The latest Reuters Institute Digital News Survey shows slowly changing usage habits of online users in Germany when they want to keep up with the latest news. It is true that television is still the news source with the greatest reach and also the resource that is considered most relevant. However, the long-term trend also shows that linear television is slowly losing ground, while for more interviewed adult onliners the Internet is also used as a source of news and is becoming important.
The majority of Internet users in Germany is still interested in news and uses it regularly. However, there are also doubts about the efficiency of journalism in providing news. For example, there is a growing proportion of the population who are not certain whether they can trust the news. Furthermore, only a small percentage of online users are concerned that they would miss something if they did not use the news they expect to find behind a paywall. Especially among young Internet users, the belief that independent journalism is important for the proper functioning of a society is relatively low.
Press Release of the HBI from 16 June 2020
Independent Journalism Less Important for Younger People
Hamburg, 16 June 2020. A significant majority of adult onliners in Germany believes that independent journalism is important for the functioning of a society (79%). The differences in opinion among the age groups are striking. While almost 90 percent of those over 55 consider independent journalism being important (88%), this is only the case for 56 percent in the age group of 18 to 24-year-olds. Overall, almost one in nine of this age group considers independent journalism to be unimportant (11%) and 15% have no opinion on it. These are the findings of the Reuters Institute Digital News Reports, for which the Leibniz Institute for Media Research in Hamburg conducted the German part of the study. The study is based on a total of 80,155 respondents from 40 countries on six continents.
Germans' News Interest Remains Stable at a High Level
Interest in news and the frequency of news use remain stable at a high level. 94 percent of adult onliners used the news at least several times a week in January 2020 (2019: 95 %) and 71 percent say that they are very or extremely interested in news (2019: 68 %). There has been a noticeable year-on-year increase in the proportion of interested 18 to 24-year-olds (50%, +7 percentage points) and 25 to 34-year-olds (66%, +9).
Mix of Traditional and New Media
All in all, Internet users in Germany continue to inform themselves about world events both on the Internet and in the traditional media. 70 percent of adults watch news on television at least once a week or use the Internet; 45 percent listen to news on the radio and one in three reads a printed product. In the long-term trend, the proportion of people watching news on television is slightly declining, while more and more people use the Internet as a source.
Television Remains the Most Important Source of News, Internet Gains in Importance
Classic television remains by far the most widespread source of news with a slightly declining trend (70%; 2019: 72%), and for 42% of online users it is also the most important resource (three percentage points less than in 2019).
The Internet as the main news source has increased by two percentage points to 38%. Among 18 to 24-year-olds, 82 percent use the Internet to keep up with the news; for 72 percent it is also the main news source.
The increase in the scope of social media as a news source is striking. In 2020, 37 percent of the interviewed online users will use one of these platforms as a source of news; in 2019, the figure was 34 percent. In the group of 18 to 24-year-olds, 56 percent use social media as a news resource in 2020. This represents an increase of six percentage points compared to the previous year.
Social Media Continue to Gain Ground as the Most Important Source of News among the Younger Generation
In 2019, 22 percent of 18 to 24-year-olds said that social media were their most important source of news; in 2020 it will be 30 percent. Overall, the proportion of adult onliners who cited social media as their most important source of news has remained stable at eleven percent. 4 percent receive news solely via these platforms (2019: 3 %). Among 18 to 24-year-old Internet users, 9 percent receive news information exclusively via social media. This is four percentage points more than in 2019 (2019: 5 %).
WhatsApp, YouTube and Facebook are the most widespread social media among adult Internet users in Germany, and accordingly the platforms on which, proportionally, most users come into contact with news content. In 2020, 22 percent regularly watch news on Facebook (2019: 22%), 16 percent on WhatsApp (2019: 16%) and 14 percent on YouTube (2019: 19%).
Despite the supposedly stable figures, there are sometimes considerable shifts within the age groups. Facebook, for example, has seen declining shares in the context of news usage in all age groups under 45, in some cases by as much as minus six percentage points in the age group of 18 to 24-year-old. In this age group, Instagram is also one of the platforms with less reach for news than in the previous year (2019: 23%) with 20%.
