Foreword to the Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2020
The coronavirus crisis is having a profound impact not just on our health and our communities, but also on the news media. Most of the research presented in this year’s Digital News Report was collected before the virus hit in many countries, but findings from the work we have carried out in the months since underline that the crisis is very likely to accelerate long-term structural changes towards a more digital, more mobile, and more platform-dominated media environment.
The bulk of this report is based on data collected by a survey of more than 80,000 people in 40 markets and reflects media usage in January/February just before the coronavirus hit many of these countries. But the key trends that we document here, including changes in how people access news, low trust, and rising concern about misinformation have been a backdrop against which journalists, editors, politicians, and public health officials have been battling to reach ordinary people with key messages over the last few months.
We know that this crisis has substantially increased the amount and frequency of news consumption as well as influenced attitudes to the news media, at least temporarily. We’ve captured this in a second set of polling data collected in April when the crisis was at its peak in some countries. This has helped us to see the impact of the crisis in terms of sources of news and also reminded us of the critical role that the news media play at times of national crisis, including documenting that people who rely on news media are better informed about the virus than those who do not.
While many media companies have been enjoying record audience figures, news fatigue is also setting in, and the short-term and long-term economic impact of the crisis is likely to be profound – advertising budgets are slashed and a recession looms, threatening news media, some of whom are struggling with adapting to a changing world. Against this background, this year’s report also focuses on the shift towards paying for online news in many countries across the world, with detailed analysis of progress in three countries (the UK, USA, and Norway). What lessons can we learn about what could persuade more people to pay directly for news?
This year, our report carries important data about the extent to which people value and trust local news, perhaps the sector most vulnerable to the economic shocks that will inevitably follow the health crisis itself. And we also explore the way people access news about climate change as well as attitudes to media coverage for the first time.
Given that the coronavirus is continuing to impact the media landscape at great pace, we have significantly reduced the commentary on this year’s market- and country-based pages, though we publish the key data that we collected in January/February in full.
Our main survey this year covered respondents in 40 markets, including 24 in Europe, and four in Latin America (Brazil, Argentina, Chile, and Mexico) as well as the United States and Canada. In Asia we have added the Philippines this year to our existing seven markets (Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, and Australia) and we are delighted to include Kenya for the first time, following the inclusion of South Africa in 2019. In the years to come we plan to continue to make this report even more comprehensive and more international by covering more countries in the Global South. Having said that, as we use online polling and need to make meaningful comparisons, we continue to focus on countries with high internet penetration and which are either broadly democratic or generally compare themselves to countries with a democratic tradition.
A report of this scale and scope is only possible due to collaboration from our partners and sponsors around the world. We are proud to have the opportunity to work with a number of leading academics and top universities in the report, as well as media experts from the news industry itself. Our partners have helped in a variety of different ways, from checking questionnaires to helping to analyse and interpret the results. Many are also organising events or publishing country reports looking in more detail at specific issues facing their national media – adding wider value to this international project.
Given the richness of the research, this report can only convey a small part of the data collected and work done. More detail is available on our website (www.digitalnewsreport.org), which contains slidepacks and charts, along with a licence that encourages reuse, subject to attribution to the Reuters Institute.
Making all this possible, we are hugely grateful to our sponsors: Google News Initiative, BBC News, Ofcom, the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, the Dutch Media Authority (CvdM), the Media Industry Research Foundation of Finland, the Fritt Ord Foundation in Norway, the Korea Press Foundation, and Edelman UK, as well as our academic sponsors at the Hans Bredow Institute, the University of Navarra, the University of Canberra, the Centre d’études sur les médias, Quebec, Canada, and Roskilde University in Denmark. We are particularly grateful to the Open Society Foundations, our newest sponsor, which has helped us to expand the report to cover more countries in the Global South this year.
We are also grateful to YouGov, our polling company, who did everything possible to accommodate our increasingly complex requirements and helped our research team analyse and contextualise the data.