Adriaan Basson | Dear News24 reader, thank you for trusting us

The panellists for News24’s post-budget Frontline. (News24)
The panellists for News24’s post-budget Frontline. (News24)
  • The Reuters Institute has found that News24 is the most trusted news brand in SA - for the second year in a row.
  • During the Covid-19 crisis, readers returned to credible sources of news, away from social media. 
  • The willingness of readers to pay for news is increasing and will be a permanent feature of our media landscape. 

Do you also receive those WhatsApp messages that start with the words: "I hope this is not true!!!"?

Three exclamation marks. Always three.

The sender, a beloved uncle or friendly neighbour, probably had no bad intentions. But they just could not stop themselves from passing on an outrageous piece of dodgy content from a "news website" in the United States, Macedonia or Nigeria.

Or a voice note from a very serious-sounding man or woman, predicting impending doom. Funny how those voice notes always turn out to be fake.

The fake news industry, fuelled by willing participants in the form of presidents or political leaders on Twitter, is a real and immediate threat to the future of truthful news and democracy.

Misinformation, particularly during a global health crisis like Covid-19, has the ability to be lethal. It can destroy communities, social cohesion and literally lead to a loss of life.

That's why it was so incredibly gratifying, and humbling, to read last week's annual digital news report by the Reuters Institute at Oxford into the state of the news business.

As an editor, constantly being reminded by media pundits of the threat social media and fake news pose to quality journalism, it was a refreshing treat to read how readers all over the world are returning to trusted, reliable sources of news to keep them informed during a global crisis.

Of course, the cherry on the cake was News24 being named as the most trusted source of news in South Africa for a second year in a row.

This is not an accolade we take lightly.

Almost 100 journalists work at News24. They are reporters, sub-editors, content producers, multimedia journalists and a range of section editors.

The team produces about 2 500 original stories per month – from breaking news articles to in-depth podcasts and features. We pride ourselves on getting it first and getting it right.

Although the Reuters Institute's report does not cover the period since the outbreak of the coronavirus in South Africa on 5 March, we could see in our internal reporting how our audience has grown.

In February, almost 850 000 unique browsers were recorded visiting News24 per day. Since March, this number almost doubled to 1.6 million per day.

One part of the story is the incredible journalism our team delivers day-after-day. The other half is you, our loyal readers, who come to us every day for information that shape your choices, views and actions.

Thank you.  

Without your clicks and the time you spend on our platforms, News24 could not exist.

This is a massive privilege and responsibility. We do not take this for granted and will continue to improve and develop our journalism, technology and user experience.

Our growth in readers comes at a time when the media business is in turmoil. Print circulation is in free fall and advertisers are cutting back on their marketing spend after the devastating impact of an economy in lockdown.

This means that more and more media companies and publications will turn to reader revenue as a second source of income alongside advertising.

The second, great finding of the Reuters Institute is that more readers are willing to pay for quality, truthful news on digital platforms.

A few years ago, only the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times and some Scandinavian publications took the risk to lock certain content for subscribers only. Today, it is an anomaly if you are a media company without a digital subscription offering.

All over the world, consumers are much more comfortable paying for digital content, whether it is movies, music or journalism.

Last month, the "Gray Lady", as the New York Times has been nicknamed, announced it now had 5 million digital subscribers and 840 000 in print.

"Journalism matters and is in demand again. But one problem for publishers is that this extra interest is producing even less income – as advertisers brace for an inevitable recession and print revenue dips," writes Nic Newman of the Reuters Institute.

"Against this background it is likely we’ll see a further drive towards digital subscription and other reader payment models which have shown considerable promise in the last few years."

Locally, Netwerk24 has over 53 000 digital subscribers, while The Sunday Times, Business Day, Moneyweb and The Citizen have also locked all or certain content for subscribers only. Daily Maverick launched a successful membership program in 2018.

The trust of readers and their willingness to pay will be a key ingredient in the sustainability and quality of the journalism of the future.

- Basson is editor-in-chief of News24. Media24 owns News24 and Netwerk24.

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