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Digital media trends and the India digital story

At the virtual Digital Media Conference organised recently by WAN-IFRA India, Rasmus Nielsen, director, Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, UK, highlighted a few of the global trends documented in the Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2021 and brought out some of the specific things the study found in the Indian market. Sashi Nair reports

At WAN-IFRA India’s recent Digital Media Conference, Rasmus Nielsen, director, Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, UK, and professor of Political Communication at the University of Oxford, presented the findings of the Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2021. The report is the world’s largest ongoing study of news media use; it has covered 46 markets in six continents with samples of 2000 users in each country or market. Incidentally, the Reuters Report is being produced the past ten years or so, helping to indicate some trends over time.

The 2021 report is based on an online survey comprising Internet users and only English language Internet users in India. So, let’s look at the COVID-19 impact first. According to Nielsen, there was an increase (6 per cent) in trust in news or in the main news media, as people looked for credible information in a time of crisis. The trust gap between mainstream news and social media had increased during the pandemic, although in India it was far less. Also, in India, there was no significant change in trust in news media, from the study conducted in 2019, he stated.

The report names the most trusted (news publishing) brands in India as: The Times of India, Doordarshan News, All India Radio, BBC News, The Indian Express, The Economic Times, Hindustan Times, The Hindu, CNN, Business Standard, NDTV, India Today and The Wire, in that order. A sort of canvas similar to the one in European countries – brands that people are familiar with, and also brands that have a greater reach. Many trusted brands are doing still better online, Nielsen said.  

As many in India say they have seen misinformation about COVID-19 as about politics – 50 per cent (COVID), 47 per cent (politics), 36 per cent (celebrities) and 20 per cent (climate change). Politicians are seen as a big part of the problem. It is clear that false and misleading information is spreading through different platforms – Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, YouTube and Search (Google, for example). In Brazil, Indonesia, India and Nigeria, it’s WhatsApp that is the main villian; while in the US, UK and the Philippines it is Facebook.

Turning trust into revenue

As audiences increasingly turn online and pay their attention to big platforms that can offer cheap targeted advertising at scale, advertisers are flocking to such platforms. Many are turning to reader revenue to see what potential is there. Paying for news online is till insipient in India, Nielsen pointed out. However, digital subscriptions have begun to mature. The proportion paying for online news in 2020-21 was 21 per cent in the US, 17 per cent in the Netherlands, and 28 per cent in the Nordic countries (with Norway at 45 per cent and Sweden at 30 per cent). But there has been little progress in Europe – France 11 per cent, Germany 9 per cent and UK 8 per cent. Whatever the figures, the majority remain reluctant to pay for online news. A lot of news remains freely available and a lot of people are satisfied with what they can access.

Upmarket national titles are benefiting the most – New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal in the US; The Telegraph, The Times and The Guardian in the UK; Verdens Gang, Aftenposten, Dagbladet in Norway. The ‘winner takes most’ dynamics persist, and local titles are often left struggling. Value of fact-based investigative journalism; a free and democratic society and a free, independent and fact-based media came to the fore as critical aspects readers considered in the study.  

Impartiality

Audiences still want a wide range of views, the report reveals. News outlets should reflect a range of different views and leave it to the reader to decide. News outlets should argue for the view they think are the best; 49 per cent felt news outlets should try to be neutral on every issue; 40 per cent felt it makes no sense for news outlets to do so. Commitment to equal time to all sides of an argument – 61 per cent in India surveyed want news outlets to give equal time to all sides.

Nielson’s presentation showed that across all ages, 25 per cent get information going direct to the news site; 26 per cent from social media, 25 per cent via search (Google), 9 per cent from mobile alerts and 5 per cent via email. However, those below 35 years access news mainly on social media (34 per cent) and search (26 per cent). In India, across all ages, social media (25 per cent) and search (34 per cent) account for the most part. The scene is similar for those below 35 years as well.

Globally, it was found, Facebook is becoming less important for news. Instagram and YouTube seem to be on the rise, in other words, there is a rise in visually led social media. Motivations around news are different across networks. However, some of the key factors are: good place to get the very latest news, perspectives not available in mainstream media, I enjoy the debate and comments, fun and entertaining way to pass time, give me news that is personally important to me, I mostly see news while I am there for other reasons.

Valerie Arnould, deputy director, Digital Revenue Network, WAN-IFRA, France, moderated.

(The writer is editor, RIND Survey.)

June 2022

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