The smartphone will be the defining device for digital news and has the potential to greatly disrupt traditional news gathering, according to the 2015 Digital News Report from the Reuters Institute at Oxford University.

The report, which attempts to pinpoint trends in the news business, sees competition coming from tech giants such as Google and Apple, while Facebook already is wielding influence as a means for consumers to discuss and share news.

The result is going to be an even tougher market for newspapers, traditional broadcasters and other organizations that gather news.

"Our data suggest it provides an environment dominated by a few successful brands, with others struggling to reach a wider audience, both via apps and browsers," the report says.

A few big players

In addition to news feeds from Apple, Google and Facebook, news organizations are competing for readers with services such as Buzzfeed and traditional news organizations that reach out to a global audience, such as London's The Guardian and The New York Times.

Some organizations are already testing the impact of a news feed integrated with Facebook.

As a news aggregator, Yahoo seems to have lost its following, but others such as Google are ready to move in and Apple is upping the ante by hiring human editors to curate its news feed.

This year's Digital News Report focused on trends in 12 developed countries, including the U.S., U.K., Australia, Japan, Germany and Italy. Canada was not included in the research.

It found different kinds of news organizations dominated in different countries.

  • Traditional newspaper brands still dominate online news in Finland and Denmark.
  • Broadcast brands such as the BBC dominate in the U.K. and Globo in Brazil.
  • Digital-only players are taking dominant places in Japan, Australia, and the U.S.

Across all 12 countries, at least 74 per cent of people read a newspaper either in paper form or online.

And 89 per cent they listened to radio or TV broadcast news or look at their digital platforms at least once a week.

Newspapers and broadcasters remain the biggest gatherers of news, but the digital-born players such as Huffington Post and Buzzfeed are making inroads, especially in the U.S.

People under age 35 are already turning away from traditional TV news and moving to online video and social media to find their news.

Won't pay for news

That trend will be intensified by the use of smartphones and news apps.

"We see a strengthening in the role played by Facebook in finding, discussing and sharing news. Facebook-owned Instagram and WhatsApp are playing a big role amongst younger groups," the study found.

But paying for digital news remains a difficult sell. Consumers are increasingly dissatisfied with advertising on news feeds and on social media such as Facebook and they're snapping up ad blockers, making it difficult for news organizations to recruit advertising to fund their operations.

And suggesting payment for news services is equally unpopular. While many organizations moved to digital paywalls in 2012 to 2013, a majority of readers in every market said they wouldn't pay for news, no matter what the price.