotify’s willingness to pay around $200m for exclusive rights to the Joe Rogan podcast, and to stand by him after rows over controversial guests and accusations of spreading of false information. 10 In our qualitative research in both the UK and US, it was striking how many younger people regularly listen to The Joe Rogan Experience, even as they worry about some of the content.

Spotify has continued to gain ground this year, overtaking BBC Sounds in the UK as the main podcast platform. It is also leading in Germany, but not in Spain, where YouTube is ahead and where the audio platform iVoox – which focuses on Spanish and Latin American markets – has a substantial share. In our qualitative research, we find some clues as to why these long news shows with diverse perspectives on Spotify and YouTube seem to appeal to young multitaskers.

YouTube is increasing its publisher focus on podcasting this year – partly to bring more reputable content onto the platform – and has revealed plans for a discovery hub and better monetisation and analytics. 11

Big tech platforms are investing in content and bringing programming to a wider and more mainstream audience but this is also raising familiar questions for publishers about monetisation, distribution, and access to data. The New York Times is launching its own app for audio this year in a bid to build more direct traffic, while Schibsted in Norway and Prisa Media in Spain, the publishers of El País , have also been investing in podcast platforms to create more critical mass and ultimately more control.

Meanwhile, the wider shift to audio continues to be driven by new voice interfaces and devices such as smart speakers and in-car entertainment systems. Amazon and Google are the key market makers in this respect, though South Korea has its own set of device manufacturers. Smart speakers now reach almost a quarter of the UK adult population (24%), 17% in Canada and Korea, 15% in Germany, and 13% in the US. But news use remains disappointing: only a minority use these devices for any kind of news (6% in the UK and 4% in the US).

While some individual news media have clearly been very successful at building online reach or convincing people to subscribe, and developed new offers across podcast, video, and newsletters, this year’s data show many publishers are still struggling to come to terms with structural changes that have been ravaging the industry for more than a decade. These challenges are compounded by the fraying connection that journalism and news media have with much of the public in many countries. More people are disconnected, interest in news is down, selective news avoidance up, and trust far from a given. The Ukraine crisis, and before it the COVID-19 pandemic, have reminded people of the value of accurate and fair reporting that gets as close to the truth as possible, but we also find evidence that the overwhelming and depressing nature of the news, feelings of powerlessness, and toxic online debates are turning many people away – temporarily or permanently. Paywalls and registration gates may not be helping either, putting further barriers in the way of the content that audiences want to consume, even as they are creating more sustainable businesses for some.

Although many publishers have had a relatively good year with increased revenue, future growth is likely to be challenged by the combined impact of inflation and rising energy prices, squeezing household budgets currently devoted to news media, but also potentially hitting advertising revenues, too. In this context, publishers will need to be even more focused on meeting the needs of specific audiences and demonstrating value to users. Internet users have access to an unprecedented amount of content, products, and services competing for their attention and hard-earned money, and news needs to stand out, connect, and create value, if it is to convince them to pay.

They will also need to keep an eye on the needs of the next generation, who this report has shown are exhibiting very different behaviours and attitudes than the one that went before. These social natives , who have come into adulthood in the last five or ten years, are much less likely to visit a traditional news website or to pay for online news – and they are often wary of giving up their data. Deeply networked, they are increasingly accessing news in video or audio on networks like Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, or Spotify.

The world feels increasingly uncertain, with war in Europe and a major refugee crisis adding to the impact of the pandemic, not to mention the looming threat of climate change. The need for reliable information, careful context, and considered debate has rarely been greater, but so too has the desire for stories that inspire and give hope of a better tomorrow. The global shocks of the last few years have galvanised publishers to refocus on digital, embracing new business models, storytelling, and distribution. But there will be no single route to success in this often confusing and increasingly complex media environment.

1 During the first week of the conflict, the BBC estimated 280 million people used its news output in the UK and around the world. ↩

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3 ↩

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5 In January 2022 Google announced it will stop the use of third-party cookies in its popular Chrome web browser by the end of 2023, joining a growing list of browsers and platforms that are stopping support for this tracking technology. ↩

6 ↩

7 ↩

8 We did ask respondents directly to estimate how much news they saw in each of their social media feeds, partly to prime them for this subsequent question about too much/too little. We have preferred to use data on the proportion who say they use each network for any purpose/for news as they show similar trends and are data we collect every year. ↩

9 ↩

10 ‘Joe Rogan: Four Claims from his Spotify Podcast Fact-Checked’, ↩

11 ↩

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