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Digital News Report 2023: Emerging dominance of alternative media and shifting trust dynamics in Singapore

The Reuters Institute for Journalism at the University of Oxford released its annual Digital News Report 2023 today, providing novel insights into the shifting habits of news consumers worldwide.

The report, based on a YouGov survey of over 93,000 online news consumers across 46 markets, paints a picture of a news landscape transformed by social media, diminished trust, and financial constraints.

Video-based content is emerging as a new heavyweight in the news sector, especially in regions of the Global South. Networks like TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube have begun to outpace legacy platforms like Facebook in terms of influence on news consumption.

Despite the shift towards video content, the need for robust, accurate journalism continues to be critical. The survey, however, reveals that many countries are grappling with low trust levels, dwindling engagement, and an uncertain business landscape, raising concerns for the future of journalism.

Adding to this uncertainty is the squeeze on household spending. Many consumers are reassessing their expenditures on news media, forcing media companies to fast-track their digital transition, moving resources away from traditional platforms like print and broadcast.

Social media continues to play an outsized role in news dissemination, but the landscape is rapidly changing. Facebook's influence on journalism is waning, while up-and-coming networks like TikTok are rapidly gaining ground. Yet, despite growing public unease about misinformation and algorithmic news selection, dependence on these intermediaries continues to rise.

Public trust in news has taken a hit, falling by a further 2 percentage points over the last year across markets. Only 40% of the total sample now say they trust most news most of the time, with the highest levels of trust found in Finland (69%) and the lowest in Greece (19%). Public media brands in Northern European countries continue to command trust, but their reach is decreasing among younger audiences.

The report also shows an alarming trend of news avoidance, with 36% of consumers saying they often or sometimes avoid news. Amid financial pressures, the growth in online news payment appears to be plateauing. Across 20 wealthier countries, 17% paid for any online news, the same figure as last year.

A significant revelation of the report is the changing nature of how people access news. Only around a fifth (22%) now prefer to start their news journeys with a website or app, marking a decline of 10 percentage points since 2018.

Younger generations prefer accessing news via side-door routes such as social media, search, or mobile aggregators.

Alternative Media Consumption and Changing Trust Landscape in Singapore

Mothership, a digital-native alternative news site known for converting viral social media posts into articles and videos, has become the most used online news source for the first time, with 48% of respondents using it weekly. Launched in 2014, Mothership has surpassed traditional media giants like Mediacorp’s Channel NewsAsia (46%) and Singapore Press Holdings' The Straits Times (42%).

The use of social media for news is shifting with Facebook's influence declining to 36%. Meanwhile, YouTube (30%), Instagram (19%), and TikTok (12%) are growing as news platforms. Interestingly, WhatsApp remains the most-used social app for news in Singapore, with 38% of respondents using it for this purpose.

Traditional mainstream outlets maintain their standing as the most trusted news brands, with overall trust at a steady 45%. Channel NewsAsia (75%), Channel 5 (73%), and The Straits Times (73%) are the top trusted brands. Despite its growing popularity, Mothership trails in terms of trust, standing at 52%.

The media landscape in Singapore saw significant changes with Singapore Press Holdings carving out its media interests into a new non-profit entity, SPH Media Trust, in December 2021. However, an internal audit in 2023 revealed the organisation had inflated its circulation rates by about 10 to 12% between 2020 and 2022.

Despite these revelations, government funding to aid SPH Media Trust's digital transition – S$900 million (US$681 million) over five years – was confirmed to remain unaffected. Meanwhile, TV and radio operator Mediacorp, owned by the government through Temasek, saw declines in usage as audiences’ preferences moved towards online media.

The report also touches upon the revival of The Online Citizen Asia, which had its license suspended for not declaring its funding sources. Its editor relocated, now publishing the website from Taiwan, with the readership remaining low at 11% and trust at 38%.

Singaporean news consumers' preference for online and social media news access continues to rise, with TV and print experiencing a significant decline. Despite this shift, only 15% of the survey respondents said they pay for news.

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