The Reuters Institute’s annual report on Digital News for 2019 found that Indians get their online news dominantly on mobiles. It noted the increasing popularity of WhatsApp and Facebook. The report can be downloaded here: Reuters Institute India Digital News Report 2019.

Findings from the report:

Mobile dominated market, demand for online video news, podcasts

A mobile-first online news market

  • 68% used smartphones to get their online news, 31% used only mobile devices for accessing online news; these numbers are markedly higher than in developing markets like Brazil and Turkey.
  • 12% of the respondents identified mobile alerts as their main way of accessing online news.
  • 50% of respondents said they got the right number of news notifications, 34% said they got too many. 17% of the respondents said ‘nothing’ could convince them to sign up for news alerts, and expressed an appetite for controlled, personalized alerts.

Video news

  • 35% of the respondents said that they would like to see more online video news.
  • Consumption of online news videos is taking place mostly on platforms; only 35% of the respondents said they have watched online video news on a publisher’s website or app, compared to 73% who have watched online video news on YouTube and Facebook.

Voice activated speakers and audio news

  • 9% of the respondents currently use a voice-activated system like Alexa and Google Home, and over 5% of these use them to access news.
  • The most popular podcasts are from news companies like The Times of India, NDTV and Aaj Tak, although international companies like TED, Oprah, and YouTube personality Logan Paul were also popular.

Will people pay for news? 39% of the respondents said that they were at least ‘somewhat likely’ to pay for news in the next year, 9% said they were ‘very likely’ to pay for online news in the future.

Trust in news: Respondents had low trust in news overall (36%) and even the news they personally used (39%), but expressed higher levels of trust in news in search (45%) and social media (34%) than respondents in other countries. “Partisans at both ends of the political spectrum have similar levels of trust in the news, whereas non-partisans have lower levels,” states the study.

Platforms dominate; Facebook and WhatsApp most popular

A platform-dominated market: An “overwhelming majority” of respondents access online news via platforms. 31% of the surveyed use Search and 24% used social media to access new online. Only 18% considered direct access their main way of getting news online.

Facebook and WhatsApp are particularly widely used, with 75% of respondents using Facebook and 82% using WhatsApp. 52% of respondents said they get their news from Facebook and 52% said they got theirs from WhatsApp. It’s worth noting that these numbers are not mutually exclusive and that there are overlaps. 90% of those surveyed used at least one Facebook product weekly for any purpose. Other social media used for news include Instagram (26%), Twitter (18%), and Facebook Messenger (16%).

WhatsApp:

  • 82% of the respondents used WhatsApp and 52% of them got news on WhatsApp, a number far higher than in Europe, North America and even Brazil.
  • WhatsApp is also popular among newsrooms, journalists use it to distribute multimedia content and other content among editorial staff.
  • 40% of WhatsApp news users said that they forwarded a news story during the past week.
  • News consumed over WhatsApp is more likely to be shared by like-minded individuals in a group, according to the study.

Engagement for news online: 50% of respondents shared and 33% commented on online news, with “particularly high levels of engagement” on Facebook and WhatsApp. Respondents are particularly engaged on Facebook, with 69% saying they’ve looked at or clicked on news, 54% have posted or shared news, and 41% have taken part in a group or private discussion about news. For WhatsApp, the numbers are similar, 60% have looked at or clicked on news, 46% posted or shared, and 39% taken part in group or private discussions.

Twitter important for breaking news and public debate: Facebook identified as a site for news by almost three times as many respondents as Twitter. But Twitter is still an important platform for breaking news and “a lively and often unruly and uncomfortable part of online public debate.” Several legacy and digital-born publishers have built wide Twitter followings, notes the study.

Trust in legacy media houses; popularity of partisan websites like OpIndia

News brands with the highest usage are NDTV, Times of India Online, Yahoo! News India, India Today Online, BBC News Online, Indian Express Online etc. Online news publications like Firstpost and ScoopWhoop are attracting a significant percentage of weekly users. Legacy and familiar brands like Times of India, DD News, Hindustan Times, NDTV, Indian Express were the more trusted brands for news. Newer entrants like The Wire, Firstpost, RepublicTV have lower levels of brand trust among respondents.

Popularity of partisan news websites: Although legacy media websites are the most widely used online news sources, some alternative and partisan sites digital media have built relatively large audiences despite the limited name recognition they have, says the study.

Pages and accounts like The Logical Indian, OneIndia, and IndiaFacts are the three most visited visited websites among respondents. Among these, The Logical Indian is seen by many as close to the Aam Aadmi Party, IndiaFacts is seen as right-leaning and close to the BJP.

However, it’s worth noting that 56% of the respondents have not used any of these in the past week, and only IndiaFacts, OneIndia, and the Logical Indian have name recognition among 20% or more of our respondents.

Some respondents said they feel mainstream media do not represent them and want news outlets that represent their views. Users find news on these sites to be ‘genuine’, ‘to-the-point’, and ‘accessible’.

“I use them because they give the accurate picture of what is going on in our society in a clear and short way.” – a 35-year-old male user of Oneindia.com and The Logical Indian

“It’s not like that I am a permanent visitor of this news website but sometimes, especially when I am fact checking about some fake news, then I do use this website.” – a 29-year-old male user of Oneindia.com

Disinformation

57% of the respondents were worried whether online news they come across was real or fake, and half of the respondents expressed concern over hyper-partisan content, poor journalism, and false news.

Its worth noting that the concern over disinformation and false news are similar across all the survey’s respondents regardless of which party they supported. 2/3rd of the respondents felt that publishers, platforms, and/or the government should do more to address disinformation problems.

Respondents who were users of Facebook and/or WhatsApp for news did not report higher levels of concern over whether the news they came across is real or fake.

The study’s method and survey group

The study surveyed 1013 individuals who consumed news online in the past month. Reuters clarifies that the study is not representative of the Indian population as the sample size is reflective of the English-speaking population that has access to the internet.

“As a result, it is skewed towards male, affluent, and educated respondents.” Further, since the survey is meant for news consumption online, it will further under-represent the consumption habits of people who are not online, who are typically older, less affluent, and with limited formal education.

The study was supported by YouGov and sponsored by the Hindu Media Group, The Quint, the Indian Express, and the Press Trust of India.