Each year, the good folk at the Reuters Institute in Oxford publish a report about trends in digital media. It’s meticulously researched and presented, and a useful tool for media professionals everywhere, at every level.

While a lot of the findings make for slightly uncomfortable reading (it’s not getting any easier out there for newsrooms), the report also highlights opportunities aplenty - if you look in the right place. One thing in particular grabbed our attention in this report: the increasing awareness that positive and ‘solutions’ journalism may help alleviate news fatigue and total disengagement.

First, some depressing - but probably predictable - findings

  1. Only 22% of respondents report that they start their news journeys from a website or app, preferring instead to use “side-door routes” (social media, aggregators or search)
  2. Trust in news has once again fallen - this year by 2%
  3. ‘Traditional media’ continues to be in decline
  4. Fewer than half say they are very or extremely interested in news (down from 63% in 2017 to 48% today)
  5. News avoidance rates stand at 36% across markets
  6. Social media is shifting: younger generations engage more with TikTok than with Facebook, and pay more attention to influencers than to journalists, even with regards to news
Digital News Report 2023 | Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism

News avoidance: it’s time to face up to it

When people talk about engagement, they often tend to think along a scale - and focus on the ‘good’ end: comments. Shares. Attention. Letters to the editor. That kind of thing.

But that assumes they’ve got to your article at all.

‘News avoidance’ is put under the microscope in this report - and with good reason. The Covid-era boost to subscriptions has evened out, and we’re now in the realm of the new normal. It’s one thing to try to engage readers to participate more actively in the life of a publication, but if they’d sooner read anything else at all? Well, that’s quite an urgent problem.

Readers in the UK, for example, can claim to have both one of the lowest levels of trust in news AND one of the highest rates of news avoidance among those countries surveyed.

Proportion of news avoiders that say they do each - all markets

If news avoidance is a trend that prevails - and there is sufficient evidence here and in previous reports to suggest that this will be the case - then more attention and time is required to spend on alternative approaches to news.

The report was interesting to us because it reinforces what our research has found about consumer behaviour: in general, readers respond poorly to breaking news, but publishers appear to keep making these kinds of stories anyway. In fact, our own data has shown that across all brands, in all markets, 30-35% of content performs so poorly that it probably should never have been published.

Coupled with this Reuters report, there seems a pretty strong mandate to urgently review what gets digital column inches - and what doesn’t.


Find out more about making your own Quadrant Model (a simple visualisation about what performs well on two axes, for example, engagement and reach)


It’s not all doom and gloom! There’s reason to be positive, too!

This is where we stop panicking, and start looking at solutions.

And, in a wonderful example of life-imitating-report, it turns out that that’s exactly what readers are after too.

One of the most interesting findings this year was that positive news and solutions journalism are being highlighted as things that readers crave.

Proportion of news avoiders that say they are interested in each type of news

The research preamble to this makes the conclusion hardly surprising: people are turned off the news because it’s repetitive, depressing, and whatever the opposite of life-affirming is.

The solution: look for content that’s surprising, uplifting and, yes, life-affirming - in addition to what you’re already doing.


Are there sufficient examples of this kind of information at your own publication? Are there enough stories that inspire? That punctuate the bad news cycle with a bit of light relief? If there are, do you know how they’re being received?


User needs for our times

When we released our User Needs 2.0 model, the most striking difference between that and its predecessor was the inclusion of a new driver: ‘Action’. Stories that sit here address the needs ‘Connect me’ and ‘Help me’. It was the growth of the solutions, constructive and social journalism fields that prompted this change - and as the Reuters report has shown, it’s a vital inclusion.

The complete User Needs Model for News

We’ve now spent years analysing data from global newsrooms, and it’s this knowledge which allows us to say with confidence - and with the data to back it up - that these needs ALL unequivocally have their place. Reuters present this from another angle now also: readers aren’t satisfied with newsroom output. It’s as simple as that.

Individual and newsroom data both show that readers’ needs are now discoverable. It’s up to us to act upon those gold nuggets of information and ensure that they’re being met in everything we publish.

You can now join the newly launched smartocto Academy, where you’ll find step-by-step guides and courses to elevate your understanding of editorial analytics.