Value of news and the importance of trust in the Post-Truth era

Businessman presses button Fake News media

Sally Wu, ACI Fellow and Director, Business & Audience Insights, BBC World Singapore

We’re bestowed with more and more options when it comes to news consumption in a world that’s becoming less simple.

It is no exaggeration to say that we are inundated by global news events nowadays. It seems every other day we hear about Trump making another eyebrow-raising comment and every other week we learn about another heart-breaking terror attack somewhere in the world. With the high prevalence of “fake news” occurrences – irrespective of whether they appear in the form of satire or parody, false context or misleading and even imposter content – the ability to simply trust what we read, listen to or watch is becoming increasingly rare.

The subject of “fake news” or “post-truth” is not new. For centuries populous politicians have been using it as a diversion technique in world events as early as the Battle of Kadesh[1] and in more modern days, the Vietnam War. Fast forward to the 21st century, and in addition to being time-poor and having a fear-of-missing-out mindset, consumers today have access to a new platform inaccessible to our predecessors: social media. This powerful communication platform has made the world more interconnected than ever before. It has also given rise to new definitions of ‘sharing’ and ‘following’ allowing consumers to easily share news content (or create it) with ease.

Yet social media is a double-edged sword. It gives voice to the voiceless but, unrestrained, allows “fake news” to proliferate.[2] Today, we exist in a highly unsettled global scene created in part by rulers and politicians in North Korea, the US to name but a few, as well as the frequent occurrences of terror activities worldwide. All of this has contributed to a heightened sense of anxiety and insecurity amongst the world’s populations. Irrespective of where we live, it is nearly impossible for anyone to be completely immune to these influences.

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Picture 1. In response to a question, Donald Trump said “you’re fake news” to CNN reporter Jim Acosta. Around the same time he started repeating the phrase on Twitter.

Contradictory to common belief, digital news consumption does not actually erode the amount of news consumed via traditional media. By analysing the BBC’s user behaviours on GlobalWebIndex[3], a well-known syndicated media survey, we learned that the more people consume news on digital media, the more they tend to consume BBC news on television. The 2017 Digital News Report published by Reuters Institute at Oxford University further attests that mainstream media is still trusted twice as much as Social Media[4] for separating fact from fiction. Despite being regarded as the world’s most trusted news organisation[5] that consistently delivers one of the largest cross-platform news audiences, we still find it challenging to justify to brands and marketers the abovementioned news consumption behaviour trends based on facts and research results.

In an effort to understand consumer news consumption behaviour, why and how they choose one news brand over another, we commissioned an independent research study incorporating quantitative results (online survey) and qualitative insights (vox pox interviews). We aimed to identify news consumption drivers and answers to the following key questions:

  • Why do digitally connected consumers still rely on offline media for news updates?
  • How does digital news or newsfeeds complement offline news consumption?
  • How do consumers discover, share and engage with news stories and how do they cope with fake news stories?
  • What is the value of trust to today’s consumers and how is it perceived via different forms of news platforms (e.g. news channel vs. social media platform; traditional vs. digital native news brands)?
  • Is there a “halo effect” which brands benefit from by being associated with a trusted media brand?

Below are seven of our key findings:

1. 77% agree that international news is more important now than ever before

The research reveals that the majority believe staying in touch with international news is increasingly important. The development of global events, coupled with the general fear and anxiety about the future, may explain this growing need to keep up to date with international news.

2. 79% in APAC are concerned about fake news

Although the topic of “fake news” is centred around the US or Europe, the concern is definitely not isolated to these regions. In APAC, the majority of consumers (close to 4 in 5 people) are concerned about fake news. Consumers agree that this issue is predominantly associated with online rather than offline news providers. As one of our voxpox interviewees explained “coverage on news channels is more concise; better to hear it then spend time reading online. Also, you know that the information is accurate; news online may not be 100% true.”[6] From our research, we learned that 81% of news consumers actually use messaging platforms to share news, with the top platform being Whatsapp.

3. Nearly 2 in 3 consumers find it difficult to distinguish real from fake news

The inability to distinguish fake news from the truth is a red flag for news organisations. Our research shows that consumers increasingly value the credibility of trusted news sources. 82% of the respondents said that it is important that news brands verify their stories before reporting them. 70% are more inclined to refer to well-known and established news because of “fake news.” There is simply too much information out there for all of us time-poor, attention-deprived, multi-device using consumers. News organisations need to ensure that we are doing all we can to continually hit the mark in terms of producing credible, quality journalism, especially in this day and age.

4. TV leads on reach, overtaking social media

When we asked respondents which form of medium they use to keep up to speed with all the news events happening in the world, TV news channels overwhelmingly received the highest proportion of viewers (85%), followed by social media (76%). Respondents, however, do spend slightly more time on social media than on TV. Stacking up against other types of media channels, international news channels are the leading source of breaking news – 67% consumers refer to international news channels as either the first or subsequent choice, more than any other sources. Online as a whole (including websites, news apps, news aggregators and social media) are referred to by 56% of consumers. This is probably because at the moment news breaks, access to TV maybe limited and online might be the most convenient device to hand.

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Figure 1. Preferred sources on breaking news by APAC news consumers

 

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Figure 2. Media platforms used to keep up to speed with international news

International news channels are referred to first for breaking news stories (28%), on par with social media (28%). If the story is discovered through social media first, then international news on TV is referred to next (34%) as the alternative source for fact-checking or digging deeper into the story. International news websites or apps (26%) follows after international news channels on TV. A female news consumer in Australia said from the voxpox interview “If there’s a big story happening such as a terror attack, I always turn to the international news… because I can get a lot of information and it’s easier to watch the news than having to trawl through lots of articles online to get all the information (that I need).”[7] This may help explain why, when we asked whether they will consider changing their Pay TV or cable TV subscription package should international news channels become unavailable to them, as many as 8 in 10 respondents said they would consider change while 1 in 3 said they will definitely change their subscription plans.

