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SKeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom - Samir Kassir Foundation

21 findings from the Reuters Institute’s research in 2021 still relevant in 2022

Monday , 13 December 2021

2021 has been an important year for journalism. The pandemic has raised new questions about coverage and has accelerated the shift to remote and hybrid work. Companies have grappled with familiar challenges such as debunking false information and tackling the lack of diversity in terms of output, leadership and staff. More newsrooms have embraced reader revenue to fight declines in advertising and print sales. 

The academic researchers of the Reuters Institute have published factsheets, reports and academic articles about many of these issues. As the year draws to a close, here are 21 findings from our research in 2021 that will be still relevant in 2022.

1. Trust in news is up in the wake of the pandemic

Data from this year’s Digital News Report shows that trust in news has grown, on average, by six points during the pandemic, with 44% of our total sample saying they trust most news most of the time. This reverses, to some extent, recent falls in average trust, bringing levels back to those of 2018. Finland remains the country with the highest levels of overall trust (65%). The US (29%) has the lowest trust levels in our survey.

2. People who don’t trust the news tend to be older, less educated and less interested in politics

Original survey data from Brazil, India, the UK and the US that we published as part of the Trust in News project in September shows that the 'generally untrusting' toward news tend to be older, less educated and less interested in politics. In India, the UK and the US they are also less connected to urban centres.

3. More people are concerned about misinformation: COVID-19 is their main concern

Our data shows that concern about misinformation is a little higher this year (58%). There is most concern in Africa (74%), followed by Latin America (65%) and North America (63%). On average, people claim to have seen more false and misleading information about COVID-19 (54%) than about politics (43%). When asked which sources of misinformation they are most concerned about, 29% point to national politicians, a higher percentage than any other source. 


When it comes to the channels through which COVID misinformation is spread, we find that there is most concern about Facebook (28%), followed by news websites and apps (17%), and WhatsApp and other messaging apps (15%). In much of the Global South, messaging apps such as WhatsApp draw the most concern.

4. Using news organisations as a news source about COVID-19 is associated with lower belief in vaccine misinformation

Original survey data we published in May suggests that using news organisations as a source for news and information about coronavirus decreases the rate by which people believe in vaccine misinformation in all eight countries studied. In contrast, the source in our data that is most consistently associated with higher misinformation belief is relying on messaging apps such as WhatsApp and Telegram.


Around half of our respondents think the news media have done a good job of explaining how the vaccines work and how the population will be vaccinated. These figures are typically lower for the national governments. In most countries people are more likely to think the media have exaggerated the risks than the government, but (with the exception of Spain) most people do not think this has happened.

5. Visuals in COVID-19 misinformation are usually mislabelled, not manipulated

Our peer-reviewed analysis of visuals used in COVID-19 misinformation showed that the majority were simply mislabelled as opposed to manipulated--and even those that were manipulated were created using simple tools rather than high-tech methods like AI or deep fakes. These findings come from a mixed-methods analysis of ninety-six examples of visuals in misinformation rated false or misleading by independent professional fact-checkers from the first three months of 2020.

6. Most people want news to be neutral and reflect a wide range of views

Our data shows that a clear majority of people in all markets want news outlets to reflect a range of different views when reporting on social and political issues. Most people also want news outlets to remain neutral, but a large minority says that sometimes this makes no sense. Among people under 25, this percentage is 40% in Brazil, 34% in Germany, 38% in the UK, and 30% in the US. As for those on the political left, the percentage of people who think sometimes neutrality doesn’t make sense ranges from 36% in Germany to 54% in the US.

7. Access to news is becoming more distributed, especially for young audiences

Across all markets covered by this year’s Digital News Report, only 25% of the people in our global survey prefer to start their news journeys with a website or news app. Those aged 18–24 have an even weaker connection with websites and apps and are almost twice as likely to prefer to access news via social media, aggregators, or mobile alerts.

8. People that use search, social and aggregators have more diverse news diets

Using web tracking data from the UK, our peer-reviewed research found that people who more often use social media, search engines, and news aggregators to get news have more diverse news diets than people who mainly access news by going directly to news websites. This is because platforms tend to surface news from a range of sources, whereas people who go direct return to the same news websites over and over again. However, this also means that people who more often use search, social and aggregators are also more likely to have news diets that contain a mixture of more partisan outlets on both the left and the right.

9. Just 5% live in politically partisan online news echo chambers

Despite concern over online news echo chambers being a consistent theme in recent debates, our peer-reviewed research found that just ~5% only use partisan news outlets of a particular political leaning across the seven different countries studied. Although estimates can vary depending on what news outlets are considered sufficiently left- or right-leaning to count, the size of the echo chamber is usually considerably smaller than the 15-30% that say they do not use any online news at all.

10. Mainstream media struggle to get noticed at newer, more visual social networks

Our data suggests many social media news users pay the most attention to mainstream media on both Facebook and Twitter. But even here, news brands and journalists have to compete with a range of voices that can often be more engaging and strident. Politicians and political activists, who often use social media to bypass mainstream media, receive a significant share of news attention on social networks like Twitter.

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The democratising impact of social media is also laid bare in the following chart, with significant attention going to the views of ordinary people across all networks. In platforms such as Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok, the focus is firmly on celebrities and other influencers, leaving journalists playing second fiddle, even when it comes to news.


