20 findings from the Reuters Institute’s research in 2023 still relevant in 2024

From trust in news and social media to AI and changing newsrooms, our researchers have covered key issues in the past 12 months
Palestinians mourn local journalists Hassouna Sleem and Sary Mansour, who were killed in an Israeli strike on a house, at a hospital in the central Gaza Strip November 19, 2023. REUTERS/Stringer

Palestinians mourn local journalists Hassouna Sleem and Sary Mansour, killed in an Israeli strike in November 2023. REUTERS/Stringer

18th December 2023

Journalism has faced many challenges in 2023, including the changing nature of social media, a declining press freedom in many countries and a growing distrust of news media around the world. Despite these trends, so many brave reporters have kept doing their jobs even under the worst possible circumstances, as we have seen in Gaza in the last few weeks. The research team of the Reuters Institute has documented the changes in the news ecosystem in seven reports, two factsheets and several peer-reviewed articles in academic publications. Here are 20 findings from our research in 2023 which will still be relevant in 2024. 

1. More and more people say that search and social media is their main way of getting news.

According to survey data from Digital News Report 2023, only around a fifth of respondents in our global sample (22%) now say they prefer to start their news journeys with a website or app, down 10 points since 2018. Publishers in a few smaller Northern European markets have managed to buck this trend, but younger groups everywhere are showing a weaker connection with news brands’ own websites and apps than previous cohorts – preferring to access news via side-door routes such as social media, search, or mobile aggregators. | Learn more

2.  We see big differences in the level of news ‘platformization’ in different markets

In a piece of peer-reviewed research published earlier this year in the European Journal of Communication, we found that although over 90% of internet users use at least one social platform, there are large differences by media market in the proportion that use them to access news. These differences at least partly reflect path dependency, more specifically the historic strength of the newspaper market leading to lower levels of news platformization and continued high levels of direct access. | Learn more

3. Visual networks such as YouTube, TikTok and Instagram are increasingly important for news.

Facebook remains one of the most-used social networks overall, but its influence on journalism is declining as it shifts its focus away from news. It also faces new challenges from established networks such as YouTube and vibrant youth-focused networks such as TikTok. The Chinese-owned social network reaches 44% of 18–24s across markets and 20% for news. Those figures are even higher in some Global South countries. Up to 30% of the online population use it for news now in Peru and Thailand, 29% in Kenya and 24% in Malaysia. | Learn more

4. These visual networks were a key focus of newsroom leaders in 2023.

When we surveyed 275 newsroom leaders about their priorities as they headed for 2023, they said they’d be paying much much less attention to Facebook and Twitter and putting much more effort into TikTok, Instagram and YouTube, all networks that are popular with younger people. The increased interest in TikTok reflects a desire to engage with people under 25 and experiment with vertical video storytelling, despite concerns about monetisation, data security, and the wider implications of Chinese ownership. | Learn more

5. Twitter’s user base is not representative of the wider population.

A minority in all the countries we survey use the platform now known as X either for news or for any purpose. Twitter users are more likely to be men than users of other social media platforms. They also tend to be more well-off and well-educated, as well as more interested in news and politics. Use of Twitter for news is proportionally higher in markets in Asia and Latin America, and lower in mainland Europe. Even though the platform has undergone many changes, Twitter use for any purpose and for news has remained remarkably stable in our data over the last 10 years. | Learn more

6. Fewer people are commenting on news stories in public.

Our survey data show that the proportion of people that share news stories or post comments on them in public (e.g., on social media or news websites) has gone down in the past few years. According to our global sample, the percentage of people commenting on the news has gone down from 33% in 2018 to 22% in 2023. This decline has been even more pronounced in countries going through polarising events such as Spain, the UK and the US. | Learn more

