Pete Car­vill, Fabi­an Michel, Dani­el Schult­heis, Eve­li­ne Sli­wow­ska and Lydia Herr­mann

On 14 June, the Ret­res­co mar­ke­ting team and Dani­el Schult­heis (Pro­ject mana­ger at Ret­res­co) atten­ded the Ber­lin launch of this year’s Digi­tal News Report. As a com­pa­ny with a strong back­ground and cli­ent base in digi­tal publi­shing, we care deeply about the future of jour­na­lism and reporting.


After­wards, we had the plea­su­re of mee­ting Nic New­man (@nicnewman) from the Reu­ters Insti­tu­te, along with repor­ters and edi­tors from Die Zeit, Han­dels­blatt Glo­bal Edi­ti­on and more.



Four main issu­es crop­ped up during the night:

  1. Face­book losing its over­all pro­mi­nence in the news game
  2. A fear of fake news (but less so in Ger­ma­ny)
  3. Shif­ting reve­nue streams
  4. The rise of pod­casts

So, in order:


Facebook declining in importance in favour of closed social networks such as WhatsApp


Over­all, Face­book has lost ground as a source of news, alt­hough this is not uni­form ever­y­whe­re. Wit­hin the US, accord­ing to the sur­vey, news con­sump­ti­on via the soci­al media giant is down 9 per­cen­ta­ge points over­all and up to 20 per­cen­ta­ge points in youn­ger demo­gra­phics. Urban Bra­zil has seen the use of Face­book for news fall by 17 points sin­ce 2016. While usa­ge is up in Malay­sia and the Czech Repu­blic, ‘in most coun­tries the pic­tu­re is one of decli­ne’, say the aut­hors.

Later, they add, “It is worth not­ing that average Face­book use for any pur­po­se has remai­ned broad­ly sta­tic sin­ce 2015, while its use for news has decli­ned. This sug­gests eit­her a fall in gene­ral enga­ge­ment or a reduc­tion in expo­sure to news by the Face­book algo­rithm […]

While Face­book usa­ge has decli­ned across most coun­tries, it stay­ed near­ly sta­tic in Ger­ma­ny, decli­ning just 1 per­cen­ta­ge point sin­ce 2017. Howe­ver, this figu­re was broad­ly in line with the rest of the world, as the average fall across the 27 coun­tries sur­vey­ed was 1.3 per cent.


Use of soci­al net­works for news con­sump­ti­on in Ger­ma­ny, accord­ing to DNR 18.

By con­trast, the US, UK, and Den­mark saw respec­tive falls of nine, two, and five per­cen­ta­ge points. Inde­ed, the chan­ges in the algo­rithms Face­book uses were view­ed nega­tively by the panel of experts that spo­ke at the launch.


Ano­t­her rea­son given was that many users, now having exten­si­ve net­works fol­lo­wing a deca­de or so of Face­book use, “[…] are being put off by toxic deba­tes and unre­lia­ble news, but they are also fin­ding that alter­na­ti­ve net­works offer more con­ve­ni­en­ce, grea­ter pri­va­cy, and less oppor­tu­ni­ty to be misun­ders­tood.” Tho­se alter­na­ti­ve net­works were lar­ge­ly focu­sed around Whats­App.



A fear of fake news, but less so in Germany


Fake news’ is lar­ge­ly down to the fact that the main­stream media and its mem­bers are seen as untrust­worthy by much of the gene­ral public: 44 per cent said they trusted the news over­all, while 51 per cent said they trusted the news they con­su­med. Tho­se are not good sta­tis­tics. No indus­try, sec­tor, per­son, or body can be given 100 per­cent appro­val, but when only around half of the popu­la­ti­on trusts any type of news, there’s a lot the­re to be worried about.



Per­cen­ta­ges around Euro­pe con­cer­ned about ‘fake news’.

A lar­ge part of the deba­te over ‘fake news’ is the poli­ti­cal pola­ri­sa­ti­on taking pla­ces in most Wes­tern demo­cra­ci­es at pre­sent. Even more sca­ri­ly, debun­ked news web­sites like Breit­bart have high trust scores (6.96 out of 10), which the report’s aut­hors say, ‘[reflects] its high­ly-par­ti­san user base’. The sca­riest, most-Orwel­li­an, Bra­ve New World, Fah­ren­heit 451 sta­tis­tic to emer­ge was that 61 per cent belie­ved that government had a role to play in com­ba­ting fake news. 








Per­cen­ta­ge of trust in news around Euro­pe.

Howe­ver, a fear of fake news is lower wit­hin Ger­ma­ny, pos­si­b­ly reflec­ted by the rela­tively-high trust in the news over­all (50 per cent) and in the news each indi­vi­du­al used (61 per cent).


One rea­son for this could be the Ger­man news orga­ni­sa­ti­ons’ cul­tu­re of strin­gent fact-che­cking, illus­tra­ted by Der Spiegel’s 70-per­son team cal­led doku­men­ta­ti­on, devo­ted to this task. The sys­tem backend used for that is powe­r­ed by Retresco’s Natu­ral Lan­guage Under­stan­ding (NLU) tech­no­lo­gy, which Dr Hau­ke Jans­sen, head of doku­men­ta­ti­on, cal­led ‘bet­ter than Goog­le’.




