This year our survey includes a number of new markets in Asia (Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, and Hong Kong to add to South Korea and Japan) and Latin America (Chile, Argentina, and Mexico to add to Brazil). Here regional experts explore the commonalities and differences that exist within and between markets.
University of Navarra, Spain
Similar to other regions, internet users in Latin America show low levels of trust in their media. There is a widespread feeling among online news consumers that the independence of the media is under pressure from both political and commercial interests. This feeling is especially notable in Argentina, where media tend to be politically polarised, but is less pronounced in Brazil – as evidenced by the gap between overall trust in the news and trust in the sources I use (see chart).
Mobile devices are particularly important for news consumption in Latin America. For many, mainly those of lower income, having a home computer connected to the internet has been for years an almost unattainable luxury. Thanks to the growth of cheap mobile devices, many of these formerly disconnected people are now becoming intensive internet users for the first time. In 2017, three of the four Latin American countries studied in our report showed higher online news consumption rates through smartphones than computers. In Mexico and Chile that difference was especially significant: while the online news consumption through computers reached an average of roughly 50%, that level went up to more than 70% with smartphones.
This phenomenon also helps us to understand the high popularity of social media as a news source. While in 2017 the average use worldwide of social media as a source for news is 54%, in the four countries analysed in Latin America this percentage rises to nearly or even more than 70%. Chile (76%), Argentina (74%), and Mexico (72%) stand out worldwide as three of the countries where social media are by far the most important source of news access.
In terms of media brands, general content television channels are consistently the main offline source of news in all the countries, with newspapers and radio networks behind. On the internet, however, these positions change depending on the country: in Brazil, television channels’ websites remain the main source for news; in Argentina and Chile the ranking is led by quality newspapers’ websites; and finally, in Mexico, it is striking that the top source for online news is a digital-born medium (Aristegui Noticias). In none of the four countries analysed has the top offline news brand managed to maintain its leading position online. This suggests a significant shift in the preferences of news consumption between internet users and non-users in the region.
The leading online news brands in Latin America are consistently country-based media outlets. It’s noteworthy that, with the exception of Terra, an internet portal of Spanish origin well established in the region since the late 1990s, the rest of the international news brands ranked in the top 20 in these countries are either US or UK based. Together with their good reputation, the pre-eminence of these English and American brands has been helped by their strategy of publishing online news in local languages, either Spanish or Portuguese.
Chinese University of Hong Kong
There are significant internal variations among the six East Asian markets included in the study, which can be roughly separated into three groups. The first group is constituted by Japan and South Korea, where only about 20% of the respondents came across news stories via social media, and only 6–7% of people treated social media as the main source of news. In these countries, television remained much more likely to be the respondents’ main source of news (around 45%). It should be noted that the online news arena in both countries is dominated by a major news aggregator – Yahoo in the case of Japan and Naver, the ‘homegrown’ web portal, in the case of South Korea.
The second group is made up of Taiwan and Hong Kong, where social media use is much higher. Around half of respondents had come across news stories via social media and about 16–18% treated social media as the main source of news. Despite this, television remains a key source of news for many, with 40% describing it as their main source.
The third group is constituted by Malaysia and Singapore. Similar to Taiwan and Hong Kong, more than 50% of the respondents in these two countries came across news stories via social media, and a relatively high percentage of respondents – 29% and 24% respectively – treated social media as the main news source. Significantly this is higher than the percentages treating television as the main news source.
One thing to keep in mind when interpreting the figures from the region is the different political systems in place in the six markets. Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan are democratic systems, whereas Singapore and Malaysia are examples of competitive authoritarian states – elections exist but the various political institutions, the electoral system, the judiciary, and media, etc., are heavily skewed in favour of the existing power holders so that the political system at large lacks the substance of democracy. Hong Kong, meanwhile, is a Special Administrative Region under China and does not have a democratic system despite a ‘tradition’ of civil liberties. The differences in political systems have implications for degrees of press freedom in the countries, which in turn affect the development of online alternative media and thus the significance of the online arena as a space of the communication of news.
Meanwhile, social and political integration in the East Asian region is not as strong as in Europe. There is also significant language differences among the six markets. These factors contribute to the absence of cross-cutting news brands in these Asian countries. It is fair to say that news remains essentially national in the region.
The Battle for Global Audiences
Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism
Over the past few years a number of companies have looked to take advantage of near-free internet distribution to build global brands. The New York Times announced a major international expansion in English-speaking markets including Australia and has also launched a service in Spanish. By targeting affluent consumers of quality content across the world they hope, over time, to meet their ambitious target of 10m digital subscribers. The Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal are set on a similar (but more modest) paid content strategy, aimed at the more niche global business community. Other legacy media companies such as the BBC and CNN are looking to transition existing mainstream television and radio audiences to digital in English and other languages.
A second type of company focused on global growth is digital-born news organisations such as BuzzFeed News, the Huffington Post, and Vice News. These brands are funded mainly by advertising or increasingly from sponsored content, and through partnerships they also aim to reach non-English speakers across the world. In many cases they have forged partnerships with local news organisations to help build their business. The Huffington Post works with Le Monde in France, L’Espresso group in Italy, and El Pais in Spain, while BuzzFeed launched its eleventh site last year in partnership with Yahoo Japan. BuzzFeed has broken a number of major stories over the last year through data investigations, including taking the lead in uncovering how fake news is created and spreads. Everywhere, it has focused relentlessly on millennial audiences and is most popular with 18–24s. Vice News operates in more than 20 countries – though locally produced content remains limited in most.
One other important global news player is Yahoo, the original web portal now trying to reinvent itself for the mobile and social age. The tie-in with email accounts and search means that Yahoo is still an important player in many markets including the United States, where surprisingly it remains the most used brand in terms of weekly reach. Yahoo Japan has a slightly different ownership and is more of an aggregator, but it dominates the market there on both web and mobile. Overall, Yahoo remains the brand with by far the highest reach across our 36 markets.