A new report has revealed that traffic to news sites from Facebook plummeted by nearly half in 2023 with publishers fearing further falls in the next 12 months.
The Reuters Institute surveyed the views of 134 media leaders across 56 countries for its annual Trends and Predictions Report, published today.
Data sourced for the report from analytics provider Chartbeat showed that traffic to news sites from Facebook fell 48pc in 2023, while traffic from X (formerly known as Twitter) declined by 27pc.
UK regional publishers Reach plc and National World have each previously blamed the fall in referral traffic for recent cost-cutting programmes that have seen hundreds of journalists lose their jobs.
Today’s report reveals that almost two-thirds of the publishers surveyed expressed concerns about a further decline in referral traffic over the coming year.
Nic Newman, pictured, senior research associate and author of the report, said: “Reaching audiences online is getting tougher as Facebook pulls back from news and X becomes less welcoming for publishers.
“The big fear is that search traffic may be next, as AI-powered results provide answers directly in the interface, rather than offering so many links to news sites”
The report reveals changing priorities among publishers in the light of the fall in social traffic, with 77pc saying they will focus more on their own direct channels and 22pc resorting to cutting costs.
When considering third-party platforms, newsroom leaders said they planned to focus much less on Facebook and X and put more resources into WhatsApp (+61pc net score) and Instagram (+39pc).
In terms of news formats, most respondents said they planned to create more video (+64pc net score), more newsletters (+52), and more podcasts (+47), but broadly the same number of news stories.
Other findings of the report showed that publishers see potential benefits in the use of artificial intelligence for instance in back-end news automation.
However publishers are ambivalent about using AI for content creation, with more than half the respondents considering a “reputational risk.”
The report reveals a low level of business confidence about the coming year, with fewer than half of editors, CEOs and digital executives saying they are confident about the prospects for journalism.
Their concerns mainly relate to rising costs, declining advertising revenue, a slowing in subscription growth and increasing legal and physical harassment.
However publishers are continuing to invest in subscription and membership models, with 80pc of those surveyed saying this will be an important revenue stream.
Most of those operating a paid-for subscription model reported either a slight increase, or stable subscription numbers in the last year, despite the difficult economic outlook.