7. Growth in the percentage of people paying for online news seems to be slowing.

Across a basket of 20 richer countries, 17% paid for any online news – the same figure as last year. Norway (39%) has the highest proportion of those paying, with Japan (9%) and the United Kingdom (9%) amongst the lowest. Amongst those cancelling their subscription in the last year, the cost of living or the high price was cited most often as a reason. In the United States, Germany, and the United Kingdom, about half of non-subscribers say that nothing could persuade them to pay for online news, with lack of interest or perceived value remaining fundamental obstacles. | Learn more

8. Most of the people who pay are men with high incomes and high interest in politics.

Our figures suggest that 60% of those who pay regularly for online news are men and over three-quarters (79%) have medium to high household incomes. People who pay tend to have received more formal education and are more likely to be left leaning politically, especially in the US. Along with education and income, the clearest predictor of online news payment is the level of interest in news and in politics. 

In the US, for example, 79% of people paying say they are very or extremely interested in news and three-quarters (74%) say they are very or extremely interested in politics. | Learn more

9. Many people suspect media managers and media owners force journalists to cover the news in a way that favours their own agendas.

Most of the people we surveyed in Brazil, India, the UK and the US as part of our Trust in News Project place blame for problems in news coverage at the management and ownership level. Individual journalists are often perceived as doing the bidding of owners and leaders who are guided by their own agendas. 

Majorities in Brazil, the UK and the US think news organisations force journalists to cover the news in a particular way. Audiences express a preference for more inclusive funding models for news organisations that include the public as stakeholders through individual subscriptions or public funding through taxes. | Learn more

10. People from marginalised communities have very negative views about news coverage.

A series of focus groups we conducted in December 2022 and January 2023 suggested that marginalised communities in Brazil, India, the UK and the US saw news media as biassed, sensationalistic or depressing. In particular, coverage of crime and violence was often seen as a way to boost ratings or get clicks at the expense of these communities. 

The news media as an institution, especially in the UK, the US, and India, was often viewed as an extension of systems aligned to serve those in power. People saw journalists as out of touch, lacking the lived experience or knowledge to understand their realities or even prejudiced, but many also gave positive examples of journalists they thought of as exceptions. | Learn more

“If it’s a Black person that’s dead or something happened, it’s shown to the point where we become numb, kind of, looking at it because we see it so much … I don’t think other races have to deal with, like, looking at their dead grandma laying on the street.”
Jocelyn (US-01)

11. People use ‘shortcuts’ when deciding what news sources to trust on social media

We know that people have different levels of trust in different news brands. But how do people decide whether or not they can trust news on social media if they haven’t actually seen the brand before? This is the question that motivated a piece of peer-reviewed research published in Journalism earlier this year. 

Based on interviews and focus groups with 232 people in Brazil, India, the UK and the US, we described how cues such as the use of data or numbers, images or video, the tone, language, and platform metrics all - for better or for worse - inform quick judgements about trustworthiness, without deep engagement with the actual content itself. | Learn more

12. News audiences want impartiality – but impartiality means different things to different people.

Survey research shows that the public has a strong preference for impartial news. But a series of interviews and focus groups with 132 people in Brazil, India, the UK, and the US reveals that there are very different views about what impartiality means in practice. While some people think impartiality can be achieved by simply sticking to the facts, others recognise that this may not be enough when dealing with complex issues in society. 

Underlying all of these views is the widespread idea that impartiality is undermined within news organisations by partisan political agendas or commercial considerations. The research was published in Journalism Studies earlier this year. | Learn more

13. News use increases awareness of misinformation, but does not increase belief in it

Some people worry that news organisations, by covering stories about misinformation, fact-checking, etc., might be inadvertently making the misinformation problem worse. However, using a two-wave survey in Brazil, India and the UK, we found that news use broadened people's awareness of false claims about COVID-19, but did not increase the belief in those claims. This means that news can raise awareness of false claims, without accidentally leading people to believe them. 

