News consumers trade in Facebook for private messaging apps

In the latest Digital News Report from our friends at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism they found that people are gravitating toward WhatsApp and other private messaging services for many of their daily news habits.

Corroborating some of our own findings in Kaleida’s News Ecosystem Report, the new study showed that people may stumble across news via Facebook or Twitter, but they go elsewhere when they want to discuss or debate something.

People have groups for friends, family or work on private messaging apps, and they chat and post articles there because they have more freedom. One respondent explained,

The whole thing about social media is like wearing a mask. So when I am in my messaging groups with my friends the mask comes off and I feel like I can truly be myself — (F, 30–45, UK)

There has been a significant decline in usage of Facebook for news since 2016 amongst younger age groups, but even the older age groups are using Facebook less and private messaging more (See “Baby Boomers love news”).

As people move away from social media toward private messaging news discovery will become more of a challenge. Social media has been hugely beneficial for news publishers who want to reach new audiences, as the viral nature of Facebook and Twitter makes it possible to spread links to articles really quickly to a lot of people.

However, we also know that people value news publishers, and this shift in behavior may in fact open a window for new discovery and distribution methods directly from news orgs.

The transition from a news ecosystem dominated by social media to something quite different seems to be in full swing. Private messaging is clearly a key part of the new model for news. But there are many unformed pieces of this puzzle still.