Digital News Report: Journalists Still Matter

June 13, 2014 • Digital News • by

The third annual Reuters Institute Digital News Report shows that as the online news environment grows ever more crowded, journalists play an important role in driving traffic to news brands and in encouraging people to pay for them.

The digital age has brought about a shift towards journalists as a key reason for using or trusting particular online sources of news.

The reputation of individual writers is cited as one of the key reasons why people might be prepared to pay for online news.

Following a year in which Glenn Greenwald emerged from relative obscurity to become a star name after his work with the fugitive US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, the Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2014 suggests he is part of a wider trend.

The report is based on a survey conducted in US, UK, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Denmark, Finland, Brazil and Japan. Total sample size was 18859 adults with around 2000 per country. Fieldwork was undertaken at the end of January/start of February 2014. The survey was carried out online. The data was weighted to targets set on age and gender, region, newspaper readership and social grade to reflect the total population.

In a number of countries, notably France, Spain and the US, the role of the journalist is now considered almost as important in driving trust as the role of the news brand itself.

As report author Nic Newman says: “This is particularly true where traditional titles are weaker, or face challenge from online-only news sites, many of which are increasingly built around the personality and skills of a columnist or reporter”.

In other countries, such as Finland Germany and the UK, mainstream news brands remain the main drivers of trust but even here the reporter is an important factor in determining the choice of a particular brand.

The growing importance of individual journalists has been fuelled by the ease with which new enterprises can be set up and distribute content in the internet era.

“In the US in particular we have seen a succession of high profile columnists like Ezra Klein (Vox Media), Glenn Greenwald (First Look Media) and Felix Salmon (Fusion) leaving mainstream publications to make a more direct connection with readers,” Newman says.

The Reuters Institute report also provides evidence that the quality of writers and reporters is one important factor in getting people to pay for online news. More than a third cited writers as a key reason for taking out an online news subscription in France (40 percent) and the United States (35percent ). Other key factors include the role of the news brand in pulling together a broad package of news coverage and the freedom to access news on any device.

The report also produced evidence that journalists are also playing a key role in social media. In the UK, YouGov’s analysis for the Reuters Institute tracking actual usage across a representative sample of Twitter users suggests that 64percent (c 5.4million ) are following a professional news account with 48percent them (c.2.6 million) following at least one journalist account compared with 40percent (c2.2 million) who follow a breaking news account.

This research is further evidence that individual journalists are key drivers of trust and engagement. “Digital and social media seem to be encouraging journalism with a human face”, says Nic Newman, author of the Reuters Institute Digital News Report. Newman also suggests that “in an increasingly competitive market there is likely to be an increasing economic premium attached to the very best writers and journalists.”

The report also shows that the smartphone and social media are now the most powerful agents of change. A generational split in how people find and interpret news is emerging.

Smartphones are encouraging users to consume news more frequently throughout the day reducing the dependence on appointment to view television and newspaper editions.

Young people, the readers and viewers of tomorrow, are turning increasingly to mobile devices as their preferred way of receiving news and consequently “snacking” more in terms of both the time spent on sites and the type of content they consume.

Across all 10 countries surveyed, over a third (36percent) of 18-24s say the smartphone is now their primary access point for digital news. The report reveals that young people in particular (18-35) increasingly rely on social sources like Facebook and Twitter to discover news stories. It also highlights the rise of WhatsApp as a significant new network for sharing and discussing the news particularly in Spain, Italy and our sample in urban Brazil.

The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism is part of the European Journalism Observatory.

Photo credit: nicolayeeles / Flickr Cc

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