The recent Reuters Institute digital news report published for 2017 is a clear indicator as to the changing nature of news: just 32% of people access it directly. Social, search, and mobile alerts are just some of the ways people access news through the side door. The question must be asked – are publishers taking control of online news in the way that they should be?

23% of people access news through social. In the past few years, publishers have been optimising their content to take advantage of Facebook’s algorithms, and social listening tools proved to be very effective for publishers who were investing in them. It even seemed like Facebook had won publishers over with the introduction of Facebook instant articles.

However, stories quickly became clickbait which disgruntled users and which has possibly been a contributing factor to a shift in news consumption through private messenger apps. The Reuters Institute states that Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp are more prevalent in Ireland than other countries, which poses great opportunities for publishers; unless Facebook get there first.

Last week it was announced that they would begin testing a paywall for accessing news stories as early as October. While the project is subject to change, TechCrunch states that the current plan is to work with a handful of publishers to introduce a system that would limit free viewing to 10 articles per month. Time will tell if this will help or hinder publishers.

It was also reported that 25% of people access news through search. Last year Google launched AMP, a tool that would favour mobile optimised publisher sites, forced publishers to improve their mobile sites.

Sachin Kamdar, CEO of Parsely states that “apart from AMP, just mastering Google search is tougher today. Google used to be more straightforward about what it takes to get into its search results; now there are hundreds of variables.”. The New York Times published versions of almost all its articles going back to 1970 in HTML last summer which made it easier for Google to find than in their older PDF formats. The publisher saw an immediate lift in search traffic, said Justin Bank, deputy editor for audience development at the Times.

As Facebook & Google change algorithms and priorities, SEO will become more important for publishers.
Smartphone users are also much more likely to access via mobile notifications, which is supported by the Reuters Institute report suggesting that the use of news apps may be making a comeback. They state that this is much more likely to be about regular usage by existing app users, rather than by some surge in new installs., but one factor that is likely to be at play is that more publishers have enabled deep linking to apps from search, social, and email.

With the change in news access & consumption it is easy to see that Google, and Facebook are proactive in gaining this traffic, with publishers following suit. Do publishers need to do more? NBC owned Breaking News co-founder Cory Bergman has stated that yes they do. “News publishers define their mission too narrowly; they need to look at how they can become the first source of news information”.