Publisher pivot towards a subscription and/or donation model


It seems that the­re is some mar­ket for paid-for news, alt­hough the pro­por­ti­on of peop­le choo­sing to do so remains small. The pro­por­ti­on of tho­se pay­ing for online news in the past year saw slight upticks across most coun­tries. It was posi­ted that this was due to ‘The Trump Bump’, which has seen a sur­ge, from tho­se iden­ti­fy­ing on the left, in sub­scrip­ti­ons for well-respec­ted news­pa­pers such as The New York Times and The Washing­ton Post. Dona­ti­ons were ano­t­her source of inco­me, top­ping 600,000 for The Guar­di­an, but upt­ake was rela­tively low at less than 1 per cent of readership. This echoes a recent announ­ce­ment from Jesper Doub, Spie­gel Online’s CEO, who said that that digi­tal publi­ca­ti­on would point more towards a sub­scrip­ti­on model. Howe­ver, digi­tal sub­scrip­ti­ons are not sui­ta­ble for all publi­ca­ti­ons, such as The Guar­di­an, which has come out stron­gly about making its con­tent free for all.


The rise of podcasts


Pod­casts, the epi­to­me of focu­sed, high-qua­li­ty work in jour­na­lism, saw a boost, with expec­ta­ti­ons that this is likely to con­ti­nue, along with an ongo­ing shift in focus from many orga­ni­sa­ti­ons towards audio. A third of tho­se inter­view­ed lis­tened to a pod­cast at least mon­th­ly, alt­hough the­re were dif­fe­ren­ces bet­ween coun­tries such as Ire­land, who­se popu­la­ti­on was twice as likely as that of the UK to lis­ten to a pod­cast.  Singled out in the Digi­tal News Report was The Dai­ly, a pod­cast from The New York Times that has been down­loa­ded more than 100m times.

The most-inte­res­ting part of the night came from the panel dis­cus­sion that fol­lo­wed the pre­sen­ta­ti­on of the report’s fin­dings. Taking to the sta­ge were Bar­ba­ra Hans, edi­tor-in-chief, Spie­gel Online; Jochen Weg­ner, edi­tor-in-chief, Zeit Online; Elmar The­ves­sen, depu­ty edi­tor-in-chief, ZDF; and Bene­dic­te Autret, head of stra­te­gic rela­ti­ons news and publishers UK and Bene­lux, Goog­le. The panel was mode­ra­ted by Alex­an­dra Bor­chardt of the Reu­ters Insti­tu­te.

All ack­now­led­ged that the indus­try was still facing chal­len­ges, had misun­ders­tood the thre­at of ‘fake news’, and that they had not taken full advan­ta­ge of the audio revo­lu­ti­on. As The­ves­sen said, “More and more peop­le are worried about the qua­li­ty of news. We need to be more trans­pa­rent, even when we make mista­kes.”

Hans spo­ke on a simi­lar line, say­ing, “Our readers and users don’t want to be patro­nis­ed but they want to be taken serious­ly. Jour­na­lism got this wrong for a long time. Jour­na­lism is about lis­ten­ing as much as it is about tal­king, wri­ting and publi­shing.

The panel were also non­plus­sed that users were often fin­ding their news in pla­ces like Whats­App, poin­ting out that any chan­nel is a good chan­nel and that, as long as it was dri­ving peop­le to the ori­gi­nal source of the sto­ry, it did not mat­ter whe­re the reader had ori­gi­na­ted from. Sto­ry length, too, did not deter peop­le, depen­ding on their devices. As The­ves­sen said, “There’s a real­ly high pos­si­bi­li­ty that if readers sur­vi­ve the first page, they will read 20,000 wor­ds of long-form, regard­less of device.”

Over­all, the panel were asked what it was that they would do dif­fer­ent­ly after dis­co­vering the report’s fin­dings. Google’s Autret said that the com­pa­ny would chan­ge not­hing, con­fi­dent as they were in their ongo­ing approach, The­ves­sen of ZDF said they would empha­sise the rela­ti­ons­hip with view­ers, Hans said that Der Spie­gel would not focus on or get hung up on the issue of ‘fake news’, and Die Zeit’s Weg­ner said that he would look to acce­le­ra­te the use of audio wit­hin the orga­ni­sa­ti­on, say­ing that they had unde­re­sti­ma­ted pod­cast pene­tra­ti­on wit­hin Ger­ma­ny.

So the­re was a lot to think about and some that inspi­red hope. At Ret­res­co, we are deter­mi­ned to do our part in hel­ping media orga­ni­sa­ti­ons not just sur­vi­ve, but thri­ve. We belie­ve that our con­tent clas­si­fi­ca­ti­on and con­tent cura­ti­on solu­ti­ons are, and will con­ti­nue to be, a vital part of this. For more infor­ma­ti­on, plea­se con­tact us.




For more infor­ma­ti­on, plea­se con­tact:

Pete Car­vill (@pete_carvill)
Com­mu­ni­ca­ti­ons Mana­ger
+49 (0)30 555 781 999



About Ret­res­co

Foun­ded in Ber­lin in 2008, Ret­res­co has beco­me one of the lea­ding com­pa­nies in the field of natu­ral lan­guage pro­ces­sing (NLP) and machi­ne learning. Ret­res­co deve­lops seman­tic app­li­ca­ti­ons in the are­as of con­tent clas­si­fi­ca­ti­on, recom­men­da­ti­on, as well as high­ly inno­va­ti­ve tech­no­lo­gy for natu­ral lan­guage gene­ra­ti­on (NLG). Through near­ly a deca­de of deep indus­try expe­ri­ence, Ret­res­co helps its cli­ents acce­le­ra­te digi­tal trans­for­ma­ti­on, increa­se ope­ra­tio­nal effi­ci­en­ci­es, and enhan­ce custo­mer enga­ge­ment.


Reu­ters Institute’s Digi­tal News Report, 2017, URL:
Pic­tu­re: ©Lena Mucha


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