June 15, 2016 Last Updated 7:38 am

Reuters’ ‘Digital News Report’ shows the growth of social media as a news source

Based on a YouGov survey, the report looks at news consumption in 26 countries, interviewing over 50,000 people to learn where the public gets their news

That more and more young people use social media to get their news is generally acknowledged, with media executives aware of this and experimenting with ways they can utilize social media for their own content distribution. Now, new Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism research shows that for young people social media is now their number one source of news, surpassing that of television.

“In most countries we see a consistent pattern with television news and online news the most frequently accessed, while readership of printed newspapers has declined significantly,” Nic Newman, Research Associate, Reuters Institute, said. “But the biggest change in digital media has been the growth of news accessed via social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat. In the United States, to take one example, the percentage of people saying they use social media as a source of news has risen to 46% of our sample – almost doubling since 2013.”


But news organizations are still having their news content read. “Social media is just one way of accessing online news – the vast majority of which still ends up being consumed on a news website.”

The Digital News Report, which is based on a YouGov survey of about 50,000 people in 26 countries, found that women and young people are “significantly” more likely to depend on social media for their news, while television remains the number one source for older people.


Where social media is a main source of news is interesting. In Brazil and Australia, now 18 percent said social media is the main source of news, while in Finland that number remains at only 5 percent.

By far the most important source of news among social media sources is Facebook, with 44 percent of respondents saying they use the social network for news (67 percent saying they use Facebook for any purpose). YouTube is widely viewed, as well, but only 19 percent said they use Google’s video outlet for news. Twitter comes in third, with 10 percent of those surveyed saying they use it for news consumption.

“With the exception of WhatsApp and Kakao Talk in Korea, one surprise is the low levels of news usage for messaging applications. Although Snapchat is one of the fastest growing new networks, only around 1% in most countries say they use it for news,” Newman said.

The study, which is in its fifth year, looked at the use of smartwatches for the first time and found that less than one percent of those surveyed said they use an Apple Watch or other smartwatch for news consumption.

Of the aggregated news apps, Apple News and Flipboard was used by 4 percent of respondents in the US and Australia, 3 percent of respondents in the UK.

In comments included at the end of the report, Mark Thompson, CEO of The New York Times, said he saw few media companies successfully dealing with the changes to the way news is found by the public.

“The economic challenge for any legacy newspaper company is simply stated: it is to grow digital revenue far and fast enough to offset the inevitable declines in print revenue, and at sufficient margins to defend – or increase – profitability. Many publishers have responded to this challenge by putting their faith in a model based on audience scale and digital display advertising,” Thompson said before concluding that the business models being used “now look suspect.”

The Times has decided to rely on the editorial department to lead the charge, pushing aside the business side. “Editors need to co-create and co-lead the necessary transformation of both news report and business,” Thompson said. This is a strategy also being implemented at Tribune Publishing (soon to be called the ridiculous name tronc).

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