Research for the Digital News Report is undertaken by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism and is the largest ongoing comparative study of news consumption in the world. But what do the latest findings prove for news consumption in Ireland, as the journalism landscape continues to shift toward a digital future?
Interest in News: Once again, interest in news has fallen, as 52% of responders to the survey in Ireland stated that they were ‘extremely’ or ‘very’ interested in news – down 5 percentage points from 2022.
Trust in News: In the era of misinformation and disinformation is it unsurprising to see that trust in news has fallen back to pre-pandemic levels, with 47% (less than half) of respondents saying they either ‘strongly agree’ or ‘tend to agree’ with the statement that they can trust most of the news at most of the time – this has fallen five percentage points on last year. However, it is important to note that
the level of trust in news in Ireland compares favourably to the UK (32%); the US (31%) and Europe (40%).
Sources of News: According to the findings, respondents’ main source of news consumption comes from television and online (excluding social media) at 32%, while social media is at 20%. For 18-24-year-olds, social media is the most important source of news at 39%.
Fake News: The report found that worries about misinformation and disinformation are growing, as 64% of respondents in Ireland appear actively concerned about what information on the internet is real and fake.
The Digitalisation of Journalism
The rise of the digitalisation of journalism has revolutionised the way news is produced, distributed, and consumed. The transition of traditional print media to digital platforms has allowed for the faster dissemination of news and broader global reach. However, the
digitalisation of media outlets means that print media now faces the beginning of the end, as Peter Vandermeersh, chief executive of Mediahuis Ireland stated that daily print newspapers would disappear within the next decade.
AI and the future of news
A particular section from the study has sparked concern amongst the journalism industry, as the report found that only a quarter of Irish people (25%) agree that it is better to have a human editor/ journalist select or curate the news they consume, while 31% believe that it is better to consume news that is selected by an algorithm based on their viewing history and preferences. However, more than half of Irish news consumers (53%) ‘strongly agree’ or ‘tend to agree’ that personalised news may cause them to miss important news stories.
As AI continues to revolutionise how we work, the demand for transparency has become increasingly crucial within the field of journalism and public relations. The European Commission is currently developing the AI Act, which aims to introduce regulations of AI at an EU level. It appears that the approach taken will be similar to the Digital Services Act, which acknowledges that with the largest of social media companies, comes an inherent societal risk, and this must be countered with transparency and accountability.
Addressing the major concerns of AI such as accuracy and bias; ethics and accountability; and lack of transparency requires careful oversight, transparency, and ethical guidelines in the development and deployment of AI systems in journalism.
The Digital News Report is certainly a tough read for the news sector, as trust in news is slightly down, interest in news is declining, while active news avoidance has increased. It is important to note that these developments are not new, however, the report underlines the acceleration of these downwards trends and challenges, most notably among the younger generation. And while traditional news outlets still have a strong reach – the rise in trust, interest, and engagement with news during the Covid-19 pandemic is certainly over. According to the annual Reuters Digital News Report in 2021, trust in media increased to 53% - the report for 2021 credited the high level of trust in Irish media to the central role it played during the Covid-19 pandemic. However, in 2023 media trust in Ireland now stands at less than half (47%).
So, what does this mean for the future of news? Journalists and news organisations can stay relevant by adapting to the changing landscape and leveraging these opportunities presented by digital platforms. Journalists can embrace digital tools and platforms to enhance their storytelling. The news media must also rebuild a sense of trust with the public, and this must start with media consumers by building a society of critical thinkers who can discern between good and bad information.
As PR professionals we also must tackle the issues raised by the report and cannot simply stand on the sidelines and hope for the best. What is the role of the PR industry in supporting rebuilding of trust:
Advocate for and behalf of quality media – foster a more positive and collaborative relationship where all too often it can be adversarial.
Education – setting expectations and educating clients – e.g., media landscape training. Working with clients to develop quality content that is accurate and trustworthy.
Respecting and resonating with our audiences – being mindful of developing tailored and relevant information for media partners.
Educate ourselves and keep abreast of how to navigate media and social media regarding misinformation and disinformation.
Quality content is one thing, but we also have a responsibility to also ensure we are behaving in ethical and transparent ways. Truth, accuracy, and quality must underpin all our work – this will not only help build a strong and durable media ecosystem but will also benefit our clients in a world where trust still matters.