11. Accounts suspended on Twitter are mostly human-operated, focusing on divisive issues

Our peer-reviewed research based on analysis of political tweets during elections in France, Germany, and the UK found that Twitter appears to suspend accounts that focus on amplifying divisive issues like immigration and religion and systematic activities increasing the visibility of specific political figures (often but not always on the right). We also found that suspended accounts were overwhelmingly human operated and no more likely than other accounts to share “fake news.”

12. The pandemic has accelerated the demise of print

This year’s Digital News Report shows that the proportion of people who use print as a news source has fallen even further as a result of lockdowns and behavioural changes. The percentage of people using print to get their news has fallen in Switzerland from 63% in 2016 to 37% in 2021. Our figures show similar declines in countries such as Poland, Portugal, Germany and Spain.

13. Reader revenue is now considered more important than ads by the news leaders we surveyed

The COVID-19 shock has reinforced a view that the industry needs to break the dependence on digital advertising. Our survey of news leaders for the report we published in January reflects this shift, with more respondents saying they would focus on subscription (76%) and fewer saying they would emphasise advertising (66%) than when we last asked this question in 2018. It also shows how important diversification has become, with commercial publishers citing, on average, four different revenue streams as being important or very important to them.



14. More people pay for news online, but most people don’t

The last year has seen more quality journalism go behind paywalls. El País in Spain, El Tiempo in Colombia, and News 24 in South Africa are amongst those to have started their paywall journeys in the midst of the pandemic. Overall progress remains slow. Across 20 countries where publishers have been actively pushing digital subscriptions we find 17% saying that they have paid for some kind of online news in the last year. That’s up by two percentage points in the last year and up five since 2016 (12%). 

Despite this, it is important to note that the vast majority of consumers in these countries continue to resist paying for any online news. The most successful countries are Norway 45% (+3) and Sweden 30% (+3) - though some countries like Switzerland 17% (+4) and the Netherlands 17% (+3) also saw increases in 2021. Around a fifth (21%) now pay for at least one online news outlet in the United States, 20% in Finland, and 13% in Australia. By contrast, just 9% say they pay in Germany and 8% in the UK. 

15. Most people don’t want governments to step in to help news organisations

Across 33 markets surveyed for this year’s Digital News Report, just 27% think that governments should step in to help commercial news organisations that can’t make enough money on their own, compared to 44% that think they should not. If we look at the data market-by-market, we do see some national variation, but on the whole the picture is quite consistent. In all but a handful of markets, the proportion opposed to government intervention is larger than the proportion that supports it. 

16. Only 22% of the 180 top editors across 240 major outlets in 12 markets are women

In 11 out of 12 markets covered in a factsheet we published in March, the majority of top editors are men, including countries like Brazil and Finland where women outnumber men among working journalists. The percentage of women in top editorial positions varies significantly from market to market. In Japan none of the major news outlets in our sample has a woman as their top editor. In South Africa a majority of the top editors (60%) are women. 

17. Only 15% of the 80 top editors across 100 brands in five markets are non-white

In Brazil, Germany and the UK, none of the outlets in our sample have a non-white top editor. In the US, there are three non-white top editors in our sample (18%). In South Africa a majority (60%) are non-white. There has been no significant overall increase in the number of non-white top editors over the last year across the markets covered in the factsheet we published in March.

18. News leaders feel the industry is not doing enough to tackle its diversity problem

Up to 27% of the respondents to our survey of 132 news leaders from 42 countries work for news organisations not doing any of the initiatives listed in the chart shown here. Around 41% say their companies have someone in charge of diversity and inclusion, but only 29% have a budget to actively promote this in their newsrooms and beyond. When asked to rate their outlets in different diversity areas, most of our respondents (78%) think they are doing well in terms of gender diversity. A much smaller proportion say the same about ethnic diversity (38%) and political diversity (33%). 

19. Younger women are more likely to say the news media covers them unfairly

Data from this year’s Digital News Report shows that both women and men are more likely to say that the media covers them fairly rather than unfairly. However, younger women are much more likely to say that the news media covers them unfairly than younger men. The difference between perceptions of men and women under 25 is especially large in Brazil, Spain, and the US. There are large generational differences in how women think they are covered by the news media, with younger women offering a much less favourable assessment. 

20. Newsrooms embrace hybrid working, but many are still figuring out how to make it work

One-third of the leaders surveyed say their companies have moved to hybrid working, with 57% suggesting they are still working out the best way to do it and only 9% saying their companies are going back to a model similar to the one before the pandemic. Our respondents say remote working has made them more efficient and has improved employee well-being. However, it has been negative for collaboration, creativity and communication. 

21. Many people hold cynical views about how journalists do their jobs

Survey data from Brazil, India, the UK and the US suggest that large minorities in all four countries have very negative views about basic journalistic practices, including deliberately seeking to manipulate the public. Remarkably, these views vary only somewhat between those who otherwise exhibit low and high trust in news. Here are a few figures from Brazil: 78% think journalists try to cover up mistakes, 36% think they often accept undisclosed payments from sources and 35% think they often allow opinions to influence coverage. You can check out more figures in the chart below. 

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