Alternative Media Known, but Rarely Used
So-called "alternative" media offerings, i.e. offerings on the Internet that tend to be oriented more towards the edges of the political spectrum in terms of the selection and presentation of reported content, are known to up to 12 percent of the interviewed onliners at the age of 18 and older. They are regularly used by up to four percent (2019: 3%).
Trust in the Media Still Divided
45 percent of those interviewed trust the news in Germany. This is two percentage points less than last year (2019: 47%). These slight declines can be observed in most age groups, but are most pronounced among 18 to 24-year-olds (2020: 31%; 2019: 40%). At the same time, it can be seen that the proportion of those who generally do not trust the news has not increased in 2020 (23%). Rather, the proportion of people who are unsure whether or not they can trust the news has increased slightly to 32 percent (2019: 29%).
Overall, 59 percent trust the news that respondents actually use; 13 percent do not trust them and 28 percent are undecided. This distribution has been stable since 2017. Among 18 to 24-year-olds, trust has declined by 14 percentage points to 48 percent in 2020 (2019: 62%).
Internet users still have a very low level of trust in news they encounter in social media. 14 percent say they trust them, 36 percent are undecided and one in two do not trust them (50%). Last year, in 2019, 16 percent trusted social media news and 49 percent did not.
Insecurity about Fake News on Facebook is increasing
In Germany, 37 percent of adult onliners are concerned that they cannot distinguish possible fake news from facts. 22 percent do not express such concerns and 42 percent are undecided. Overall, these figures are similar to those of 2019, but there are significant differences in the age group of 18 to 24-year-olds. While 39 percent of them said last year that they were worried about not being able to tell the difference, this figure is down to 28 percent in 2020. Overall, younger age groups tend to show a higher belief in being able to distinguish facts from fake news than older users.
Concerns about the ways in which false or misleading information could be disseminated are mainly directed at Facebook. 35 percent of respondents are most likely to be concerned about this platform as a distribution channel. Younger onliners tend to be more concerned about search engines and YouTube than older users.
Smartphone to access news increasingly important
The triumphal march of the smartphone as a device for using the Internet and accessing online news, which has already become apparent in recent years, will continue in 2020. 58 percent of the interviewed onliners aged 18 years and older also use their smartphone to read, watch or listen to news on the Internet (2019: 56%). One in two people use a laptop or PC for this purpose (2020: 49%; 2019: 55%). For the first time in 2020, the smartphone will also be used by a majority of adult online users as the most frequently used device for using digital news (2020: 46%; 2019: 41%).
Podcasts Continue on the Road to Success
The numbers of podcast users continue to increase. Just under a quarter of adult onliners in Germany (24%) listened to at least one podcast per month in 2020. In 2019 the figure was 21 percent. This opportunity to find out about specific news and topics has continued to grow, especially among younger age groups. 54 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds listened to a podcast, an increase of eleven percentage points over the previous year. An increase in the reach of podcasts can be found in all the subject areas surveyed.
Active Participation in News Reporting, Especially on the Political Fringes
Only a small proportion of onliners in Germany are actively involved in news reporting. Eleven percent regularly shares news articles and ten percent comment on them in social media. This is similar to a year ago, and has remained stable at a similar level over the years. Even in the 2020 study wave, hardly any differences in participation behavior between age groups can be identified. On the contrary, it is once again apparent that online users who place themselves on the left or right side of the political spectrum are proportionately more likely to share, comment on and link articles than users in the political centre.
Willingness to Pay Increases Slightly
In 2020, ten percent of those surveyed say they have paid money for online news in the past twelve months. This represents an increase of two percentage points over the previous year (2019: 8%) and is the highest figure measured since the study series began in 2013. Increases in the proportion of users who pay for news on the Internet can be observed in all age groups. It is highest in the group of 18 to 24-year-olds. In 2020, 16 percent of this age group will be among the paying users, compared to 11 percent in 2019. This represents an increase of five percentage points.
The majority of adult Internet users (46%) do not worry about missing certain news if they do not use sources for which they have to pay. This is a clear indication that many users do not suspect exclusivity or added value behind payment barriers, but that the same information is also available from sources for which they do not have to pay.
