Social networks continue to eat news publishers' lunch

Social sites have helped spawn many new industries, but they're also a real threat to online news publishers, who are increasingly squeezed out by algorithms, ad blockers and audiences that don't care where their news come from, according a new report.

The number of web surfers in the United States who use social media to find news nearly doubled since 2013, up from 25 percent to 46 percent, according to new research from the Reuters Institute for Study of Journalism (RISJ) at the University of Oxford. The organization commissioned market research company YouGov to query 50,000 online users in 26 different countries in late January and early February 2016.

The report's findings should come as no surprise to any publisher that's paying attention. Facebook is the leading social source of news consumption, and it is the primary news source for 44 percent of survey respondents who use social to find news, followed by YouTube, with 19 percent, and Twitter, with 10 percent.

[Related: Social media a missed opportunity for customer service]

More than half of the global sample group (51 percent) said they used social media as a news source weekly, while 12 percent said it is their main source for news, according to the report. And 14 percent of 2,197 American users surveyed said social media is their primary news source, up from 11 percent in 2015.

risj image Reuters Institute for Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford

One of publishers' most significant challenges today is getting noticed in a sea of distributed content on social media. Less than half of the U.S. online audience surveyed said they recognize news brands on social media, according to the report. And ad blockers are making the problem worse for publishers. Nearly a quarter of the U.S. respondents (24 percent) said they block ads using common browser tools.

The algorithms that are largely responsible for determining the content users see on social media are also stealing power from publishers. The research suggests respondents are concerned about missing out on important information and opposing viewpoints due to algorithms, but younger audiences would rather have algorithms select their news than real editors. When asked about their news selection preferences, 36 percent of all respondents said they prefer algorithms that surface stories based on their interests, 30 percent prefer the judgment of editors and journalists, and 22 percent want content based on what friends have viewed, according to the research.

[ Related: Nearly a third of all Facebook users share content every day ]

The majority of social networks have found some way to get into news distribution, but some are still struggling to find their places, according to. Nic Newman, a research associate with RISJ. "Although Snapchat is one of the fastest growing new networks, only about 1 percent in most countries say they use it for news," he wrote.

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