Social media changing how we get our news

New Ofcom reports show how we increasingly consume news online through apps and social media, while BBC remains the most trusted traditional news source. 

It’s not only how we consume news that’s changing. The implication is that our relationship with news and the organisations that provide us with news is also significantly shifting. There’s evidence that the kinds of news we consume is affected, too.

person using both laptop and smartphone

Photo by Austin Distel

In some ways, this is a generational shift. Data published this month by regulator Ofcom in its News consumption in the UK reports shows that young adults aged 16-24 are now much more likely to get their news online than older adults (83% vs 68%), usually through social media on their mobile phones (63% vs 39%). These young people are also much less likely to consume news from traditional media sources such as TV (47% vs 70%), radio (25% vs 40%) and print newspapers (16% vs 26%). 

Those aged 16-24 were much less likely to head directly to traditional news websites (9% vs 26%) and if they did visit went via links on social media (37% vs 24%). As Ofcom says, this suggests that young adults have much less of a direct connection with established news brands. 

The top five most popular news sources used by these young adults were Instagram (44%), BBC One and Facebook (both 33%), Twitter (31%), TikTok (29%). BBC One, at joint second, was the only traditional media source to feature in the top five. 

The trend is even more evident among younger people polled. Of those aged 12-15, TikTok is now the most used single source of news across all platforms (28%), followed by YouTube (25%) and Instagram (25%). But, again, the BBC remains a very trusted source: including news content across all its platforms, it had the highest reach of any news organisation among this group (39%). 

News topics of most interest to younger teens are: ‘sports or sports personalities’ (23%), ‘music news or singers’ (15%), ‘celebrities or famous people’ (11%), ‘serious things going on in the UK’ (8%) and news about ‘animals or the environment’ (9%). On social media sites, lighter news topics tend to have particular appeal. 

Even among adults, there are evident changes in the way we consume news media – it’s just more gradual than that seen among the younger cohort. Broadcast TV news is still the most popular source, used by 70% of UK adults – increasing to 75% when broadcast video on-demand services are included. Public service broadcasters also remain dominant, collectively reaching 94% of TV news audiences. Yet outside these PSBs and Sky News, no other TV channel offering news reaches more than 8% of the UK TV audience. 

The most used single-source news source across all platforms were BBC One (49%) and ITV (34%), but both channels have seen a gradual decline in the past five years (when figures were 62% and 41%). Facebook is the third most popular news source among adults but also shows signs of decline, from 33% down to 30%. 

That loss seems to be social media’s gain. Some 10% of adults now use TikTok to keep up with news, for the first time more than those who use BBC Radio 1 (8%) or Channel 5 (8%). TikTok is especially popular among adults for celebrity news – with 55% using TikTok and 53% using Instagram for this.  

Twitter is the favoured destination for breaking (61%) and political news (45%). The preferred source for local news is Facebook (59%). 

Where does this leave traditional print newspapers? Following years of decline, Ofcom’s data shows some cause for optimism in the industry, with consistent reach between 2022 and 2023. A little over a quarter of adults (26%) access news via print newspapers, increasing to 39% when including their online platforms. The most widely read print and digital titles are the Daily Mail / Mail on Sunday and the Guardian / Observer.

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