Younger Users Are Looking for Local Information Online
The most widely distributed source of information about local news in all age groups is the local newspaper. A total of 57 percent regularly obtain information about their online or offline articles. In the group of 18 to 24-year-olds, the figure is 40 percent, and among the over 55 year-olds 65 percent. Older user groups tend to inform themselves more about local television and radio than younger ones, while younger online users tend to visit local groups, social media or online forums on the Internet to find out about local issues.
Climate Change as a Media Topic
Most adult Internet users consider television to be the main source of news on the problem of climate change, with one in three paying most attention to the coverage of this issue. Among 18 to 24-year-olds, most sources specializing in climate issues consider television to be the most important resource (18%), while only 11% pay most attention to television.
The information performance of the news media on climate change is perceived ambivalently. This applies both to the provision of information and with regard to the options for action presented. 42 percent of those interviewed feel well informed by the information provided by the news media, and 36 percent also assess their support for their own actions as good.
Changed News Use under COVID-19 Conditions
The surveys in Germany were conducted between 17 and 30 January 2020, i.e. before the COVID19 pandemic, by the survey institute YouGov. As a separate study, the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism conducted a supplementary survey on specific news usage under COVID-19 conditions, the results of which are referred to in the German report at selected points.
Under COVID-19 conditions, more adult Internet users in Germany inform themselves about news broadcasts on linear television (72%) as well as about established news providers on the Internet (50%) and social media (39%). The proportional use of radio news and printed products is slightly declining. At the same time, the importance of television as the main news source has increased in all age groups. During the pandemic, one in two respondents cited TV news programmes or news channels as their main source. The gains for television are at the expense of the shares of Internet, radio and print.
The most common sources of current news and information about the virus are news organizations (47%), scientists and doctors (44%) and the national government (33%). Almost one in two adult online users (48%) also obtain information about the virus from social media. In the age group of 18 to 24-year-olds, the figure is 72%, mainly on YouTube and Instagram. The information provided by scientists, doctors and other health experts on the coronavirus is generally considered to be the most reliable. In contrast, social media and people who are not personally known are considered to be hardly trustworthy.
The survey of the Reuters Institute is also based on the online access panel of YouGov and consists of a representative sample of adult Internet users in Germany with 2003 respondents. The data was collected between 31 March and 7 April 2020. The report "Navigating the 'Infodemic': How People in Six Countries Access and Rate News and Information about Coronavirus" is available for download on the RISJ website
Information on the Study
Since 2012, the Reuters Institute Digital News Survey has been investigating general trends and national peculiarities of news usage by means of representative surveys in by now 40 countries every year. What types of news are of interest? What devices and channels are used to find it? What providers are trusted and what are people's views on funding journalism?
The 2020 study was conducted simultaneously in the following countries under the coordination of the Oxford (UK) based Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism: Argentina1
, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil1
, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile1
, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece1
, Hong Kong, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Malaysia, Mexico
, Ni the Netherlands, Norway, the Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Singapore, Slovakia, South Africa1
, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Turkey1
, the United Kingdom and the United States. About 2,000 people per country were interviewed in 2020. In the eighth repetition, the study is based on a total of 80,155 respondents from 40 countries on six continents. The fieldwork in all countries was conducted between mid-January and the end of February 2020 by the survey institute YouGov.
The Leibniz Institute for Media Research | Hans-Bredow-Institut has been responsible for the German part of the study as a cooperation partner since 2013. In 2020, the survey was funded by the State Media Authorities and the Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen (ZDF).
The report with the results on Germany is available for download here
The complete report with all international findings will be presented to the public in London on 16 June 2020 and will then also be made available on the HBI website.
Further information on the study can be found here
(English) and on the HBI website
Dr. Sascha Hölig, E-Mail
Information on the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism
The Institute, which was founded in 2006 by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, is based in the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Oxford. The Institute is an internationally active research centre for comparative journalism research. Its research takes a global perspective and provides a forum for researchers from a wide range of disciplines to meet with journalists from all over the world. More on the website of the Institute.