5. 62% agree advertising on untrusted media have a detrimental effect on their perception of the brand

Reuters Institute Digital News Report confirmed that trust in the news is strongly tied to trust in specific news brands, and that trust in news brands takes a long time to build[8]. The sound reputation of a news channel or website proves to have a “halo effect” on the brand, in which consideration and credibility of the brand increase when a consumer engages with the content where the branding message appears.
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Figure 3. The extent to which the media platforms maximise the level of trust for a product, service or brand on which it is advertised.

From our research, we observed that as many as 65% of respondents said they are more inclined to consider or trust a brand or read content about a brand when it is on a channel or website that they trust, while 61% said they tend to trust a brand more if it advertises on a trusted channel. When asked what type of digital news players out there are best in maximising consumer’s trust for a brand, nearly half of our respondents (48%) said websites of traditional news publishers are regarded as the best at demonstrating the value of the brand. This score is at least 50% higher than digital native sites (e.g. Buzzfeed, vice, HuffPost), news aggregators (e.g. Yahoo, Flipboard) or Social Media (Facebook, Twitter).

6. Social Media amplify engagement and interaction with news stories

According to GlobalWebIndex, 70% of consumers in APAC use portable devices to access any news information in the past month. In fact, 36% of consumers said the reason that they use social media is to stay up-to-date with news and current affairs. As high as 95% agreed that staying up-to-date with news or events is important and 55% classified it as very important. Amongst BBC news users, 63% said BBC News articles are shared with them from friends or family via Social Media. 89% chose to share BBC News on Social Media or actively follow BBC News on Social Media.

7. Engaged and interconnected with news even when on-the-go

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Figure 4. Genre of media consumed before a trip, multiple times a day among travellers to APAC

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Figure 5. Genre of media consumed after a trip, multiple times a day among travellers to APAC

Communication technology has made it very easy for consumers to stay connected at all times, even when they are on the road. According to a syndicated survey, Media GPS[9], 3 in 5 APAC bound travellers agree that international news is even more important to them while travelling. Keeping up to date with news remains very important leading up to and during their trip. An analysis of the top genre viewed on television prior to commencing an international trip and while on it (e.g. from hotel rooms or public places), found that General News and Business News rank top of the list compared to factual, entertainment or movie channels, for example. Today’s frequent travellers are always plugged-in with news content even in-flight. 1 in 4 frequent travellers[10] said they have consumed news or current affairs content in-flight. Compared to average travellers, frequent travellers are 2.8 times more likely to have consumed news or current affairs content in-flight.

According to BBC Trending, the rise of the term “fake news” in 2016 was inadvertently caused by a number of quick-witted teenagers in Macedonia trying to make some quick money from Facebook by publishing false articles.[11] Little did they realise, these made-up news stories they posted about Trump thrived and mutated into a global phenomenon due to the overhyped US Presidential election and eventually created the era of “post-truth,” which became the 2016 Oxford Dictionary’s Word of the Year[12].

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Figure 6. Google Search Term “Fake News” Interest Over Time[13]

Fast forward to 2018, many are now of the opinion that the term “fake news” is overused and abused. Some experts think we should now concentrate on the differences between Facts, Opinion, Speculation and Fiction and move on. Regardless the form of information published, trust should be regarded as one of the most essential elements to possess by any media company in this post-truth era. To international news publishers and broadcasters, trust matters more than ever as they continue to be used as the top source for breaking news stories. Social Media has empowered and nurtured a new generation of FOMO users to consume news in a fashion that didn’t exist before. On the other end of the ecosystem, brands continue to work with media companies to promote their product and services in the ever-fragmented environment. Only by consistently delivering the trust promise can advertisers ensure their brands are not compromised when associated with their selected media partners in this environment of misinformation.

References

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Kadesh

[2] N3 Magazine, 2017 Issue 2

[3] GlobalWebIndex, Q1-Q4 2016, APAC. When we compare digital news consumers to non-digital news consumers, we can see that the digital news consumers are 4X more likely than the non-digital consumers to consume BBC World News on TV at all reach levels.

[4] http://www.digitalnewsreport.org/

[5] BBC Brand Tracker, 2017.

[6] Singapore, female 21 years old. Question: Why you still like to watch news channels on TV even though the news is also available online?

[7] Australia, female, 32 years old. Question: Why you still like to watch news channels on TV even though the news is also available online?

[8] http://www.digitalnewsreport.org/survey/2016/

[9] Media Global Passengers Survey, 2017. APAC bound travellers. Sample size = 4,991 / Universe = 3.4M population

[10] Taken 6+ trips in past 12 months

[11] The (almost) complete history of ‘fake news’ http://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-trending-42724320

[12] https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/word-of-the-year/word-of-the-year-2016

[13] Numbers represent search interest relative to the highest point on the chart for the given region and time. A value of 100 is the peak popularity for the term. A value of 50 means that the term is half as popular. A score of 0 means there was not enough data for this term.

Source: BBC’s “Value of News” research was independently conducted by BDRC Asia and covered 5 countries in the Asia Pacific region: Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, India, Australia. The sample was composed of 1,549 adults between 18 to 54 years of age, who consume news online regularly and have access to Pay TV / Cable TV subscriptions at home. The fieldwork took place during 17 to 29 March 2017.

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Author: Sally Wu
Date: 29 January 2018

About the Author

Sally Wu is a Fellow of the Institute on Asian Consumer Insight and a Director of Business & Audience Insights for BBC World Singapore. Her research interests lie in the area of Media, Commercial Research & Marketing Research.

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