One size won't fit all: our panel discusses how to cater to elusive audiences at the launch of the Digital News Report 2023

A summary of a discussion featuring Jane Barrett, Naja Nielsen, Kamal Ahmed and Rasmus Nielsen
Jane Barrett, Kamal Ahmed, Rasmus Nielsen and Naja Nielsen at the global launch of the Digital News Report 2023. 

Jane Barrett, Kamal Ahmed, Rasmus Nielsen and Naja Nielsen at the global launch of the Digital News Report 2023. 

14th June 2023

The traditional news offering of mostly negative stories is not a great deal for audiences, particularly young people, the News Movement’s Kamal Ahmed said at the global launch event of this year’s Digital News Report, the most comprehensive study of news consumption worldwide. 

Alessandra Galloni, editor-in-chief of Reuters, welcomed more than 100 researchers, editors and media executives to the event, which featured a presentation by lead author Nic Newman followed by a panel moderated by the Institute's Director Rasmus K. Nielsen, with Jane Barrett, Global Editor for Media News Strategy at Reuters, Kamal Ahmed, Editor-in-Chief of The News Movement, and Naja Nielsen, Digital Director of BBC News.

Watch the launch

The panel kicked off by discussing social platforms and their impact on the news media. Our report found declining engagement with older social media networks like Facebook and Twitter and a rise in the popularity of video-based social media, most notably TikTok. 

“We're seeing significant shifts in the platforms people are using for news, driven by younger audiences turning their attention from what we might call legacy social platforms to next-generation ones that place more of a premium on entertainment and on personalities,” Nic Newman said.

Are platforms unreliable boyfriends?

The BBC’s Naja Nielsen highlighted that the changes brought about by social media platforms for news have also had a positive impact on the industry, broadening the scope of journalism in terms of geographical reach and getting in touch with more diverse voices. It’s not a question of social media either helping or hindering journalism, but a more complex evolution of the field. 

“Silicon Valley has provided us with great innovation and is also forcing us to modernise, so I don’t see it as an either/or, I see it as a positive, natural thing,” she said. 

It’s also not a question of people either using social media for all their information needs or going to the BBC and other legacy outlets, she continued. “People live in an ecosystem of different platforms, and what we’re trying to do at the BBC is to be a very healthy part of that ecosystem, a healthy part of the daily diet,” Naja Nielsen added.

However, operating on social platforms as a news organisation requires paying a lot of attention to the platform itself: its style, its language, and the kind of content users are looking for, the News Movement’s Kamal Ahmed highlighted.

“The platforms can be unreliable boyfriends: some things work for a while and then they don't work. And you're sitting there wondering, what did I do? But big audiences are there so we need to be there with them and it's constantly thinking about the signals you're getting from your audiences about how to engage them,” Ahmed said.

Successfully appealing to young audiences goes beyond just being present on the platforms, Ahmed stressed. The core offering of newsrooms also needs to bring value to them and be something they actually want to consume. “The news as a brand is a problem for many audiences and particularly for young audiences," he said. "The deal from the news industry can appear to be, telling me 10 things to really frighten me about the world, and now the weather. And for audiences, that's not a great deal. So we need to think differently about what the offer is.”

The speakers highlighted the importance of moving on from news’ traditional ‘one size fits all’ approach, which we can see is not appealing to many groups of people, not just the young, but also those who don’t have the time or are simply not interested in following every development in a major news story.

“If we take an honest look at the news industry, we can see clearly in the numbers now that the classic selection of the 10 negative stories, where you follow war and corruption and whatever political conflict is out there, we have to admit to ourselves that there is a narrow audience of elderly men that really love that stuff. And they are following it day in, day out. And we love them. But it's only maybe 10% of the population. Everyone else has other stuff they also do: take care of their kids, maybe they do something fun with their partner,” Naja Nielsen said.

The difficult nature of the news agenda

Our report once again found high levels of selective news avoidance, when people actively try to avoid the news around certain topics. In a difficult year for many around the world, we found 36% of respondents across markets are selective news avoiders, a 2-point decrease from the high we recorded in 2022 but still pretty high compared to a few years ago. Difficult topics avoided include the war in Ukraine, political developments and social justice. 

The difficult nature of many news topics, coupled with rising polarisation, especially online, is driving a need for impartial and trustworthy news, Reuters’ Jane Barrett said.

“It's more and more important for us to get good fact-based reporting from around the world where we are, as our handbook says, 'telling all sides and taking none' and I think that it is so vitally important for a company like Reuters to be able to invest in reporting from around the world: we've added another 200 journalists to the newsroom over the last year in order to have people on the ground who can really get to the facts and really put them out there for our clients,” Barrett said. 

“Sometimes that means that we tell stories that people don't like because they don't want to see the other side of the story,” she said, stressing that this makes it even more important to focus on fact-based reporting and report on everything going on, regardless of whether some groups may like it or not. 

Pressures on revenue persist

“Both app-based and subscription models are under pressure. They're compounded by the economic downturn and the cost of living crisis and in turn that is making it harder for journalism to be truly independent from powerful businessmen and governments around the world,” Nic Newman said.

Our report found that the rise in subscriptions recorded in previous years appears to be plateauing, with significant falls in some countries. Most people are still not paying for online news.



“In this market, we have to be profitable and journalism is costly,” Ahmed said. The News Movement is addressing this challenge by pursuing a varied business model in order not to become too reliant on a single source, particularly platform income, which can be volatile. 

The News Movement’s business model is an example of a new trend for media outlets to get creative around their revenue streams, moving away in some cases from traditional models like advertising, and adding diverse ways to fund their work.

“One of the big changes that we have seen over the last decade is that the creativity used to sit in the newsroom, and increasingly we've seen the need for great creativity in the business side and the commercial side, really coming up with different ideas, building up new teams, working with different sets of data,” Barrett said.

The BBC’s funding model is very different, in the UK it’s funded via the TV license fee paid by users, and it receives a government grant to fund its world service, which operates in dozens of countries where the BBC is a challenger. Naja Nielsen doesn’t believe success for the BBC and similar public service media will create problems for other media outlets who have to rely on other revenue models such as reader revenue.

“I firmly believe that public service media like the BBC are not taking from a market, we are creating it. If you look around the world, and if you look at your findings, all of the countries that have got very popular, very used, very strong public service media are also the places where the private media thrives the most and where the willingness to pay is highest,” Naja Nielsen said. Then she stressed: “If we're not delivering value for everyone, it's not going to be there.”

Explore the Digital News Report 2023

Read the executive summary | Download a PDF version | Watch our video summary | Explore the report in 192 slides | Watch our global launch events | Check our methodology | Listen to our podcast series