In the days before social media, journalists were seen as the original influencers. But have increasing concerns regarding the sharing of data, fake news and misinformation meant that the public have lost faith in the news brands and journalists they once trusted? And how will this impact both readers and news brands as the coronavirus pandemic continues?
Speaking at The Drum’s Digital Transformation Festival, Tracy De Groose, the executive chair at Newsworks, told The Drum that readership for online news was up by record-breaking numbers according to Pamco data. “On a daily basis, readership is up to 34 million, a 10% increase YoY,” she said.
“If we look at digital news across all publications, the numbers are up by 3 million compared to a year ago. We are seeing a huge flock back to journalism at these quite challenging times.”
However, De Groose emphasised that data regarding ‘trust’ for news brands was more positively geared towards those that readers return to time and time again, as opposed to news brands in general. “I think there’s a lot of information around trust, and we have to be careful how we answer… If you ask generically whether people trust the news, you will get a different answer to if you ask people if they trust their own news brand.
“From our own data and our own research, and Pamco data and Edelman data, trust is on the increase for news brands. 70% of people, according to Pamco data, trust the news brand that they read. Edelman says there is a 25% increase in trust for news brands, at a time when social media trust is down at 29%.”
Nic Newman, a media analyst at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, emphasised that engagement with trusted news brands comes at a time when concern around the spread of misinformation is at an all-time high. “I think coronavirus arrives at a time when trust in the media, in general, is lower than we have seen, but also trust in social media as well," he said.
"If we’re talking about misinformation, and people not being able to tell if something is true or not, then concern for that is up by about 70%. We are seeing record numbers for traditional news brands, but we’re also seeing record numbers flock to social media. I think that, in these unprecedented times, people are flocking to both mainstream and social media and some of that is to do with people being concerned with what’s true and what isn’t, as well as a general loss of trust in experts and the bonus of being able to see perspectives from people other than politicians and journalists.”
De Groose echoed these sentiments, elaborating that people are now using both mainstream and social medias as part of the process of gathering information, as opposed to relying on a single source. “The trajectory appears to be that people will see something on social media then go to check it on a platform, such as Reuters, for facts, before going to a news brand to develop an opinion on it.”
However, De Groose pointed out that the increased trust for news brands makes way for exciting opportunities for media advertisers. “Where [readers] go to develop an opinion and a point of view is very much to their news brand of choice, and this creates a huge opportunity for advertisers in terms of levels of engagement.”
Newman concurred that as many news brands online have had difficulty getting consistent engagement, multichannel outlets such as email and podcasts will provide deeper engagement from audiences: “It’s much easier to make the argument to advertisers that this is a place where people are spending quality time, so it’s worth it to spend your money with us.”
Speaking on how these developments will continue in light of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Newman suggested there is an opportunity for news brands as people look to them during this difficult time. "But people aren’t going to turn away from social media," he added. "The future is about how these two interact."
De Groose concluded that we are living in unprecedented times, but that there are still opportunities for both media advertisers and news brands alike to remind audiences of their value.
"People are flocking back to their news brands to get the information they need. The response from newsrooms across the board has been incredibly strong and they are taking the responsibility of driving that information flow very seriously…
"I think there is lots going on in the news industry that we can be proud of, as we step up and play the role we can and should play."