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One-fifth of global news publishers consider cost cuts as traffic from social media drops

One-fifth of publishers consider cost cuts as social traffic drops

Traffic to news sites from Facebook fell 48% in 2023 as the social media platform moved to “deprecate” support for news, according to data in the latest report from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism.

Meanwhile, site traffic from X/Twitter dropped by 27% as owner Elon Musk made significant changes to the site, including temporarily removing headlines from posted links and reportedly throttling access to publishers such as Reuters and The New York Times.

Traffic from Meta-owned Instagram fell 10%.

The Reuters Institute study, Journalism, Media, and Technology Trends and Predictions 2024, which surveyed more than 300 digital news publishing leaders from over 50 countries, found that almost two-thirds (63%) said they are concerned about the sharp decline in referral traffic from social media and, in response, three-quarters (77%) are committing to invest more in direct channels instead.

Meanwhile, one-fifth (22%) report having to resort to cost-cutting measures due to the decline in traffic from social media.

Publishers are also toying with increasing their use of alternative social media sites, including other Meta properties. More say they will put greater effort into utilising WhatsApp (a net score of +61 — see chart below for how net score is calculated) and Instagram (+39), as well as TikTok (+55), Google search (+49) and Google-owned YouTube (+44). LinkedIn, already a beneficiary of X/Twitter’s decline in adspend, will also receive more attention (+41).

By contrast, publishers have “pretty much given up on” Facebook and X, according to the survey.

Source: Reuters Institute


A net majority of publishers also say they will create more video (+64), newsletter (+52) and podcast (+47) content in 2024, but broadly the same number of web articles, as they seek to attract new audiences via alternative formats.

Analysis: Publishers are forced to innovate

Some news publishers, such as Reach, have publicly blamed Facebook for a severe drop in page views (down 21% year on year, according to its Q3 trading update), leading to financial hardship. However, it was unclear how the broader global news publishing market was faring.

Facebook’s decision to deprioritise news came after years of scrutiny over the site’s content moderation and the reported spread of misinformation on the platform. Rather than continue to take heat from critics and regulators concerned with the company’s policies around news content, Facebook decided to remove its support for news altogether despite the fact that many users still report using the platform for news consumption.

It is testament to the oligopolistic nature of social media that publishers are having to turn to Facebook parent Meta for other sources of traffic via WhatsApp and Instagram.

To Meta’s credit, it has encouraged publishers to use WhatsApp by developing new features, such as broadcast channels, on the messaging service.

Why 2023 showed ‘video is the next most important thing in publishing’

Facebook’s deprioritisation of news led Reach CEO and News Media Association (NMA) chair Jim Mullen to co-sign a letter with NMA CEO Owen Meredith in September accusing the social media giant of “choking” trusted news.

“Meta separately choosing to deprioritise authoritative sources of news within [the] newsfeed has further harmed publishers’ ability to attract and monetise traffic,” they wrote. “With Ofcom reporting Facebook as the third most prevalent source of news for UK consumers, this decision is both financially damaging and deeply concerning for democracy and society. If genuine editorially controlled news is not available on the platforms where users are looking for it, society suffers.”

While publishers rightly have a bone to pick with companies like Meta, some believe it is incumbent on themselves to better compete for attention amid a shift in news consumption towards podcasts and short-form video. “I don’t subscribe to the lean-back approach of ‘Well, you’ve come in and disrupted our business model and therefore you need to help us.’ That’s not where I sit on it,” said Ramin Beheshti, president and CEO of social-first news outlet The News Movement, on a recent episode of The Media Leader Podcast.

“I think the news industry needs to do more to innovate and find ways of connecting with audiences and generating revenue — which they are doing — but I think [responsibility] is kind of on both sides.”

Nick Drew, CEO, Fuse Insights, on 10 Jan 2024
“Great article. Separately, Ramin Beheshti's summary and suggested solution are spot on: "the lean-back approach of ‘Well, you’ve come in and disrupted our business model and therefore you need to help us.’"”

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