The Reuters Institute digital survey for 2012

Foreword to the Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2012

Digital and social media are contributing to audience and device fragmentation – and to the disruption of the business models that have underpinned our information ecosystem. We are swamped with data in this area but much of it is partial, contradictory, or specific to a moment in time. To understand the impact of these changes on the quality and plurality of provision, we need to be able to look at the most important data points in a consistent way over time – in addition to providing relevant research on emerging issues.

The Reuters Institute Digital News Report is a new venture which aims to deliver both of these objectives. Each year we hope to bring together an annual benchmarked international survey and a series of essays which help to contextualise some of the key themes. In this first year’s survey Peter Kellner writes about the changing relationship between politicians, the media, and the public. Steve Schifferes looks at the way in which different types of media are being used to inform our understanding of financial information and I’ll look in more detail at consumption of and interest in international news.

In the rest of the report, we set out the most important results of the survey in the order in which the questions were asked – setting out the major consumption patterns, the role of different media devices, attitudes to pay, discovery, and participation. Each section is accompanied by some brief contextual material.

Although in this first year the UK has been the major focus with an extensive online survey, we are delighted that we’ve been able to benchmark some key questions in four other countries – France, Germany, Denmark, and the United States. International comparison is a key part of the institute’s work and these results illustrate once again that the speed and nature of change is often very different in Europe to a country like the United States which frequently sets the terms of the debate. International comparison is a unique feature of this survey, which raises many important questions about the role of culture, regulation, and politics on media systems.

We hope in the future to extend our international polling to a wider range of questions and countries – and will be actively looking for partners and sponsors to help support that vitally important process.

This report draws inspiration from US research conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism and its associated Internet and American Life Project – along with the Oxford Internet Institute’s bi-annual surveys of internet usage in Britain. Here, the combination of robust surveys and authoritative commentary has provided invaluable assistance to academics, regulators, and practitioners negotiating the transition to digital. To that end, the full data tables are published on our website – freely available for anybody to use. Over time, this will build up into an invaluable resource for researchers and news organisations, to explain the past as well as point to the future. A description of the methodology is available there, along with the complete questionnaire.

In this first year, we are very grateful to our supporters. Ofcom, the BBC, City University London, and the polling company YouGov have variously provided financial support, advice in identifying the key issues, and help in interpreting the results.

I am especially grateful to Nic Newman for launching the survey and leading it to a successful conclusion and to YouGov for their enthusiasm about the project and for the extensive polling and analysis without which the project would not have been possible.