Reuters Institute report sheds light on younger reader preferences

By Sarah Schmidt


Brooklyn, New York, United States


Around the world, audiences seem to be growing less interested in news, with small but significant portions actively avoiding it. The way people read, watch, and listen to news is also changing, and it can vary in some surprising ways by country and age bracket. 

The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism 2022 Digital News Report offers a comprehensive look at these trends in digital news, and Federica Cherubini, head of leadership development for the institute, discussed some of its key findings for INMA’s recent South Asia News Media Summit, sponsored by the Google News InitiativeStibo DX, and the Indian Newspaper Society.

Even though most people still prefer to read the news online, a growing number prefer video sources, especially younger audiences and those in Latin America, Asia, and Africa. Most people also access their news through a “side door,” whether it be social media, search, or another entry point. There is also a small but growing interest in podcasts and paid newsletters. At the same time, some people — particularly young people — are actively avoiding the news and cite fatigue, mistrust, and negative effects on mood as some of the reasons. 

“What’s interesting to bear in mind is that feeling of disconnect audiences are feeling towards news,” Cherubini said. Evidence can be seen in several data points in the report, which covered the responses of 93,000 online news consumers around the world in 46 markets on six continents.

For instance, the percentage of respondents who listed “None of These” as their preferred sources of news is growing since the Reuters Institute first began collecting this data. In the United States, for example, only 3% gave that response in 2013 while 15% did in 2022. 

Federica Cherubini, head of leadership development for the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, shares data about how U.S. consumers get their news.
Federica Cherubini, head of leadership development for the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, shares data about how U.S. consumers get their news.

People around the world also report being less interested in the news, and “selective avoidance” of news is also growing. 

Interest in news is falling worldwide.
Interest in news is falling worldwide.

But in the 11 years since the survey began, online news has steadily remained a top source in most markets as print has been declining. Online news has now overtaken television as the top news source in many markets: for example, in Germany, for the first time this year.

The report digs into where Germans get their news.
The report digs into where Germans get their news.

News avoidance

Young people in particular are turning away from news sources of all kinds, according to the report. In some cases, this is a conscious choice. 

“I actively avoid news about politics. It makes me feel small, and no matter what my views, it won’t make a difference,” read one response from a 22-year-old female in the United Kingdom. 

The overall number of people who say they often or sometimes actively avoid news grew from 29% in 2019 to 38% in 2022. The trend can be across markets, though it’s more pronounced in some countries than others. 

News avoidance is growing throughout the world.
News avoidance is growing throughout the world.

“As publishers, as we look to regain audiences, it’s important to look at the reasons they give,” Cherubini said.

The top reason given was “too much politics and COVID-19.” Audiences also said the news had a negative effect on their mood, and that news sources were untrustworthy or biased. A significant number said they were put off because there was nothing they could do with the information.

The reasons for new avoidance are similar around the world.
The reasons for new avoidance are similar around the world.

“Might there be a way to present the information in a way that feels much more actionable?” Cherubini asked. Making the news more accessible and easier to follow might be another strategy worth looking at, she pointed out. The data also tracked a feeling that the news was too hard to follow and understand, and found that people under 35 were particularly likely to say this was the case.

Many consumers under the age of 35 feel news is too difficult to understand.
Many consumers under the age of 35 feel news is too difficult to understand.

How are people accessing the news? 

Coming directly to news sites and apps to read or view news is the top way people access it, but only about a quarter of the audience does so. 

This means about three-quarters are coming in the “side door” where publishers have less control over how their content is presented, Cherubini pointed out. Social media and search are the second and third biggest drivers with alerts, news aggregators, and email coming behind. 

There are differences between countries, though, Cherubini pointed out. For example, in Nordic countries (Finland, Norway, UK), a direct connection to a news source is still very strong. But in Latin America, Asia, Africa, it is less so, as in those countries people are more likely to access their news via social media. (Individual country data is available in the report.)

Differences by age and generation

Younger audiences are particularly less likely to visit news sites and apps directly. They’re also less likely to use Facebook and more likely to use visual and video-based platforms, primarily Instagram and TikTok. This is most pronounced with Generation Z or “social natives” (people currently between 18 and 24). Only 28% of them are starting their news journeys directly on a news site or app. 

Where news customers start their news journey depends on their generation.
Where news customers start their news journey depends on their generation.

Generation Y or “digital natives” (people between 25 and 34) are more similar to the over 35 crowd in this respect: 45% of Gen Y-ers start directly with a news site or app versus 49% of people over 35. 

“The gap is really opening up when we look at the younger generation,” Cherubini said, something publishers need to be mindful of since it will likely affect a growing portion of their audiences in years to come.

The survey also documented a distinct drop-off in Facebook use for younger people starting in 2018 when Instagram launched. Facebook remains important but has notably declined with the rise of more visual and video-led social, Cherubini said. 

Read or watch? 

There has been a proliferation of videos from media companies, but a significant amount of people still prefer reading news, though there are big differences by country. 

Northern European countries still have a strong reading culture, while in many Latin American, Asian, and African countries, a significant minority prefer watching their news. 

The report shows how readers prefer to consume their news around the world.
The report shows how readers prefer to consume their news around the world.

Younger people are also more likely to prefer watching (even though a majority still prefer reading.) This may be due to them having a certain comfort level with video platforms like YouTube and TikTok for informal entertainment, Cherubini said. 

When asked why they prefer reading, respondents said it was quicker to find what they needed and easier to jump around within stories and reread when necessary. One way to interpret this, Cherubini said, may be that video news makes viewers feel less in control of their experience.

Podcasts and newsletters

While they are still small audiences overall, podcast and e-mail newsletters present certain opportunities for news publishers, particularly in particular demographics and regions. Podcast usage is growing across markets: 36% of respondents said they had accessed a podcast in the last month, up 2% from 2021. 

The recent emergence of paid newsletter platforms like Substack has really open up new opportunities for small publishers and individuals who are directly producing, distributing, monetising content, Cherubini said. But bigger media companies like Politico and Axios are also finding success with smart, journalist-curated e-mails. 

Still, the proportion of people accessing news via e-mail has fallen in recent years, from 27% in 2014 to 22% in 2022. Older audiences are more likely to use e-mail to access news: 14% of people 45 or older access news this way versus only 3% of those between 18 and 24. E-mail newsletter readers also tend to be richer, more educated, and already heavily interested in news.

“So how do we reach that disconnected audience? Maybe not via e-mail,” Cherubini said, though there are still plenty of other opportunities for e-mail. People who do read newsletters like them because they’re easy and convenient. They also value different perspectives, unique content, and sometimes particular authors. Cherubini cited the short, bulleted newsletters produced by Axios and The Guardian as examples of  succinct, easy-to-navigate formats that audiences respond well to.

Complete coverage of the INMA South Asia News Media Summit can be found here. 

About Sarah Schmidt

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