Credit: Photo by Jack Finnigan on Unsplash

Every year, the Reuters Institute's (RISJ) Digital News Report provides analysis of the key trends shaping the news industry in the UK and internationally.

The 2024 Report has just been published, and so we focus in on the UK and the most important changes in this market.

Penny-wise Britons

Mousetrap Media / Frank Noon

Nic Newman, RISJ, speaking at Newsrewired November 2023

Just nine per cent of Britons pay for the news, up one per cent from last year. But the one statistic that should send shivers down the spine of every UK news publication is the 69 per cent of people who said they are not willing to pay anything for the news - the highest proportion of all markets in the report.

"There's lots of free news that is good enough for most people and a culture of free news on the internet. Still, only a few publishers are trying to charge, though that is changing," says Nic Newman, senior research fellow, RISJ and the lead author of the report.

Yes, the UK boasts some big reader revenue businesses: The Times and Sunday Times has more than 500k paying subscribers, the Guardian has more than 1m digital paying supporters. But growth is slowing down and news organisations are turning to heavily discounted subscriptions to get people over the line.

Screenshot via Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2024

41 per cent of Britons pay less than full price for a news subscription, at an average price point of £11.50, somewhere between the price of a Netflix and Spotify subscription. Britons are most comfortable (15 per cent) paying between £2 to £5 a month for a news subscription.

Watch out for YouTube

In the world of social media, YouTube is the highest growth area in the UK (up 3 per cent in news use) and is breathing down the neck of X (formerly Twitter) which has been through turmoil in the Elon Musk era. TikTok is also on the rise amongst the under 25s (up four per cent).

Screenshot via Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2024

Mainstream news brands like BBC News and Sky News are present on video platforms, but find it hard to monetise content and face stiff competition from all directions. But high profile names like Piers Morgan and James O'Brien can command large viewerships to their respective brands.

"In the UK, YouTube stars tend to be from mainstream media - so you could argue extending the brand, or building [individual] brand is a marketing angle that makes sense for many broadcasters to reach new audiences," says Newman.

There is also a wave of new media brands and influencers gaining attention on YouTube, like partisan channel Novara Media (770k subscribers), youth-centred TLDR News (760k subscribers), and individual content creator Dylan Page (160k subscribers).

Guards up against AI

Britons have large reservations about news generated mostly by AI (63 per cent), the most across the other surveyed markets like Mexico (27 per cent) and the US (52 per cent).

It is likely reservations will ease as people become more familiar with how the technology works, but as things stand, more than half (56 per cent) of Britons say they have heard or read a large or moderate amount of information about AI.

Britons are clearer about how they feel about the technology too. There is a much wider gap in their distrust and trust towards content made mostly by AI and mostly by humans.

"We are more sceptical and suspicious, I think because media narratives are quite negative in the UK compared with US where US companies are in a more leading role," explains Newman.

"Linked to this people are more worried about the potential for misinformation in the UK compared with the average (70 per cent compared with 59 per cent) and AI is part of that story."

News fatigue is real

"World news is far too depressing at the moment with most news channels reporting on the same things," says a 45-year-old female respondent in the survey.

That much is reflected in the statistics too; 38 per cent of Britons say they feel worn out by the news, up eight percentage points in five years. This is not nearly as drastic as other countries, with Brazil, Spain, Germany and Denmark seeing anything from 15 to 18 percentage point increases in news fatigue.

Screenshot via Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2024

News organisations might need to rethink intensifying outputs and products, as audiences note the overwhelm not just in the news, but their lives too.

"The main thing that news media is doing is, one: trying to make content more accessible - or less insider-y - so, explainers for the election and new formats, like the BBC's Henry Zeffman daily videos," says Newman.

"Two: trying different approaches to politics - less confrontational interviews (e.g longer more personal ones); and three: trying to curate products like The Knowledge newsletter that save people time rather than waste their time and widen agenda."

Trust: better, but not solved

Trust in news - or the lack thereof - has been a prominent issue facing the news. It is on the rise this year (up from 33 per cent to 36 per cent), but this is still far off pre-Brexit levels in 2015 (51 per cent).

"Public broadcasters such as the BBC, Channel 4, and ITV remain the most trusted news brands but the number of critics is as high as ever. More opinionated news brands tend to have lower trust levels in our survey, along with tabloid newspapers," says Newman.

BBC News remains the most trusted news source (62 per cent), despite questions being raised on its impartiality amid Gaza coverage and a rise of imposter media seeking to dupe online users. The broadcaster is stepping up its fact-checking effort under the BBC Verify banner.

"We know audiences trust BBC News more than any other source and we take swift action when we become aware of fake content purporting to be from the BBC," says Naja Nielsen, digital director of BBC News, in an email to Journalism.co.uk.

"We are also continuing to invest in BBC Verify and other tools to help fight disinformation. We continue to urge everyone to check links and URLs to ensure they are getting news from a trusted source."

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