Lack of trust and a struggling news media

Reuters report throws light on some interesting insights

news media
The graphic shows how readers participate in news.

A few days ago, when cyclone Biporjoy was about to make landfall in Gujarat, the Indian news media – both digital and broadcast – was running blow-by-blow, minute-by-minute live commentaries on its progress and its possible impact.

Amid the cacophony of theatrics, one news channel beat them all – not for its coverage of the cyclone but for the mockery it made of itself, courtesy its news anchor. Standing in the studio with an umbrella, with clips of a storm playing in the background, the anchor was swaying (stopping short of dancing) – unashamedly pretending to be reporting live from ground zero.

Needless to say, the clip went viral with viewers accusing the channel of being insensitive. Many others in their comments on social media questioned the brand of journalism being played out these days. Some said such ‘irresponsible journalism’ is why they ‘avoid news media’ these days. The last line is particularly striking. In the race for TRPs and high click rates, many news organizations resort to what is called clickbait journalism – caring two hoots about ethics and rules.

While it would be unfair to draw an inference on why people avoid news based on just one incident, news avoidance is a genuine challenge faced by news publishers as pointed out by the Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2023.

The report says news avoidance and a declining lack of interest in news continue to be major challenges for global publishers seeking to find and engage new audiences, with 36% of respondents saying they actively try to avoid news. Fifty-three percent avoid news sources in general, 52% consciously check news less often – limiting to certain times of the day or turning off notifications. 32% avoid certain topics that bring down their mood or increase anxiety.

Trust in news is also on the decline, down 2 percentage points from 2022. On average, only 40% said they trust news most of the time. The results differ in countries. News consumers in Finland had the highest level of trust in news (69%) and in Greece the lowest (19%).

India – which ranked 24th among 46 countries in this segment – registered a small decrease of 3 pp (38% in 2023) in overall trust in news compared to 41% in 2022. Despite a small decrease (3 percentage points) in overall trust in news, public broadcasters such as DD India and All India Radio (and the BBC) and legacy print brands in India such as The Times of India, Hindustan Times, The Indian Express, The Hindu, Economic Times, etc., retained relatively high levels of trust (above 60%).

Hindi daily Dainik Bhaskar was among the top 10 accessed both online and offline, indicating a strong presence for the local language press even among English news readers, the report said. YouTube (56%) WhatsApp (47%), Facebook (39%) were the top three preferred social media platforms for news in India. Twitter scored only 20%. In many countries, apart from other social media apps, Tik Tok is fast becoming a source of news – pointing at the fast-changing news consumption patterns among the younger generation. Something all news publishers should take note of.

Overall consumption and sharing of news in India saw a fall from 2022. Access to online news saw a drop of 12 percentage points (72% in 2023 and 84% in 2022) while that of television dropped by 10pp from last year (49% in 2023 and 59% in 2022). Print consumption was down by 9pp, down to 40% in 2023 from 49% in 2022.

According to the report, research suggests that segments of the public may avoid publicly sharing or participating in news because they perceive online debates as toxic. 28% of participants said they want to see less negative or depressing content while 33% try to see less toxic content.

Participation in news online is not along expected lines with open participation such as sharing and commenting declining across countries. Only 22% of respondents said they are active participators online and 47% said they don’t participate in news at all. In India, 34% of respondents said they are active participators, 35% are reactive participators and 32% are passive consumers.

Among other findings, globally 57% preferred to read news online, 30% say they like to watch, and 13% would like to listen to news. In India, the numbers stood at 39%, 40% and 10%, respectively. 

Across all markets, 53% say they are ‘very’ or ‘quite often’ exposed to news media criticism. Latin American and South and East European countries are at the higher end with as many as two-thirds saying they very or quite often see news media criticism, the report said. Peru topped with 71% and Japan had the least criticism at 22%. In India, the number stood at 62%. The report links a link between higher levels of exposure to news media criticism and greater levels of media distrust.

news media
Across all markets, 53% say they are ‘very’ or ‘quite often’ exposed to news media criticism. In India, the number stood at 62%.

The report says public debate is becoming more constrained, particularly when it comes to online debates about news and politics. On average across 46 markets, a majority said they were wary of what they say in political conversations both online (54%) and offline (52%).

The report throws up some serious insights for the news media. The fall in news consumption and the lack of trust is, especially, worrisome for an industry struggling to gain the attention of an audience whose attention span is also declining – and calls for a change in strategy if the news media wants to stay alive and kicking.

2023 promises an interesting ride for print in India

Indian Printer and Publisher founded in 1979 is the oldest B2B trade publication in the multi-platform and multi-channel IPPGroup. While the print and packaging industries have been resilient in the past 33 months since the pandemic lockdown of 25 March 2020, the commercial printing and newspaper industries have yet to recover their pre-Covid trajectory.

The fragmented commercial printing industry faces substantial challenges as does the newspaper industry. While digital short-run printing and the signage industry seem to be recovering a bit faster, ultimately their growth will also be moderated by the progress of the overall economy. On the other hand book printing exports are doing well but they too face several supply-chain and logistics challenges.

The price of publication papers including newsprint has been high in the past year while availability is diminished by several mills shutting down their publication paper and newsprint machines in the past four years. Indian paper mills are also exporting many types of paper and have raised prices for Indian printers. To some extent, this has helped in the recovery of the digital printing industry with its on-demand short-run and low-wastage paradigm.

Ultimately digital print and other digital channels will help print grow in a country where we are still far behind in our paper and print consumption and where digital is a leapfrog technology that will only increase the demand for print in the foreseeable future. For instance, there is no alternative to a rise in textbook consumption but this segment will only reach normality in the next financial year beginning on 1 April 2023.

Thus while the new normal is a moving target and many commercial printers look to diversification, we believe that our target audiences may shift and change. Like them, we will also have to adapt with agility to keep up with their business and technical information needs.

Our 2023 media kit is ready, and it is the right time to take stock and reconnect with your potential markets and customers. Print is the glue for the growth of liberal education, new industry, and an emerging economy. We seek your participation in what promises to be an interesting ride.

– Naresh Khanna

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