In some cases, news use actually weakened false belief acquisition, depending on access mode (online or offline) and outlet type. These findings were published in The International Journal of Press/Politics earlier this year. | Learn more

14. Almost four out of five of the top editors across 100 brands in five markets are white. 

Only 23% of the 81 top editors across 100 brands in the five countries we survey every year are people of colour. If we set aside South Africa and look at the four other countries, 11% of the top editors are people of colour, compared with, on average, 31% of the general population. 

In Brazil and Germany, none of the outlets in our sample have a person of colour as top editor. In the UK, only 6% of those in top editorial positions are. Like in previous years, in every single country covered, the percentage of people of colour in the general population remains higher than among top editors. | Learn more

15. Only 22% of 180 top editors across 240 major outlets in 12 markets are women.

Almost 80% of the top editors in the 12 media markets we cover every year are men despite the fact that, on average, 40% of journalists in those markets are women. These figures are very similar to the ones we found in 2022. Among the 38 new top editors appointed across the brands covered, 26% are women. 

In the US and Finland, half of the new top editors appointed in the past year are women, but in many other markets, few are. In all 12 markets, the majority of top editors are men, including in countries where women outnumber men among working journalists. The percentage of women in top editorial positions varies significantly from market to market, from 5% in Mexico to 44% in the US.

16. Most newsroom leaders think their organisations lack a proper plan to retain diverse talent, especially at the top.

Almost all of the newsroom leaders we surveyed this year for our Changing Newsrooms report feel their organisations are doing a good job in gender diversity, but numbers are considerably lower when it comes to doing a good job with political diversity (55%), supporting staff with disabilities (54%), or ethnic diversity (52%). Despite this, most news organisations lack a clear and articulated strategy on diversity and inclusion. 

Up to 43% of the participants said their organisation has an articulated strategy for diversifying talent acquisition, but only 22% said it has a strategy for retaining that talent. A similar proportion (21%) said their outlet has a proper plan to diversify its top leadership | Learn more

17. Most newsroom leaders are not prepared yet for AI disruption.

Most of the managers we spoke to remain cautious about the potential impact of artificial intelligence on their workplaces. Only 21% think generative AI will fundamentally change every role in their newsrooms and most of them are not yet prepared for the challenge AI may pose for journalism: 29% have created high level principles on how to use it, but only 16% have detailed guidelines and just 9% have created training programmes. Many others say they have started working on all of these. | Learn more

18. Most newsroom leaders think flexible work has made recruiting easier.

The shift to more flexible work arrangements is both helping and hindering media managers in different ways, according to a survey of 135 newsroom leaders from 40 countries for our recent Changing Newsrooms report. As the chart above shows, more than half of our respondents said that flexible work is making recruitment easier. Up to 43% said it is making retaining talent easier too. Almost the same percentage, however, say flexible working has weakened the sense of belonging to their organisation. | Learn more

19. Audiences who follow climate news regularly are more aware of the effects of the climate crisis.

Survey data from eight countries shows there is large variation in how soon respondents think people in their country will face the serious effects of climate change, with significant proportions in every country thinking the consequences are decades away at least. However, the more frequently individuals consume climate change news, the more likely they are to agree that people in their countries are currently experiencing the effects of climate change. 

Moreover, as the frequency of climate change news consumption increases, the percentage of respondents who anticipate more serious impacts within the next 10 to 100 years decreases. It is important to point out that we do not have evidence that climate change news use causes a change in attitudes. It’s possible that people who are most concerned about the impact of climate change consume news on it as a result. | Learn more

20. Politicians are less trusted than other sources but often quoted on news stories about climate change.

According to survey data from eight countries, trust for climate news has remained stable at 50% in 2023 compared with 52% last year. Trusted sources such as activists, scientists and international organisations tend to be quoted in climate change news. Politicians and governments are often quoted... despite being much less trusted than other sources. 

An average of 80% across markets say they are concerned about climate change misinformation, although only 25% think they've been exposed to it. Respondents see politicians as the most frequent sources for climate misinformation and TV and online spaces as the key channels for it. | Learn more