Investigating a sustainable future for public interest journalism


The state of news in the UK

August 4, 2023

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What does the UK really think about news? And how many people are underserved by local media? We now have the data to tell the story.

Over the past couple of weeks we’ve learned a lot about the state of the UK’s news sector, thanks to the release of two reports.

The first, released by the Public Interest News Foundation (PINF), maps the state of local news in the country. The second, released by Ofcom, contains the latest research into news consumption and attitudes towards news, and covers television, print, radio, social media and other apps and websites. Taken together, they help paint a picture of public interest news in the UK.

Below, we recap some of the key findings of each report.

‘Mapping local news’ report

 In June, the Public Interest News Foundation released the beta version of its news map, which set out the local news outlets serving every community in the UK.

Executive director of the Public Interest News Foundation Jonathan Heawood called it “a living resource for anyone who cares about the future of news and local communities in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland”.

This was followed at the end of July by the ‘Deserts, Oases and Drylands’ report, which delves into the data uncovered in the map.

According to the report, there are 1,641 active local news outlets operating across the UK. Of these, 44.5 per cent were found to be independent, defined as “owned by an organisation with a turnover of less than £2 million”. Overall, England was found to be underserved according to the size of its population, compared to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland which had “slightly greater numbers of outlets than the population would predict”. London in particular was picked out as being “poorly served” by local news, with 4.5 per cent of total local news outlets in the UK serving the 13.1 per cent of the UK’s population in London.

The report also found that the majority – 46 per cent – of local news outlets are print and online. Print-only producers account for 2 per cent of all outlets and 23 per cent are online-only.

Through its research, PINF identified a number of news deserts – defined by the body as “a local authority that has no dedicated news outlet… that only covers that local authority” and news oases – defined as having “a wide range of local news outlets”.

According to the data, there are 38 news deserts in the UK, representing 4.1 million people.

The report also identified areas with weak local news provision, known as ‘news drylands’.

However, since the release of the report, some news outlets have disputed PINF’s calculations of news deserts. 

In response, PINF has reopened the map to feedback, and will be reviewing its definitions and methodology to strengthen the map.

Ofcom news data released

The UK’s communications regulator, Ofcom, released its latest research into news consumption across the country, showing broadcast TV to be the most-used platform for news consumption.

Around 70 per cent of UK adults say broadcast TV is their preferred media for consuming news. Online news sources were ranked second at 68 per cent, driven mostly by social media. Of the major social media platforms, Facebook was the most used source of news at 30 per cent of adults, down from 35 per cent in 2019. Meanwhile, TikTok’s popularity as a news source has grown to 10 per cent of UK adults, up 1 per cent on 2020’s numbers. The social media platforms were found to be important for different types of news amongst adults surveyed: Facebook was preferred for local news, Twitter for political and breaking news, and TikTok and Instagram for celebrity news.

Compared to adults, the majority (83 per cent) of young adults aged 16-24 surveyed get their news from online sources, mostly through social media (71 per cent). The surveys found that while older people might go directly to a news website for news content, young adults look for it via social media. One in ten teenagers aged 12-15 said their main source of news is TikTok, and 45 per cent of 12-15 year olds said they were not interested in news, finding it “boring”, “not relevant” or “upsetting”.

Ofcom’s data found public service broadcasters like the BBC “remain a dominant force in news delivery reaching 94 per cent of television news audiences”. Overall, taking into account news output across different platforms including television, online and radio, the BBC was found to have the highest reach of any news provider.

The reach of national print newspapers broadly unchanged from 2022. 

The survey also asked participants about their trust in news outlets. The majority of adults rated television and print newspapers highly on trust, accuracy and quality. The report found that “news sourced via social media is rated lower for trust, accuracy and impartiality than the more traditional sources of news, but is rated moderately well on ‘offers a range of opinions’, ‘helps me understand what’s going on in the world today’, and being ‘important to me personally’.”

Read the full Ofcom report online.

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