Rasmus Kleis Nielsen: "Digital media are becoming more important every year"

21 Jun 2015

Dr. Nielsen is Director of Research at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism (Oxford University). We discussed some of the findings of the "2015 Reuters Institute Digital News Report" with him.

STI Experts

You've just published the 2015 Reuters Institute Digital News Report. What are the main findings?

We show that smartphones are rapidly becoming the defining device for digital news, while the importance of desktop computers and tablets for accessing news is stagnant or even eroding, and we show that digital intermediaries like search engines and social media--especially Facebook--are becoming more and more important gateways to news in the digital media environment. Television is still the most widely used and most important source of news in most of the countries we cover, but digital is becoming more important by the year, and is increasingly accessed by mobile devices and navigated through search engines and social media. This digital media environment is fantastic for news users in many ways, as news is plentiful, easily available, and can be found in many different ways. It is also very challenging for news media, because the competition for our attention is becoming ever more intense, because the business of creating content for mobile devices is difficult - with low advertising rates and limited willingness to pay - and because news media are increasingly losing control over access to the audience as search engines and social media become more important intermediaries.

Are these trends the same across all the twelve countries you cover?

There are many similarities, especially in terms of the rise of smartphones, the increasing importance of social media, and the business challenges of news production. But there are also important and significant differences that reflect both different historical legacies and different ways of adapting to digital media. Within Europe, many countries in the North and the West have well-funded and widely used public service media and newspapers that - despite the challenges they face - remain strong. In these markets, in countries like Finland, Germany, and the UK, there are very few digital-only news media that have found an audience. In southern Europe the situation is different. Public service broadcasters and established newspapers were never as strong, and in some countries, especially France and Spain, this means that new digital-only news media like MediaPart in France and El Confidencial in Spain have found a niche and established themselves as important players. There are also broader differences that could reflect different cultural norms about how people engage with for example social media--the Nordic countries and Japan have higher levels of internet use, broadband access, and more people with smartphones, and yet people have a more laid-back and less participatory approach to using digital media and social media than in the US and Southern Europe.

What kind of future for news do these trends foretell?

Overall, the development we have been tracking since we began doing the survey in 2012 is clear. Television remains a central media platform and is evolving gradually, printed newspapers continue their rapid decline in most countries covered, and digital media are becoming more important every year. Yet, how we use digital media--desktop to mobile, for example, and how we navigate digital media--from websites to search engines to social media, often changes quickly. There are also always surprises. Some seemingly old-fashioned brands reinvent themselves and find new audiences online. Tools we had written off make a comeback--this year, for example, email newsletters are growing more popular in many countries. Some tools rise to near-global prominence--as with Google and Facebook--whereas others have a more uneven adoption--as with Twitter and some messaging apps. Some developments are evolutionary and incremental, others are revolutionary and rapid. The countries we cover--12 in 2015--always have some things in common, but inherited national differences, traditions, and market structures continue to matter.

It is because of this combination of similarities and differences, of fast and slow development, that we find it important to do this study every year and across many countries. It helps us provide an evidence-based overview of what is actually going on with media use so that citizens, journalists, media professionals, and policymakers can understand the environment in which they operate.

Visit Rasmus Kleis Nielsen's expert profile
​Visit 'The Crisis of Journalism Reconsidered: Cultural Power' Experts Meeting page
Download the report
Visit Reuters' Digital News Report website