Reuters Institute: Audiences are less willing to pay for news created with AI

Research finds Chicago news consumers have shifted from local TV to smartphones

Continuing to riff on the demand for news, there were a couple of blockbuster bits of research that came out in the past week. Rasmus Kleis Nielsen and Dr. Richard Fletcher with help from the pollsters at YouGov investigated the awareness of generative AI technologies and attitudes about their use in journalism (PDF) in six countries. Argentina, Denmark, France, Japan, the UK, and the USA. YouGov polled some 2000 people in each country. Unsurprisingly, young people were more aware of them than older people, but a surprising finding was the gulf between awareness and frequent use. “(F)requent use of ChatGPT is rare, with just 1% using it on a daily basis in Japan, rising to 2% in France and the UK, and 7% in the USA,” the study found. As I wrote in Pugpig’s Media Bulletin, Dr. Fletcher told the BBC there is a “‘mismatch’ between the ‘hype’ around AI and the ‘public interest’ in it”.

However, for news media leaders, I think there is one major takeaway from the report: Only about 5% of those polled in the survey used genAI to get the latest news. genAI and use is far higher in the US than in other countries. Still only 10% of Americans used genAI for seeking out news, and in Denmark and the UK that figure drops to 2%. Morever, the UK also had the highest percentage of people (30%) who hadn’t heard of any of the 14 genAI tools that researchers asked about.

Given the low levels of trust in news media in the US, it was surprising Americans were more trusting of journalists (30%) to use the technology responsibly than other countries. Contrast that to the UK, where only 12% of those polled strongly or somewhat trust journalists to use it in a responsible manner.

The research also had some warnings for journalism leaders in how they approach genAI. People in the study were polled about whether they thought journalism was worth more or less depending on whether it was produced entirely by human journalists or with genAI and human oversight, 41% said they would pay less. This could put pressure on the reader revenue strategies that so many publishers are pursuing.

The research also highlights that publishers have work to do to prove the value of genAI to audiences. The researchers said:

Essentially our data suggest that the public, at this stage, primarily think that the use of AI in news production will help publishers by cutting costs, but identify few, if any, ways in which they expect it to help them – and several key areas where many expect news made with AI to be worse.

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen and Dr. Richard Fletcher

A shift in local news consumption

Of course, working for publishing app builder Pugpig, Chicago news consumers have shifted from reading newspapers and watching local TV stations to using their smart phones, according to research from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications. They surveyed more than 1000 people across the Chicago region from the western suburbs to suburbs in northeastern Indiana. While the decline of print is well known, local TV had still held its own. But the study found that 62% of those polled used their smartphones all the time or often versus 52% who said that they got their news via local TV. That number was only 13% when it came to newspapers.

More worrying for local news outlets is that only 19% of respondents said that had paid or donated money to support local journalism, and half of those polled said that no one should pay for local news. That is why I’ve said that we will need to develop a number of different models to support local news based on a number of factors including the size and economic base of the community. However, I think that this is a glass half-full situation. There is a lot of opportunity between the 19% who currently pay and the 50% who will never pay.

A few other highlights:

  • Consumers would rather watch (44%) than read (25%) or listen to (10%) news.

  • But local TV isn’t benefitting from this desire to watch news, at least amongst younger generations. For audiences under 44, only 22% watch TV for their news. It is most likely that they are getting their news from social media, with 40% of 18-29 year-olds and 36% of 30-44 year-olds checking social media multiple times a day for news.

  • While smartphones are now the primary platform for news, this isn’t benefitting news outlets directly as much as it is benefitting Google. Search engines (which means Google) has the largest audience that checks it for news multiple times a day. However, local TV stations still outpace search when it comes to those who check at least once a day and those who use a given platform multiple times a week.

More than the data about the platforms audiences use, the research is golddust when it comes to understanding why local audiences consume news. Topping the list? “(Local news) helps me to save or manage my money”, which was a reason given by 60% of those who responded. “It helps me stay healthy” came in second at 52%, and the next three responses were in the mid-30% range. Of the top five, number 3 “It helps me decide where I stand on things” was the only one that I would say most traditional print journalists would see as hard news. “It helps me feel connected to my community came in at 15%, and “It helps me take action to address issues I care about” was important to only 12% of respondents. Only 10% said local journalism “helps me stay informed to be a better citizen”. Honestly, my priorities as a local newspaper reporter and editor were very different than these responses. I can see how these responses are much more in line with local TV news in the US than local public radio or newspaper coverage. What I would have liked to have seen is an age breakdown on these responses. Is this a generational thing like platform choice, or is this a broader societal shift? Or do we need to rethink our local news agenda? It all raised a lot of questions for me.

One last thing I’ll highlight is that there was a disconnect between audiences and the industry in terms of awareness of the parlous state of journalism businesses. More than half, 54% said that news organisations were doing “somewhat well”, while an additional 17% thought they were doing “very well”.

And now onto the links for the week. While much has been made of the shift of young audiences to TikTok and Instagram, a longer-term trend has been the shift from open social networks to messaging platforms such as Telegram or WhatsApp. The Reuters Institute reported on this trend in its 2018 Digital News report. Khalil Cassimally, head of audience insights for The Conversation, shared a summary of a panel he moderated at WAN-IFRA’s World News Congress. Click through for a very handy guide of the differences between WhatsApp Communities and Channels.

In my previous job as the director of digital products and platforms at a regional US public media group, I said that our digital strategy involved building loyalty and habit amongst our audiences that led to membership. On that theme, The New York Times has built a product portfolio beyond news to ensure that they become a part of their audiences daily habits. The bundle is a re-imagination of the newspaper for the digital age - yes, news and sport but also reviews and a big yes to games and puzzles.

Harvard Business Review sees AI as “opening an age of hyper-personalisation”, mining their archive for value and even providing a career development bot for their subscribers.

Another example of media rebuilding their own engagement spaces. CBC/Radio-Canada (Canada), ZDF (Germany), RTBF (Belgium), and SRG SSR (Switzerland) are working with New Public have been hosting workshops and “build-a-thons”. What they heard was: “Public discourse, with the existing platforms at our disposal, is hard everywhere — and never more fragile. Our public media institutions need new ways to lead our civic discourse.”

They have now developed more than 100 prototypes “to enable civic discourse for many voices and shape conversational cultures”. Ok, this has my attention.

Speaking of interesting, nonprofit NEWSWELL at Arizona State University has partnered with the Times of San Diego. Looking at this story, NEWSWELL is looking to provide back-office services so that the Times of San Diego can focus on journalism. It’s an interesting model that I’ve heard several people in the industry advocate.

Looking at the excellent research that Medill has done, a group of action-oriented academics are looking at ways to make this kind of in-depth research scale.

In the UK, Mill Media, which started in Manchester and has expanded to Liverpool, Birmingham and Sheffield, is looking to take on local media in London. Less than a year ago, CNN CEO and former New York Times CEO Mark Thompson and Nicholas Johnston, the publisher of Axios, invested £350,000 into Mill Media. It looks like they are deploying that capital and more.

Dean Baquet, the former executive editor of the New York Times, said that delivering the reinvention that community journalism needs requires a “shift from competition-driven models to audience-based ones, emphasizing that collaboration is now essential for the economic sustainability and strength of local journalism”.

I am leading a workshop next month about finding stories in data, and it is great to see data journalism starting to become part of the toolkit of smaller newsrooms.