The journalism industry's most important annual survey is back.

The Reuters Institute's Digital News Report 2024 is out today, drilling deep into the key shifts and trends in the global news industry. We are distilling three main points from the five key themes that came up.

Paying for online news: heavy discounts taking a toll

In a nutshell:

Many news publishers can boast impressive news subscription numbers, but most subscribers are not paying full price because they are on discounted, short-term trials.

There is no guarantee trials will lead to paid subscriptions, but that is not stopping many publishers worldwide from pursuing this strategy. It is not as restrictive as a premium or hard paywall, nor as lenient as giving away content or asking for voluntary donations.

One key statistic:

41 per cent of news consumers, across 20 markets, are not paying full price for news.

So what?

Subscription strategies are targetting a narrowing market. Most people have likely made their minds up about whether they will or will not pay for news (17 per cent do and 57 per cent do not, on average across 20 markets).

But some are undecided. What can news organisations do for them? Keep pushing for conversions via deals and bundles, or consider different ways to monetise content?

Audiences on AI: we need time and transparency

In a nutshell:

Large sections of audiences have little or no experience using AI for themselves or understanding of how it works and have given even less thought to its applications within news.

Those who are more clued up - and they are more likely to be younger, male and higher educated - are more comfortable with its use within news. But there are still strong reservations about AI, with mixed views on the specific application.

No major shocks here: efficiency uses are fine, delivering the news is a bit iffy, and creating new content is a straight no-no, although that too depends on the type of content generated (less resistance to text generation than image and video) and topic (higher stakes in political content than sports, for example).

One key statistic:

Audiences are more comfortable using AI-assisted news made by humans than AI-generated news with human oversight (36 per cent versus 19 per cent).

So what?

Perceptions about AI are changing gradually and that might accelerate in time or as fears are alleviated by more transparent practices. Audiences welcome, and even demand, transparency from news organisations. Simple disclaimers may not be enough, how do we go one step deeper?

Social and video networks: rising alternative voices

In a nutshell:

X (formerly Twitter) still tops the list as the place for journalists, but TikTok is quickly climbing the ranks. 'Personality lead' platforms like YouTube and Instagram are strong platforms for polarising, outspoken and commentary-style media names, like Owen Jones, Piers Morgan and James O'Brien in the UK, but there are notable other examples of this in the US, France, Argentina and Brazil.

These are the platforms where a range of actors, activists, politicians and influencers are also gaining mass amplification. Youth-focused and agenda-driven news and media brands are mushrooming up across the globe to ride the wave of popularity these platforms promise.

One key statistic:

41 per cent of audiences pay attention to journalists on YouTube and Instagram, more than Facebook (39 per cent), across five markets.

So what?

How does neutral, traditional media succeed on platforms where algorithms are giving so much uplift to polarising, alternative media names and other personalities alike?

User needs: audiences yearn for inspiration

In a nutshell:

The user needs model - pioneered by the BBC and expanded later on - has caught on fast and many news organisations are looking at this strategy to better serve their audience, tailoring content to eight user needs across four axes (know, understand, do and feel).

Read more: New user needs playbook to help publishers boost content strategy

There is a clear hierarchy of needs that bears out broadly across ages and engagement with the news. 'Update me' tops the list and 'divert me' sits at the bottom, confirming that people broadly see news existing in its traditional form.

Generally, audiences in countries with lower press freedom prioritise 'know' content as access to basic information is limited, and by contrast, audiences in countries with higher press freedom prioritise 'understand' content to make sense of the news.

One key statistic:

'Inspire me' is underserved. It is the user need that is considered least well-served by the news but ranks second in priority (and is even more important amongst young audiences and news avoiders).

So what?

Are perceptions changing on what news ought to be? Is this an opportunity to change for the better?

'Divert me' sits at the bottom of the priority order, likely because other forms of media have historically met this need. But it is also the only user need that is viewed as more important to the youngest categories (18-24 and 25-34) than the oldest ones (45-54 and 55+).

Trust in the news: the battle for the politically undecided

In a nutshell:

Audiences and journalists are in broad agreement about what matters to earning trust, and they are enduring values of transparency, high standards, freedom from bias, and treating people fairly.

Views differ more greatly across age groups than gender but audiences broadly look at trust in a similar light albeit with a few surprises (older people care more about social justice and perceived unfairness, a presumed chief concern of the youth).

A fifth of respondents do not know where they stand politically, "an overlooked large minority" who trust the news less, have less connection to it, have a harder time making up their mind on what to trust, and are unsure what would help. The same is true for the third of people who are disinterested in politics.

One key statistic:

40 per cent of audiences across all 47 markets say they trust most news.

So what?

Low trust is driven fundamentally by whether people are receiving the news they feel they need and deem important. The report summarises this excellently: "If they are right, news has a product problem. If they are wrong, news has a communications problem."

Which problem does your newsroom have?

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