Media consumption, online and offline: What are the main cultural differences?

General Public

There are strong cultural differences in the way we keep up with the news. A recent report by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism reveals insights about digital news consumption across five countries: the UK, the US, Germany, France and Denmark. The study shows significant differences in how and how often we consult the news in different countries. Finally it emphasizes the growing impact of new technologies such as smartphones and tablets and their potential role in changing the news media system for better or for worse.



A recent study by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism found significant differences across cultures in citizens’ interest in the media. The polling was conducted online in April 2012 by You Gov. The five countries polled were the UK, the US, Germany, France and Denmark. Older people were underrepresented by the online polling. The analysis rejected those saying they are not interested in news at all, which represents more than 10% of the population, on average. The aim was to understand news consumption habits in the UK compared to the other countries.

Concerning frequency, the results show that Germans are the most interested in the news. More than 89% of them consult the news on a daily basis. The results in Denmark are quite similar. In the USA approximately 82% of the respondents consult the news daily, whereas only 78% of the French and 75% of the English do. In general males consult the news more frequently than women, but the difference is relatively small. Differences between countries also exist in the type of news that people like to consult. For example, the English are more interested in celebrity news, while Americans say they are especially interested in political and economic news.


Medias (c) unclesam -

Online vs. Offline

Although Germans consume more news today, they have not adopted internet-based news as much as the other countries. With only 61% of the respondents consulting online news on a weekly basis, they show the strongest adherence to traditional media; 87% report watching TV. The USA (86%), closely followed by the UK (82%), have most widely adopted online media. In France, 77% of people consult online news weekly; 80% watch TV and only 57% and 42% read newspapers and listen to the radio. The rate of offline media consumption in the USA is surprisingly low.

Consulting online news is still today generally done on computers. Unsurprisingly, the proportion of mobile phone use is rising, followed by tablets. More than a quarter of people polled access news via their smartphone each week in the US and the UK, and even more in Denmark (32%), a significant proportion of them saying the mobile was their main way of accessing news. People using tablets are found to be more likely to pay for news content, even though the resistance to paying for digital content is generally high.


Offline versus online media - source: Reuters institute 2012
online offline media

The Digital Natives

Young people are generally less interested in watching TV and listening to radio than their elders. Instead, between 20 and 27% of people under 44 use mobile phones to access the news; tablets are generally used between age 25 and 54. Social media is often used as a gateway to search for news, particularly by younger respondants. News websites and search engines (Google or Bing) are still the main gateways to the news, ahead of aggregator websites (MSN and Yahoo) and social networks (Facebook then Twitter). There is also a difference between young and old in the way they participate and interact with online news and content, the younger, again, being more active on social networks and less so on traditional websites.

Education and access to news and information is crucial for better development of citizens’ understanding of the world and critical thinking. Today most of the media are owned by a small number of big companies, often involved in political and economic life and policies. The plurality of the media should be preserved to favor the quality of the information being diffused. Today, 75% of people on earth have access to a mobile phone. Smartphones and tablets are modifying our habits of news consumption, especially for younger people. The role of those new technologies as intermediaries between the reader and the news providers could become significant. It could favor the diversity of information sources and actors but, given the control it has over the information’s path to the reader, it could also do quite the opposite. It is still the perfect time for new players in information diffusion to take action towards changing the traditional news system for greater transparency and higher quality.


Sardar : A good effort. Very useful for students of media consumption. Such studies should be carried out for other countries too.
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