(Montreal) Canadians’ confidence in news remains shaky and the proportion of those who paid for news online saw a marked drop in early 2023.

These are two of the findings found in the 2023 Canadian data from the Reuters Institute’s Digital News Report (DNR), findings that require the news media to reflect.

Each year, the DNR measures various indices related to the consumption of information in 46 countries around the world. The Canadian data is compiled by the Center for Media Studies at Université Laval.

In terms of trust, we note a slight improvement among Francophones, whose proportion of those who trust “most news most of the time” increased from 47% to 49% from 2022 to 2023 , but the long-term trend remains downward, with this proportion having already reached 64% in 2018.

Interestingly, Anglophones have consistently had less trust in the news than Francophones since the DNR began asking this question in 2016, but the downward trend, for their part, continued in 2023 to be at 37%, or 12 percentage points less than among Francophones.

According to the director of the Center for Media Studies (CEM), Colette Brin, this gap is partly explained by the fact that the French-speaking market is “much smaller and mainly confined to Quebec and, therefore, that there has a closeness to the media that you don’t find in Canada, which is a huge country. Particularly in the West, there is a sense of disconnect with the news media,” she points out.

“Also, English Canadians consume a lot of American information, so the perception they may have may be colored by the much more polarized and problematic context in terms of trust in American media. »

This gap in trust manifests itself in another related issue, that of disentangling fact from fiction on the web. Anglophones are more concerned about the possibility of disentangling fact from fiction (65%) than Francophones (47%). Interestingly, this concern peaked in 2020, Donald Trump’s last year in office, among both Anglophones (67%) and Francophones (60%), but is steadily declining and many more marked among French speakers, who seem less worried about fake news with a gap of nearly 20 points today. Curiously, in 2018, the first year this variable was measured, the level of concern was equal among the two groups, around 60%.

“The context of disinformation is not the same in the French-speaking ecosystem as in the English-speaking system,” remarks Ms. Brin, who points out in passing “the influence of populism in the style of Republicans in the United States, which is particularly strong in the rest of Canada and less so in Quebec”.

A minority of Canadians are willing to pay for news online, but their behavior over the past year has newsmakers worried. In 2016, when we first started measuring, about 9% of Canadians had paid for news in the previous year, an average that remained constant through 2019. Then, in 2020, that proportion jumped to reach 13% and another in 2022 to reach 15% (16% among Francophones). Now, in 2023, this average has dropped sharply to 11% in both language groups.

Colette Brin believes that this fall is not unrelated to the context of inflation, even if we do not see any difference between people who say they are very affected by inflation and those who are not. “Even if people don’t feel deeply affected by the rising cost of living, it gives them an excuse to reduce this expense. It is a discretionary expense that is easily eliminated. »

Admittedly, the proportion of 11% represents an average higher than the years 2016 to 2019 inclusive, but publishers of online information will have to wonder about the fall of four to five percentage points, especially since a more detailed analysis fine numbers show that the largest drop (-7%) was taken in the 18-24 age group. However, these, with a proportion of 20% of respondents having paid for a subscription in 2022, were at the top of all age groups.

“Young people are a particularly difficult group for the news media to reach. The fact that young people were more willing to pay precisely because they primarily consume their information online was at least a hopeful sign of growth potential. To see a drastic drop like this, it is not reassuring for the industry, ”acknowledges the researcher.

In the journalistic community, the fact of requesting payment for online subscription remains a source of concern in itself because, although many information sites remain free, the sites where disinformation, false news and hoaxes circulate multiply and are systematically free. The lack of control of disinformation content on many social networks also represents a transmission belt for this harmful content.

Fortunately, Ms. Brin points out, “many quality media remain free. The consequence, of course, is that if there is an attractive free offer, it is less attractive to pay. »

This attractiveness of free online sources of information is most clearly evident in a subsection of the DNR that touches on the information practices of Canadians. On the French-speaking side, TVA Nouvelles is the most consulted online brand, by 27% of respondents. La Presse (23%), Radio-Canada (22%) and the Journal de Montréal or de Québec (20%) follow, all forming the dominant quartet of online information, i.e. four free sources.

News (10%) and Le Devoir (9%), two paid sites, come far behind.

“When you ask a sample of the population what media they consume, inevitably, those that are accessible for free will come at the top of the list. That does not mean, however, that it is not a success for Le Devoir, because Le Devoir manages to make a profit and retain its readership, which means that it is simply a niche success. And Le Devoir has never been a mass media either, “nuance Colette Brin.

Another concern for news organizations is that fewer and fewer Canadians say they are interested in the news. Thus, 80% said they would be interested in it in 2023 compared to 86% in 2021. There is a growing lack of interest among both Francophones and Anglophones.

While the web giants are starting to limit the distribution of news on their platforms on the sidelines of their showdown with the Canadian government, which wants to impose on them financial support for the news media, Canadians have already started to do so. of themselves. Thus, 36% of Canadians say they have not consulted, shared or commented on news on social media in the week preceding the survey, an increase of 10 percentage points since the previous year. The share of Canadians who interacted with news on Facebook in the week before the survey fell from 40% in 2022 to 29% (-11 percentage points), the lowest score since the DNR collected this data.

In contrast, the report contains good news for the public broadcaster: for a majority (54%) of Francophones, publicly funded news services are important to society. Although Anglophones (45%) are less likely than Francophones to think so, only 20% believe, on the contrary, that such services are not important for society.

Finally, the last few years have not been rosy in terms of news, with the pandemic, natural disasters or the war in Ukraine, among others. It is therefore not surprising to see that news about positive stories interests more than 80% of Canadian respondents, English and French, and, on the French side, two-thirds (67%) say they are even very or extremely interested. .

The DNR is based on an online questionnaire administered by YouGov. The Canadian data is calculated from a random sample of 2,150 participants registered with this polling firm, including 555 French speakers. A stand-alone Francophone sample was then completed to obtain 1066 participants. Canadian data was collected from January 11 to February 20, 2023. Results are weighted to represent the adult Canadian population.