Digital News Survey Calls for More Analysis, Podcasts and Value

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"Don't tell me about your grass seed. Tell me about my lawn," SIPA Annual 2019 Chair—and Business Management Daily publisher—Adam Goldstein told me last month. That advice to publishers is supported in a big new report out Tuesday evening from Oxford's Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism. The Reuters Institute's Digital News Report for 2019 surveyed more than 75,000 people in 38 countries about their digital news consumption.

"The news media are seen as doing a better job at breaking news than explaining it," the report says. "Across countries, almost two-thirds feel the media are good at keeping people up to date (62%), but are less good at helping them understand the news (51%)."

Three popular publishers—Axios, theSkimm and Fast Company—all excel at telling their readers why they should care about a certain topic. Axios actually heads it Why It Matters and The Bottom Line. theSkimm headlines the last part of their lead story theSkimm, meaning this is where you get the big takeaway.

Yes, California passed a giant—and muddled—new privacy law. But how will that affect my business?

Here are other findings from the report:

Most people are only paying for one subscription so your content must provide value. "As publishers worldwide put up paywalls and start requiring payment for their content—about 50% of respondents in the U.S, Denmark, Australia and the Netherlands say they bump into one or more paywalls each week when reading news—we find only a small increase in the numbers paying for any online news—whether by subscription, membership or donation."

Ramp up your mobile design. "The smartphone continues to grow in importance for news, with two-thirds (66%) now using the device to access news weekly (+4pp). Mobile news aggregators like Apple News and Upday are becoming a more significant force. Apple News in the United States now reaches more iPhone users (27%) than the Washington Post (23%)."

How's your podcast coming? I will be writing soon about a great podcast session we had last week. Meanwhile, the report concludes that smartphone growth has also driven the popularity of podcasts, especially with the young. More than a third say they have consumed at least one podcast over the last month but this rises to half (50%) for those under 35. The mobile phone is the most used device (55%) for podcast listening.

Consider more bundling. "Our research suggests there may be a disconnect between current publisher strategies of selling individual titles (for a relatively high price) and consumer desire for frictionless access to multiple brands. Almost half of those who are interested in news (49%) consume more than four different online sources each week—a number that rises significantly for under 35s."

Look into mobile notifications. "Email remains extremely effective with older, highly engaged news users, even if overall usage has not grown over the last five years. By contrast, mobile notifications tend to be used by younger groups and have shown considerable growth in weekly use—up from 3% to 20% in the UK and 6% to 19% in the United States since 2014."

Video may be best as lead gen or supporting content. "Short form video (straight news clips or crafted with music and subtitles) remains the most popular format for news but this has become increasingly hard for publishers to monetize. Facebook has switched its focus towards longer, scripted current affairs shows for Facebook Watch. Explained from the U.S. publisher Vox is one long-form news series that has been recommissioned by Netflix for a second series."

Expand your events. "Loyalty and the ability to forge direct connections will be critical, as our data clearly indicate, but this will be hard to achieve just through the desktop or mobile web where news access tends to be fleeting and distracted." Thus, we see podcasts, video, and most of all, events. These are "more immersive formats that allow a brand personality to be expressed more fully while maintaining the choice and control demanded by a younger generation." Events remain popular for all age groups.

You can download the full report here.

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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…