Most people get their news online – but many are switching off altogether. Here’s why

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Stefan Ellerbeck, Senior Writer, Formative Content

  • 72% of internet users in the European Union now get their news online, according to the latest EU statistics.
  • While more people are accessing news via social media than through news websites, finds another survey.
  • It also found that interest in news has fallen sharply around the world, from 63% of respondents in 2017 to 51% in 2022.

New figures from the European Union’s statistical office Eurostat confirm that the consumption of news online is continuing to grow.

The data from 2021 shows that 72% of internet users aged 16-74 in the EU read news sites, newspapers and news magazines online. That’s a 2 percentage point increase compared with 2016.

Breaking it down by countries, the highest percentages of people reading news online were found in Finland (93%), Lithuania and the Czech Republic (both 92%) and Croatia and Greece (both 90%). Romania reported the lowest usage (59%), closely followed by Germany (62%), France (63%), Italy (64%) and Belgium (67%).

On average, 72% of internet users in the EU aged 16-74 read news online. Image: Eurostat

Variations in online news consumption in EU

The Eurostat data also shows that between 2016 and 2021, online news use increased slightly more among women than men. Overall, however, men were more likely to use the internet for accessing news content than women; 74% compared to 71%.

At 75%, people aged 25-54 years were most likely to access news online in 2021, while 68% of the 55-74 age bracket did so. This represented a 3 percentage point and 2 percentage point increase respectively.

The figures also show the percentage of users increased most in rural areas, up to 69% from 65% in 2016. 76% of those living in cities read news online, a 2 percentage point increase from 2016. People with what is described as a “high formal education” were more likely to access news online (85%), than those with lower levels of education (57%).

People aged 25-54 and city-dwellers are more likely to get news from the internet. Image: Eurostat

Social media surging ahead as a news source

A separate global survey digs deeper into internet users’ news habits revealing more detailed insights. The Reuters Institute’s Digital News Report 2022 surveyed over 93,000 online news consumers in 46 markets covering half the world’s population.

The report says the smartphone continues to be the most important digital device for accessing news across countries. However across all devices, direct access to news apps and websites is in decline and exposure to news content through social media is increasing.

The report says, in 2022, social media preference has surged ahead at 28% compared to 23% for direct access. However, it stresses there are major differences across markets. Users in Nordic countries as well as the UK still have strong connections to direct news providers, “while people in Japan and South Korea tend to access news via powerful aggregators and search engines”. Age also makes a big difference, with the 18-24 age group significantly more likely to use social media rather than a news website or app.

Trust is down, news avoidance is up

One of the most eye-catching takeaways from the report is the revelation that interest in news has fallen sharply around the world, from 63% in 2017 to 51% in 2022. Trust in news providers has also fallen in almost half of the countries studied, and risen in just seven. It says on average 42% of respondents say they trust news most of the time. Finland remains the country with the highest level of overall trust at 69%. However, trust in news in the US has fallen by a further three percentage points and remains the lowest in the survey at just 26%.

Meanwhile, the proportion of news consumers who say they avoid news, often or sometimes, has increased sharply globally. This type of what the report authors describe as “selective avoidance”, has doubled in both Brazil (54%) and the UK (46%) over the past five years. Many respondents say that news can have a negative effect on their mood.

Interest in climate change news varies by area

The report says that “media outlets often struggle to garner audience attention” when it comes to climate change stories. Interest is highest in Latin America, Asia-Pacific and Southern European countries, it reports. Just over half of respondents in Chile, Portugal, the Philippines and Greece say they are interested in news about climate change and the environment.

Interest is lower in Northern and Western Europe, while just 30% of Americans say it’s important to them.

Those with higher levels of income and education are more interested in climate change news, says the report, which notes that “perhaps surprisingly, they also tend to be older”.

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