Mary-Katharine Phillips: Five key insights from Reuters Digital News Report

We look forward to the release of the Reuters Digital News Report every year because it's always full of actionable insights. This year is no different, and from 144 pages of research, we've boiled it down to the five key insights that should shape the rest of your 2018 strategy.

"This year's report contains signs of hope for the news industry following the green shoots that emerged 12 months ago. Change is in the air with many media companies shifting models towards higher quality content and more emphasis on reader payment." - Nic Newman, research associate at Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism

Growth in number of people paying for online news

Globally, we see a renewed push towards persuading readers to pay directly for their online news, whether that be through subscriptions, memberships, or per-article payments. This had paid off in some markets, but not all. In the Nordic markets significant progress has been made, with gains of +6 in Sweden and +4 in both Norway and Finland. Publishers in these markets benefit from being in wealthy societies that value news with a strong subscription tradition.

But there's hope for others too! Currently only a very small minority of readers make donations to news organisations, but there is a more sizeable share of people who would be willing to donate if they thought it was necessary. In Spain for example two per cent of readers make donations to news organisations, but 28 per cent of readers are willing to do so in the future. This shows that publishers may be leaving money on the table by not educating their readers about the reality of sustaining a newspaper in today's world. We've seen before that many readers are still unaware of this, believing instead that newspapers are still able to cover their costs through advertising.

Younger readers are more willing to pay for online news, with millennials already accustomed to paying for online services and giving more regularly to online charities. Still, many younger readers are hesitant to subscribe due to a fear of missing out and not being able to pick and chose their sources. To convince them to still donate, a message similar to the Guardian's, reminding them that donations keep journalism open and accessible, will work well with this group.

Decreased reliance on social media for news consumption

After years of growth, we're starting to see a decline in social media as a source of news in select markets. In the US, it's down 9 percentage points for all readers and 20 points for young readers, while it's down 1 percentage point in Germany and 4 points in Austria. Most of this decline can be explained by changing behaviours toward Facebook-the dominant social network for news in almost every country.

While Facebook's newsfeed changes have reduced the use of social media for news consumption, other platforms have picked up part of the slack. WhatsApp has tripled in importance for news consumption since 2014, but this growth has not been equal in all markets.Still, in many countries WhatsApp has overtaken Twitter for news consumption. Instagram has entered the news market as well, making progress in Latin America and Asia, while Snapchat has done better with younger users in the US and parts of Europe.

This move from Facebook to other platforms can also be explained through how respondents view the platforms. The words used to describe Facebook include "creepy, ego-centric, uncool uncle, mid-life crisis, clean, and generic" while WhatsApp is seen as "best friend, fun, brings people together, straightforward, honest, reliable, and discrete." But all hope isn't lost for Facebook, as many respondents are still using Facebook as a discovery tool for news, and then using WhatsApp to discuss the news itself.

Alerts important, but very crowded playing field

Push notifications continue to be an important gateway for news for many readers, especially with younger readers who often start their day by checking their lockscreen. Publishers around the globe are picking up on this, with increases in push notifications particularly strong in Latin America, Spain, and Asia, while it has remained stable in the US and most of Europe. Across all markets 21 per cent of respondents feel they are getting too many messages, but still 65 per cent feel they are getting the right amount. The only market where people say they would like to get more alerts is the UK.

Of respondents who do not receive alerts, 37 per cent say nothing could persuade them to sign up. For the remaining respondents, the biggest barriers for not signing up so far are a fear of being bombarded with notifications and a concern about receiving the same alert multiple times-something happening more often now with aggregators such as Apple News and Upday sending more alerts automatically.

Adblocking on the rise again

After a pause in growth last year, we're seeing an increase in news readers using adblocking software, with some differences between countries but globally 27 per cent of readers using adblockers. The good news for publishers though is that only ten per cent of mobile news readers use adblockers, compared to 31 per cent on computers.

Greater awareness may be the cause of this growth, with many consumers being surprised by the number of companies that had their data, as exposed in the flurry of GDPR-related emails this Spring (and not just for European residents!). Additionally, privacy browser extensions that allow specific advertisers to be blocked have increased the spread of adblockers.

New storytelling formats needed to support mobile growth

It comes as no surprise, news consumption on mobile is continuing to grow. Globally, 62 per cent of respondents use their smartphone for news on a weekly basis, up six percentage points from last year. Soon this will catch up with desktop as the main reading medium, currently at 64 per cent.

This trend is important for publishers to capitalise on, as changing consumption habits will also require changes in content and formats. Mobile readers will have shorter attention spans, and the smaller mobile screens will impact the formats of news stories. We've seen visually rich formats, such as Snapchat and Instagram Stories, performing well, while text articles will need to have their pictures and videos reformatted using vertical aspect rations to be consumed better on mobile.

More mobile-friendly formats have also been developed in recent years by European publishers who have digital-only editions. (These innovative formats developed by the eight publishers was recently examined in our research report 'Reinventing Digital Editions').

Mary-Katharine Phillips is business development manager at Twipe