The Digital News Report 2023 is a comprehensive study of how audiences around the world consume news.  The report covers 46 markets and three countries in Africa: Nigeria, South Africa and Kenya, and the methodology was online polling which received 93,000 respondents.

“In the three African countries, they are representative of younger, online, educated and English-speaking groups. It’s not a representative sample in the same way as it is in other countries, we need to bear that in mind when comparing European countries and African countries,” says Nic Newman, lead author at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism.

In Kenya, according to the report, despite the country’s fragile and polarised political environment and the tensions that followed the presidential elections, trust in the news grew by 6 percentage points this year, perhaps because it acts as an important counter to a rising tide of misinformation and disinformation. Overall trust in the media is 63% and 57% of respondents use social media to share news, with 29% of respondents using TikTok to share news.

According to the report, “the election period coincided with rapid growth in the use of TikTok for news, the network was popularly used by political mercenaries during the elections,” citing a report by the non-profit Mozilla Foundation.

In Nigeria, “as fewer people turn to traditional news sources such as television and print media for information, their business models have come under pressure. Print has been in sharp decline in recent years with a further 5 percentage point drop in weekly reach”. Overall trust in the media is 57% and 59% of respondents share news via social media, with Facebook leading, as 64% of the respondents share news via the platform.

In South Africa, “the last year has been a challenging one for South African media, including the closing of two news sites, staff of a prominent media company not having their salaries paid in full, and high-profile legal challenges involving journalism that reflect fault lines in media freedom. Perhaps related to this is that, after four years of growth, trust in news in South Africa is declining”. Overall trust in the media is 57% and 57% of respondents share news via social media, with 22% of respondents using TikTok to share news.

Across the African markets, there is a high percentage of misinformation which is indicative of the low percentage of trust in online news or media, says Chris Roper, deputy CEO at Code for Africa. The global average for trust in news is 40% and in African countries, it is well above 50% which means that these countries are in a healthier place compared to other countries and continents. However, despite these high percentages, there is a level of mistrust in the media which has been driven by politicians’ criticisms of the media, according to Roper.

Despite the low levels of mistrust in the media, globally there is optimism on the continent says Mpho Raborife, News24 managing editor, adding that the publication being rated as the most trustworthy publication in South Africa signals that their work has value and purpose.

Oliver Mathenge, Nation Media managing editor, says that the number of respondents using TikTok for news has doubled which signifies the interest amongst the youth for news. Mathenge says the increase in TikTok raises the question of how newsrooms and publications need to distribute content, noting that newsrooms need to consider young audiences when producing content. When younger audiences consume content, they are consuming it from personalities, so newsrooms need to think about creating personalities for younger audiences to consume news from, Mathenge says. He asks how the media can “take advantage and capture that audience?”

Roper says he supports news organisations’ introduction of news personalities, however, the challenge with the creation of personalities, “is that once you’ve outsourced your personality-driven journalism to social media, you are basically driving people away from your site as a destination”. Roper says that news organisations need to find or create a relationship with social media that is mutually beneficial.

“In South Africa, we are a young continent, and we need to meet our audience where they are and we cannot turn people into what we want them to be because we are providing a service,” says Raborife.

For her news publications need to focus on building a relationship with their younger audiences, bring these audiences the content they need, and be the brand that can be associated with being a trusted news platform.

According to the report, there has been an increase in audiences avoiding the news as news is negative, and audiences prefer to watch and read positive news.

In Kenya, news publications have been accused of solely focusing on politics and Mathenge says news publications need to think about other stories or topics that news audiences are looking for. He says that news publications are publishing this type of content (positive angles) but it is how news publications have optimised and distributed their content that makes it less discoverable. “How can we actively optimise our platforms to make sure that this content is discoverable for our audiences,” says Mathenge. He adds that news publications need to strike a balance between ‘negative’ and ‘positive news’.

Roper says the only reason we want audiences to come to a news site is to read news that matters. He says there has to be a better revenue model where we don’t have to publish fake good news in order to raise revenue to pay for news that matters. “It worries me to do this because it fundamentally undermines what we want to do as news, the battle to be everything to all people was lost a while ago and it is time to rethink business models that allows us to do the news part,” says Roper.

To read the full report, click here.

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