Facebook Used Less for News, But Not in Hungary: The 2018 Digital News Report is Out Now

June 14, 2018

The use of social media for news has started to fall in a number of key markets – after years of continuous growth, according to the seventh annual Digital News Report from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford. The report, which is based on a YouGov online survey conducted with 74,000 people in 37 countries, says that much of the fall is attributable to Facebook’s changed algorithms, but that users are also worried about privacy, the toxic nature of debates on the platform and how to distinguish between real and ‘fake’ news’. The report finds that just 23% trust news on social media, compared with 34% for search, 44% for trust in news overall, and 51% for sources that people use themselves.

However, Hungary is among those countries that contradict this trend, mainly due to the fact that "the Hungarian government reached a new level of control over the media last year through a series of acquisitions by supportive oligarchs, and by using the power of state advertising to starve critical outlets of funding. With trust in mainstream media low, many rely on digital and social media as a source of independent news", writes CMDS researcher Eva Bognar, who contributed to the Digital News Report with an analysis of the research findings. As Bognar argues,

In polarised environments such as Hungary, we see that trust in overall news (29%) is low (35th out of 37 countries). In public discourse, politicians and public figures frequently accuse media outlets of spreading ‘fake news’ and having a political agenda, which arguably adds to the sense of general lack of trust. Hungary also suffers from low trust in institutions in general while there tends to be a strong reliance on personal, informal networks. This helps to explain the high usage of social media in Hungary, though it is worth noting, if slightly surprising, that only 27% trust the news accessed this way.

The report offers some positive news for news organisations that are looking to build direct relationships with consumers and refocus on quality journalism. While the number of people paying for online news is up in a number of countries, Hungary is not among them. "In government-dominated small media markets such as Hungary", argues Bognar, "funding independent journalism becomes a crucial and difficult issue. Some of the most significant investigative journalism is produced by small NGOs, journalism centres, and digital-only outlets (Atlatszo, Direkt36). In addition to limited distribution, they struggle financially which is not surprising when we see that a very small portion of Hungarian news consumers pay for online news (8%) and a third (32%) use an ad-blocker (6th highest out of 37 countries)."

Interestingly, the report also reveals that more than two-thirds of overall respondents (68%) are either unaware of the financial problems of the news industry or believe that most news organisations are making a profit from digital news. Those that were aware that most digital newspapers are making a loss are more likely to pay for a news subscription or give a donation.

Professor Rasmus Kleis Nielsen says,

The verdict is clear: people find that some news is worth paying for, but much of it is not. The challenge for publishers now is to ensure that the journalism they produce is truly distinct, relevant, and valuable, and then effectively promoting it to convince people to donate or subscribe.

Find out more about the 2018 Digital News Report here.